Do you eat to live, or live to eat? Do you count your time away in days, or in meals? Are your Instagram posts all of plates of food? Then you need to know those great dishes around the world, dishes that are so endemic to their place and people that they are virtually destinations in themselves. I'm not saying you should buy a world ticket just for the three meals a day, but – well, yes I am.
Alternatively, you don't have to be food obsessed to want to eat your way around the world. Food is an essential part of travel – through the simple act of eating, you meet people, pick up the local lingo, witness celebrations, make connections, and share a little bit of your culture with theirs.
So even non-food-tragics should check out this list of 50 great dishes of the world. Because in reality, it is simply a list of brilliant places to go and amazing experiences to have – with something nice to eat when you get there.
Pasta al ragu in Bologna
Why you must try it: There's no such thing as spaghetti Bolognese in Bologna – just tagliatelle al ragu, the sauce made with hand-chopped meat and served with flat ribbon pasta. It's tag rag we should all be mad about, not spag bol.
Where: The romantic and elegant Ristorante Diana on the Via dell'Indipendenza has been serving up the real thing since the 1920s. See ristorante-diana.it
Steak and kidney pie in England
Why you must try it: A rib-sticking mix of slow-cooked beef, kidneys, vegetables and gravy encased in rich suet pastry, steak and kidney pudding is British pub food in its most comforting, satisfying form.
Where The Hinds Head, Heston Blumenthal's 15th-century pub, down the road from his much-celebrated Fat Duck in Bray, just west of London. See hindsheadbray.com
Bistecca alla Fiorentina in Florence
Why you must try it: A mammoth T-bone steak taken from either Chianina or Maremmana cattle, bistecca alla Fiorentina is traditionally seasoned with olive oil, grilled on the bone over a wood or charcoal fire, and served with Tuscan beans.
Where: At local Florentine favourite Ristorante Perseus, a shrine to red meat and red wine. See facebook.com/pages/Ristorante-Perseus
Cassoulet in Toulouse
Why you must try it: Take duck or goose confit, bury it in a deep, round earthenware pot with a rich assortment of salt pork, pig skin, white beans, carrots, onions, cured ham and saucisses de Toulouse, and slowly cook for half a day. Now cover the top with garlicky breadcrumbs and finish in the oven until a golden crust has formed. Le cassoulet is the king of traditional south-western French dishes, and varies considerably from town to town, but the king of kings is the noble cassoulet de Toulouse.
Where: Le Colombier in Toulouse, where le cassoulet has been served since 1873, on the site of the Capitouls Stables, a stage post during the French Revolution. See restaurant-lecolombier.com
Mussels in Brussels
Why you must try it: In season from September to February, moules are the national dish of Belgium, traditionally served in a large steaming pot of winey or beery broth with a side of Belgian frites and home-made mayonnaise.
Where The 195-year-old Aux Armes de Bruxelles. See auxarmesdebruxelles.com
Souvlaki in Athens
Why you must try it: It's the ultimate Greek street food – skewered and barbecued lamb rolled in smoky grilled pita bread slathered with pita bread, yoghurt, onion, tomato and herbs, eaten in the hands.
Where: O Thanassis, just off Athens' Monastiraki Square. Just make sure to ask for the "souvlaki sandwich", or you'll get souvlaki and chips as a meal. See othanassis.com
Smorrebrod in Copenhagen
Why you must try it: Denmark's greatest gift to gastronomy is not Rene Redzepi of Restaurant Noma, but the humble smorrebrod, an open sandwich topped with everything from cured salmon to roast beef, correctly eaten with knife and fork. It takes a good four years to train as a smorrebrod chef – to learn how to bake your rye bread, fillet and cure fish, salt beef, pickle vegetables and create the sauces; a commitment on a par with becoming a sashimi chef in Japan.
Where: Restaurant Schonnemann, a modest, family-run dining room in Copenhagen. See restaurantschonnemann.dk
Paella in Valencia
Why you must try it: Great paella is cooked slowly, to order, creating a thick, golden "socarrat" crust on the bottom of the rice. In Valencia, where it originated in the 18th century, it's either paella Valenciana with land-based ingredients (chicken, rabbit, snails, vegetables) or paella de marisco, with shellfish; it's never both meat and seafood together.
