(CNN) — It’s not just the taste of the pintxos served at the bars in San Sebastián’s old town in Spain’s Basque country that makes it Lonely Planet’s #1 food experience in the world.
It’s the experience of hopping from bar to bar along San Sebastián’s narrow streets to try each kitchen’s unique pintxos, some classic and others inventive, modern interpretations.
Pintxos, a Basque play off of the Spanish “pinchos,” translates as spike or thorn, which is the spike or toothpick that pierces the snack.
Not just about the food
Curry Laksa in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Alex Ortega/EyeEm/Getty Images
It’s not about the perfect meal at a three-Michelin star restaurant: It’s about how a dish tastes, its cultural significance and the importance of the location where it’s made and eaten.
“When you have a salad Nicoise in New York, you might think, oh this is nice,” Lonely Planet destinations editor Matt Phillips told CNN Travel.
“When you have it where it came about (in Nice, France) you realize why these ingredients are together,” said Phillips. “I get it in this place. It’s the perfect dish on this hot day. The dish goes with the environment you’re in.” (It’s ranked 238th on the list.)
Lonely Planet asked hundreds of its staffers and contributors around the world to nominate their favorite food experiences.
The travel company’s food editors and Australian celebrity chef Adam Liaw and food blogger Leyla Kazim evaluated the entries and narrowed the list down to 500 experiences.
Each locale has its special dish
It could be beef brisket in Austin, Texas (#4); sushi in Tokyo (#3); ceviche in Peru (#11); or Bolognese ragu in Bologna (#34). But order your ragu with tagliatelle, not spaghetti. (Locals say the sauce sticks best to the flat, wide noodles.)
For Phillips, it’s lamb tagine in Marrakech, Morrocco (#16), which he can still recall after a long day sightseeing and smelling the elements that eventually went into his dish.
“You spend your day walking through the medina and smelling spice and cinnamon and walking by butchers and someone pulls out a lamb tagine with couscous and succulent lamb,” he said.
“By the end of the day, you’re sitting down at a restaurant (for dinner) after the call to prayer and it’s on the plate, and it’s kind of magic.”
His most unusual food experience? That would have to be the deep fried tarantula he sampled in Cambodia (447th place) and still recalls as the strangest thing he — as a Canadian born, London resident — has ever eaten.
“I ate them in 1999, and I still talk about them,” he said.
But he also loves gelato in Italy (ranked #24), saying it’s “heaven, and it hits the spot perfectly.”
Lonely Planet’s top 20 food experiences
1. Pintxos in San Sebastián, Spain
2. Curry laksa in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
3. Sushi in Tokyo, Japan
4. Beef brisket in Texas, USA
5. Som tum in Bangkok, Thailand
6. Smørrebrød in Copenhagen, Denmark
7. Crayfish in Kaikoura, New Zealand
8. Bibimbap in Seoul, South Korea
9. Pizza margherita in Naples, Italy
10. Dim sum in Hong Kong
11. Ceviche in Peru
12. Pastéis de nata in Lisbon, Portugal
13. Oysters in Freycinet, Australia
14. Cheese experiences in France
15. Jerk chicken in Jamaica
16. Lamb tagine in Marrakech, Morocco
17. Chilli crab in Singapore
18. Moules frites in Brussels, Belgium
19. Peking duck in Beijing
20. Pho on the Hau River, Vietnam
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