My 14 Absolute Favorite Meals I’ve Had on Vacation

When I think of some of my all-time favorite travel memories, they tend to be a combination of sensory experiences: incredible sights, vibrant colors, distinctive sounds. They primarily include food.

Whether it’s sitting down for a 3-hour haute cuisine dinner or grabbing a hearty local specialty to go, meals can certainly play a starring role in your vacation memories. I’ve been lucky enough to dine on all five continents so far. Here, I’ve recreated 14 of my absolute favorite dishes that I savored while away from home.

1. Duck Confit, Paris

My husband and I visited Paris when I was 28 weeks old with our son. There were a few French favorites that I couldn’t consume; unpasteurized cheeses and wine were sadly absent. But don’t worry: I certainly ate well, especially since I was eating for two.

One night we went to a fancy little cafe, and I knew exactly what I wanted as soon as I opened the menu: duck confit. The iconic French dish, served in many high-end Parisian restaurants, did not disappoint. The duck, cooked until tender in its own fat and perfectly seasoned with plenty of salt, pepper and Provencal herbs, was rich and decadent. I devoured every piece of meat and the small potatoes served underneath. Even now, every time I’m lucky enough to be served duck, it brings me right back to that little cafe in that magical town.

2. Cardamom tea and cookies, Mumbai

Sometimes a memorable meal doesn’t have to be a multi-course dinner. Quite often, if you find yourself in a completely new place – with new friends – even tea and cookies can top your “best meals” list. This was certainly the case in Mumbai, where I spent an afternoon shopping for souvenirs to take home. I also happened to be extremely jetlagged, having arrived late the night before. The shopkeepers noticed that I was exhausted (and also hungry!), so as my purchases were packed, they invited me to enjoy a cup of tea. It was simple – cardamom pods infused with cinnamon – but delicious. Accompanied by a few crispy, sweet cookies and lots of lively conversation, it was more than enough for a meal I will never forget.

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3. Chicken Paprikash, Budapest

Eastern Europe is known for its hearty and tasty cuisine. And when we traveled to the wonderful city of Budapest a few years ago, I knew I wanted to try one of Hungary’s most famous dishes. The chicken paprikash was as wonderful as I had hoped. I waited to order it until the last evening of our trip, when we visited a little cafe just around the corner from St. Stephen’s Church. The quarter leg was cooked in a rich sauce flavored with paprika, butter and sour cream and served on tiny fluffy dumplings. I still dream of this dish!

4. Jazz Brunch, Commander’s Palace, New Orleans

I was fortunate enough to live in South Louisiana for several years when I started my career, and when I go back to New Orleans to visit, I try to go to Jazz Brunch at Commander’s Palace. This spot has been a landmark in the city’s charming Garden District since 1893; locals and visitors love its crawfish bread, okra, and turtle soup. Jazz brunch is a raging spectacle, with the restaurant’s favorite dishes on offer as a band serenades. I’ve even seen a second line break out at the event over the years. If you can’t make it to Mardi Gras, this is a great alternative.

Dal and naan in New Dehli, India.
Erika Ebsworth-Goold

5. Dal and Naan, New Delhi, India

Indian cuisine is beautiful in its nuance, use of spices and cooking techniques. One of my favorite meals has always been a beautiful multi-course meal in New Delhi, in which two of India’s staple dishes were the stars. Dal is a hearty, hearty dish – lentils simmered with spices like ginger, cinnamon, cardamom and cumin. Naan is the yogurt-based flatbread used to scoop up all of these deliciousness. I loved the combo so much that I stashed some spices in my luggage so I could recreate this simple yet amazing dish when I got home.

6. Dinner on the Orient-Express

Without a doubt, I will never forget our black-tie dinner on the Orient-Express. We embarked in Venice and spent the night in London. The best we can say is that we were somewhere in Switzerland when our butler knocked lightly on our cabin door to call us to dinner. The dining car, draped in rich velvet and highly polished wood, was magnificent. We sat down with a fascinating couple from London and feasted on a sumptuous four course dinner while a piano played quietly in the corner. It was a magical night centered around a perfect meal.

