The UNESCO World Heritage Sites gets all the glory and buzz for the cultural and historical importance, and for good reason. However, other noteworthy cities need some love and recognition too.
Did you know that some of the best food cities around the world are recognized as UNESCO Creative Cities of Gastronomy? The UNESCO Creative Cities Network (UCCN) created awards for various creative fields in 2004. The purpose is to extend the opportunity to collaborate and promote cities on their cultural aspects and services on a local and international standing. Besides Gastronomy, the other creative fields are Crafts and Folk Arts, Design, Film, Literature, Media Arts, and Music.
Food and gastronomy, the art and science of food, is an integral part of traveling. Think back to your most memorable food experience, what made it so special? From eating local cuisine and street food to learning about the culture behind the food through a cooking class or a food tour, everyone has an appreciation for good food.
Although the definition of gastronomy is subjective as there are different interpretations, Anthony Bourdain says it best,
“Food is everything we are. It’s an extension of nationalist feeling, ethnic feeling, your personal history, your province, your region, your tribe, your grandma. It’s inseparable from those from the get-go.”
We asked our favorite travel influencers to share their remarkable experiences at 12 of the top UNESCO Creative Cities of Gastronomy cities. Since October 2019, 36 cities received the UNESCO Gastronomy award.
Let’s head to these UNESCO foodie cities and get inspired to check out the good eats for yourself:
- Europe – Italy and Norway
- Asia – China, South Korea, Thailand, and Turkey
- Americas – U.S.A, Mexico, and Brazil
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UNESCO Creative Cities of Gastronomy in Europe
1. Alba, Italy
Contributed by Amber from With Husband In Tow
Many people travel to Italy and focus on the big cities, of Rome, Florence, Venice, and Milan. But, when looking for some of the most traditional Italian cuisines, it’s important to head out of the cities into the smaller towns and villages, who are most-focused on protecting Italy’s food culture. This is also important because Italy has such regional cuisine. Dishes from the south just aren’t found in the north. This is the case with Piedmont food, in the north of the country, and in particular in the city of Alba.
The Piedmont region is known for some of the most important Italian food products, including Castelmagno DOP and Castelmagno di Alpeggio DOP, both cheeses that form some of the key components of Piedmont cuisine.
Piedmont is also the best region in Italy if you love risotto. It’s home to several rice varieties, where they have been cultivating rice since the 1400s. Putting these together, you have a dish of creamy, cheesy risotto, then topped with the one ingredient that makes Alba so special, and so noteworthy, white truffles. Although you can find truffles on the menu year-round in Alba, the most important truffle is the white truffle, which is only found in the fall and winter. This alone makes Alba a must-visit destination.
In addition to gorging on truffle risotto and drinking bottles of the local Barbaresco DOCG wines, wander through the town admiring the beautiful churches and squares, or take a wine-tasting day trip into the countryside to get the full Piedmont experience.
Alba’s UNESCO Creative Cities of Gastronomy Recognition Year: 2017
Want to find truffles? Sign up for a truffles hunting tour in Piedmont.
2. Parma, Italy
Contributed by Kate from Our Escape Clause
Located in the heart of the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, Parma is nestled right among some of the most incredible foodie destinations in Italy (which of course makes them some of the most foodie destinations in the world), such as Modena and Bologna.
Parma’s cuisine is famous in its own right, and for good reason. The name of this pretty Italian city, of course, gives away part of its fame. Parma is one of the homes of the famous parmigiano-reggiano cheese, known more commonly in English as parmesan.
The true, locally-developed cheese available in Parma is one of the most delicious foods in the world, and no trip to Parma could be complete without visiting a cheese factory to stare in awe at the hundreds of wheels stacked on shelves, row after row, to age into the most perfect cheese.
Parma’s other distinct claim to fame is its parma ham, similar to prosciutto, and yet boasting a sweeter and creamier taste, parma ham is a delight for the tastebuds and another must-eat food while in Parma.
Parma’s UNESCO Creative Cities of Gastronomy Recognition Year: 2015
3. Bergen, Norway
Contributed by Megan from Megan Starr
The coastal city of Bergen, Norway is an unbelievable city and one that should be on every traveler’s list. I moved to Bergen in 2011 and immediately fell in love with the culinary scene. The local seafood and usage of ingredients blew my mind. I come from a world of spices and flavors that have to be manipulated to give dishes a punch, but Bergen let the ingredients shine as they were and it was a magical thing once I got used to it. Scandinavians also have a knack for creativity and being able to modernize a dish with simple, yet ingenious methods, which was something I was not used to.