Where: At the venerable La Pepica on the waterfront. See lapepica.com
Bouillabaisse in Marseilles
WHY YOU MUST TRY IT Bouillabaisse started life in the Marseilles region of Provence as a simple fisherman's stew, using up tough, bony little rockfish that were hard to sell. Flavoured with olive oil, tomatoes, wine and saffron, it's quite the event, served with croutons and rouille, a spicy mayonnaise.
Where At the family-run Chez Fonfon, overlooking the postcard-pretty Vallon des Auffes. See chez-fonfon.com
Grouse in Britain
Why you must try it: In Britain, August 12 is known as "The Glorious Twelfth", marking the official start of the red grouse shooting season. The undisputed princeling of British game, grouse is best served roasted whole, with game chips, bread sauce and duck liver pate on toast.
Where: For a gloriously traditional huntin', shootin', fishin' and eatin' experience, dine on grouse at Rules, London's oldest restaurant. For a less traditional but no less glorious experience, order the roast Pock Stones Estate grouse with bread sauce and rowan jelly at Hix Soho. See rules.co.uk; hixrestaurants.co.uk
Pinchos in San Sebastian
Why you must try it: San Sebastian does pinchos (pinxtos in Basque) rather than tapas, defined as little morsels on a slice of txapata, or baguette. It's a joy to cruise the streets stopping for a sherry here and a meatball there.
Where: The happy, buzzy, overcrowded La Vina, for golden potato tortilla, little albondigas meatballs, and light-as-mousse cheesecake.See lavinarestaurante.com.
Risotto in Verona
Why you must try it: The rice fields around Verona produce vialone nano and carnaroli, two of the finest risotto rice varieties in Italy; hence the Veronese claim to make the finest risotto in all of Italy.
Where: The Antica Bottega del Vino in Verona, a 125-year-old osteria in the historic centre of Verona, where it is made with the local Amarone red wine. See bottegavini.it
Swedish meatballs in Stockholm
Why you must try it: Food doesn't get any more homely or comforting than Sweden's crowd-pleasing meatballs, or kottbullar, made with a mix of ground beef and pork and served in a creamy sauce with boiled or mashed potatoes, lingonberry jam and pickled cucumber.
Where: The marble counter of the cosy little Backfika (hip pocket) restaurant, tucked in behind Stockholm's opera house. See operakallaren.se
Recipe: Swedish meatballs
Percebes in Galicia
Why you must try it: One of the world's great seafoods hails from the storm-weathered Galician coastline in the north-west of Spain. Percebes may look like the toes of a sea-going elephant, but once the tough, leathery skin is peeled away, the flesh is sweeter than lobster.
Where: At the family-run A Taberna do Puntal, at La Coruna on the Galician coast.
Pizza in Naples
Why you must try it: Naples is the centre of the known pizza universe, where the all-powerful Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana lays down strict guidelines for making genuine wood-fired pizza.
Where: At one of the oldest and best pizzeria in town – the eternally packed L'Antica Pizzeria Da Michele near the main station, where only two types of pizza are served – the classic Margherita and the marinara. See damichele.net
Sachertorte In Vienna
Why you must try it: Like Vienna itself, the Sachertorte has hidden layers of richness – the dense chocolate sponge layered with the bittersweet tang of apricot jam, thickly encased in smooth, glossy, dark chocolate.
Where: The charmingly eccentric Hotel Sacher, where founder Franz Sacher invented the cake in 1832. See sacher.com
Macarons in Paris
Why you must try it: Overdone and over here, yes, but this 150-year-old Parisian confection is oh so light and sweet and lovely.
Where: Pierre Herme, where the maccas range from white truffle and hazelnut to Pedro Ximinez sherry and raisins. See pierreherme.com
Portuguese egg tart in Lisbon
Why you must try it: Pasteis di nata is the little custard tart that took on the world and won. Its flaky, scorched pastry and rich, sweet, eggy custard is unsurpassed.
