Photo: Brick Lane Mini Market

Londoners have long strolled Brick Lane in the East End for authentic curries and a glimpse of immigrant Bangladeshi culture.

Photograph by Catherine Karnow

Brick Lane, London: Curry

Like the fragrant curries found in abundance here, Brick Lane—the lively thoroughfare that meanders through Spitalfields in the scruffy East End of London—is a true melting pot. This cultural crossroads has offered shelter to waves of immigrants since the 17th century, including French Huguenots, Eastern European Jews, and, recently, South Asians, most notably roughly 60,000 Bangladeshis. Many Brits had their first encounter with cardamom and coriander on Brick Lane during the second half of the 20th century, in tight rooms decorated in flocked wallpaper and twanging with the sound of sitars. Here, the definitive English curry—a hybrid of colonial comfort food and Indian classics prepared with a Bangladeshi accent—was canonized. Top contenders on the curry scene include Bengal Village and Gram Bangla, a spot known for its home-style cooking where the neighborhood’s latest round of immigrants—hipsters—sup elbow-to-elbow with families gathered after mosque. —Sarah Karnasiewicz

Grand Sablon Square, Brussels: Belgian Chocolates

With so many artisanal chocolate makers, Brussels can seem like one big bulging chocolate box. But if you don’t have time to scour all the city’s sweet shops, head to the venerable Grand Sablon Square for a taste of Brussels’s two contrasting approaches to the cocoa bean. Chocolatier Pierre Marcolini’s hand-dipped chocolates, plucked from glass cases by clerks wearing clinical white gloves, come infused with unexpected, pupil-dilating flavors (yuzu, a Japanese citrus; tonka bean; Moroccan pink pepper berries; bergamot; mango). Wittamer, on the other hand, is all old-school elegance, its display cases filled with classic pralines and green pistachio bonbons. If you have room for only one taste, though, make it the heart-shaped raspberry chocolate that could pass for Brussels’s own abiding valentine. —Raphael Kadushin

Barrio del Carmen, Valencia: Horchata

You needn’t wander far in Valencia before stumbling across a street cart hawking the cool milky drink called orxata (Valencian for horchata) to locals during their almuerzo (midday meal). But a stroll through the crooked, cobbled streets of Barrio del Carmen reveals the city’s few remaining horchaterías, which promise a respite from the scorching Spanish sun. Likely introduced by Moors between the eighth and 13th centuries and made with pulped chufas (tiger nuts), horchata falls in the shadow of Valencia’s other iconic foods (paella, oranges, and tomatoes) but is such a part of the city’s identity that it’s controlled by a regulatory council that protects the beverage with Denominación de Origen status. First stop is the 200-year-old Horchatería de Santa Catalina, veneered with sunny, hand-painted cera­mics inside and out. Across the street, Horchatería El Siglo is the newcomer, opened in 1836. Inside, a discreet balcony overlooks black-and-white checkerboard tiles and gold-trimmed neoclassical mirrors, while umbrella-topped tables spill onto the front patio, an ideal place to people-watch over a slushy horchata granizado and a plateful of fartons—cakey, oblong pastries that remain a traditional accompaniment to the drink. —Adam H. Graham

Ngu Xa village, Hanoi: Pho Cuon

Once a Vietnamese village known for its brass casting, Ngu Xa, on Hanoi’s Truc Bach lake, is now synonymous with another lustrous product: pho cuon, silky white sheets of uncut pho soup noodles wrapped around fried beef, lettuce, and cilantro and dunked in nuoc cham (fish sauce with lime, rice vinegar, garlic, and chili). Light and fresh, soft yet crunchy—and cheap ($1.50 buys 10 rolls)—pho cuon has become trendy enough for 60-odd specialty restaurants to materialize in the environs. Mrs. Chinh of Chinh Thang, a family-run restaurant at 7 Mac Dinh Chi Street, maintains she conceived the dish ten years ago after she ran out of broth and persuaded some late-night revelers looking for a bowl of noodle soup to eat her leftovers as rolls. Others claim the dish is actually a retro trend; the fact that it resurfaced by a lake called Truc Bach, which often translates as “White Silk,” is poetic happenstance. —Connla Stokes

Recoleta, Buenos Aires: Helado

Buenos Aires may be known the world over as a carnivore’s mecca, but there’s another side to this gastronomic capital beyond grilled beef—a much cooler, creamier side. Put simply, Porteños are insane for ice cream. (The Ministry of Culture recently published a 255-page, full-color biography and guide to the most beloved heladerias across the city.) Denser than most American ice creams and available in a kaleidoscope of exotic flavors—maracuyá (passion fruit), chocolate with Cointreau, dulce de leche with caramelized almonds, or even cerveza (beer!)—helado is an Argentine riff on traditional gelato, which arrived in the city at the turn of the 20th century along with a large influx of Italian immigrants. Today, you’d be hard-pressed to walk a block without seeing someone strolling with a cone or pausing at a corner café over a cup. Each neighborhood has dozens of heladerias, and every local a favorite, but two of the most revered outposts—Un’ Altra Volta and newcomer Arkakaó—can be found in the posh, tree-lined district of Recoleta. Both shops have streamlined contours, use all-natural ingredients, and prepare fresh batches each day—and both can be more expensive than other heladerias in the city. But then again, who ever said perfection came cheap? —Sarah Karnasiewicz

Tsukishima, Tokyo: Monjayaki

Beneath the refined face of Japanese cuisine thrives what the locals call “B-grade gourmet”—low-cost, no-frills but tasty fare such as ramen and yakitori. In Tokyo, nothing better represents that epicurean underbelly than monjayaki, a dish that comes to the table as a bowl of runny batter mixed with a choice of meat, fish, and finely chopped vegetables, before diners fry it into a sticky pancake. Originating as a children’s snack—and designed to ensure nothing went to waste—monjayaki remains unique to the Greater Tokyo area. To try it, head to Tsukishima—dubbed “Monja Town”—a man-made island that neighbors former Edo-era fishing communities in Tokyo Bay. Among Tsukishima’s high-rise condos you’ll find some 80 monjayaki joints that serve as reminders of the area’s working-class roots. Try Noto, which, like many of the best restaurants in Tsukishima, has walls plastered with the signatures of visiting Japanese celebs and sports stars. Just don’t be put off by the slightly run-down interiors and aging tatami mat flooring; the monja here is some of the best in Tokyo. —Rob Goss


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