Some of my favorite dishes in Bergen were the traditional Christmas of pinnekjøtt, a cured mutton meat, and the local fish soup (fiskesuppe). You can purchase the fish soup right at the harbor and it’s fairly affordable for Norwegian prices. The local salmon and cod mixed in with root vegetables and a creamy broth is the tastiest thing on a cold, rainy day.
Another underrated and not talked about ingredient that is better in Bergen than anywhere else are the berries. Norwegian berries are easily the best in the world and they are especially sweet and tasty in Bergen. The chefs and locals ability to be able to pair this ingredient that you can pick anywhere in the city and its natural surroundings is remarkable.
If you’re into food that is not masked by spices and an overabundance of manipulated flavors- definitely head to Bergen, Norway.
Bergen’s UNESCO Creative Cities of Gastronomy Recognition Year: 2015
UNESCO Creative Cities of Gastronomy in Asia
4. Chengdu, China
Contributed by Linda from Linda Goes East
Chinese food is renowned all over the world for its delicious and bold flavors. However, due to China’s enormous size, every region in China actually has its own distinct cuisine, also referred to as “the 8 Great Cuisines of China.” These include the cuisines of Shangdong, Jiangsu, Anhui, Zhejiang, Fujian, Canton, Hunan, and Sichuan, the latter being one of the most popular in the country and abroad. That’s why it came with little surprise that Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province, became the first city in the whole of Asia to be recognized as a City of Gastronomy by UNESCO.
What really sets the cuisine of Chengdu and Sichuan Province apart from the rest is their hot-spicy taste and the numbing flavor of Sichuan pepper that is rare in other Chinese cuisines. Walking through local markets, you quickly notice the Chengdu locals’ love for everything spicy as you can purchase pepper sauces and pastes of different spice levels to add to pretty much any kind of dish.
The most famous dish of Sichuan origin has got to be Kung Pao Chicken. Literally translated to “Palace Guardian” (from Gōngbǎo in Mandarin), was named after an actual palace guardian in the mid-1800s. The chicken is marinated in local wine and then cooked in hot oil and two different chili pepper varieties with fresh peanuts or cashews and fresh veggies. You can get Gōngbǎo at pretty much any restaurant in town, but the most popular address is Chen Mapo Tofu (Luomashi, 197 Xi Yu Long St | West Jade Dragon St, Chengdu 610015). Other dishes you must try while in Chengdu include mapo tofu, twice-cooked pork, and steamed sticky leaf-wrapped rice buns.
Chengdu’s UNESCO Creative Cities of Gastronomy Recognition Year: 2010
5. Macau, China
Contributed by Constance from The Adventures of Panda Bear
Like Hong Kong, Macau was once a colony, the only difference is that it was a Portuguese colony instead of a British one. Though Macau is now a territory of China, it’s still got a lot of European flair with Portuguese style buildings throughout the old city center area that is located on the Macau Peninsula.
The Historic Centre of Macau also happens to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is best known for the Ruins of St. Paul’s, Senado Square, A-Ma Temple, Moorish Barracks, St. Dominic’s Church, the old city walls, and many more.
Aside from its colorful architecture, Macau is also well known for its delicious eats. From Portuguese style egg custard tarts to fried pork chop sandwiches, crab congee, and serradura (sawdust pudding), the Macanese cuisine is a great and insanely scrumptious fusion of Chinese with Portuguese. Be sure to grab these and more amazing eats in Macau on your next visit!
Macau’s UNESCO Creative Cities of Gastronomy Recognition Year: 2017
6. Jeonju, South Korea
Contributed by Jackie and Justin from Life Of Doing
It’s not a surprise that South Korea has some of the best foods in the world. From kimchi and pickled vegetables to traditional dishes such as japchae, stir-fry noodles with vegetables, and galbi, grilled ribs, the food opportunities are endless in this country. We can’t forget about the spiciness in Korean food due to the gochujang chili sauce.
