In recent decades, the rise in popularity of food in the public eye has been significant. We have entered the age of the ‘foodie’, the gastronome who not only loves to eat, but loves everything about food – the cooking process, presentation, and story behind every dish they sample. This has in turn led to the rise of foodie travel; with a whole globe of culinary history to explore, the world is very much your oyster.
But with a few clear-cut exceptions, which countries offer the gastronomic explorer the very best of world food? Which countries should be top of your list if you’re planning (or even just dreaming of) a world tour of the best food to be found? Here’s a quick guide to some of the countries that are generally regarded as having some of the best food anywhere, and some of their signature dishes:
France makes an unsurprising appearance on any list of culinary destinations, but it truly has earned its place on the map as one of the finest homes of food in the world. For centuries, French cuisine has held pride of place on the global stage; France has been recognised as the home of fine dining, and the birthplace of many modern culinary techniques and art forms.
With some of the world’s most exceptional vineyards, rich and abundant valleys, and vibrant and diverse climates, France produces some of the best ingredients to be found anywhere – and some of the most delicious food on Earth.
The list is long when it comes to the delicacies of France, as the country has such a long-standing and evolving relationship with the culinary arts – but a few particular dishes stand out.
Snails, or ‘escargot’ and frogs’ legs are often-cited traditions – both are delicate but intensely delicious meals. The dishes that tend to stand out the most in France, though, are the rich, slowly cooked stews – boeuf bourguignon, coq au vin, and cassoulet are some of the finest examples of these; they make some of the best use of France’s stunning ingredients, and delicious wines.
United States of America
While the USA might not be associated with fine food, there’s no denying the fact that, particularly over the last century, American has earned its place as a foodie traveller destination. American cuisine is diverse and fascinating, stemming from a wide range of cultural and historical traditions. It would be fair to say that American food does more than just satiate hunger – it tells a story.
From the soul food of the Deep South, with its slow-cooked home cooking, to the classic authentic New York cuisine like the bagel or hot dog, it’s hard to refute the appeal of the smorgasbord of modern cultural cuisine that America offers.
Pinning down a signature dish from the States is nigh on impossible, purely due to the size and scope of the country, and the diversity of its dishes and gastronomic traditions.
New York is home to some of the country’s most defining food – with pizzas, cheesecakes, bagels, and burgers from the city all being heralded as some of the best in the world. The culture of quick bites and street food, of which the humble diner is emblematic, lends itself to these kinds of quick (but nonetheless delicious) eats.
It would be also fair to note that few nations have quite the mastery over breakfast and barbecue as the states. Waffles and pancakes are emblematic of the American foodie dream, and when it comes to barbecue, the pulled pork pedigree is insurmountable.
Often voted as home of the best cuisine in the world, there’s little doubt that Italy has some of the most delicious food to be found anywhere.
Far from the delicate precision of French traditions, Italian food is all about flavour and family. The spirit of Italian cooking lies in the appreciation of the kitchen as the heart of the home – meals are often prepared for large groups, and usually involve simple but stunningly bold flavours.
This essence transcends the family kitchen, and is the beating heart of almost all Italian eateries – from the finest restaurants to the most humble of street vendors – making Italy one of the best destinations in the world for food lovers.
With so much to choose from, it’s hard to narrow Italian cuisine down to a few signature dishes, but arguably it’s the family favourites that take the fore here. Pasta, in particular, is a staple of Italian cooking.
Bolognese and carbonara are both emblematic of Italy’s appreciation for simplicity – the combination of tomato and beef, or egg and ham, making for truly divine sensory experiences.
Ravioli and tortellini are also classic pasta standards, and nothing quite tops these when they’re freshly made, and filled with exciting ingredients, and Italian soul.
Home to the now-closed ‘El Bulli’, the restaurant that for years was regarded as the best in the world, Spain offers travellers some of the most vibrant and exciting cuisine in the world. With a climate that provides the perfect conditions for both land and sea produce, Spain is undoubtedly a country that should be on any foodie traveller’s list.
Historically made up of numerous smaller kingdoms, each with its own approach to food, Spain has a broad and far reaching culinary pedigree. Over centuries, the country has developed a unique identity on the global culinary stage, and popular cities like Barcelona now offer travellers some truly exceptional opportunities to sample some of the most delicious food in the world.
Possibly the most well-known and regarded Spanish cuisine is ‘tapas’. These small dishes are meant to be shared and enjoyed – and tapas bars can be found all over the country. Spanish tortillas can often be found on tapas menus, and are a must-try.
Spain is also the home of paella, and few food experiences can beat visiting one of the country’s paella competitions, where the best chefs compete to make the ultimate version of the dish. The truest forms of the dish are caramelised on the bottom, and sampling one is an unforgettable experience.
Food really is an art form, and there are few better places to visit to experience this than Japan. Japanese cuisine is not only delicious, but genuinely beautiful – it represents a deep appreciation and understanding of the ingredients it works with, the land and sea that provides them, and the craft that goes into their preparation.
Japanese towns and cities are often best known for their local signature dishes, and the country has a deep and integral historical relationship with its food. Until 1868, eating meat was prohibited in Japan, and rice – one of the most regularly used ingredients in Japanese cooking – was once even used as currency.
Japanese cooking is diverse and varied, but a few particular dishes stand out. Sushi is possibly the most widely known and recognisable – and few foodstuffs on earth are as impressive to see prepared.
Along with sushi, ramen noodle dishes, tempura-fried prawns, and Japan’s haute cuisine – kaiseki – make up some of the country’s signature dishes, and all are beautiful to behold and sample, representing some of the most delicious food to be found in Asia and indeed the world.
Mexican cuisine is a fusion of culture, history and flavour. With a noticeably Spanish and European influence, there’s little doubt that Mexico is home to some of the most delightful food in the world – as well as some of the most interesting.
A blend of the influence of a number of countries, in 2010 Mexican cuisine was inscribed on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity – forever cementing its place in our global culture. This is a food of history, tradition, and flavour.
While it’s easy to assume Mexican cuisine would align itself with western interpretations – enchiladas, burritos and such – the real signature dish of Mexico is without doubt ‘mole’.
The term ‘mole’ is actually somewhat deceptive, as it’s used to refer to a number of fairly diverse sauces. Mole sauces usually combine fruit, chillies, nuts, and spices, and make up the backbone of real, authentic Mexican cooking.
Wherever you travel you can be certain that if you know where to look, there will be delicious and unique dishes to try – and while the countries listed above are undeniably home to some of the best food in the world, one of the most wonderful things about global cuisine is the journey to discover it.