Whether you like it spicy, citrusy or simply thrown on the grill until it's crispy and smoky, calamari makes an irresistible holiday treat.
For those keen to sample some of the world’s sweetest and most tender seafood, here are seven destinations where the calamari is worth travelling for.
A local favourite in Madrid, bocadillo de calamares (calamari sandwich)
If you try one local speciality in Madrid, make it the bocadillo de calamares (calamari sandwich). This beautifully simple snack consists of crusty, fresh bread stuffed with squid rings that have been battered and deep-fried, then drizzled with olive oil. You can find them all over town but the streets around Madrid’s Plaza Mayor are where you’ll find the best; the rowdy sandwich bars here are great-value and everything is made to order. And they’re generally frequented by locals, so you can mingle over a caña – small beer – while you wait for your sandwich number to be called out. Check into the sunny Aspasios Calle Mayor Apartments, just 200 metres from Plaza Mayor.
Seoul, South Korea
Feast your eyes and stomach on dried octopus tentacles, squid and calamari rings in Seoul
Calamari is as ubiquitous in South Korea as it is in the Mediterranean but is prepared in a totally different way. The most common incarnation is spicy and stir-fried, though sometimes it’s fermented and squid is frequently used as a substitute. The best places to sample authentic South Korean recipes are the street food stalls of Seoul, where you’ll find row upon row of dried octopus tentacles, squid and rings of calamari. Try crispy calamari stuffed into a steamed bun with fresh coriander, squid served wrapped in lettuce with mustard and sauce, or squid that’s been dried in the sun for a roasted flavour. Stay at A House, with a rooftop terrace and handy location for exploring Seoul’s street food scene.
Grilled squid sprinkled with chilli is a Shanghai speciality
The recipes for calamari and squid in China are as diverse as the country itself; from traditional Cantonese salt and pepper squid (a mixture of crunchy, wok-fried garlic, ginger and hot peppers), to squid with chinese chives (a dish from the Chaozhou region), there’s a dish to suit every seafood fan. Head to Shanghai to try the city’s signature fried calamari, served on a bed of bean sprouts and sprinkled with sesame seeds, coriander, peanuts and sweet chilli sauce. The Blue Heart Guesthouse has a lantern-filled terrace, views of historic hutongs (narrow Chinese alleyways) and an Asian breakfast spread served each morning.
Lula frita in Portugal, land of fried seafood; the Portuguese even introduced tempura to Japan
When it comes to fried calamari, the Portuguese are the experts; they even introduced tempura to the Japanese in the 16th century. Lula frita (fried squid) is a popular dish found in all of Lisbon’s low-key seafood restaurants, consisting of grilled whole kebabs with squid rings, garlic, onions, bell peppers and a lime garnish. If you prefer it un-fried, you can also sample fresh, superbly sweet and tender calamari served simply in a big metal bowl with potatoes and drenched in olive oil. Check into the Lisbon Wine Hotel, housed in a historic building in the middle of the city.
The town of Ston on the Dalmatian coast is famous for oysters and seafood
Ston is a small village on the Pelješac peninsula, about an hour’s drive up the Dalmatian coast from the walled city of Dubrovnik. The town is famous for the sweet and fleshy oysters that it farms in abundance, and restaurants that serve seafood almost straight from the sea. Sit on a waterside terrace outside Ston's 14th-century fortified town walls and sip on the crisp white wine for which the Croatian coast is known. Then tuck into fresh calamari grilled over hot coals until it acquires a succulent and perfectly charred texture. Stay at Apartment Ston, a highly rated accommodation three minutes’ walk from the city walls.
Try a marinated, fresh calamari and seafood salad in the Borgo, Rimini's old fishing district
Calamari crops up on the menu of many Italian restaurants, being a staple of Adriatic seaside towns – Rimini in particular. It can be grilled, stuffed, marinated (for seafood salads, pasta dishes and risottos) or deep-fried and served with lemon and a chunk of garlic bruschetta. For the best of the best, dine in one of the restaurants that line the cobbled alleyways of the old fishing district, Borgo. Stay in the pretty, lilac-coloured Residence Hotel Le Viole on the Rimini seafront.
Grilled squid is a popular fast food dish in Japan, and is known as ikayaki
Grilled squid is such a popular fast food dish in Japan that you’ll encounter it all over the country, especially in the gastronomic capital of Tokyo. Known as ikayaki, it’s essentially a piece of squid grilled over charcoal and then drizzled with soy sauce and (normally) served on a skewer. Depending on how hungry you are, you can order a few rings, a tentacle or the whole body. It’s a fantastic street food snack or lunch to take to the beach, with regional variants like squid pancake (made by folding chopped squid and fresh vegetables into a thin crêpe). For calamari purists, some of the best ways to sample this specific type of seafood in Japan are calamari tempura sushi rolls, or calamari salads with bamboo shoots, ginger and a soy and sesame dressing. The beautiful Hotel Ryumeikan Ochanomizu Honten is over a century old, filled with Japanese antiques, and with convenient public transport links for getting around Tokyo.