Food. It’s one of the reasons we travel. Food lovers flock to every corner of the world in search of authenticity and taste — chasing Michelin starred dishes in popular cities, getting friendly with locals and sampling home-cooked delicacies, and wandering down alleyways to find best street food.
Here’s our list of the world’s leading culinary destinations, ranked. If you’re not hungry yet, you will be!
11. The USA
People travel across the world for the smorgasbord on offer in the USA. Entire road trips are constructed to take advantage of the heaps of food selections.
The U.S. is renowned worldwide for its dishes, and the various states are so proud they even put their names on them. Texan BBQ, Maine lobster, Chicago pizza, Philly cheesesteak. Then there’s New York, home to Eleven Madison Park, voted the best restaurant in the world in 2017. Combining cutting edge trends from all over the world, you’ll find everything here!
Perhaps the best thing about American cuisine is that it’s as much a melting pot as the country itself. You can sample the flavors of world without even setting foot outside of New York. Of course, America has its own homegrown favourites too.
Is this why New York is called the Big Apple? Apple pie is an absolute institution — indeed, people say “X is as American as apple pie!” At its heart a simple dessert of pastry, apples and sugar, many states have nonetheless created their own version of the perfect apple pie.
There’s no general agreement as to who deserves the title of best burger in the U.S. The answer is perhaps all of them. However, the library of Congress recognizes that New Haven, Connecticut was the birthplace of the humble hamburger, way back in 1900. You can still find and devour meat-blended patties cooked on a cast iron grill at Louis’ Lunch, where the first hamburgers were made.
Served up everywhere in New England, it would be a crime not to try it. The hearty soup is comfort in a bowl, made with quahog shellfish with tender potatoes, salted pork, heavy cream and herbs. The best way to eat it is right in the bread bowl. Who needs cutlery and plates?
It’s difficult to pin down one item that represents the spirit of New York. One word, however, is generally spoken with the very words spelled in front of it — the New York bagel. It comes in many colours — they even make rainbow bagels — and they taste great with a variety of toppings.
Texans have been practising and perfecting the art of BBQ for centuries. Flavouring, rubbing, and smoking the meats into tender, succulent goodness. If you’re in that neck of the woods, you can’t miss it.
Australian love a bit of a joke and if you search online for their best foods, you’ll be met with a lineup of vegemite, tim tams, and witchetty grubs. Not everyone’s cup of tea. Australia is a fierce contender when it comes to fine dining, however. It has a plethora of restaurants and bars dedicated to exquisite dishes from around the world and is known for its obsession with the absolute finest coffee.
Black coffee and smashed avocado
The staple contemporary Aussie brunch. Order a long black and good ol’ smashed avo on sourdough on an arvo. (Essentially an Americano with less water, avocado mashed with feta, mint and lemon, in the afternoon.)
Taste a mango anywhere else in the world and you wouldn’t even know it was a fruit. Mangoes in Australia, freshly ripened and shipped from the farms straight to the supermarkets, are a triumph of flavour, juice, and sweetness.
Essentially, it’s buttered bread covered in hundreds and thousands of those little coloured balls that used to get everywhere except your ice cream when you were a kid.
Best cooked rare, the gamey meat is low in fat and perfect with a hint of garlic, pepper, juniper, and rosemary.
Australia has the finest fish and chip shops; many of them are almost gourmet. Topping the list of specials is the Barramundi, or ‘large-scaled river fish.’ Best fried lightly or seared on one side, it’s usually the fish of the week.
Discover your umami…
China’s long history with food has created an array of signature recipes which have been adapted and honed to specific tastes over centuries. Typically, meals will involve a starch component — noodles, rice, buns — accompanied by fish, veggies or meat, or a bit of everything. It’s all about the balance, taste, aroma, and appearance and most dishes favour the umami, a ‘pleasant savoury taste.’
Sweet and sour pork
Vibrant battered balls of delicious pork in a sweet and sour sauce.
Kung pao chicken
The famed traditional Sichuan dish is popular with the masses. The main ingredients are chicken, fried peanuts and diced chilli. Simple, yet exquisite.
Ma po tofu
A dish from Chuan cuisine that dates back more than a century. Both spicy and hot, its a peppery dish of milky tofu goodness topped with ground beef and green onion.
These little stuffed parcels of pastry are a Chinese favourite. Commonly fried, boiled, or steamed in soups with a filling of minced pork or shrimp.
