Whether eaten on a white-clothed table, on a greasy counter, or on a stool by the side of busy streets, local food is one of the greatest joys of traveling. The memories of extraordinary meals and their backdrops will last long after you return home.
What makes certain dishes more delicious when eaten in their country of origin?
Is the desire to be a “real New Yorker” for just a few moments at breakfast making a bagel taste better in New York City?
What makes these dining and drinking experiences so delicious?
Thanks to globalization and fast transportation, we can now enjoy the food of almost any country close to home. As Harvard-trained nutritionist and psychiatrist Dr. Uma Niaidoo, the author of “This Is Your Brain on Food,” explains, modernity’s perk can rob us of the freshness of eating food close to its source.
She says, “If we eat something in a certain country, it is usually a speedy turnover.” People eat a lot, constantly. The food is not stored to be served the next day.
It’s not unusual for talented chefs to travel. You can enjoy authentic Chinese food or Southern cuisine in New York City, Toronto, or Madrid. What makes labor-intensive food like Tandoori or sushi taste so unique when we eat it on trips to Japan and India?
Naidoo says that the location, equipment, and skills of those who cook your food all contribute to the flavor of a dish.
She says the process is “very inborn to that community and that country.” It isn’t easy to recreate the experience elsewhere, regardless of whether it’s premium-grade street food or a rare but delicious food that a vendor sells only.
What other factors influence our perception that the food we eat on vacation is the best? The key is the word relaxation. When we travel, we are more open-minded, relaxed, and adventurous. We eat to experience novelty and pleasure, not just for the sake of it.
Taste, like smell, can create strong memories in our minds. Neuroscience tells us that our food memories are shaped not by flavor but by context, such as who we were eating with, where we ate, and why.
Taste is indeed subjective. One person’s mango on a beach in a tropical country may seem delicious to another, but some dishes are notorious for being difficult to duplicate outside their original location. Here are a few.
French baguettes, croissants and baguettes
We usually get fresh bread or pastries in our local supermarket or bakery. Is that baguette you bought in your neighborhood as good as that you once had in Paris?
What if your team is competing, just like the best bakers of France, in the Grand Prix de la Baguette?
It is nearly impossible to recreate the taste, texture, and aroma of a freshly-baked French baguette due to the expertise of bakers of this level.
These artisanal methods even won UNESCO Protection in 2022. To make the best croissants in France, chefs may create up to 600 layers of dough by folding, folding, and then folding again. It doesn’t hurt to have the Eiffel or Seine as a backdrop.
It may sound like a romantic notion that the best pint of Guinness is in Ireland, but science backs up this claim.
Researchers compared the “Perfect Pint,” a Guinness beer from the Guinness Brewery in Dublin, to Guinness pours in bars in 14 countries. Researchers found that Guinness tastes better in Ireland. This could be because the beer does not travel well or Irish bartenders are more skilled at pouring the drink.
Researchers have suggested that frequent pouring in Ireland could directly contribute to the beer’s freshness from the barrel.
Bagels in New York City
The popular refrain “It’s water” explains why bagels in N.Y.C. taste better.
According to the American Chemical Society (A.C.S.), New York City’s water from the Catskills is “softer” and has fewer minerals. The A.C.S. concluded that “harder water” would result in a more arduous baked good. However, New York’s softened water isn’t the reason behind the legendary bagels of the city.
, the organization worked with a chef from the Culinary Institute of America to determine. The texture and taste of bagels result from proofing yeast (letting them sit in a cooler for a few days) and boiling the bagels before baking – a method they compare to flash frying steaks before grilling to seal in flavors.
Sushi and Sashimi is a Japanese delicacy.
Another example of how expertise is essential. Naidoo says Japan’s sushi chefs are highly-trained and undergo years of training.
In this case, context is essential.
According to Trevor Corson, the author of “The Story of Sushi, Japanese sushi is usually eaten in a bar where the customer can chat with the chef who will be able to recommend what is in season. In Japan, the short time frame during which fish is at its freshest makes it more likely to be tasty.
Fruits on the Farm
Peaches that have just been picked. An apple you picked yourself. Fresh berries right from the vine. The ingredients in this (large) category are almost always best when picked right from the vine, mainly if pesticides were not used during farming.
Imagine the farmstand tomato you picked up on your drive through the Northeast summer. Slices of San Marzano tomato paired with burrata along the Amalfi coast in Italy. In this instance, the rich volcanic soil of Mt. Vesuvius imparts an irresistible taste to tomatoes.
Naidoo says that volcanic soil is richer in elements like magnesium, potassium, and lycopene, which are antioxidants needed by the brain and body. They add to the taste of tomatoes but also to their nutritional density.
She notes that although many producers claim to sell San Marzano tomatoes, only those whose labels have the D.O.P. The label must include the Protected Designation of Origin (or D.O.P. in English).