TEFL for foodies: 5 of the best destinations for food

We could spend forever talking about all of the incredible reasons you should teach English abroad, but let’s focus on just one of them for now: food! 

Food is arguably one of the best ways to learn about a foreign culture. A country’s cuisine can reveal a lot about its history, but food also brings people together, and so for TEFL teachers adapting to life in a new country it’s often a key part of getting to know others. Not to mention a delicious one! 

But where should the TEFL foodie in search of truly great food go? Here are our top five destinations renowned for their cuisines and their demand for EFL teachers.

Chinese street food

China

Not only is China a TEFL powerhouse, it’s an absolute dream for adventurous foodies. 

You might think you know Chinese cuisine thanks to your local takeaway, but think again. In the UK, most Chinese takeaways serve adapted Cantonese dishes tailored to the British palette and while the food might taste great, it’s usually not very authentic. Likewise in the US, Chinese food served across the country is better described as ‘Chinese American’, arguably a cuisine in itself, which doesn’t really represent the food you’d find in China.

In fact, it’s actually quite difficult to paint a picture of Chinese cuisine given its scope. China is geographically and culturally diverse, and its food is no exception. While there are numerous regions with their own dishes, there are 8 major regional cuisines, each distinct with their own character, cooking methods and flavour profiles. These are: Anhui, Cantonese, Fujian, Hunan, Jiangsu, Shandong, Szechuan and Zhejiang. 

TEFL teachers in China are truly spoiled for choice. And with travel within the country very affordable and efficient, you can spend your time off touring different regions and sampling all they have to offer.

Best regions for food: Guangdong, Sichuan, Jiangsu, Hunan, Zhejiang

Must-try dishes: Mapo Tofu, Congee, Cōng Yóu Bǐng, Dan Dan noodles, Zhajiangmian, Xiao Long Bao, Hot Pot 

For adventurous eaters: century eggs, duck tongues, fermented tofu

Learn more: For an insight into authentic Chinese cuisine check out Chinese Cooking Demystified

Fancy teaching English in China? Check out our guide

Spanish food including olives and tortilla

Spain

Spanish food is fresh, simple and packed with flavour. Expect lots of olive oil, cured meat, seafood, and locally grown vegetables. 

Spanish cuisine owes a lot to the influence of the North African Moors, who ruled Spain for several hundred years. The Moors introduced sophisticated irrigation systems, increasing and improving the production of grains, vegetables and fruits and transforming Spanish cuisine. Valencia owes its famous oranges to the Moors, who brought them to the country in the 10th century, and had they not brought rice with them then Paella wouldn’t exist. 

TEFL teachers can also enjoy tapas culture when working in Spain. Tapas traditionally come free with a drink, which still occurs in certain parts of the country but in others it’s more common to order them separately. The origin of tapas is unclear, but one theory is that they were introduced to line the stomachs of workmen who were more inclined to spend their money on alcohol than food at lunch! 

Best cities for food: Barcelona, Seville, Madrid, San Sebastian

Must-try dishes: Paella, Iberian ham, Gazpacho, Tortilla, Bocadillos, Churros, Migas

For adventurous eaters: Caracoles, Oreja a la plancha, Percebes

Learn more: The Food of Spain by Claudia Roden will not only teach you how to cook authentic Spanish food, but you’ll learn about the history and culture behind the dishes as well. 

See our Spain country guide for more information about TEFL in Spain

Korean banchan including kimchi

South Korea 

The Korean Wave kicked off back in the 1990s, but in the last decade in particular the influence of South Korean culture globally has been huge. Korean film and television is now widely watched, K-pop is a billion dollar industry, and Korean skincare is sought after worldwide leading to South Korea becoming the third largest exporter of cosmetics in the world. But another export in high demand is Korean food! 

Traditional Korean cuisine is very healthy, being full of vegetables, high in fibre, and rich in probiotics thanks to fermentation. It hits all the right notes, balancing the five flavour profiles of spicy, sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami. It’s no wonder Korean food is taking the rest of the world by storm!

Banchan (side dishes) are served with pretty much every meal, which gives you a great opportunity to try different things. And expect to develop an appetite for kimchi, which is consumed daily by a whopping 95% of Koreans! 

Best places for food: Jeonju, Jeolla, Gangwon, Jeju, Gyeongsang

Must-try dishes: Kimchi, Jjajangmyeon, Tteokbokki, Bulgogi, Hoeddeok, Bibimbap

For adventurous eaters: Beondegi, Sannakji, Hongeo-Hoe, Dakbal

Learn more: Maangchi has been teaching the internet about Korean cuisine since 2007. 

Learn how to become a TEFL teacher in South Korea with our guide

Mexican tacos on a plate with beans

Mexico

Mexican food is largely a blend of Spanish and indigineous Mexican cuisines. It’s vibrant, fresh and, famously, it can be pretty spicy too! Corn, beans and chillies are staples and over thousands of years recipes and techniques have been honed to produce a cuisine loved across the world. 

But nothing is going to beat eating Mexican food in Mexico! Teaching English in Mexico gives you the perfect opportunity to immerse yourself in its exciting street food culture. Did you know that 1.6 million people work in street food establishments in Mexico, representing half of total business in the entire country? In other words – there’s a lot of street food out there for you to sample. 

There are many distinct cuisines throughout Mexico – for example, in the north of the country beef reigns supreme and flour (not corn) tortillas are popular, while in Yucatan the food is much more rooted in Mayan culture than the rest of the country, with the spice achioto giving food there its distinctive reddish colour. 

Best places for food: Mexico City, Puebla, Monterrey, Oaxaca, Yucatan

Must-try dishes: Chilaquiles, Pambazo, Gorditas, Elote, Tacos al pastor, Mole, Tamales

For adventurous eaters: Chinicuiles, Chapulines, Huitlacoche, Menudo

Learn more: Check out The Food Ranger’s videos to discover more about Mexican street food. 

Find out more about TEFL in Mexico with our country guide. 

Three bowls of pasta including one with seafood

Italy

You didn’t think we were going to forget about Italy, did you? Not a chance! It’s the most popular cuisine in the world, with pizza and pasta being two of the most beloved dishes globally, according to the 24 countries surveyed by YouGov. But while pizza and pasta are certainly hugely popular within Italy, Italian cuisine is very diverse, and there are plenty of other dishes you need to try. 

Italians are understandably proud of their cuisine and have a deep respect for its tradition and the produce used. So, if you want to avoid causing offence make sure you don’t commit food crimes like putting cream in carbonara, adding cheese to seafood dishes, or ordering a cappuccino with a meal!

As with all great food nations, different regions have different offerings. Emilia-Romagna, where Bologna is located, is known for its meats and pasta and is home to Parmigiano Reggiano and Bolognese. In Tuscany you’ll find some of the best olive oil and incredible bread. And for pizza you’ll want to head to Campania, to Naples where pizza was born. Up and down the country you’ll find incredible food, so wherever you find yourself teaching English you’ll be in for a treat!

Best places for food: Florence, Naples, Bologna, Rome, Palermo

Must-try dishes: Pizza, Lasagne, Focaccia, Polenta, Cacio e pepe, Caponata

For adventurous eaters: Meusa, Casu frazigu, Sanguinaccio Dolce, Agretti

Learn more: Learn about traditional Italian cuisine from the real pros – Italian grannies!

Explore Italy’s cuisine as a TEFL teacher – find out more with our country guide.

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