Top 15 UNESCO Culinary Traditions Around the World
K.C. was a featured writer for Yahoo! Travel before joining trips to discover in 2013. She is the author of Best Travel Guide for First Time Visitors to Ireland, an Amazon bestseller every year between 2013 and 2016. She has been a featured expert on Newsweek, Travel + Leisure, Travelocity, among others.
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You probably know about the many UNESCO World Heritage Sites, like Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, and the Taj Mahal in India, but did you know that UNESCO also recognizes culinary traditions? It honors food and drink customs of cultures across the globe. From Parma, Italy’s Parmigiano Reggiano cheese to Mexican cuisine in Oaxaca, these are all spots worth planning your next trip around.
In a country renowned for its delicious foods, Parma is Italy’s ultimate foodie city. It’s not as touristy as the other major cities and it offers just as much history and culture with an even more impressive food scene, recognized as UNESCO’s CreativeCity for Gastronomy. It was the first in the country to be given this recognition, most famous, of course for its Parmigiano Reggiano cheese that’s made today the same way it was nine centuries ago. Not only is it one of the world’s best destinations for cheese lovers, but Culatello is another fabulous local specialty, a salty, garlicky, cold meat. It’s best enjoyed with bread and some sparkling wine.
The art of the Neapolitan ‘Pizzaiuolo’ has been named on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The culinary practice relates to the preparation of the dough and its baking in a wood-fired oven which involves a rotatory movement by the baker. The element originates in Naples and is known for fostering social gatherings and intergenerational exchange, a form of artistry with a deep history baked into every bite. Only two kinds of pie are authentic: the margarita pizza with the addition of cheese and basil, and the marinara pizza with tomato, oil, oregano and garlic and basil.
In 2010, traditional Mexican cuisine was declared an Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. Do you know anyone who doesn’t know what tacos or enchiladas are? Mexican dishes are famous for their variety of flavors and colors, as well as their unique ingredients and the use of various spices, based on beans, corn and different kinds of chili peppers. Native ingredients like tomatoes, avocados, squash, cocoa and vanilla augment the basic staples. Mexican food is very diverse with differences in every state and province. While it’s delicious everywhere, Oaxaca is a foodie favorite known as the “land of the seven moles,” so-called for its legendary and complex sauces made with dozens of ingredients, often including chocolate.
A top travel destination in Norway, the seaside city of Bergen was designated a UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy in 2015. Organic food and sustainable seafood are at the core of their cultural identity and development. Among the local specialities, you’ll find Bergen fish soup, fish cakes and “persetorsk”, a traditional Bergen steamed cod dish. Don’t miss the fish soup, which can be purchased right at the harbor. The local salmon and cod in a creamy broth mixed with root vegetables are the best on a chilly day.
The Mediterranean diet was added to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list. Of course, multiple countries in the Mediterranean follow this diet which includes foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, olive oil and grilled fish, while limiting red meat. Some of the best can be enjoyed in Greece, from Athens to the islands of Naxos, Crete and Santorini, where you can indulge in lots of fresh seafood, Greek salads and okra cooked in olive oil, paired with tasty local wines and a jaw-dropping view of the Aegean.
Croatia has become famous for its delicious cuisine, including rare truffles, but it was honored by UNESCO for its gingerbread making, which arrived in the middle ages in European monasteries and became a true craft here. The recipe is similar to most, with simple ingredients: sugar, flour, water, baking soda and spices, but the decoration on them is what makes them unique. Known as “licitars,” they’re molded into various shapes, allowed to dry and then decorated with edible colors, short messages, pictures or mirrors. The gingerbread heart commonly represents love as a popular Valentine’s Day gift as well as featuring at many wedding parties. Most of the craftsmen and craftswomen who produce them today are located in the town of Marija Bistrica, northeast of Zagreb.
In 2010, UNESCO enshrined the “gastronomic meal of the French” as part of the “intangible cultural heritage of humanity.” It’s a social gathering of groups and individuals to celebrate occasions like weddings, anniversaries, reunions and birthdays and has a fixed structure, starting with pre-meal drinks, or apertif, and ending with liqueurs – at least four successive courses are included in between. Of course, you can enjoy that meal just about anywhere in France, from the decadent southern French cooking in Toulouse or the world mustard capital of Dijon to the restaurants and brasseries of Paris.
