The Best Meals Are Often the Simplest Ones

0906_editorsletterLunchtime in Saigon
Courtesy Nina Willdorf

I'm the kind of traveler who plots out an entire day—an entire destination—around a sandwich. In this photo, I was having one of those meals you write home about, the quintessential Vietnamese banh mi at Nhu Lan Bakery in Ho Chi Minh City (50 Ham Nghi, District 1, 011-84/838-292-970,, about $1). As you can see, the sandwich, filled with Vietnamese ham, pâté, and pickled carrots and daikon, really doesn't look so special. But I find that the best meals while traveling are often the simplest ones. Just eat like the locals do and you'll learn more about a country than you would through any guidebook. This lunch wasn't just about the sandwich. It was about the folks at the next table, the colorful plates, and the ceremony of service—or lack thereof. I can still hear the scooters buzzing by and anticipate the rich pâté about to ooze out. I also remember the feeling of sitting on a flimsy plastic stool. Sometimes, the quest for the authentic can be a bit uncomfortable—but I wouldn't have had it any other way.

In our feature "Destination Food," we point the way to 57 equally extraordinary meals—recommended by everyone from Jacques Pépin to Masaharu Morimoto—that will sometimes push you out of your comfort zone. You might have a surly waiter, you might get lost trying to find the place....But the payoff? Tastes of authenticity in dozens of destinations around the world. To kick off this feature, we're also launching our first-ever Budget Travel Restaurant Month. Throughout June, print out a "meal ticket" good for discounts and free extras at some of the country's most innovative restaurants, owned by our contributing chefs. Because, ultimately, our goal at BT isn't just to tell you about cool things to do. We want to help you get out and do them.

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