Travel

Here's Your Culinary Bucket List Straight From A Travel Pro

This woman makes her living eating her way around the world — so her recommendations are definitely on point.

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Meet Jodi Ettenberg, the food and travel blogger behind the blog Legal Nomads: Telling Stories Through Food.

Jodi Ettenberg

Jodi, who's also the author of the book The Food Traveler's Handbook, has been traveling the world since 2008, when she left her job as a corporate lawyer to go on an adventure.

"I was 29 at the time, and I'd saved up money to travel around the world for one year, as a sabbatical," she told BuzzFeed Travel. "But it turns out that my whole trip only cost half of what I thought it would, so I was like, 'Oh, I'll do two years.'" By that time, she'd been asked to do some freelance writing, and then one thing led to another — and she's been on the road ever since.

Ettenberg quickly learned that local food is a great window into the culture of a place.

"I didn't always care about food, but when I started traveling, I saw how food deepened my travel experience," she said. "It allowed me to connect to a place in a way no other lens could. It really brings people together."

Although she has celiac disease — meaning she gets sick if she eats gluten — she has still managed to build an entire life around the food and travel combo. Here are the countries she thinks have the best food in the world — plus her two favorite local dishes in each place.

1. Bún riêu cua, Vietnam

Jodi Ettenberg

"Bún riêu cua remains one of my favorite dishes in Vietnam, and I dream of it often," she says.

Originally a dish from northern Vietnam, it's available throughout the country these days, with different tastes depending on the region, says Ettenberg. It's sweet and tangy, with a tomato and crab (cua) broth, and fluffy rice noodles. "It's one of the soups I had never heard of before my visit to Vietnam — and the one I miss most when I'm away," she says.

2. Bánh cuốn, Vietnam

Jodi Ettenberg

Vietnamese dish names are often very literal, and bánh cuốn means rolled cake, explains Ettenberg. It's a light, delicate rice crepe rolled around ground pork and wood ear mushrooms, and it's served with bean sprouts, fresh basil, fried shallots, and delicious sliced sausage. "It's a breakfast food in the north, but I ate it during all hours in the south," says Ettenberg. "You never feel too full when you're done, but you crave another plate almost immediately!"

3. Gai pad pongali, Thailand

Jodi Ettenberg

"It's not the prettiest dish, but the taste will make up for it, I promise," says Ettenberg. Also spelled pad pong garee, pad pongali is a dry yellow curry with celery leaves, egg, chicken, and vegetables — and it's also amazing with crab. "It has chilies, too, of course, as well as a specific spice blend to give it its signature taste, which is very different from yellow curry," she says.

4. Sai ua, Thailand

Jodi Ettenberg

Sai ua isn't a specific dish, but a specific sausage that tastes "superb," swears Ettenberg. It's a spicy minced pork filling with kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, chilies, garlic, and galangal. "Yet despite its simplicity, this sausage has more flavor than many other dishes combined," she says. "It's usually grilled and served with sticky rice. You can't go wrong."

[Note: This dish is especially good if you're gluten-free. "I can't have soy sauce because of the wheat, so instead of boat noodles and pad siew, I've turned to Isaan food from Thailand's northeast, full of fish sauce and flavor and spice," says Ettenberg.]

5. Donburi bowls with fresh fish, Japan

Jodi Ettenberg

"Sushi has exploded worldwide, and the incredible quality of the fish I tried in Japan was humbling," says Ettenberg. She ate tons of donburi bowls while she was in Japan. "This bowl was a simple dish from Tsukiji fish market: sushi rice, fresh salmon, and tuna straight from the market. And it was just sublime," she says.

6. Buckwheat noodles, Japan

Jodi Ettenberg

"It's hard to find 100% buckwheat noodles in North America; usually they're 'cut' with wheat to make them cheaper — but not so at this wonderfully tiny, family-owned restaurant in Takayama, Japan," says Ettenberg. "They assured me that their buckwheat (soba) noodles were 100% made with the flour that wouldn't get me sick," says Ettenberg — and they were right. "It was one of my more memorable meals, especially given the sweet granny who served it to me!

7. Tlayudas, Oaxaca, Mexico

Jodi Ettenberg

"These enormous tortillas, nicknamed 'Oaxacan pizzas,' are brushed with asiento (pork lard) and then topped with local quesillo cheese, avocado, tomato, shredded cabbage or lettuce, and a meat of your choice," says Ettenberg. "This is beef, and this tlayuda is far bigger than my head."

The markets in town offer this dish as well; it's also served late-night throughout the city. "It's satisfying, not as filling as it looks, and 100% safe for my stomach."

8. Memelas, Oaxaca, Mexico

Jodi Ettenberg

Another Oaxacan snack specialty, memelas are small corn tortillas pressed and toasted on the comal, a curved griddle heated over a fire or a gas stove, says Ettenberg. "They're brushed with pork lard and topped with cheese, sometimes quesillo, but often a fresh crumbly cheese called panela," she says. "And then you add your salsas — fiery red tomatoes with smoked chilies, or green tomatillos and jalapeños; you can't go wrong." Memelas are also called sopes or huaraches elsewhere in Mexico, where they are served with different toppings.

Also of note: Before chefs add toppings, they often pinch the surface of the tortilla to create some texture — and the edges are occasionally folded in like a mini pie crust. "This allows the toppings to sink into the corn as it cooks," says Ettenberg.

For more food and travel inspiration, follow Jodi Ettenberg on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and visit her website here.