Boiled, steamed, or fried, dumplings are an immensely popular snack. Made up of a fine dough filled with minced meat or seafood and chopped vegetables and are a staple around New Year’s Eve.
Fall in love with your lunch…
In Thai, the word for food and rice are the same: Khao. It’s understandable since rice is the most important part of most meals. The exotic flavours and aromas tickle every single tastebud with spice. When it comes to street food, the possibilities are endless. Jay Fai was awarded the prestigious Michelin star for her tiny shophouse that sells scorching portions of prawn crab and noodles, one of the only street food stalls ever to receive the accreditation.
Tom yum goong (spicy shrimp soup)
Breathe in the aromas of Thailand. A blend of fresh lemongrass, chilli, galangal, fish sauce, lime leaves, shallots and lime juice provide the quintessential Thai fragrances and herbal flavours. Add fresh prawns and straw mushrooms and you have a base for almost any meal.
A love it or hate it kind of dish. Garlic, chillies, green beans, cherry tomatoes and shredded raw papaya are pulped in a pestle and mortar to produce a fragrant base. It varies regionally and sometimes peanuts, dry shrimp or salted crab are thrown in.
Tom kha kai
A milder version of tom yum. Tender strips of chicken are marinated in chilli, galangal, lemongrass and crushed shallots. Coconut milk softens the spicy kick and lime leaves give it freshness.
A red curry made with a meaty base, red curry paste, coconut milk and fine kaffir leaves. The aromatic flavours are sure to get taste buds tingling amid its mild and delicate flavour.
A staple recipe the world over, and a signature Thai meal. Pad Thai is made up of thin or wide noodles dropped into a flaming hot wok with bean sprouts, onion and a cracked egg, mixed up in an array of flavorful condiments chosen by the diner. Fish sauce, sugar, chilli powder and ground peanuts in copious amounts is common practice.
Spain has long been cookig up some of the best food in the world. Certain delicacies date back through the centuries. Food in Spain is as rich as its history, and each region has a plethora of speciality recipes for old favourites. It’s worth travelling through Basque, Galician, and Valencian haunts to try paella in each.
If your plan is to travel the country trying a selection of everything in Spain, the locals’ passion for tapas won’t let you down. The city of San Sebastian is one of the greatest food destinations in the world, featuring more Michelin-starred restaurants per capita than anywhere else, not to mention the spectacular beach views over the Bay of La Concha.
Croquettes are on the menu in almost every restaurant and bar. A (sometimes secret) recipe including jamon or bacalao and béchamel sauce which is battered and fried. Often a restaurants accountability rests on the quality of its croquettes or potatoes bravas.
The Spanish omelette is a household favourite. Great for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, you can find them with various ingredients and they can even be turned into a hearty sandwich.
Zesty tomato soup served cold and made with the best Spanish tomatoes blended to perfection with green peppers, cucumbers, garlic, onions, vinegar and herbs.
Pisto – Spanish ratatouille
A versatile vegetarian side dish to compliment any selection of tapas, Spanish ratatouille is a tasty mix of roasted tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, onions, and garlic,. Don’t forget the olive oil, of which 90% is made in Spain.
Cured meats – jamon, chorizo, salchichón
Jamon is an omnipresent feature Spain, gracing many charcuterie plates and hanging from shop windows, or in most bars and restaurants. Thin strips are sliced from the cured leg of pork and served. The quality ranges from Serrano ham on the cheaper end to Jamón ibérico de bellota in the top category.
Food is a fine art in Japan.
Chefs in Japan take their art seriously, and many are specialist experts in their field. Subsequently, the dishes are unique, refined, and out of this world. Hailed the world over for sushi, sashimi, ramen, sake, even fugu (blowfish) — a fish perilously poisonous should it not be prepared correctly.
For every Japanese dish you’ve heard of, there are a hundred more. And for every one you’ve tried, you haven’t tasted it until you visit Japan. Some of the best places to eat don’t have any seating at all and are found in random places like the exits to metro stations. An example is Sukiyabashi Jiro, hailed the world’s greatest sushi restaurant.
Osaka is the foodie capital, where the term ‘kuiadore’ meaning eat until you drop (or fall into financial ruin, either is fine) is taken in earnest. Practice with your chopsticks and arrive with an empty stomach.
