World Cuisine Guide: The 12 Best Countries for Food

World Cuisine Guide: The 12 Best Countries for Food

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Some people travel for adventure, others travel for culture. We travel for food. It isn’t the only reason but it’s the single most influential factor in our choices of destination.

To us, national dishes are every bit as important as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Markets are a favorite destination and very rarely do we go on tours unless it’s a food tour. If I find a local heritage stall that’s been serving the same iconic dish for decades, then I know I’ve done my job.

Personally, I’m partial to street food but we aim to have as well-rounded a food experience as possible. We often take cooking classes when we travel and we always make room for at least one Michelin-starred meal (or equivalent) on every trip.

Needless to say, exploring a new city is always thrilling but even more so when it offers the promise of good or interesting food.

We haven’t been to every country so this list may change over time, but if you’re looking for inspiration for your next food trip, then listed below are what we feel to be twelve of the best countries for food.

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Pintxos

THE BEST CUISINES IN THE WORLD

We understand that taste is subjective. This is our personal list of the best countries for food so not everyone will agree with it. If you feel strongly about a cuisine and think it should be included here, then let us know in the comments below. Like you, we’re always planning for the next big food trip!

Underneath each country is a brief description of the cuisine and three recommended dishes to try. It’s impossible to represent a cuisine with just three dishes but we tried to come up with as interesting and well-rounded a mix as possible. Popular dishes are represented as well as lesser known delicacies that curious eaters may want to look out for.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the twelve countries included in this guide. Click on a link to jump to that section.

  1. Japan
  2. Vietnam
  3. Thailand
  4. Singapore
  5. China
  6. India
  1. Turkey
  2. Italy
  3. Spain
  4. France
  5. Mexico
  6. USA

1. Japan

This was a no-brainer. Japan is our favorite country in the world to visit and a big reason for that is the food. They have the most Michelin stars in the world, surpassing even France, which proves that Japanese is one of the best cuisines in the world.

What’s remarkable about the Japanese is how much time and effort they put into perfecting their craft. Some dishes take at least ten years to fully master. Many restaurants will specialize in just one dish, with that one dish being the culmination of over a decade of practice and discipline. Japanese chefs truly are masters of their craft.

I’ve visited close to twenty prefectures so far and every prefecture has one or two Japanese dishes that are unique to the region. I have no desire to visit every country in the world but I do intend to explore every prefecture in Japan, mainly for the food.

3 Dishes to Try in Japan

Sushi

Sushi is arguably the most well-known Japanese dish. It’s representative of Japanese cuisine and the first thing many people think of when they think of Japanese food.

Sushi consists of vinegared rice commonly served with raw fish and other types of seafood, though it can be made with other ingredients as well like raw vegetables. It’s often served with gari (pickled ginger), wasabi, and soy sauce and comes in many forms like nigiri, maki, temaki, chirashi, and nare.

In Japan, one of our favorite ways of enjoying sushi is at kaitenzushi restaurants. Kaitenzushi refers to a type of restaurant that serves sushi on conveyor belts. The picture below was taken at an Osaka branch of the popular Daiki Suisan chain.
Sushi at a kaitenzushi restaurant

Ramen

Like sushi, ramen is one of the most popular Japanese dishes. It’s a noodle soup dish made with four basic elements – broth, tare (seasoning), noodles, and toppings.

Tare refers to the salty concentrated essence placed at the bottom of every ramen bowl. Together with the broth, it’s what determines the style of ramen. There are many regional varieties of ramen but the four basic types are miso, shoyu, shio, and tonkotsu.

Personally, my favorite is tonkotsu or Hakata ramen. Originally from Fukuoka, it’s a milky broth ramen that’s made by boiling pork bones over a high flame for several hours until the marrow seeps out.

Pictured below is a tasty bowl of crab miso ramen from a restaurant in Tokyo. It was recommended to us by a local who called it the best ramen shop he’s ever been to in Japan. Delicious!
Bowl of ramen with crab

Unagi Kabayaki

Tempura is the dish that turned me on to Japanese food as a child, but it was unagi that made me fall in love with it as an adult. I had it at a sushi restaurant in Boston over thirty years ago and it’s been one of my favorite Japanese dishes ever since.

Unagi refers to freshwater eel while the term kabayaki describes the way in which the fish is prepared. The eel is slit down the middle, gutted, deboned, and butterflied before being skewered and grilled over charcoal. While grilling, it’s basted with a kabayaki sauce which is like a sweetened soy sauce.

