Where to try some of the world’s most treasured ingredients and how to eat them the right way.
How far do you go for really local food? The influence of game-changers such as Noma’s René Redzepi spurred a new generation of chefs to look to their own countries, even their own back gardens for inspiration. But some ingredients have always tasted better when consumed in their native habitat—ingredients that really ground the person eating them in their location. Does a Bellini made in London taste as good as one stirred in Venice using hand-pitted white peaches plucked from a Veneto orchard? And surely jamon iberico carved from the leg of an acorn-fed grunter in Extremadura tastes much finer than a slice served in New York.
Here are three foodie destinations, each with a gourmet ingredient worth traveling for. These seasonal stars fly the flag for their home turf; they are foodie status symbols that have earned an almost mythological reputation for their scarcity or quality, sparked a culinary set of traditions, and inspired local chefs to get creative.
Smoked Salmon, Edinburgh
Scotland has some of the finest seafood in the UK, and Edinburgh has the best restaurant scene outside London, with menus that make the most of locally caught langoustines, haddock, and mackerel, freshly dived scallops, mussels, and oysters. But this is a country devoted to salmon, with the best fish carefully sourced, smoked using woodchips from whisky barrels and cured with everything from seaweed to maple syrup. Good smoked salmon is natural pink, not orange, and not at all greasy. In Edinburgh, pick up a few tips from a traditional fishmonger, such as Armstrong’s of Stockbridge or Eddie’s Seafood Market, which supplies many of the city’s chefs. Or embark on a fishing trip, and learn how to fly fish for salmon in the Tweed or Tay rivers.
Unlike, say, white truffles, smoked salmon has become increasingly ubiquitous since Jewish immigrants brought the tradition over from Eastern Europe in the 19th century. What was once a treat now appears in bagels and sandwiches everywhere. So how to stay ahead of the shoal? “Scottish chefs must really work to preserve its prestige,” says Jamie Knox, Head Chef at Galvin Brasserie de Luxe at Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh – The Caledonian, where smoked salmon is served variously, as a mousse, as gravlax, and with blinis and Cream Crowdie, a Scottish cheese from Stirlingshire.
“We cure ours on-site to preserve the natural flavors and ensure the highest quality,” he says.“Wild salmon is only available in spring, so it’s very expensive; to help prevent overfishing, we only use it for special occasions. Hot smoked salmon is becoming more popular; you smoke it over heat so it will appear cooked.”
Where to eat smoked salmon in Scotland
Galvin Brasserie de Luxe
Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh – The Caledonian
Edinburgh, EH1 2AB
+44 131 222 8988
Going on a truffle hunt is a truly memorable way to experience the countryside, setting off in the morning mist with trained dogs to track down the elusive edible diamonds, which grow in tree roots and are worth up to US$3,600 per pound. In Italy, the pungent truffle, considered to be an aphrodisiac, found its way to the tables of the Romans and the Medicis; the white truffle of Piedmont is considered to be the finest, with a season that lasts from September to December (the less-fragrant black truffles continue until March, with a summer variety between May and August).
Rome lies at the heart of Italy’s food scene, with buzzwords such as “slow food” and “locavore” on many people’s tongues. You may not find truffles growing in the streets, but head to a classic deli such as Franchi (just outside the Vatican), or the more contemporary Eataly in trendy Testaccio, and you can see them in their raw form, before they’re shaved into paper-thin slices and added to dishes. “Only eat the white truffles raw!” says Fabio Boschero, Executive Chef at Rome Cavalieri, A Waldorf Astoria Resort. “The best recipes are the simple ones that place it at the center of the plate: tagliolini, eggs sunny side up, steak tartare, or risotto. But black truffles you must cook, in meatballs, soufflés, and in a coarse paté such as veal liver or chicken. Never ever sauté them as they will lose their aroma.”
Where to eat truffles in Rome:
Rome Cavalieri, A Waldorf Astoria Resort
Via Alberto Cadlolo, 101
+39 06 3509 2145
Via Cola di Rienzo, 200
+39 06 686 5564
Piazzale 12 Ottobre 1492
+39 06 9027 9201
Hairy Crab, Shanghai
Shanghai is one of the most accessible places to experience all kinds of regional Chinese dishes, from street-food hits to Michelin-star creations in high-rise towers, Sichuan spice to subtle Cantonese favorites. It may not have the most appealing name in the world—call it the mitten crab if you prefer—but the fur-clawed crustacean has legions of aficionados. They appreciate its sweet flesh and, though not for the squeamish, its buttery roe. It’s said the best crabs are plucked from Yangcheng Lake, not far from Shanghai, and they are available for a short season between October and the end of November. As a popular Chinese saying has it: “The autumn winds start to blow, the crabs scuttle to and fro; when the chrysanthemums bloom, you’ll smell the crab’s perfume.”
Shanghai cooking is generally known for its liberal use of vinegar, lotus root and sweet soy sauces, but the hairy crab should be cooked simply by steaming with vinegar and shredded ginger. At Wei Jing Ge restaurant in Waldorf Astoria Shanghai on the Bund, Chef Sam Yuen has been known to devote set menus to the hairy crab, where it might appear alongside king prawns, braised bamboo, and fried rice with pumpkin washed down with white port.
Where to eat hairy crab in Shanghai
Wei Jing Ge
Waldorf Astoria Shanghai on the Bund
+86 21 6322 9988