Washoku, which basically means “Japanese Cuisine,” is also included on UNESCO’s intangible Cultural Heritage list. The cooking here is focused on bringing out the essence of each ingredient used and it’s said to take years for a Japanese cook to perfect any individual skill. The basis of any Japanese meal is rice with three side dishes and one soup, using very little animal fat. Seasonal leaves are also an important part of this cuisine, aimed to increase individual awareness to the environment that one lives in. While you can sample it throughout the country, you’ll be able to all of the national specialties in Tokyo from sushi to monjayaki, street food that’s uniquely Tokyo. The Tsukishima neighborhood even has an official Monjayaki Street.
Named a City of Gastronomy by UNESCO, Phuket is Thailand’s largest island and was the first in Asia to receive the honor. As a mix of cultures, it offers a diverse array of cuisine, ranging from Thai and Chinese to Malaysian, Indian and even European. Phuket offers delicious dishes like Tom Yang Goong, a mixture of spicy prawn and sour soup – in fact, here the perfect blend of sweet, salty, sour, and spicy is a fine art. In between enjoying the food you’ll find over 15 major beaches with idyllic white sands and some of Southeast Asia’s most magnificent sunsets.
In 2017, Buenaventura joined Creative Cities Network, honored for its traditional kitchens and gastronomy. The most important port city in Colombia, its culinary heritage has been handed down over generations and includes lots of local agriculturally-grown produce like avocados, tamarind, chili peppers, chontaduro and cacao which contributed to the nomination. Love and tradition are key ingredients in the food in this rainy Pacific coast region, with herbs grown in raised gardens called azoteas imparting rich, earthy flavors. El triple is a favorite dish, typically a combination of shrimp, surf clams and crab meat served with salad, rice, fried plantains and fresh lemonade.
Plov is served in every city and village throughout Uzbekistan and is a part of every occasion. Considered one of the most delicious foods in Uzbek cuisine, there are over 100 types of Uzbek plov, based on the region, the way it is cooked and the ingredients. In 2016, it was added to the UNESCO list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. The general recipe is made up of pilau rice with spices, vegetables, meat and sometimes raisins and berries, all cooked in a large pan. The best place to try it is in the capital city of Tashkent at the Plov Centre.
The Macau territory of China was once a Portuguese colony and it still has lots of European flair, with Portuguese style buildings throughout its old city center area on the Macau Peninsula. It was recognized by UNESCO for its over 400-year-old Macanese culinary legacy and one of the leading culinary destinations in all of Asian, offering a blend of both Portuguese and Chinese cooking methods and ingredients. Enjoy everything from Portuguese style egg custard tarts to crab congee and fried pork chop sandwiches.
Gaziantep has long been known for its delicious cuisine, at least among the Turkish themselves, but in 2015 it was added to the UNESCO list in the gastronomy category of Creative Cities Network, revealing its mouthwatering flavors to the world, including especially tasty kabobs and baklava. There is no shortage of places to try it or another popular treat, katmer, a pastry stuffed with pistachios and butter.
Perched at the eastern tip of Spain, Denia is a working port city with a colorful old town that draws many for its deliciously fresh seafood and Valencian fruits and vegetables. Designated a UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy in 2015, it earned the distinction not just because of how well you can eat here, but also because Denia is carrying out projects related to gastronomy in ways that promote creativity and sustainability while preserving their traditions and the environment. Arroz a Banda is among its many signature dishes.
Florianópolis is considered to be Brazil’s Oyster Capital, noted on the UNESCO list in the gastronomy category of Creative Cities Network. It has over 2.000 bars and restaurants, in all the beaches, downtown and throughout its neighborhoods, with lots of homemade dishes and contemporary cuisine focused on seafood, thanks to the abundant local produce, in particular oysters in the capital of Santa Catarina, the country’s biggest oyster producer. A highly underrated destination, Florianópolis is home to countless beautiful beaches and gorgeous dunes for sandboarding.