7. Lobster Cooking on the Beach, Martha’s Vineyard

When a dear friend planned her wedding at Martha’s Vineyard, I knew I had to make the trip there. From the lovely setting and thoughtful touches to the beautiful garden ceremony itself, it was truly a weekend to remember. A highlight: the rehearsal dinner, authentic lobster cooking right on the beach. The locally sourced lobsters were steamed to perfection with corn, potatoes and lots of spicy seasoning. We all put on our mandatory bibs, ate to our heart’s content and watched a beautiful sunset. Add in the festive vibe and you’ll see why this ranks among the best meals ever.

8. Kabritu Stoba, Curacao

I love to stretch my palate while on vacation, and that was certainly the case in Curacao. This island nation, colonized by the Dutch, still retains a distinct Creole vibe. When we visited, I knew I wanted to try kabritu stoba — or goat stew. It’s a famous dish that makes delicious use of the goats that roam free (or rampant, depending on who you ask) on the island. I grabbed a bowl at a food hall frequented by locals in downtown Willemstad. The goat was tender and lightly gamey, the stew thick, hearty and perfect with a side of island beans and rice.

The author poses with a simit sandwich in Istanbul.  The simit sandwich looks like a mustache.
Simit sandwiches prepared for a convenient meal and fun selfie outside the Blue Mosque in Istanbul (Photo credit: Erika Ebsworth-Goold)

9. Simit Sandwiches, Istanbul

A highlight of our trip to Istanbul was visiting the famous Blue Mosque. However, we were in a bit of a rush and hadn’t had a full breakfast. Good thing for the simit stalls ringing the perimeter of the mosque. We grabbed two of the thin bagel-shaped rings, asked for them to be split in half and slathered in cream cheese and jam, and voila! We had the perfect meal on the go, polite while queuing to see one of the wonders of the world. Perfection.

10. Energizing Breakfast, Outside Quito, Ecuador

We were determined to explore Cotopaxi, the active volcano near Quito, on our trip to Ecuador. Our guide picked us up early and we knew breakfast was included in our tour. We stopped at a dusty little cafe in a small village on the way and were the only customers. We were not disappointed, as we were served yogurt pancakes sprinkled with granola, fresh tropical fruits, thick white bread smeared with jams and amazing Ecuadorian coffee. It was the perfect fuel for a memorable, action-packed day that saw us ascend to base camp. I was pretty grateful for all those breakfast carbs!

Hand-pulled biang biang noodles in Xi'an, China.
Erika Ebsworth-Goold

11. Biang Biang Noodles, Xi’an

China is famous for its dumplings, buns and perhaps especially its noodles. And when I visited Xi’an, several people told me that I needed to taste the cuisine of the city bian bian, or belt noodles. Hand-pulled and wide (like a belt!), these wheat dough noodles are served in huge bowls of broth with a spicy sauce on the side that can be adjusted to your taste. I watched the noodles being made on site in the town square and polished them in a communal outdoor dining area. They had the perfect amount of chewy, fragrant and delicious broth – a comforting dish after a long day of travelling.

12. Steamed Rockfish, Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos were an on-the-go blur for us. We stayed in Puerto Ayora and arranged snorkeling trips each of our 3 days there. On the nights we came home too late – and too exhausted – for a sit-down dinner, we headed to Charles Binford Street and its Los Kiskos, an open-air food-hall type street with outdoor picnic tables. center. One evening we staggered to a fishmonger, picked out two of the finest freshly caught rockfish, then watched them rolled in banana leaves and steamed to perfection. We brought our bounty to a table, paired it with a few local beers, and soaked up the ex-pat, adventurer atmosphere late into the night.

13. Plateau Mezes, Rhodes, Greece

Sun, sea and a platter of delicious food are what I remember most about beautiful Rhodes. We only spent a short time there, as it was a stopover on a Mediterranean cruise. After a whirlwind of sightseeing, we settled into a seaside cafe for a quick bite before getting back on the boat. We ordered mezes and a light white Greek wine. The tang of taramasalata on pita, the salty brine of local olives and, of course, the creamy locally made feta, for the perfect meal on the Mediterranean.

14. Cream Tea, London, England

Finally, I must tell you about the Café in the Crypt at St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church in London, a short walk from Trafalgar Square. The cafe serves delicious food at a reasonable price, but I particularly like their cream tea service, including scones, clotted cream and jam… enough to qualify for a meal. This place is the perfect place to take a break from the hustle and bustle of the city, which I have done many times. And where else can you eat in a historic crypt? It’s more fascinating than scary, I promise!

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