Backpack Full of SunshineA travel blog of a boy following his dream and embarking on a four year backpacking sabbatical around the world

A List of Life-Changing Food

I first met Brent back in high school, and till this day, he is still probably the smartest kid I know. For the longest time, I sort of revered him from afar as this seemingly awkward math genius, and took the rest of him for granted. Yet fate has a funny way of bringing people closer. One thing led to another, Brent and I left our jobs at serendipitously similar times, and we started to rendezvous in various pockets of the world for a motley of shenanigans filled adventures. Fast forward half a decade later, Brent is easily one of the closest confidants in my inner circle. I am extremely grateful to have him in my life; not only his more than occasional Haaverd smatass comments, but also his uncanny appetite (for both food and knowledge), his merry nonchalance, and his always forgiving, always tolerating kindness.

Our friendship has certainly evolved over the years, most recently fostered by our mutual appreciation for remote solitude. During our sabbaticals (early life crises?), we embarked on various trekking escapades in East Africa, Asia, the Swiss Alps, and Patagonia. Till this day, Brent is still the only son of gun I know crazy enough to swim to and back from an iceberg in early Patagonian spring (Brent is 120 lbs. on a good day, so it’s not like he is covered with blubbers either). I’ve learnt two things during our numerous excursions. 1) Brent is easily one of the kindest and most accommodating souls I know. 2) Brent has one of the greatest laughs in the whole wide world. Its hearty bursts echo between all the mountains, lakes, and back, and they remind you resoundingly that life is more than OK.

Now, unlike our strolls in the woods that sometimes sustained solely on peanuts and chocolates, our adventures in civilizations were threaded together by our immense gluttony for tasty treats. Over the years, Brent has taken me under his wing in pursuit of some of the greatest meals I’ve ever had. We’ve once accomplished four “bang bang”s in south Taiwan in a matter of hours. Yes, that’s eight restaurants. In central Chile, we ordered a two pound double cheeseburger for dessert, after having already devoured a steak feast for three. We once stalked a stranger for 10 minutes out of central Seoul Station, and decided to drop all our plans for the afternoon in search of some cheese tarts. The list goes on. Needless to say, Brent knows food, and he knows it well. So my friend, thanks for all the fond memories and extra calories, and cheers for many more to come…

Guest written by Brent Ho

While traveling, one can broaden one’s horizons, try new things, get out of one’s comfort zone, blah blah blah blah.

Let’s get straight to the point: you’re looking for a list of tasty food. But first, let’s explore the concept of this list. Not to help you in your search of course – mostly to make caveats and absolve me of responsibility.

I have eaten and drunk many things in my life*, but very few fall into the “life-changing” category.** This category is special – it is for the food that will kill conversation, cause you to reschedule flights, and induce heartbreak and longing upon returning home. It’s for both food and drink, vegetable and meat, living and dead. It’s for food that I’ve eaten – not for food that I would like to eat but haven’t had the chance to yet. It’s not in order, as one’s enjoyment of food is highly dependent on a variety of factors (weather, surroundings, previous meals, etc). It’s the cream of the crop. It’s delicious.

This is obviously not a complete list – I have not eaten everything in the world. This is just a tribute. To food!

(Note: The pictures of the food haven been taken from the internet – I am a much better eater than photographer. Also my travel photos are somewhat in disarray.)

  • Lassi – Janakpur Dahi Lassi Bhandar – Kathmandu, Nepal: I was taken here by my couchsurfer. It’s epic. Generally when a store sells literally one thing at an incredible rate and has a crowd in front (or line, but lines aren’t really a thing in Nepal), it has a high chance of being good. And while one should generally avoid uncooked foods in developing countries, this lassi is worth the diarrhea.

  • Risotto – Trattoria Da Santarino – Follonica, Italy: Before coming to Italy, I had eaten risotto before. I thought I know how it was supposed to taste. I was wrong. My brother and I came to Follonica for the express purpose of going to this restaurant, which had been recommended by a friend of his. And here I Iearned how risotto is supposed to taste. P.S. Their other food is also quite delicious.

  • Centolla – Tierra del Fuego: It’s a crab. It’s amazing. I don’t really know what else to say, except that it makes the trip to Patagonia worth it. They won’t be any fresher anywhere else – even if you pay a zillion dollars for centolla in New York, it won’t be as good as the centolla you find here. There are also mountains and glaciers and stuff here, but this is definitely the highlight.

  • Steak – El Boliche de Alberto – San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina: Went here on a recommendation. I had a steak. And then I had another one. And then I returned two days later and had several more. The first time was simply mind-blowing, while the second was really really good as well. Quality seems to depend a bit on the grill master, but there are worse things than Argentinian steak roulette.

  • Cheese Tarts – Kinotoya Bake – Sapporo Station, Sapporo, Japan: This store had a long line and made only two things. One was the cheese tart. Its cocktail of cheeses, baked to perfection, are truly addictive. So addictive, in fact, that they limit how many you can purchase. So quickly buy the maximum and go back to the end of the line.***

  • Hokkaido Ice Cream – Kinotoya Bake – Sapporo Station, Sapporo, Japan: As mentioned, the store sells two things, and this is the other one. Somehow even more delicious than the cheese tarts. I don’t understand how, but Hokkaido Ice Cream is so insanely creamy that they don’t even have to flavour it. And it comes out of a soft-serve machine. Mind blown.

  • Dwaejijjigae – 엄마네돼지찌개 – Gwangju, Korea: The spiciest thing on this list. Evidently, Lei had the most excruciating heart burn of his life. On our way back, we had to stop numerous times so he could recover from his gastronomic distress through various forms of sitting, crouching, and leaning against telephone poles. Aaaand of course we went back there for round 2 the very next day. It’s a pork soup. It’s amazing.

  • Grilled Seafood – 조개구이 – Busan, Korea: There are a number of restaurants on the shore near Busan that do this. It’s epic. Hard to explain, but somehow super high quality seafood grilled to perfection is also very tasty.

  • Xiaolongbao (steamed soup dumplings) – 万寿斋 – Shanghai, China: This is the only dish on this list that doesn’t blow your mind upon the first bite. But somehow the xiaolongbao here are absurdly addictive. That first bite leads to another, and another, and another. And to reorders. And to rescheduling flights to have long layovers in Shanghai.

Obviously, this list is biased. It only contains food that I’ve eaten, and at restaurants that I’ve patronized. And it’s short.

Honorable mentions:
  • Jjukkumi (Grilled spicy baby octopus wrapped in perilla leaves, jjukkumi alley, Seoul, Korea)

  • Pumpkin duck (Sokcho, Korea)
  • Gwangju oritang (Multi-course duck feast, Gwangju, Korea)

  • Custard Apples (Taiwan)
  • Ramen Museum (Tokyo, Japan)
  • Hashem (Amman, Jordan)
  • Many restaurants in Thailand…

Anyway, let’s finish with some tips on how to find tasty food.

1. Ask around for recommendations.

2. Eat a lot of food.

3. Be aware that much bad food will probably be encountered and eaten.

4. Eat food from this list.

Have a tasty time!


* as have most people, with the exception of soylent drinkers, vegetarians, and vegans, but I digress.

** “life-changing food”, taken literally, of course just means food that has changed one’s life. But we are taking a more restrictive view. That tap water that gave me 3 weeks of diarrhea in Nepal? Certainly life-changing. Certainly not going to make this list.

***Amusingly, when Lei and I were in Seoul, he saw someone carrying a bag with the same logo. Having been exposed to cheese tarts before, we then spent the next hour wandering around looking for these drops of heaven.

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