The best-known Japanese signature dish. Sushi is seasoned vinegar rice generally topped with fish or shellfish. There are select variations, including nigiri, maki rolls made with nori seaweed, and inarizushi, stuffed pockets of tofu.
Fresh, raw dish in its purest and simplest form. Sliced thinly and served on a bed of shredded daikon, with ginger wasabi and a dash of soy sauce to dip.
Tempura is a type of batter fried in oil. Slices of meat, fish, and vegetables such as green beans, mushrooms and pumpkin are dipped in tempura batter for a delicious snack or accompaniment to rice or noodles. Served with a side of daikon and pickles.
Wheat noodles in a savoury broth topped with a range of meat, fish, vegetables and tofu. It’s widely available, cheap, and can be enjoyed in a thousand different combinations.
Not just beef, but Kobe beef, the most prized cuts of wagyu beef in the world, coveted for the marbled texture of fat bred into the beef. The result is a melt in your mouth texture that’s worth travelling to Kobe for.
The ultimate favourite in Osaka and a must-try for every visitor. Made of a mix of batter and cabbage, and anything else you please, then cooked on a hotplate and topped with okonomiyaki sauce, kewpie mayonnaise, and dancing bonito flakes. Hiroshima also has its own style of okonomiyaki. It’s up to you to decide which one you prefer.
India is a country of colour, spice, and rich cultural heritage represented in its streets and in the kitchen. The cooking is as culturally diverse and colourful as India herself. Signature dishes vary from state to state, following the style and influence of the many regions and cultures that make up the land, as well as the catering to unique festivals celebrated throughout the year.
The chaat is the king of the kings in Indian food, variety of dishes served as starters or snacks, such as pani puri, sev puri, and pav baaji. Tamarind, chilli powder, curds, onions, tomatoes and sev (vermicelli) are the main ingredients in these famed street foods.
A Biryani can be made many ways, stocking vegetables or meat, but is always served with fragrant rice and a fresh raita dip.
A national snack, samosas can be found almost everywhere in India. It’s just deep-fried pastry generously filled with potatoes, green peas, garam masala, onions, chilli powder, fennel and salt. Simple and delicious.
A flavoursome, mild and healthy, deep green coloured dish made from spinach and paneer cheese, marinated with distinct Indian spices and served with a light and soft flatbread.
The puffy flatbread made with ghee that is recognized as signature Indian fare around the world. An accompaniment to almost anything and everything to mop up the tasty sauce, naan is traditionally cooked in an open tandoor oven that gets tremendously hot.
Mexico has a diverse culinary history. A blend of European influences make up its traditional offerings. Spanish, as well as African and Asian methods, make Mexican food what it is today. Agreed staples can always be found — beans, meat, and copious amounts of chilli. But food in Mexico is a family affair, and is cooked to be savoured and enjoyed in a bustling atmosphere of comfort and love. Nearly every region produces its own signature dish. To wash down all that indulgent goodness, there’s tequila. Tequila like you’ve never tasted it, tequila as it was born to be.
Lightly fried corn-based tortillas chopped into nachos and sprinkled with salsa. Choose a topping — usually scrambled eggs, refried beans or pulled chicken, add cheese and cream and you have a wholesome Mexican breakfast.
The chicken, pork, or vegetarian based comfort soup is an everyday favourite. Meat, hominy corn mixed with various herbs and spices is stewed overnight, dressed in lettuce, radish, onion, lime, and chilli to serve.
Tacos al pastor
Tacos al pastor have been around since the 1920s. The name means ‘in the style of the shepherd.’ A corn tortilla is filled with sliced pork straight off the spit and heaped with onions, coriander and pineapple.
Tostada literally means toasted, and the end result is a tortilla fried in bubbling oil until crispy. It’s then piled high with delicious toppings. This is a classic ‘whatever is left in the fridge’ kind of meal that makes for a happy stomach.
Chiles en nogada
Representing the three colours of the Mexican flag, chiles en nogada is a patriotic symbol of Mexico. Poblano chillies with picadillo make green, walnut cream sauce is white, and pomegranate seeds are added for red. History tells us that the dish was first served to the Emperor of Mexico, Don Agustin.
French cuisine has always been a favourite for those seeking excellent gastronomy, known for its innovation and superlative attention to detail. Aspiring chefs don’t go to French cooking school for nothing. France has many classic dishes, and the whole country considers cheese and baguettes necessities for daily life. In France, food is practically a language and if you speak it well, you’re welcome to stick around.
