Nobody likes goodbyes, unless we're bidding adieu to 2016. The end of this flaming oil spill of a year couldn't come soon enough. But when 2016 wasn't robbing us of our childhood heroes and giving us the succubus that was the presidential election, it actually had some pretty nice moments. Or at least we found some rather delightful ways to escape our soul-crushing reality.
We here at MUNCHIES tend to prefer our escapes in the form of food. Or drink. Or smoke. But the best escapes are actual escapes, and if you can combine a trip far away from here with all of the above, that's the ultimate. This year we traveled far and wide in search of the best, weirdest, and most inspiring culinary stories (or semi-culinary related stories) on the planet. Here are some of our favorites:
Regardless of whether you're from a red state or a blue state, the brightest spot of this year's election was this: four more states voted to legalize recreational marijuana (yay, green states!). And while we're delighted about that development, we can't help but aspire to be more like northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, where the country's best marijuana grows wild—right next to crops of flowers, bitter gourds, papayas, mangoes, and rice.
If you're not into that kind of green, maybe Bhutan is more up your alley. The only country to measure the quality of life of its people with a Gross National Happiness Index is also the only country to have gone nearly 100 percent organic. Spoiler alert: The secret is cow piss.
Speaking of organic, Northern Thailand is experiencing a coffee renaissance, and what's brewing in Chiang Mai can rival the coffee culture anywhere on earth. And it's all thanks to a growing movement of sustainability that's giving northern hill tribes fair compensation, training them as world-class baristas, and teaching them skills to start their own cafes—which has completely transformed the city's coffee scene.
Another culinary renaissance is going down in, drum roll please...North Korea. Seriously. Kind of. While most of the country is still living in extreme poverty, a growing middle class has brought the rise of beer bars, Italian joints, and even a sushi restaurant. They're just not very good. But considering that people there live in total isolation, let's not get too judgy. In a three-part series our correspondent explored the scene from beer bars to Pyongyang's newest pizza joint to the legendarily terrible Koryo burger.
While some of the least pleasant food we ate this year was in the Hermit Kingdom, some of the best was in the Kingdom of Morocco, home of what might just be the finest damn lamb ever roasted. Marrakech's Mechoui Alley is lined with family-owned shops, and at many of them you'll find underground pits filled with sheep being roasted whole.
And as impressive as that relatively small market is, the most impressive bazaar we visited this year was in Kashgar, China—a remote city in the western province of Xinjiang, that resembles the Middle East as much as it does China. Here, more than 100,000 people gather every Sunday to buy camel milk, sheep stew, yak yogurt, roasted pigeon, various kinds of flatbread, and all kinds of livestock.
It's not only about where you travel, but with whom you're breaking bread (or in our case Japanese spiny lobster shells). We recently sat down for a meal of freshly caught seafood and went on a dive with the ama of Mie prefecture in Japan. These legendary women dive in icy cold waters past the age of 70, but the future of their analog culture remains uncertain in an increasingly digital world.
Then again, sometimes it is just about the destination. And if shit really hits the fan in 2017, we might just pack up our Brooklyn office and set up camp at this paradise vineyard, tucked away at bottom of one of the tallest cliffs in Europe, on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, inaccessible by any method other than boat.