5 Of The World’s Most Underrated Cities For Good Food

5 Of The World’s Most Underrated Cities For Good Food

Wherever we go, as Malaysians, we do need our fill of good food. And here are some unexpected places to find them. (Left: Image by @kopitiamkita2010. Right: Image by @traditionjulen.)

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By now, you’re all more than aware of the world reopening. With travelling getting easier and easier as the months go by (good riddance, PCR testing!), it’s only a matter of time before you’ll be packing your bags for an international adventure if you haven’t already gone on one. But wherever you choose to go, we’re all Malaysians at heart, and for us, we like to know that there’s going to be good food where we’re going.

While the following cities are known for their historical sites and insane shopping, they’re pretty underrated when it comes to good food. Oh, and we threw in one local destination with phenomenal eats too. Just because.

Taipei, Taiwan

When you think of Taipei, Taiwan’s bustling capital city, you likely think of all the insane shopping you can do in its shopping districts. Or perhaps you think of Taipei 101 — the iconic tower most famous for its observatory. But know that when it comes to food, Taipei is more than stinky tofu (although, yes, stinky tofu is absolutely delish, and you must have some while in town).

You’ll also want to indulge in Taiwanese Beef Noodles — a soupy and comforting dish indeed. The city’s most popular are Lin Dong Fang if you’re up for hawker fare (it’s always packed, so prepare yourself for that) and Niu Dian for a more comfortable, upmarket option.

Then, of course, there’s Taiwanese hotpot. From spicy to creamy, there are various soup bases to choose from. And if you’re crazy for hotpot, there’s no better city to get your fix! Top One Pot is a favourite amongst locals and is consistently highly rated, while Takao 1972 lets you go luxe with high-quality ingredients such as lobster and scallops.

Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok is heaven for any true blue foodie beyond massage parlours, cheap shopping, and hedonistic nights out. On the one hand, you’ve got heaps of outdoor food markets like Chit Lom’s food trucks and the K Village Farmer’s Market to eat your way through. There’s also PacMan serving up the most fantastic street eats in many cuisines. All this on top of the city’s thriving cafe scene.

Then, on the other, you’ve got local haunts at just about every corner where you can tuck into favourites like pad Thai, chicken basil, tom yum, pandan chicken, and the like — the list is practically endless! My personal favourite place to enjoy the best of local cuisine under one roof is at Eathai. Nestled at the lower ground of the boujie Central Embassy shopping mall, Eathai’s must-eats include the duck noodles and crab noodles in yellow curry. But do leave room for dessert! You’ll also find plenty of dessert joints outside the food court worth checking out.

Finally, Bangkok is also the place to be for food because of its fine dining scene. Home to some of Asia’s best restaurants like Sorn, Suhring, Nusara, Blue by Alain Ducasse, Gaa, and even the once-famed Gaggan, that’s sadly no more. You’ll also find that the city is replete with countless Michelin-starred dining destinations like Lebua, which houses two 2-starred restaurants — Chef’s Table and Mezzaluna. The options are endless!

Kota Bharu, Malaysia

When it comes to Malaysia, people always think of Penang, Ipoh, or Melaka when searching for some good food. Of course, I concur that the food in these cities is the bomb, but let me tell you that Kota Bharu has some mean eats (and I don’t think I’m being biased).

Of course, you won’t find fancy eats in this northern city, but you will find the best of the state’s food peppered throughout. And these dishes — such as nasi kerabu (rice dyed blue with butterfly pea flower and served with desiccated coconut, raw veggies, roast beef or grilled percik chicken) and nasi dagang — make up some of Malaysia’s most beloved meals.

Despite being one of Malaysia’s most populous cities, Kota Bharu is a relatively quiet and sleepy place, leaving not much else to do but eat. From morning till late at night, food is an event.

Start your day at the likes of Kopitiam Kita, where the best breakfast foods from all over the state get delivered here fresh every morning. Besides that, they’ve got satay (a breakfast food in Kelantan) and their proprietary roti titab (thick toast with four dollops of kaya on each corner and a soft boiled egg in the middle). Yes, proprietary. They’ve got their trademark on the wall to prove it.

In the afternoons, nom your way through the various restaurants such as Restoran Hover for nasi paku, Yati Ayam Percik for nasi kerabu, Warisan Nasi Kukus for their nasi kukus, or Pasar Besar Siti Khadijah for the traditional kuihs and cakes.

Come nightfall, there’s a plethora of other eats to indulge in. A personal highlight? The Maggi Ketam. It’s precisely what the name suggests — a delectable bowl of hearty Maggi soup but with the added flavour of crabs, slow-cooked into the broth with some vegetables for good measure. Originally a dish from Bachok (a town about an hour away), you can get an equally delectable bowl at D’Syaz Cafe. I could go on, but we’ve got to move on. You get the picture.

Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul is a favourite destination for history buffs, a city teeming with rich history and myriad cultures. With jaw-dropping locations to visit — such as Dolmabahçe Palace, Hagia Sophia, and the Blue Mosque — your days will be filled with the discovery of Turkey’s centuries-long cultures and heritage. But did you know that Turkey’s largest city is also a force to reckon with when it comes to food?

Straddling both Asia and Europe, Turkish cuisine is a cultural mosaic of Eastern, Western, and Middle Eastern foods. Many dishes have their own history, such as the humble and popular dessert known as the Turkish Delight. Originating some 300 years ago from a store near Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, Haci Bekir still produces the OG goods. Known locally as loukoum, if you’re going to bring some back for friends and family, get them the real deal from Haci Bekir.

For other desserts, be sure to visit Pelit, another gourmet institution. Trust me, the baklava and rice pudding are to-die-for!

Another gastronomic phenomenon to come out of Istanbul is Salt Bae. Yes, you know the one. While Nusr-Et has gone on to become an internationally acclaimed destination for steak and meat with multiple outlets throughout Europe and the Middle East, there are a few reasons why you should visit his OG outlets peppered throughout Istanbul. First of all, you’re likely to get a table with no issue. Second, the prices aren’t anywhere as exorbitant as, say, his London restaurant.

While the steaks are good, personally, I come for the burgers. I’ve had the privilege of gorging some of the best in the world, and Salt Bae’s still comes up top – it’s so good we always have the restaurant freeze pack them to bring back to Malaysia. The beef ‘sushi’ and baklava pie are other absolute musts to culminate a meat-heavy meal perfectly.

Locals will also tell you that there are better steakhouses in Istanbul, but for me, I think Salt Bae deserves a chance. His burgers are just that good.

Finally, the kebabs. While Turkey is known for many dishes, kebabs have to be among the most well-known of local Turkish fare. For an upmarket meal, head over to Kile in the posh Ulus neighbourhood for the most tender skewers you’ll sink your teeth into. However, my personal favourite kebab joint in the city has to be Hamdi Restaurant. Offering south-eastern Turkish cuisine, they offer the most flavourful morsels of meat coupled with a stunning view of the Bosphorus.

Zermatt, Switzerland

When it comes to Switzerland, the first cities one would think of visiting would likely be St Moritz, Geneva, Lucerne, or even Interlaken. Besides the Matterhorn and being a small ski town, what else does Zermatt have to offer? Well, in the food department, plenty.

Granted, it is a really tiny town, but it’s one whose lamb can’t go unnoticed. I’ve had my fair share of really good lamb — like the lamb axe from Nusr-Et and the famed roast lamb from Pedro’s in Queenstown, New Zealand. But nothing tops the Valais lamb I’d eaten — nay, devoured — at Schäferstube. Honestly, I’d go so far as to say that the Valais lamb is one of Switzerland’s natural wonders. It’s just that good.

This (really cute, I actually feel mildly guilty for eating it) black-nosed sheep spends its summers in mountain pastures in the Upper Valais region. Grazing freely on the Gornergrat, these sheep lead happy lives, which is (fortunately? unfortunately?) reflected in its flavours and juicy tenderness. Although a regional speciality, what makes the Valais lamb dishes at Schäferstube stand out is that the owning Julen family have been in the business of rearing sheep for over a century.

My top pick among the lamb dishes at Schäferstube? Hands down the grilled rack of lamb with potato gratin and vegetables. Served in two parts, it’s like the gift that keeps on giving.

Of course, while you’re in Switzerland, you can’t miss out on indulging in a bubbling pot of traditional fondue. Saycheese! is a popular option, but sadly, temporarily closed. It’s arguably the best in town. Imbued with just the right amount of white wine, it’ll keep you warm on cold, snowy nights. But just about every restaurant in Zermatt will offer you this, so fret not. If you’re a real cheese fiend, then be sure to also get your fill of raclette. There are also other types of fondue worth trying — like beef and lamb (a Schäferstube special).

Reminiscing on all this good food has certainly whet my appetite for more. But thinking back, I also feel that you can probably find plenty of good food wherever you go — you just need to look in the right places.

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Going by the nickname Kuzai, the Kelantan native has spent 15 years in the wonderful world of publishing, formerly managing the beauty sections of glossies including ELLE and Harper’s BAZAAR. Now, Kuzai is the Editor of Zafigo. The wannabe runner is also mom to a feisty toddler, suffers from constant wanderlust, and really just works to eat, travel, and shop.