The fatty liver of a force-fed goose doesn’t sound particularly appetizing, but oh the flavour and texture you’ll experience. Best tried simply spread onto a slice of brioche with a bit of onion or fig jam.
Oysters are brought out for every celebration in France. They’re best eaten as fresh as possible and straight from the shell, plain, or with a dash of lemon juice, or vinegar for a tart kick.
Made of white beans, duck legs and pork, this heavy dish is a staple homegrown favourite enjoyed by families for centuries.
Basque chicken comes from the Basque country. What makes it special is a sauce mix of Bayonne ham, peppers, tomatoes and Espelette pepper piped regularly to tenderise the succulent meat.
Herb buttered snails (escargots au beurre persillé)
Escargot is famous countrywide, but most of all in Burgundy. Cooked and served with herb butter, ‘escargots à la bourguignonne’ are served in their shells and enjoyed with a skewer.
Italy has a culture almost built entirely on its passion for delicious and wholesome cuisine. Color is just as important as flavor and the signature blends of green, red and yellow provide a foundation for most traditional dishes. Simplicity is key, and it’s the quality of products and the preparation that counts.
Italy is, of course, famous for pizza, and here is where you’ll find it in its best and most original form. Especially in Naples, the birthplace of the margherita. Take a journey through the evolution of culinary refinery at Osteria Francescana in Modena, where you’ll experience 12 seasonal tasting plates at the Michelin-starred restaurant.
The humble pizza needs no introduction. Cheap, easy, and filling, and to all intents and purposes the quintessential taste of Italy and all the colours of the flag. Eating your way around easily via the pizza is a perfectly decent way to experience the country.
Smoked eggs from the rat of the sea, or “Sicilian Caviar,” as bottarga is best known. Roe, salted, pressed, and dried for six months to provide a smokey bouquet of flavour sliced thinly with lemon juice and olive oil, or grated over pasta. Bellisima.
Easy to get wrong unless you’re in Italy, lasagna is a favourite the world over. Try it in the heart of Emilia Romagna.
T-bone steak is revered in Tuscany. A Bistecca Fiorentina is one of Italy’s best. It’s all in the specificity, from the region, the preparation, the cow and the cut. If it’s not rare, don’t bother, and only in Tuscany!
No one makes polenta like the Italians. A corn starch that almost rivals pasta, it is the perfect comfort food and accompaniment to most Italian fares.
The world’s best…
Peru has been named the World’s leading culinary destination for the last 7 years. The multicultural heritage of Peru includes Spain, China, Japan and more. That diversity has created a vibrant food scene with variation that’s almost infinite.
The culinary capital is Lima, which provides the bulk of Peru’s signature courses. Favorites such as ceviche and chicarones are opening the world’s taste buds up to Peruvian flavours. With a modern take on traditional favourites and a constant evolution of flavour, Peru reigns supreme on our list of top culinary countries.
Central Restaurante is leading the race for Lima’s contemporary Peruvian cuisine. The Michelin-starred restaurant is a celebration of the biodiversity of the land. For an unparalleled experience in the world’s gastronomy, head to Peru.
Peru’s national dish is ceviche, the freshest marinated fish soaked in zesty, healthy goodness that tickles the taste buds. Both fine dining and street food versions can be found around Lima.
A classic dish, causa means ‘the cause’. Peruvians have taught how to make the best out of an innocent potato for over a century since the war between Peru and Chile. This dish is made from serving cold mash potato with accompaniments such as tuna, avocado, and tomato as a salad ‘for the cause.’
Lomo saltado is the meat favourite, blending Peruvian style with Chinese origins. It’s beef flame cooked in the wok with Amarillo chillies, tomatoes, and red onion. The combination of Peruvian and Chinese influence in the sauce makes this a signature dish.
Suspiro a la limeña
Suspiro a la Limeña, a combination of dulce de leche and soft meringue meaning ‘sigh of a Lima lady.’
Tiradito (any fish and seafood)
A sashimi-style dish of exquisitely fresh seafood accompanied by Tiger’s Milk: A marinade of citrus juice, chilli, and salt used to cure the fish.
Anticuchos de corazon (beef heart skewers)
A street food favourite of offal meat marinated with the most flavorful spices and smokey chilli. Doña Pochita is a Lima street-food legend and her signature regularly attracts large crowds.