When it comes to the top food and gastronomy destination in South Korea, everyone needs to plan a trip to Jeonju. Located south of Seoul via a 2.5-3 hour train ride, Jeonju is known as the birthplace of the bibimbap, a rice dish with a beautiful array of beef and 10+ seasonal vegetables. The bibimbap style is unique as you can choose a beef tartare (yes, raw beef) topping. The fresh vegetables are locally sourced in the Jeonju area.
Try Jeonju’s street food such as dumplings, skewered octopus, grilled cheese blocks, and more. Don’t forget to try the PNB Bakery’s chocopies, two round cakes with flavored cream in the middle and dipped in dark chocolate. It’s heavenly with the fluffly cake and the unique cream filling such as strawberry and green, and only available in Jeonju.
While you’re here, stay over at a hanok, traditional Korean guesthouse, and meander through the famous cobblestone roads of the Hanok Village.
Jeonju’s UNESCO Creative Cities of Gastronomy Recognition Year: 2012
Read More About South Korea’s Food: Eat Your Way through Seoul’s Myeongdong Area
7. Phuket, Thailand
Contributed by Alana from Family Bites Travel
Phuket is the largest island of Thailand found in the Andaman Sea. It has a reputation as a tourist trap and as the smut center of Thailand. However, if you go a little further afield, avoid the red-light district, you’ll experience all the beauty Phuket has to offer.
Thai cuisine is famous for a reason, it’s delicious. Eating Thai food in Thailand is another level of tastiness with the freshest ingredients available. You learn fast that there is a very fine art in getting the perfect mix of sweet, salty, sour, and spicy in Thai food. Luckily Phuket is full of excellent restaurants and street-food vendors at every corner.
A trip to Phuket is not complete without trying tom yum goong. It’s a spicy, sweet, and sour soup with prawns that is indescribable. You have to eat it. Other highlights are som tam, a sweet and sour papaya salad. Another must-try is khao man gai, slowly-poached chicken in a spiced broth. The rice is then cooked in the chicken poaching liquid. Yum! The street-vendor pancakes are just the ticket for a sweet dessert.
There are countless activities to do on Phuket. The boat trips to Phi Phi islands and Phang Nga Bay were a highlight. There are many elephant “sanctuaries” in the area. Although, you need to investigate to make sure they are a true sanctuary.
Phuket is an excellent location for any holidaymaker, full of mouth-watering cheap and fresh food everywhere.
Phuket’s UNESCO Creative Cities of Gastronomy Recognition Year: 2015
Read More: Phuket Day Trips
8. Gaziantep, Turkey
Contributed by Anwar from Beyond My Front Door
If you talk to anyone in Turkey about food, one of the first places that come up is Gaziantep. As one of the best gastronomy regions in Turkey, Gaziantep is a place that is often unknown outside the country. But inside it’s known for its tasty kabobs and in particular, the baklava.
All of the major baklava producers in Turkey claim origin from Antep. As there is no shortage of places to try it and you almost wonder in a city of its size how they all manage to stay in business. But they do likely focus in export to others parts of the country.
Don’t limit yourself to the baklava (which is divine), but also try some of the kabobs and especially my favorite dish, katmer, which is a flat pastry stuffed with butter and pistachios. It’s different than baklava. You can also try the Turkish version of kunafa, localized in Gaziantep with pistachios. You can even buy the pistachios raw in town and act like a local chatting about the rise and fall of its prices in the markets.
Gaziantep’s UNESCO Creative Cities of Gastronomy Recognition Year: 2015
Read More: If you’re headed to Turkey, consider taking a balloon ride in Cappadocia.
UNESCO Creative Cities of Gastronomy in the United States and Americas
9. San Antonio, Texas, United States
Contributed by Ayngelina from Bacon Is Magic
The first thing that comes to mind to many about San Antonio, Texas is the Alamo, originally known as Mission San Antonio de Valero. However, there are some incredible restaurants in San Antonio making it a foodie paradise.
San Antonio isn’t a typical city in Texas. Sixty percent of the population in San Antonio is Hispanic/Latino, which shapes this city so famous for Southern hospitality that it draws in great chefs from all over the United States. For example, in the restored Pearl district, Southerleigh Fine Food & Brewery presents modern coastal Texan fare with its own on-site brewery. Around the corner from this classic comfort food joint is Cured, with a charcuterie focused menu and emphasis on whole animal butchery.
