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425871_10150591107776332_597696331_9330747_197368379_n.jpgIn honor of the premier of Bravo's newest culinary competition "Around the World in 80 Plates," we decided to give you our list of foodie musts if you find yourself in one of these fabulous seven worldly cities. Not necessarily all for their deliciousness, but because they're truly unique regional specialties. Often imitated, but never duplicated.  Take our culinary challenge and let us know how many of these signature dishes you've tried?

1. Bagkok, Thailand- While you can get the best pad thai of your life as street food for about $1.50, don't pass up the Tom Yum Soup. This spicy clear broth is a favorite of both locals and foreigners.  Made of lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves, lime juice, fish sauce and chili peppers, it is the quintessential appetizer. Different variations are made regionally and with the addition of prawns (Tom yum goong or tom yam kung), chicken (Tom yum gai or tom yam kai), seafood (Tom yum thale ) or coconut milk (Tom yum nam khon).

2. Reykjavik, Iceland- Known for way out there foods like rotten shark meat, puffin and whale, we suggest instead you try their signature drink brennivin for sheer weirdness factor. Menthol flavored schnapps, it tastes like you're drinking a minty cigarette. Just make sure you have a chaser handy.

3. Barcelona, Spain- Grab some paella by the sea. While paella originally comes from Valencia to the south, the ambiance at the waterfront is quite something. Paella is a rice dish with vegetables and meat or seafood (sometimes both). Head to the seafront to places along Almirall Aixada where you'll also find the established Can Majo, or down to beachside suburbs like Poble Nou.

4. Chicago, IL- The average tourist may expect to come to the Windy City to indulge in deep-dish pizza and Chicago-style hot dogs (no ketchup!) the real must-grub snack is Garrett's Popcorn. The Chicago mix includes a blend of buttery CaramelCrisp® and sharp CheeseCorn™ and is to die for. We dare you just to eat one handful.

5. Paris, France- While nothing in Paris should be missed especially the macrons, crepes or baguettes; a flaming drink in the Latin quarter is best paired with an authentic fondue dinner. Not only rich and creamy, but a festive culinary option that makes dinner a fun event to cook the meats in oil and dip goodies in the cheeses.

6. Osaka, Japan- While sushi is obviously the biggest draw for foodies to Japan, be sure not to miss Okonomiyaki. A cross between an omelet and a pancake with a mix of meats, veggies and seafood, the pancakes are served sizzling on a table with a built-in hotplate accompanied by a variety of dipping sauces and mayo.

7. New Orleans, LA- There's plenty of food that makes Nola, well Nola. While you may be overwhelmed by all the Cajun and creole comfort food options, no trip is complete without a traditional shrimp po' boy and beignet. The real kicker though is the alligator cheesecake appetizer. Yup, you heard it here first.

There's four star cuisine and then there's uniquely memorable dining experiences. This is the latter. From strange service to crazy locations, monkeys delivering your meal to meals being prepared by robots, one thing's for sure, at these odd spots, you will definitely not run out of things to talk about. Just be sure to pass the vino! 


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Meals Cooked by Robots- Japan


It's no surprise that the majority of odd eateries are in Asia. FA-men is a ramen restaurant in Nagoya, Japan in which two robots, a chef and a sous chef prepare you soup and chit chat while cooking. Strange? Watch the video.


Meals Prepared by Dwarves- Philippines


Called the Hobbit House (not sure if that's PC), Peace Corps volunteer and college professor Jim Turner was so inspired by Tolkien's Lord of the Rings books that he founded a bar entirely staffed by "little people." Inside its candle lit interiors, one can recognize the paintings of scenes from the trilogy as well as posters of local folk legend, Freddie Aguilar. It made our list of top 10 dining experiences in the world.


Dining Table Suspended in the Sky- Worldwide


If you ever wanted to defy gravity, now's your chance. Host the most unusual dinner party possibly ever by inviting 22 of your closest friends to be suspended in the air 50 meters high. Stationed on a moveable platform, this table can essentially be located anywhere in the world you have access to giving you plenty of options for crazy backdrops. Just don't look down.


Meals are Cooked Using Volcanic Heat- Spain


A major attraction on Lanzarote, the easternmost of the Canary Islands is Parque Nacional de Timanfaya and Montañas del Fuego (Fire Mountains), which is marked by a sign depicting the devil. As part of your tour, stop at El Diablo Restaurant to enjoy its barbeque that uses geothermal heat and a cast iron grill placed over a hole in the ground - an idea crafted by famous Spanish chef César Manrique. Staff members give impressive demonstrations which show the intense heat of the earth just below the surface, just watch out for flames.


Communicate with other Patrons via Telephones- France


France is known as the city of love and a little café in Montpellier is trying to ignite the sparks a little faster. At Restophone, each table is outfitted with a telephone to communicate with other tables, to spark up conversations or to ask someone to dance. Great for groups, but even better for singles. Maybe you want to talk about your weird restaurant experiences?


BBQ chickens set on fire, catapulted through the air, and caught by a waiter riding unicycle- Thailand


Can you say random? This is one of those only in Bangkok weird dining experiences. Ka-tron was established in 1986 originally across the Department of Meteorology, with the name literally meaning "rebound." And if flying food is not enough entertainment while you dine, there's karaoke too.

 

World's Top Wine Tours

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Napa

Image by katieharbath via Flickr

With its first appearance dating back to 4500 BC in Ancient Greece, wine has become more than just something to sip on. Grown and distributed all across the globe, grape growing has become somewhat of an art form and one of the few things we consider to get better with age. Wine vacations are getting more popular than ever, due to the intermingling of scrumptious foods, broadening the palette, picturesque locations and the interesting people you meet along the way. Read on to capture the real flavor of full-bodied wine tours around the world.