Soft, smokey, and savory-sweet, unagi is commonly served in sushi form or over a bed of rice in a dish called unadon or unaju. If you visit Nagoya, then be sure to try hitsumabushi. It’s an interesting version of unagi that originated in Aichi prefecture.

Pictured below is an order of unagi donburi from the excellent Unagi Hirokawa restaurant in Kyoto.
Unagi donburi

2. Vietnam

Before our first trip to Vietnam, we weren’t high on Vietnamese food. Now it’s one of our favorites. Personally, it’s in my top three. I enjoy it so much that I recently spent a month in Vietnam eating my way from north to south.

One of the things I enjoy most about Vietnamese food is its sense of balance. Sour is served with sweet, hot is tempered with cold. Fried food is served with fresh vegetables and dishes are often presented with a pleasing harmony of color.

Vietnamese food aims to strike a balance in different aspects of food like taste, nutrients, and presentation, and it does so by paying attention to a specific set of elements per aspect.

We’ve come to love Vietnamese food so much that we’re already planning a trip back. And this time, we’ll stay for at least three months, probably even longer.

3 Dishes to Try in Vietnam

Bun Cha

Bun cha is one of my favorite Vietnamese dishes and perhaps the one dish I miss most about Vietnam. It’s a Hanoi dish of charcoal-grilled pork served with cold vermicelli noodles and fresh greens like lettuce, perilla, coriander, and mint. It’s the dish that Anthony Bourdain and Barack Obama shared on that Hanoi episode of Parts Unknown.

Bun cha is often paired with a side of nem cua be or deep-fried crab spring rolls. It’s one of my absolute favorite meals in Vietnamese cuisine and one of the reasons why Hanoi is my favorite city in Vietnam. I think I had it almost everyday the last time I was there.
Bun cha

Banh Mi

Banh mi, like pho, is the most well-known Vietnamese dish. Technically speaking, it refers to a small French-style baguette but people use the term to refer to the sandwich.

A banh mi is a baguette sandwich made with different types of meat, vegetables, and condiments. Pork, cucumber slices, coriander, and pickled carrots make their way into many banh mis but you can pretty much make it with whatever you want because the real star of the sandwich is the bread.

Banh mi bread is crusty on the outside but soft and cloud-like on the inside. Personally, it’s one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had and something I wouldn’t mind eating everyday.

Banh mi is good anywhere in Vietnam but the best sandwiches are said to come from Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh City.
Banh mi

Bun Bo Hue

Pho is a Vietnamese national dish and beloved by many, but personally, I think there are better noodle soup dishes in Vietnam. Bun bo hue is one of those dishes.

As its name suggests, bun bo is a noodle soup dish that originated in Hue in central Vietnam. It’s made with rice vermicelli, thin slices of beef, and hefty chunks of beef shank. Depending on the cook, it can contain other ingredients as well like oxtail, pig’s knuckle, and congealed pig’s blood.

The broth in bun bo hue is so incredibly flavorful. I had gotten used to the mildness of pho so I was surprised by how tasty this was. It’s my favorite noodle soup dish in Vietnam and something you need to try when you visit Hue.
Bun bo hue

3. Thailand

When it comes to countries with the best food, Thailand is a no-brainer. Before 2020, Bangkok was the most visited city in the world for four consecutive years. CNN once declared it the best city in the world for street food so adding it to this list was easy.

This list goes beyond beyond Bangkok which is a good thing because there’s a lot of good food to be had throughout the country. Generally speaking, Bangkok and central Thai food is known to be a little sweet compared to the saltier and more bitter cuisine of the north and the spicier dishes of the south.

It’s available throughout Thailand but you may want to visit the northeast region as well to try Isan food. It’s a regional Thai cuisine that’s been heavily influenced by Laos and Khmer cuisines.

3 Dishes to Try in Thailand

Tom Yum

Tom yum (or tom yam) is one of the most popular and beloved dishes in Thai cuisine. It refers to a family of soups made with lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, fresh lime juice, and fresh Thai chilis.

Tom yum can be made with different proteins like chicken, pork, or fish, but the most popular version is made with prawn (tom yum goong). Known for its distinctively hot and sour flavors, it’s often touted as the dish that defines Thai cuisine.

Writing this article now, I can almost feel that hot spicy-sour broth streaming down the back of my throat. It’s raining where I am so a bowl of tom yum would be so perfect right now. It’s a delicious dish and a great introduction to Thai food.

Pictured below is a bowl of kuay teow tom yum goong nam khon from Pe Aor, one of the most popular tom yum restaurants in Bangkok.
Tom yum

Pad Thai

Like tom yum, pad thai is one of the most popular Thai dishes. For many people, it’s the first thing that comes to mind when they think of Thai cuisine.