The city is very walkable so if you indulge a bit too much you can take the River Walk, a long walkway beside the river dotted with businesses and attractions beside the river. It’s below street level so on hot days it’s considerably cooler.
And whatever you do, don’t miss the tacos in San Antonio. Without a doubt, the city has the best tacos in America!
San Antonio’s UNESCO Creative Cities of Gastronomy Recognition Year: 2017
10. Tucson, Arizona, United States
Contributed by Ketki of Dotted Globe
Tucson, located in southern Arizona, was designated a Creative City of Gastronomy in 2015 due to its extensive agricultural history. A distinct cuisine developed here over the years of cultivation of indigenous plants and animal farming.
We visited Tucson on our babymoon and I was literally eating for two, so I was very happy to discover the city’s unique foods. My favorite, without a doubt, was the Sonoran hot dog – a hot dog topped with beans, lots of cheese and salsa, Chile peppers, tortilla chips, onion, and tomatoes! I am from Chicago and used to hot dogs come with a lot of toppings but loved Tucson’s unique Mexican take. Other things I loved trying in Tucson were Mexican pizzas, street corn, and a variety of chimichangas. We visited in the summer so the chile dusted fruit cups in taquerias and Mexican fruit/ice pops called paletas were refreshing. The paletas came in a rainbow of colors and I enjoyed trying lots of unique flavors like watermelon, tamarind, and cucumber.
Apart from the food, we also visited Saguaro National Park and had fun hiking amidst the giant Saguaro cacti. Other things to do in Tucson include the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, the historic Tucson Mission, and the local farmers market.
Tucson’s UNESCO Creative Cities of Gastronomy Recognition Year: 2015
11. Ensenada, Mexico
Contributed by Michelle from Travel Fun Fam
Ensenada is a beautiful beach city located in the northern part of Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula. The cooking style is commonly known as Baja Med, which is a fusion of Mexican, Asian and Mediterranean influences. The most important ingredients of Baja Med cuisine definitely come from the sea. Freshness is key so “del mar al paladar” meaning in Spanish from the sea to the palate is the motto.
A must visit destination when in Ensenada is Valle de Guadalupe, the Napa Valley of Mexico. Not only known internationally for the amazing wine, but the restaurants are also in a league of their own. Fancy, unique and delicious restaurants are a dream, but our personal favorite is the simple yet iconic Ensenada fish taco. They say it’s where the fish taco was born, and we don’t doubt it one bit. The beer batter secret recipe of the puestos and restaurants in town will have your taste buds jumping for joy!
Ensenada’s UNESCO Creative Cities of Gastronomy Recognition Year: 2015
12. Florianópolis, Brazil
Contributed by Daniel James from Layer Culture
In the north of Brazil, you can find some of the finest Portuguese and African inspired dishes. However, if in the south, you may want to check out Florianópolis. Many people visit not only for its 42 beaches but for its unique cuisine and generous portions.
Although heavily European influenced, you’ll find the secret lies in the ingredients. For a popular and authentic place to eat, check out restaurant, Bar do Arante. Their food celebrates Brazilian history and has plenty of character. You’ll find stickers covering the walls where customers have written wishes and compliments of the food.
Look out for ingredients, like acai and farofa which are native to Brazil and are prevalent in many local dishes. Looking for something less exotic? You can find many other cuisines in Florianópolis such as French, Italian, and Asian without a problem.
One of my favorite things to do in Florianópolis was to see the beautiful iron bridge, a must-see landmark which is the longest suspension bridge in Brazil. I found the perfect viewpoint to gaze at the landmark at sunset.
Florianópolis’s UNESCO Creative Cities of Gastronomy Recognition Year: 2014
You’re probably drooling through these delectable photos and we don’t blame you. Now that you’ve read these UNESCO Creative Cities of Gastronomy cities, it’s time to book a flight to travel to these places and experience the food and local attractions for yourself. We look forward to seeing more cities added to the list.
Thanks again to our travel influencers for their contributions! Don’t forget to read more about their food destination and follow them on their social media accounts.
From our post, which UNESCO foodie cities gets you the most excited to visit? Which cities do you think UNESCO Creative Cities Network should recognize for their gastronomy in the future? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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