Where The Confeitaria de Belem in Lisbon, next door to the Jeronimos monastery, where it was first invented. See pasteisdebelem.pt
Recipe: Portuguese custard tarts
Pho in Vietnam
Why you must try it: The north of Vietnam might be the birthplace of pho, but the south's lighter, more fragrant, long-simmered broth, with its finer rice noodles and huge platters of fresh herbs and bean shoots, is even more restorative, especially first thing in the morning.
Where: The perpetually packed Pho Hung in Ho Chi Minh City.
Masala Dosa in Bangalore
Why you must try it: Popular in the south of India, this addictively crisp and delicious pancake made from rice flour and ground pulses is stuffed with a lush, fragrant filling of lightly cooked potatoes, onions, green chilli and spices.
Where: Bangalore's venerable Vidyarthi Bhavan, which started life as a student canteen in 1943. See vidyarthibhavan.in
Hainan Chicken in Singapore
Why you must try it: This so simple, so subtle preparation of poached chicken, rice cooked in chicken broth, and the broth itself, served with dark soy, chilli and ginger sauces, is one of the true classics of Singapore street food.
Where: Tian Tian in the Maxwell Food Court. Or, taking into account the ongoing controversy as to which is best, Ah-Tai next door. See facebook.com/pages/Tian-Tian-Hainanese-Chicken-Rice
Peking duck in Beijing
Why you must try it: Peking Duck is not just the greatest dish in Beijing, it is one of the greatest dishes in the world. To prepare it, air is deftly introduced between the flesh and the skin of whole (head on) ducks before they are doused with boiling water, rubbed with maltose, then hung for up to 24 hours before being roasted, vertically suspended in an upright oven. In a good place, the result is crisp, lacquered skin and succulent melting flesh. In a not-so-good place, it's a fatty, greasy mess. The experience is as much about the way it is served as the duck itself: brushing your thin, steamed mandarin pancake with hoisin, topping it with fine slices of duck and crisp skin, thinly sliced cucumber and spring onion, then wrapping the whole thing up in a roll to be eaten in the hands.
Where: Da Dong at Nanxincang to the north-east of the Forbidden City. See dadongdadong.com
Why you must try it: Dim sum (meaning touch the heart) originated in the tea-loving Chinese province of Guangdong as a practical and equally delightful way to sip tea and nibble a series of just steamed, fine-skinned dumplings.
Where: The three-Michelin-starred Lung King Heen at Hong Kong's Four Seasons, where the dumplings are loaded with luxury ingredients and made with high skill. See fourseasons.com
Sushi in Tokyo
Why you must try it: Watching a true sushi master at work at close range is an extraordinary experience – and the smaller the sushi bar, the closer the range.
Where: Sushi Yoshitake, a seven-seater sushi counter buried away in the heart of Ginza. See sushi-yoshitake.com
Roast goose in Hong Kong
Why you must try it: Cantonese roast duck is a magnificent thing, although Hong Kong gourmets prefer the more austere charms of roast goose, cooked in charcoal ovens and served with plum sauce.
Where: The multi-storeyed Yung Kee restaurant in Central, where the on-show chefs chop and slice each bird using precisely 72 knife cuts. See yungkee.com.hk
Pad Thai in Bangkok
Why you must try it: A deceptively simple – and relatively recent – fried noodle dish from Thailand, pad Thai is a magical, smoky, citrussy mix of rice stick noodles, tamarind, prawn, egg, bean sprouts, chilli, herbs and lime juice. Yes, it's on the menu of every neighbourhood Thai across Australia, but until you've had it on the steamy streets of Bangkok, cooked in a huge wok at a fiercely high heat over a blazing charcoal fire, you haven't had it.
Where: Thip Samai Pad Thai, a popular, no-frills noodle house in Mahachai Road, Bangkok, where Mrs Samai has been serving up pad Thai noodles (and little else) for more than 40 years.
Xiao long bao dumplings in Shanghai
Why you must try it: To some, it's just a dumpling. To others, it's a minor miracle – a plump little pouch containing pork or crab, with a spoonful of burning-hot broth INSIDE the dumpling. And they come 16 dumplings per steamer, so you can play who-ate-the-most-bao games all day.
Where Nanxiang Mantou in the historic Yu Yuan gardens, if you can brave the touristy crowds and the queues; otherwise Fu Chun, Jia Jia Tang Bao or De Xin Guan.