Pad thai refers to a stir-fried rice noodle dish made with tofu, scrambled egg, peanuts, bean sprouts, and other vegetables. It’s often made with chicken or shrimp though any type of meat or seafood can be used. The ingredients are sauteed in a wok then tossed with a sauce that gives the dish its signature sweet, salty, sour flavors.

Pad thai is a universally appealing dish that can be found pretty much anywhere in Thailand, from humble street food carts to proper sit-down restaurants.
Pad thai

Khao Soi

Khao soi is my favorite northern Thai dish. Popular in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, it’s perhaps the one dish that best represents northern Thai cuisine.

Khao soi is a dish made with both crispy and soft egg noodles in a creamy curry-like coconut sauce. It’s commonly made with chicken or beef and served with a side of chopped red onion, pickled cabbage, and a wedge of lime.

For some reason, khao soi is typically served only at lunch. In Chiang Mai, one of the best places to try it is at Khao Soi Khun Yai.
Khao

4. Singapore

When compiling this list, I almost forgot about Singapore. That would have been a travesty considering how good and diverse their food is, especially for such a small country! Pound for pound, Singapore is one of the world’s best countries for food.

When you think of hawker food, one of the first countries that springs to mind is Singapore. Hawker centers with dozens of stalls offering a wide range of inexpensive food can be found throughout the city. Singapore has a reputation for being an expensive city but you’ll never guess it from its abundance of cheap and delicious hawker food.

Singapore is a multiracial country with ethnic Chinese, Malays, and Indians making up most of its population. This diversity is reflected in a cuisine shaped by a multitude of culinary influences. That for me makes it one of the world’s best countries for food.

Walk into any hawker center in Singapore and you’ll have your choice of Chinese, Indian, Malay, Indonesian, and Peranakan food. I love it!

3 Dishes to Try in Singapore

Laksa

Laksa is one of Singapore’s most popular dishes. It’s a Peranakan dish made with wheat noodles or rice vermicelli in a rich and savory coconut milk broth. It’s often made with chicken, prawn, or fish though other types of meat and seafood can also be used.

Laksa is equally popular in Malaysia where it’s considered a national dish. Tart versions made with sour asam (tamarind, gelugur or kokum) are also available but in Singapore, the most popular version is the coconut-based curry laksa. That’s the version I prefer.

Laksa seems to be one of those dishes that sparks heated debates on which version is the best. Everyone has their preference and no one is incorrect.

I haven’t had enough laksa to join the melee but I did find the offerings at Sungei Road Laksa to be worthy of consideration. It’s one of the best restaurants in Singapore for laksa and one of the few remaining places that still makes it with a charcoal burner.
Laksa

Hainanese Chicken Rice

As its name suggests, Hainanese chicken rice is a chicken rice dish originally from Hainan in southern China. Thanks to the Chinese diaspora, it’s taken root in other parts of Asia like Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Vietnam.

Hainanese chicken rice consists of a whole poached chicken served with seasoned rice and a medley of dipping sauces, typically pureed ginger, kecap manis (sweet soy sauce), and chili sauce. The rice is cooked with the fat and liquid from the poached chicken giving it its signature oily sheen and flavor.

This dish’s lack of color makes it seem bland but looks can be deceiving. It’s incredibly flavorful and delicious, especially when eaten with the trio of sauces. Check out this local’s recommendations on where to find the best Hainanese chicken rice in Singapore.
Hainanese chicken rice

Chili Crab

Chili crab is the single most important Singaporean dish. It’s made by stir-frying crabs, typically mud crabs, in a thick sauce made with tomato, chili, and egg.

In spite of its name, chili crab isn’t very spicy at all. It tastes tangy and sweet with just a hint of spiciness. It’s often eaten with a side of fried mantou bread to mop up the sauce.

Singaporeans are abundantly proud of their chili crab and consider it to be their greatest culinary invention. I still remember our server’s face when he brought it out to us. He was beaming with pride, like “wait until you foreigners get a taste of this!”
Chili crab

5. China

Like many Asian kids, I grew up eating Chinese food. We’ve traveled many times to Hong Kong and Macau but we’re yet to step foot in mainland China.

We have our reasons for not going but to not include China in this list of the best cuisines in the world would be inexcusable. With food staples like rice, soy sauce, noodles, tofu, chopsticks, and tea, I don’t think there’s ever been a cuisine as influential as Chinese. It’s without a doubt one of the world’s best countries for food.

