Nothing brings back the memory of a beloved vacation destination quite like food. In fact, scientists have discovered a special link between the part of our brain that processes taste and the part that records where we were when we first encountered it.
We’re hard-wired to remember our happiest moments and favorite places through what we eat, which may explain why special meals are associated with certain holidays, and why you just can’t help returning to your beloved comfort foods.
Luckily, there are plenty of global food purveyors eager to bring your favorite destination to your doorstep. Whether it’s a delicious sauce you can spread on anything, smoked fish you can have for brunch, a box of goodies from a unique region of the world or a kit you can use to recreate a favorite meal from your travels right in your kitchen — it’s never been easier to taste the world from home.
Here are eight dishes you can enjoy when you’re craving a quick escape.
1. New York Smoked Salmon
A quintessential breakfast item in the Big Apple, smoked salmon is best when it’s sliced thinly enough to read through, then layered lovingly on top of a bagel with a slather of cream cheese. There are plenty of places that do it well, but perhaps the best of all is Russ & Daughters, the Lower East Side “appetizing” shop that’s been slinging Jewish delicacies for more than a century. It’s now shipping nationwide via Goldbelly, so you can get smoked salmon, sturgeon, herring and caviar delivered to your door in time for Sunday brunch.
2. Taiwanese Pineapple Cake
Halfway between a shortbread cookie and a hand pie, these pineapple jam-filled pastries manage to be crusty, crumbly and chewy all at the same time. Though the original recipe is most widely available, you can also get them with a golden egg yolk at the center. Taiwanese bakeries specializing in these treats have lines out their doors and customers buying tall stacks of boxes. Two popular brands — Sunny Hills and Chia Te — sell them via Amazon.
3. Chinese Chili Crisp
Some condiments have very specific uses, but chili crisp can add a punch to just about anything you put it on — and once you try it, you’ll want to put it on everything. It employs a mix of chile peppers, fried garlic and oil for an unctuous, umami-tastic sauce that’s great on grilled vegetables, over rice or in stews. Two U.S. companies that make their own versions of the sauce, Fly by Jing (a Szechuan version) and Yun Hai (a Taiwanese version), ship nationwide.
4. Persian Snacks and Ingredients
Thanks to centuries of warriors, traders and travelers, as well as shared borders with Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Turkey, Iran’s cuisine is unique — and difficult to cook at home if you don’t have the right ingredients. Fortunately, Atlanta-based Persian Basket ships nationwide, so you can buy saffron, rosewater, pomegranate syrup and even the herb and spice mixes for classic stews like ghormeh sabzi, plus snacks like dried dates, sour cherries and pistachios to munch on while you cook.
5. San Francisco Sourdough Bread
You may have tried your hand at some home baking, but sometimes nothing can beat a perfect loaf of bread that you don’t have to make from scratch. For those finely burnished crusts that crackle when you cut into them, and a bouncy, slightly tangy crumb, there’s nothing quite like the San Francisco original. Tartine Bakery has been churning out loaves that have customers lining up at the door, plus they have been selling cookbooks to instruct new generations of bakers since 2002. You can order their breads, brownies, cookies and cakes from Goldbelly.
6. Texas Barbeque
There’s nothing quite like digging into a delicious rack of ribs or a succulent brisket right next to the barbecue pit — and you can get those authentic Texas flavors delivered right to your door via Goldbelly. If you’re looking to recreate that perfect outdoor summer party, you can buy an entire side of brisket and toss it on your grill to reheat and slice. Meanwhile, several combos and gift sets offer enough brisket, ribs, sausage links, burnt ends and sauces to feed an entire meat-loving family.
7. Portuguese Fish Tins
Portugal has been preserving its fresh sardines, mackerel and many other types of seafood for generations, packing them in high-quality olive oil (either plain or with spices) into beautifully designed, colorful tins. You can buy these Conservas in specialty shops that showcase them on bare white walls like works of art, and they’ve become one of the country’s most popular souvenirs. They’re also available for delivery nationwide from the Massachusetts-based Portugalia online marketplace. Eat them on a fresh slice of bread or a crusty baguette with a fresh side salad.
8. Virtual Travel Food Boxes
Food boxes are nothing new, but travel companies are pivoting to virtual vacations with new food box subscriptions. Arthur Avenue Food Tours, which explores New York City’s original Little Italy in the Bronx, ships out boxes of ingredients in advance of their online cooking classes. Meanwhile, food boxes from Culinary Backstreets represent some of their most popular tours: Plaka in Athens includes Greek olive oil and honey, and the United Kitchens of Queens box offers ingredients like tamarind chutney, flatbreads and chili paste that celebrate New York City’s most international borough.
Whether you’re looking forward to an upcoming getaway or looking back with nostalgia on a favorite vacation memory, food is one of the easiest and most satisfying ways to keep the good vibes going. When you’re ready to travel again, eating these foods and making new memories with them will simply feel like coming home.
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