Beef rendang in Jakarta
Why you must try it: Beef rendang originated in West Sumatra, then spread throughout Indonesia and Malaysia by, well, word of mouth. A spicy, full-bodied dry curry, it is made by marinating beef in spice paste then cooking it slowly in thick coconut milk until rich and thick.
Where: Natrabu, a modest regional diner (and travel agent) in central Jakarta, where it is made to the family's grandmother's recipe. See natrabu.co.id
Fugu in Japan
Why you must try it: A type of puffer fish generally eaten as sashimi, fugu is in itself quite a bland fish, but the amount of lethal poison it contains adds a certain "dicing with death" frisson to the experience.
Where: The dedicated fugu restaurant Zuboraya, in the Dotonbori district of Osaka.
Kimchi in Seoul
Why you must try it: Traditionally made from salted, seasonal vegetables, kimchi is regarded as Korea's national dish, eaten fresh like a salad, or fermented. While spicy, earthy cabbage kimchi is by far the most popular, daikon radish, nashi pear and oyster kim chi are worth trying.
Where: Korea's oldest restaurant, Imun Seolleongtang (est. 1902), which specialises in traditional milky ox broth soup.
Sanaki Udon in Kagawa
Why you must try it: Sanuki udon, a white, thick, square-edged earthworm of a wheat noodle with a firm bite is now served throughout Japan, but is at its best cooked by the udon masters of the Kagawa prefecture on the Japanese island of Shikoku, where it originated.
Where: Udon Baka Ichidai (Big Idiot Udon), a steamy, welcoming place full of loud slurping noises. See udonbakaichidai.co.jp
Bun Cha in Hanoi
Why you must try it: Women crouch on the street outside small street cafes, grilling small, fragrant minced pork patties over tiny charcoal braziers. These arrive, sizzling, with bowls of hot broth, rounded rice noodles (bun), loads of herbs, chopped chilli and garlic, and a platter of nem cua be (crab spring rolls). Dip the patties and the rolls in the broth in a multi-textured frenzy of freshness, tang, smoke and scorch.
Where: Nem Cua be Dac Kem in Hoan Kiem, Hanoi.
Lobster roll in Maine
Why you must try it: There are rules. The lobster has to be Maine lobster, freshly cooked and freshly picked. It must be tossed with mayonnaise, salt and black pepper, inserted into a grilled and buttered soft hot dog bun, and eaten anywhere along Maine's rocky coast, in a lobster "pound", cookhouse, seafood shack or even gas station.
Where: Sarah and Karl Sutton's Bite into Maine food truck, located at Cape Elizabeth's Oceanside Fort Williams Park. See biteintomaine.com
Poutine in Montreal
Why you must try it: Those food-mad Quebecois love poutine, an over-the-top combo of French fries covered with squeaky-fresh cheese curds and runny brown gravy.
Where: Au Pied de Cochon, where owner-chef Martin Picard cooks the fries in duck fat, adds cheese curds and a glorious three-day simmered duck gravy, then – outrageously – tops the lot with a slab of seared, fresh foie gras. See aupieddecochon.ca
Gumbo in New Orleans
Why you must try it: A soupy, gloopy dish from southern Louisiana of spicy broth, meat or shellfish, onions and celery, thickened with okra or file powder. First documented in 1802 as a happy amalgam of West African, French, Spanish, German and Choctaw Indian influences, gumbo is a real "melting pot" in action.
Where: At Mr B's , for gumbo ya-ya with chicken and andouille sausage. See mrbsbistro.com
Recipe: Prawn gumbo
Southern fried chicken in Tennessee
Why you must try it: It's time to grow up and get your fried chicken fix from someone other than a goatee-wearing colonel in a white suit and black bow tie. Fried chicken expert Morgan McGlone of Belles Hot Chicken in Melbourne says that means the hot and spicy, golden-crusted chicken at the original Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken stand in Mason, an hour's drive from Memphis, Tennessee, where the Bonner family have been brining, crumbing and frying since 1953. "It's full from the moment it opens at 11am until it closes, and it only does one thing: southern fried chicken," he says.