My sister has been living in Shanghai for close to two decades so we may find ourselves in China within the next few years. Yunnan and Shanxi provinces are of particular interest to me but there are so many regional cuisines to explore in China. A stay of six months sounds like a minimum.

3 Dishes to Try in China

Dumplings

“Dumpling” is an incredibly broad term when it comes to Chinese food but it’s the best way of encapsulating the endless variety of dishes that fall under this category.

In culinary terms, the word dumpling is used to describe any dish made with dough wrapped around a filling. Fillings vary as do the ingredients used to make the dough and the method used to cook the dumpling. With China being such a vast country with many regional cuisines, that can mean an endless variety of dumplings.

Among the most common types of Chinese dumplings are jiaozi, xiao long bao, sheng jian bao, zongzi, wontons, and bao zi. Some of these varieties can be further subdivided depending on fillings used and method of cooking. You could probably spend a lifetime in China and not try every dumpling.
Xiao long bao

Peking Duck

We’ve been eating Peking duck ever since we were children but we’re yet to try it in Beijing. In the eyes of Beijing locals, that pretty much means we’ve never had Peking duck.

Peking duck refers to a Beijing duck dish characterized by its thin, delicately crisp skin. For show, the duck is carved tableside and served wrapped in small pancakes with spring onion, cucumber, and a sweet bean sauce. There are many delicious dishes in Chinese cuisine but Peking duck has long been one of my favorites.

A Taiwanese friend of mine is married to a Beijing local. Like me, he’s been eating Peking duck all his life but according to him, the Peking duck in Beijing is on another level. It’s just another reason for us to finally visit China.
Peking duck

Fried Rice

Like dumplings, fried rice is a broad term that refers to an endless variety of dishes made with cooked rice. The rice is stir-fried in a wok with any number of ingredients like meat, seafood, egg, and vegetables.

Fried rice was invented in China during the Sui Dynasty but it’s now become a part of many different cuisines around the world. Some of our favorite fried rice dishes include yang chow fried rice, salted fish fried rice, chahan (Japan), sinangag (Philippines), and nasi goreng (Indonesia).
Fried rice

6. India

For many years, I’ve looked at India as being one of the world’s best countries for food. I based this largely on my experience with staple dishes like rice and curry, samosas, biryani, and naan bread.

The problem was, I always enjoyed it outside of India so I wondered if the dishes I came to love, like murgh makhani, were bastardized versions of Indian food. I wanted to have it at the source. I finally got my wish a few years ago when I visited India for the first time and ate my way through Kolkata, Mumbai, Delhi, and Agra.

Like China, India is a vast country that demands several months to do it justice. Before that trip, I thought I had a good enough grasp of Indian food but what I had experienced up to that point was just the tip of the iceberg.

Tasting for the first time colorful dishes like puchka, pav bhaji, tandoori mutton burra, paan, and jalebi made me realize that Indian truly is one of the best cuisines in the world.

3 Dishes to Try in India

Butter Chicken

This dish, along with chicken tikka masala (which I would later learn is more English than Indian), is what made me fall in love with Indian cuisine. It’s the reason why I wanted to visit India.

Butter chicken or murgh makhani refers to a curry dish made with tandoori-roasted chicken served in a mildly spiced tomato sauce with butter. I lived for many years in the US and we would always order murgh makhani or chicken tikka masala with basmati rice and some naan bread. That meal is pure heaven.

I like butter chicken so much that I had it for all but one meal while I was in Delhi, at several highly-rated restaurants including Moti Mahal where it was invented. I learned that the versions I enjoyed for many years at Indian restaurants in the US were authentic.
Butter chicken and naan bread

Biryani

Biryani is Ren’s favorite Indian dish. It refers to a popular Indian-Muslim dish made with meat and long-grain rice (like basmati) flavored with a host of spices like saffron, cardamom, cloves, nutmeg, garlic, and ghee. To prepare, the meat and rice are cooked separately before being layered and cooked together in a pot.

Like Chinese fried rice, there exists a number of variations of biryani in India. One of the most popular is Hyderabadi biryani. It’s made with basmati, goat or chicken meat, and a multitude of spices and aromatics like yogurt, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, bay leaves, nutmeg, saffron, and black cumin.

Pictured below is an excellent plate of mutton biryani from the popular Arsalan restaurant in Kolkata.
Biryani

Samosa

A samosa is a popular appetizer or snack that can be found in the local cuisines of many Asian, Mediterranean, and African countries, though the Indian version is perhaps the most well-known.