Barossa Valley, South Australia


Some sip on Yellow Tail and dream of one day taking a trip down under. For the gogetters out there who can brave the long flight overseas, make sure to pencil in a wine tour in the beautiful Barossa Valley in the state of South Australia.  The valley is known for producing the best Shiraz in the world. South Australia in general is known for its long standing elegant churches, charming cottages and easy going locals, which will make great company to cheers to.


Bordeaux, France


France is one of the top ranked wine destinations in the world and for good reason. Some travel to Paris for the food, fashion and romance, and yet others run off to the countryside to Bordeaux for the abundance of vineyards and sampling. The historical architecture and villages are quite breath taking and you can even stay in a chateau to let the ambiance of the Renaissance era come alive.


Tuscany, Italy


Italy, another country known for its romantic appeal, is one of the oldest countries in the world giving visitors endless places to visit. Deciding where to go can be quite overwhelming, but for wine lovers, Tuscany should be at the top of the list. Tuscany is the heart of Italy's wine production which means wineries galore and also fabulous restaurants to make sure your tummy is full from a day filled with delectable tastings.


Maipo Valley, Chile


If you are looking for something a little more extreme, take your excursion southbound to the Land of Fire and Ice. Chile is offers a variety of climates with its snow-capped mountains, deserts and flowing rivers. Find a wine tour in Maipo Valley, the oldest wine producer in the region right off the Maipo River. Concha y Toro is one of the largest wine producers in Latin America and well known world-wide for their Merlot, Carbernet Sauvigon and Chardonnay.


Winelands, South Africa


South Africa is a great destination to take a wine tour, and yes, they speak English. Take in a variety of landscapes and cultures because South Africa isn't just jungle safaris and pet tigers in the backyard. Not a fan of big tourist attractions? Take tours through small farm towns such as Wellington or Tulbagh located in Winelands or outside of Cape Town. Stellenbosch is a beautiful town to explore and the second oldest in South Africa.


Napa Valley, California


Besides Bordeaux, Napa Valley in California is one of the most known wine regions in the world bringing in five million visitors a year. Book a tour and taste the best wines of what locals call 'Wine Country'. Looking for a unique wine excursion? Try out Napa's wine train.  It's the chance to ride an antique train made of 20th century railcars, eat delicious food, sip on wine and ride right through the heart of Napa. Just east of San Francisco, you can hop on a ferry to get to the wine train. The cruise makes for a beautiful trip to the countryside adding to an already fantastic journey.


By Molly Nelson, Contributing Author

24 Hours in Seattle

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Pike Place Market in Seattle

Image via Wikipedia

As my first visit to the Pacific Northwest, I was expecting rain, fir trees and delicious seafood from Seattle. While I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of moisture, even though the sun was out the city does have a certain darker, misty, grungy vibe like the thing to do is see a show, climb Mt. Rainer and reflect in a coffee shop.  I was not expecting an awesome pier town where almost everything is boat accessible, including the University of Washington football stadium. Another bonus, they serve Ivar's clam chowder all over town- the stadium, the airport, wherever you are there is no shortage of fresh chowda.  We saw the Flagship Nordstrom's, the first Starbucks, and the real hospital they film Grey's Anatomy in (yes, they actually rent out a floor in Seattle; it's not just a sound stage in LA).  Here are some must-see stops in "the Peerless City."

 

Pike's Place Market- The staple indoor/outdoor farmer's market on the water, Pike's Place is a cross between Navy Pier in Chicago and Reading Terminal Market in Philly. With a slew of fresh caught seafood, the fishermen booths make a show out of tossing the larger than life fish around. Enjoy numerous bakeries, $5 flower bouquets, organic farm fresh produce, homemade arts and crafts and worldy goods as you stroll the multi-level open air market. Try to go during off-peak hours as it gets crazy busy and hard to walk through on the weekends.  

 

Ivar's-Touted the best chowder in town, we can't disagree, though we didn't try many else to compare. Located directly on the pier near the Aquarium, watch the yachts and houseboats as you indulge in the fresh catch of the day. Seattle is known for their planked salmon and halibut and both will melt in your mouth.

 

The Crabpot- Great for group gatherings or the fam if you don't mind waiting upwards of an hour for a table, enjoy a group "seafeast" fiesta. Order a platter to share and all the goods are dumped straight on the table to enjoy. Recommended to us was the "Pacific clambake," which includes steamed clams, mussels, dungeoness crab, snowcrab, oysters, shrimp, halibut, salmon, andouille sausage, corn and red potatoes aka no shortage of food.  Don the signature bib and get to cracking with a hammer and other tools. No one seemed  to mind the delicious Cajun spices that'll cake your hands.

 

The Crumpet Shop- The highlight of my trip, this adorable little mom and pop shop is in an alley of hidden gems right near the market. Try both a sweet and savory crumpet (a cross between a pancake and an English muffin). The favorite was the Vermont maple butter with cream cheese and walnuts. Seattlers love cream cheese and put it on everything- eggs, hot dogs, you name it. They also have an all you can drink tea service with my favorite, the rare South African rooibos.

 

Beecher's Handmade Cheese- If you ever dreamt of bathing in a giant vat of cheese, well, you won't get that chance, but there is a plethora of cheese to taste and it is crafted in giant vats. With mac and cheese chosen as one of Oprah's favorite things, Beecher's is the only artisan cheese shop in Seattle, so popular they recently opened a second outpost in the Flatiron District in New York.

 

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