Where: Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken. See gusfriedchicken.com
Recipe: Buttermilk fried chicken
Dungeness crab in San Francisco
Why you must try it: Found in the waters along America's west coast, the Dungeness is renowned for the sweetness of its flesh. San Franciscans love it with bread and butter, sauce Louis and an Anchor Steam beer on the side.
Where: The legendary Swan Oyster Depot on Polk Street, where they've been boiling and cracking crabs since 1945. There are only sixteen stools, so yep, there's a queue. See sfswanoysterdepot.com
Hamburger in New York
Why you must try it: Early 18th-century German immigrants brought the idea of pounded Hamburg beef to New York, resulting in the "hamburger" first appearing on a menu at Delmonico's in 1834. In spite of the degradation it has endured, it is still the ultimate one-handed meat-in-a-bun meal.
Where: Visionary restaurateur Danny Meyer's Shake Shack in Madison Square Park, for a perfectly judged "roadside" burger of Angus beef, fresh lettuce, tomato, applewood-smoked bacon, pickles and sauce in a soft fresh potato bun with just the right heft. Or go up-scale at The Spotted Pig, with April Bloomfield's legendary blue cheese burger and fries. See shakeshack.com; thespottedpig.com
Texas Barbecue in Texas
Why you must try it: Pit-barbecued meat migrated from America's south to Texas in the early 1800s, which grew to become America's barbecue heartland. Think huge, wood-fired smokers filled with brisket, ribs and sausages.
Where: Snow's in Lexington, which only opens one day a week (Saturday), from 8am until sold out, was named best barbecue in Texas by Texas Monthly in 2008. See snowsbbq.com
Tacos al pastor in Mexico City
Why you must try it: Inspired by the shawarma of the Lebanese immigrants who came to Mexico in the late 19th century, taco al pastor is Mexico City's favourite food. Pork is marinated in smoky adobo, cooked in the vertical trompo, then sliced and placed on a small corn tortilla with fresh coriander, chopped onions and pineapple.
Where: In the old centre of the city, El Huequito ( "hole in the walls") has been serving legendary tacos al pastor since 1959. See elhuequito.com.mx
Korean taco in Los Angeles
Why you must try it: Los Angeles Times food critic Jonathan Gold credits Korean-American Roy Choi of Kogi BBQ with hot-wiring the food truck movement and "the shotgun marriage of Korean flavours and the LA street taco". Choi was the first to wrap Korean kalbi (beef short ribs) in soft corn tortillas with onion, herbs and soy-chilli relish, kick-starting a whole new way of mashing up complementary cultures and cuisines.
Where: One of the four Roy Choi Kogi BBQ food trucks, of course. See kogibbq.com for locations
Pork belly bun in New York
Why you must try it: Yes, you can order steamed pork buns everywhere – including, of course, Northern China, where they originated. But that's not the point. The point is that Korean-American chef David Chang of Momofuku reinvented them for a new generation in 2004, slipping belly pork, pickles and sriracha sauce into steamy white buns.
Where: Momofuku Ssam Bar, NYC. See momofuku.com
Mole Poblano in Puebla
Why you must try it: One of the foundation dishes of Mexican cooking, mole poblana is a smooth, robust, nutty and spicy sauce combining chilli, chocolate, spices and nuts, most often served with chicken or turkey. It is said that it was first developed by an order of nuns in the 17th century in Puebla as a way of braising turkey to honour an archbishop.
Where: The Hotel Meson Sacristia de la Compania in Puebla, where chef Alonso Hernandez will even teach you how to cook it. See mesones-sacristia.com
Key Lime Pie in Florida Keys
Why you must try it: The queen of cream pies, and the official state pie of Florida, Key Lime Pie was supposedly invented by Florida sponge fishermen using what they had to hand, namely crackers, condensed milk and Key limes.
Where: Kermit's Key West Key Lime Shoppe. See keylimeshop.com
Cronuts in New York
Why you must try it: A devilishly clever, crisply layered cross between a croissant and a doughnut, the Cronut was officially launched into the world by New York patissier and baker Dominique Ansel on May 10, 2010 – and went ballistic. He remains slightly baffled as to why. "We create new products for the menu every six weeks, and this one ended up taking on a life of its own," he says. "Never in a million years could I have predicted that it would have the following it has." These days you can get Cronuts in any two-bit cafe, but how do you know how good they are, if you have never tried the benchmark?