Indian samosas are typically filled with a mixture of mashed boiled potatoes, onions, lentils, green peas, paneer (fresh cheese), and spices. It’s deep-fried in vegetable oil and served with a chutney, commonly mint, coriander, or tamarind.
Samosas

PHOTO:Samosa” by Avinash Bhat, used under CC BY-SA 2.0 / Processed in Photoshop and Lightroom

7. Turkey

Before we visited Turkey a few years ago, we knew next to nothing about the cuisine. After a few days of eating things like lahmacun, kofte, and borek, Turkish food endeared itself to us and quickly became one of our favorites.

Based on what I’ve read, Turkish cuisine can be described as a continuation of Ottoman cuisine. It evolved from the fusion and refinement of multiple cuisines like Central Asian, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, Eastern European, and Balkan. Its diversity and long history make it one of the best cuisines in the world.

This diversity and multitude of influences was noticeable even to novices like us. From the testi kebap of Anatolia to the Ottoman court cuisine of Istanbul to the fresh fish of the Black Sea, we could see just how much the cuisine would change as we moved from one region of the country to the next.

If you enjoy lamb, then you’re going to love Turkish food. It favors heavily in the cuisine and is found in many dishes like kebabs, kofte, lahmacun, and pide. Whenever you see the word “meat” in a menu, more often than not it refers to lamb.

3 Dishes to Try in Turkey

Lahmacun

This looks like Turkish pizza but it isn’t. It’s lahmacun – a round, thin piece of dough topped with minced lamb, vegetables, and herbs.

Lahmacun is baked like a pizza but it’s thinner and it isn’t made with any sauce or cheese. To eat, you roll it up and wrap it around pickles and fresh vegetables like tomatoes, onions, lettuce, and parsley. Like pizza, it’s delicious and one of the most enjoyable things we ate in Turkey.
Lahmacun

Testi Kebap

Testi kebap or pottery kebab is interesting. It’s an Anatolian casserole-type dish that’s prepared in a clay pot or jug, hence the name.

Testi kebap is typically made with lamb, onion, tomato, pepper, garlic, and butter. The ingredients are placed inside the clay pot which is then sealed with dough before being cooked in a tandoor oven or charcoal smoker. When cooked, the pot is brought to your table and cracked with a hammer for a bit of tableside theater.

The high temperature and pressure inside the clay pot is what makes the meat so delicious and tender. Pottery kebab is a popular dish and a must-try in Cappadocia.
Testi kebap

Kunefe

I’ve only had kunefe once but it quickly became one of my favorite desserts, not just in Turkey but anywhere. It’s a traditional Middle Eastern dessert that’s become popular in other countries like Turkey, Greece, and the Balkans.

Kunefe is made with shredded kadayif dough soaked in a sweet, sugar-based syrup. It’s layered with cheese and topped with other ingredients like clotted cream or nuts. When you eat it piping hot, the cheese pulls away in these deliciously gooey, stretchy strings. It’s so good!
Kunefe

8. Italy

When it comes to countries with the best food, Italy is on many people’s lists. It’s one of the best cuisines in the world, having produced many beloved dishes like pizza, lasagna, spaghetti with meatballs, and gelato.

Like Chinese food, we’ve been eating pizza and pasta almost all our lives. But we’ve never been to Italy. I know, I know, how can we call ourselves genuine food lovers if we’ve never been to the country that produced one of the most popular and influential cuisines in the world?

When we were deciding which countries to visit on a recent trip to Europe, we wanted more than anything to include Italy. But after looking at a map and seeing all the places we wanted to visit – Rome, Sicily, Florence, Naples, Venice, Tuscany, Milan, Bologna, Verona, Sardinia – we knew it couldn’t be done.

I only get 3 months on a Schengen visa and Italy alone demands 3 months. It would have to be its own trip, one we’ll be making in the not too distant future (I hope).

3 Dishes to Try in Italy

Pizza Napoletana

Pizza has to be one of the greatest foods ever invented. It’s originally from Naples but it’s evolved into many forms and has become one of the most popular foods in the world. With Naples being the birthplace of pizza, it only makes sense that it still produces the best version of this dish.

Pizza Napoletana refers to Naples-style pizza. It’s a Protected Designation of Origin dish, meaning it needs to follow a strict set of guidelines to carry the Napoletana label. If it isn’t made with a specific set of ingredients grown in specific regions in Italy, then it can’t be called an authentic pizza napoletana.

Just like eating authentic murgh makhani in Delhi was high on my bucket list, so is eating authentic pizza napoletana in Naples.
Neapolitan pizza topped with arugula

Pasta

Like “dumpling”, pasta is an incredibly broad term that describes an infinite number of dishes. It refers to any starchy noodle dish made from wheat flour mixed into a paste or dough, then flattened and cut into strips or other shapes. Like pizza, it’s an exceedingly popular dish that’s found its way to many other parts of the world.

