As a traveling philosopher, I sometimes wonder what drives peoples’ decisions to travel. I think food has more to do with it then we give it credit for. I just imagine a husband walking into the kitchen, opening the refrigerator, and grumbling to himself something like: “It’s about damn time we take a trip. I am not eating sloppy joes for a third night in a row.” That’s one of my favorite things about traveling – discovering foods that were previously unknown to me. And it’s one of my favorite ways to introduce visitors to San Francisco. I send them to my favorite San Francisco food trucks or brunch restaurants. That’s why today I’m happy to discuss some of those foods I’ve discovered abroad that I wouldn’t mind adding to my regular diet. They were all foods that were relatively unknown to me, but left me wanting more.

1. Biltong. Say that five times fast! Ask anyone who has spent any length of time in South Africa what the one food you should try is and they’ll likely respond with biltong. Biltong is a type of sliced, cured meat that originated in South Africa. It has the look and feel of jerky, but with some significant differences, such as being cured with vinegar to enhance the flavor. You can typically find it in markets and retail shops throughout South Africa. Biltong makes for a good snack, although be careful pulling it out into the open on safari.

2. Tostones. In the way of food, Central America left much to be desired. There are only so many different ways you can have rice and beans. I mean when was the last time you asked a girl out and said: “Hey girl, how about going out for a bowl of rice and beans tonight? I’ll bring the Beano.” No, exactly. However, one of my favorite foods in Central America became plantains, though not just regular plantains, but twice-fried plantains, called tostones. It’s like eating fries or potato chips. Tostones are relatively easy to make at home, not to mention cheap, making this the one food from this list I’m most likely to cook.

3. Boerewors. South African cuisine sneaks up on you. It’s nothing extravagant, yet has some dynamic, and therefore surprising flavors. My favorite part of my food experiences in South Africa was barbecuing, or what’s referred to as “braai”. There wasn’t a day that went by that I wouldn’t see a group of people gathered around a grill or open fire pit. Boerewors has a dutch background, typically consisting of several different spices and minced meat that may include pork and/or lamb. Eat it by itself or throw it on a hoagie bun.

4. Tres Leches Cake. If you guessed “three-milk cake”, then you’re correct. In honor of my love for Tres Leches Cake, I found the nearest bakery in San Francisco yesterday to have a slice and it didn’t disappoint, rivaling the best I had in Central America. Tres Leches Cake is a spongy cake doused in evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, and heavy cream. Throw a cherry or two on top and commence food coma. This is the easiest food on this list to find elsewhere, as you can sometimes find it in restaurants and bakeries, Latin or not. I’ll try to make a lot of different foods, but this isn’t one of them. I’ll leave this up to the professionals.

5. Colcannon. I know, the name isn’t the most appealing in the world, like Nutella for example. It sounds like something you get in your stocking on Christmas if you’re on the naughty list. However, give Ireland’s colcannon a try, even after I tell you what it consists of. Traditional recipes of colcannon typically includes mashed potatoes with either cabbage or kale. My personal preference is kale. On those cold winter days this year, colcannon is a nice break from your typical side of instant mashed potatoes. If you love bacon like I do, have it with a hearty helping of chopped bacon thrown in.

What are your favorite foods from abroad?

Plantain photo above from SarahInDisguise on Flickr.