Where: Dominique Ansel Bakery, where the Cronut queue still forms early in the morning, especially when a new flavour is released at the beginning of each month. See dominiqueansel.com
Recipe: Dominique Ansel's at-home Cronut
Asado in Argentina
Why you must try it: The Argentinian asado is what every barbecue wants to be when it grows up – an open pit style of barbecue where sides of meat and whole beasts attached to a vertical spit are cooked over wood or charcoal.
Where: The Siete Fuegos restaurant at The Vines Resort and Spa in Mendoza, where "fire man" Francis Mallman flame-grills meat, fish, fruit and vegetables in seven different ways. See vinesresortandspa.com
Feijoada in Rio de Janeiro
Why you must try it: To call feijoada (fay-schoh-arda) a hearty dish of beans and pork is to miss the point. To a Brazilian, it's family, lifeblood, comfort food, Sunday lunch and machismo rolled into one, from the gelatinous pork belly to the braised beans, wilted kale-like couve, satanically dark, rich sauce and farofa, or toasted cassava flour. Originally a Portuguese dish, it requires much working up of an appetite on the samba floor beforehand.
Where: Casa da Feijoada, obviously. And because they use a variety of meats including sausage, carne seca (dried beef) and pig's ears. See cozinhatipica.com.br
Ceviche in Peru
Why you must try it: Essentially raw fish cured in lime or lemon and seasoned with chilli, onion and coriander, ceviche is popular along all coastal regions of Latin America, but is particularly associated with Peru.
Where: The unofficial godfather of ceviche is Javier Wong of Lima's Chez Wong, unusually located in the chef's own home. See facebook.com/ChezJavierWong
Rest of the world
Tagine in Marrakesh
Why you must try it: First, visit the spice markets, then experience the heights those spices can reach, in a steamy, spicy, stewy North African Berber stew of meat, poultry, fish or vegetables that shares its name with the traditional conical earthenware pot in which it is cooked.
Where: The esteemed La Maison Arabe in Marrakesh. See lamaisonarabe.com
Kebabs in Istanbul
Why you must try it: Grilled with great care and skill over hot coals on an open grill known as an ocakbasi, and served on paper-thin grilled flatbreads, the long skewers of lamb are still sizzling and smoking as they reach your plate.
Where: The Zubeyir Ocakbasi, for brilliant Adana kebabs of spicy minced lamb, scorchy lamb cutlets and chicken wings. Try to nab a seat by the coals on the ground floor. See zubeyirocakbasi.com
Kangaroo in Australia
Why you must try it: As Australians come to terms with eating their national emblem, the sweet, clean, lean and sustainable meat of the kangaroo is fast appearing on the menus of the finest restaurants in the country.
Where: Attica in Melbourne, where Ben Shewry teams salted red kangaroo with shavings of bunya bunya nuts, Davidsonia plum and pepperberry. See attica.com.au
Five drinks a traveller really should try
A Bellini in Venice
This glorious mix of Prosecco and white peach juice was invented by Giuseppe Cipriani at Harry's Bar in 1931.
Where: Harry's Bar. See harrysbarvenezia.com
A Manhattan in Manhattan
Combining whisky, sweet vermouth and bitters, the Manhattan dates back to the New York bar scene of the 1860s.
Where: The chandeliered bar at the Baccarat Hotel.See baccarathotels.com
A Guinness in Dublin
Yes, Guinness does taste different in Dublin.
Where: Guinness Storehouse Museum's sky-high Gravity Bar, with its 360-degree views. See guinness-storehouse.com
A Campari in Milan
Invented in 1860 by Gaspare Campari, Campari is Milan's gift to the world.
Where Bar Camparino in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. See camparino.it
A Daiquiri in Havana
Ernest Hemingway once famously drank 16 double daiquiris in one sitting at Havana's El Floridita. I think we can assume they're quite good, then.
Where: El Floridita. See floridita-cuba.com