Like Chinese food, we’ve been eating pasta dishes all our lives but only on a few occasions have we eaten dishes made with fresh pasta, and obviously never in Italy! It’s our greatest shame as food lovers and something we hope to rectify soon.

Just like sushi is always good in Japan, I’m pretty sure pasta is good anywhere in Italy. Thanks to the late great Anthony Bourdain, the one pasta dish I’m dying to try is cacio e pepe.
Cacio e pepe

PHOTO:Cacio e Pepe” by Sarah Stierch, used under CC BY 2.0 / Processed in Photoshop and Lightroom

Ossobuco

Ossobuco is one of Ren’s favorite dishes. She makes it all the time at home so it only follows that we want to try it in Italy.

Ossobuco is a northern Italian dish of cross-cut veal shanks braised with vegetables, white wine, and broth. It’s often garnished with gremolata and traditionally served with either risotto alla milanese or polenta. The soft unctuous marrow inside the bone is the most prized part of this dish.
Ossobuco alla Milanese

PHOTO: Micaela & Massimo from Vaprio d'Adda (MI), Italy / CC BY 2.0

9. Spain

We’re originally from the Philippines so we’re quite familiar with Spanish food. Many of our dishes have Spanish origins or names like adobo, paella, arroz caldo, and menudo.

Food plays a major role in Filipino culture. Every gathering, every celebration features copious amounts of food and it wasn’t until our first trip to Spain that I realized where we got that trait from. From tapas and pintxos to aperitivos to the long lunches followed by a siesta, Spanish people know how to celebrate life, and often, they celebrate it with food.

We visited over ten cities and towns in our three weeks in Spain and we never had to look too hard to find amazing food. It wasn’t hard adding Spain to our list of countries with the best food.

3 Dishes to Try in Spain

Paella Negra

Paella is one of the most well-known dishes in Spanish cuisine. Originally from Valencia, it’s a dish made with round grain rice, saffron, olive oil, and meat and/or seafood. It gets its name from the wide shallow pan which is used to cook the dish.

Paella Valenciana and paella de marisco are the most traditional forms of paella but my personal favorite is paella negra. It’s a seafood paella similar to paella de marisco, except its made with squid ink which turns the rice (and your teeth) black. Enjoy it with much gusto but don’t forget to wipe your teeth before you smile.
Paella negra

Pintxos

Pintxos are small bar snacks similar to tapas. The main difference is that they’re typically skewered to a piece of bread with a toothpick. And while tapas dishes are ordered ala carte, pintxos are laid out on a bar so you’re free to grab whatever you like.

Pintxos are common in northern Spain, especially in Donostia-San Sebastian which has come to be known as the country’s gastronomic capital. It has a strong social component and is often eaten with friends and family over glasses of wine or beer.

One of our best experiences in Spain was to go bar hopping in San Sebastian and Logroño, putting away as many pintxos as we could muster. Like I said, these Spaniards really know how to enjoy life!
Pintxos

Tortilla de Patata

The tortilla de patata is a classic dish in Spanish cuisine and one of its most popular. It’s a comforting and filling omelette dish made with eggs, potatoes, and onions.

Often served as tapas, the tortilla de patata is proof that simple dishes are often the best. We enjoyed this one at a mercado in Madrid.
Tortilla de patata

10. France

This was another no-brainer. You can’t write an article on the best cuisines in the world and not include France. Not only is it one of the world’s most influential cuisines, it’s the birthplace of gastronomy and home to arguably the best loaf of bread on the planet.

Being the birthplace of the Michelin Guide, French cuisine has a reputation for being refined and snooty but it’s home to more down-to-earth cooking as well. Some of the most beloved French comfort foods include cassoulet, boeuf bourguignon, and ratatouille.

Because of its reputation and history, I imagine France being in the top three of most people’s lists of countries with the best food. Personally, I haven’t been back to France in a long time but it’s a trip we’re eyeing somewhere down the line.

3 Dishes to Try in France

Baguette

I’ve only been to Paris once, almost 30 years ago when I was still a college student. I don’t remember all the details from that trip but one thing I haven’t forgotten is the baguette.

A baguette is a long thin loaf of French bread made from basic lean dough. It’s often cited for being one of the best breads in the world, renowned for its crisp crust and soft airy center.

I haven’t had bread that good until I ate a banh mi in Vietnam, which makes sense since it was the French who introduced the baguette to the Vietnamese. We haven’t talked about revisiting Paris but the baguette is reason enough to go back.
Stack of baguettes

PHOTO:baguettes at the Edgar Quinet market” by Paul Asman and Jill Lenoble, used under CC BY 2.0 / Processed in Photoshop and Lightroom

Cassoulet

A cassoulet is a slow-cooked casserole dish made with various types of meat (typically duck, goose, and pork sausage), carrots, onions, and white beans. It’s originally from the south of France and is named after the traditional cooking vessel used to make it – the cassole.

If you’re like me and prefer street food and rustic dishes to fine dining, then these are the types of dishes you’ll want to look for in France.
Cassoulet

PHOTO:Cassoulet” by Isabelle Hurbain-Palatin, used under CC BY-SA 2.0 / Processed in Photoshop and Lightroom

Crepe

Like the baguette, the crepe is what I remember most about my one trip to Paris. It’s originally from Brittany in the northwest region of France but it’s made its way to many other parts of the world.

A crepe is a very thin type of pancake. It can be sweet or savory and filled with any number of ingredients. The simplest forms can be made with just powdered sugar, but there are more elaborate crepes like the popular flambeed crepes suzette and the savory Breton galettes.
Crepe

PHOTO:crêpe au miel et jus de citron frais” by Flavio Ensiki, used under CC BY 2.0 / Processed in Photoshop and Lightroom

11. Mexico

We were supposed to visit Mexico for the first time in 2020. We were going to do a southern food tour in the US then make our way south to Mexico. We were going to eat our way through Mexico City, San Cristobal, Puebla, and Oaxaca. But we all know how 2020 turned out.

We both lived for many years in California so we’ve had our fair share of good Mexican-American food – Ren in downtown and East LA and me from the mom-and-pop burrito shops in San Francisco’s Mission District. But as much as I love burritos, fajitas, and nachos, it’s still Mexican-American food.

I have no way of knowing if what I’ve had is even close to the real thing because we’ve never been to Mexico, but that’s what we want to find out. By all accounts, Mexico is indeed one of the world’s best countries for food.

Tacos al pastor, I have my eyes on you.

3 Dishes to Try in Mexico

Tacos al Pastor

I’ve heard nothing but amazing things about tacos al pastor but I’ve become even more obsessed with it after watching the Taco Chronicles on Netflix. It’s the one dish I’m most excited to try in Mexico.

Tacos al pastor refers to a taco dish made with pork grilled on a spit. Marinated pork is slowly grilled on a vertical rotisserie called a trompo. When cooked, the meat is sliced off in thin pieces and served on a small corn tortilla with onion, cilantro, pineapple, and other ingredients.

If the method of cooking tacos al pastor sounds familiar to you, it’s because it isn’t originally from Mexico. Like gyros and shawarma, it’s said to be a deviation of the Turkish doner kebab which was brought to Mexico by Lebanese immigrants in the 1930s.
Street tacos

PHOTO:Awesome tacos from Cocuyos” by Bex Walton, used under CC BY 2.0 / Processed in Photoshop and Lightroom

Mole

Like feasting on tacos al pastor in Mexico City, eating mole in Oaxaca and Puebla is high on our list of priorities in Mexico.

Mole refers to a traditional sauce used in Mexican cuisine. It comes in many forms and is typically made with a vast array of ingredients like chili peppers, tomatillos, dried fruits, nuts, garlic, herbs, chocolate, and spices. I read that authentic moles contain an average of about 20-30 different ingredients!

From what I understand, it takes a lot of care and preparation to make a proper mole. I’ve been to Mexican-American restaurants in the US and I don’t recall seeing mole too often, probably because it’s so laborious to make.

We had a homemade mole from a Mexican friend not too long ago and I was surprised by how delicious it was. What looked like a brown unappetizing sludge turned out to be one of the most flavorful things I’ve ever put in my mouth.
Mole

PHOTO:O3318930” by Scott Mattoon, used under CC BY 2.0 / Processed in Photoshop and Lightroom

Guacamole

If you like tortilla chips, then you’re probably well-acquainted with guacamole. It refers to an avocado-based dip or thick sauce often used in Mexican and Mexican-American cuisine.

Guacamole has existed in Mexico since pre-hispanic times and is made by mashing ripe avocados with a mortar and pestle. It’s seasoned with sea salt and often made with lime juice, cilantro, and jalapeños.
Guacamole

PHOTO:guacamole in our new mocajete” by Valerie Hinojosa, used under CC BY-SA 2.0 / Processed in Photoshop and Lightroom

12. United States of America

The US won’t make it to many people’s lists of countries with the best food and I can understand why. When you think of American food, the first things that comes to mind are hamburgers, hot dogs, and apple pie. Not exactly the most exciting of choices but that doesn’t mean the US doesn’t deserve to be on this list.

The fact is, anyone who’s been there knows that the food in America is amazing. The US is a melting pot of cultures so they don’t have as clearly defined a cuisine as other countries on this list. American cuisine is basically fusion cuisine that’s taken food from other cultures and made it their own.

Some of the best examples of this include pizza, Tex-Mex, and Chinese food. New York and Chicago deep dish pizzas are different from classic Neapolitan pizzas. Tex-Mex evolved from Mexican food while General Tso’s chicken doesn’t exist anywhere in China. But that doesn’t change the fact that they’re all delicious.

I was surprised to hear a Japanese friend tell me one time that the best sushi he’s ever had came from a restaurant in San Francisco. Chalk it up to superior ingredients or improved techniques but some things just taste better in America.

3 Dishes to Try in the U.S.

Burger

Like pizza, the hamburger is one of the most popular foods in the world. From rice burgers in Japan to langos burgers in Budapest, it can be found in some form in virtually every major city on the planet.

In spite of its name, evidence suggests that the hamburger was created in America and not Hamburg, Germany. It’s said to have been created by a Danish immigrant in 1900 though there are rival claims that challenge this idea.

Whatever its true origin, this comforting dish made with a patty of ground beef sandwiched between two buns is largely associated with the US. It’s the one dish that perhaps best represents American cuisine.
Cheeseburgers and fries

Philly Cheesesteak

The philly cheesesteak is one of my favorite comfort foods. I absolute LOVE this sandwich, so much so that I wanted to make a stop in Philadelphia after our southern food tour just so I could eat cheesesteaks everyday for several days.

At its most basic, a cheesesteak is a sandwich made from thinly sliced beef and melted cheese in a long hoagie roll. It’s typically made with American cheese, Cheez Whiz, and provolone and is believed to have been invented in Philadelphia sometime in the 1930s.

I’ve had cheesesteaks in many different US cities. Most were good but the cheesesteaks made in Philadelphia are the best. It’s all about the bread and according to a friend of mine from Philly, the secret is in the city’s water.
Philly cheesesteak

PHOTO:cheesesteak” by stu_spivack, used under CC BY-SA 2.0 / Processed in Photoshop and Lightroom

Texas Barbecue

I’ve had Texas-style barbecue in many cities in the US but never in Texas, which is why we were planning on making stops in Austin, Lockhart, and Houston on our derailed southern food tour.

Texas barbecue refers to methods of preparing barbecue that are unique to Texas regional cuisine. Different regions in Texas have their own unique barbecue styles with beef brisket, pork ribs, and sausages being some of the most common dishes.
Guacamole

PHOTO:Close up of the ribs” by J Dimas, used under CC BY 2.0 / Processed in Photoshop and Lightroom, removed watermark

FINAL THOUGHTS

Again, this list of the world’s best countries for food reflects our own personal preferences. It isn’t meant to be a definitive list and not everyone will agree with it. Taste is subjective and it can change over time. There are never right or wrong answers when it comes to food preferences.

With that said, I assumed this article would be easy to write but it turned out to be much more difficult than I thought! It wasn’t easy narrowing it down to just twelve. We haven’t been to every country in the world so this list will likely evolve over time.

We’re yet to visit Morocco but based on what we know and what we’ve experienced, I can see it making this list. Greece used to be on it before I remembered Singapore. Some people may not agree with that and that’s ok.

Other than Mexico, there’s an entire region of good food waiting to be discovered in Latin America. Mexico is a priority but we plan on spending a few years in Latin America to immerse ourselves in the culture and really explore the food. Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru are also of interest.

In any case, I hope you enjoyed reading this article on the world’s best countries for food as much as I did writing it. Thinking and talking about food is always fun.

If you have any suggestions on which countries and cities we should visit for food, then please let us know in the comments below. Thank you and happy traveleating!

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There are 2 comments for this article
  1. Nicole at 10:28 pm

    When I saw the US on the list, I thought you were going to highlight Cajun and Creole food. It’s my favorite American food. Go to New Orleans! You won’t regret it.

  2. JB & Renée Macatulad at 7:45 am

    Don’t remind me Nicole! I lived for over a decade in the US and my greatest regret is never going to New Orleans for Jazz Fest and eating all that delicious food. 2020 was supposed to be the year but then we all know how that turned out. Would have loved to try Dookie Chase’s gumbo but too late regardless. In any case, hopefully when the world goes back to normal! 🙂

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