Finding the best food in the world is a fool’s errand. Culture, nostalgia, even genetics dictate what we like and don’t like to eat. That means putting one culture’s cuisine over another’s is… pretty much pointless (along with being inevitably infused with imperialistic notions of what food “ought” to taste like). That being said, we are humans and we love to rank things and argue about pretty much everything food-related.
That’s especially true when it comes to the best food destinations around the globe. Hence, this headline and article.
Over at Ranker, they asked their audience what the best countries for food are around the world. Over 40,0000 voters participated and a list of countries with the “best” food emerged. We’re pulling the top ten, which is admittedly very Euro-centric but not entirely. Are these the best countries for food worldwide? We’ll never know that. Even the act of talking about an entire nation’s food is reductive — because to do so you lose the chance to highlight regionality.
What we do know is that all ten countries listed have pretty incredible food scenes. To help you navigate these culinary havens, so we’re calling out the one dish you should try from each one to help you judge for yourself.
The Food Scene:
Hungary’s food scene is very specific. The land of paprika has amazing delis, farm-to-table markets, and a love of spice that’s rarely seen elsewhere in Europe. Thinking about Hungarian food, it’s hard not to zero in on neon red sausages hanging over deli counters, piping hot bowls of paprika-loaded goulash, smoked cheese, amazingly fresh produce, and plenty of sweet, bready treats roasted over open fires and dusted with sugary cinnamon.
Of course, there’s so much more to Hungary than that. But those foodie touchstones shine the brightest for anyone looking for a culinary getaway outside of Europe’s most popular destinations.
One Iconic Dish To Try: Goulash
If you’re in Budapest, the best bet is to find a hot deli counter and order, well, everything! But, specifically, order the goulash. There will almost always be a big pot bubbling away behind the counter. It’ll be full of paprika-laden goodness with a few pieces of stewed beef or pork in a chili-based stew.
Get some freshly baked bread for dipping and you’re set for the day.
The Food Scene:
It’s not at all surprising to see Spain on any list of countries with the best food scenes. Spain’s food is as diverse as it’s delicious. The country is basically surrounded by the sea, has one of the densest agricultural areas of Europe, and continues to dominate the olive oil and wine worlds.
Picking a single region of Spain to indulge in is almost impossible. It’s like having to pick your favorite child. From the Basque country’s fiery asador grills and canned seafood to Valencia’s paella to the piles of calamari along the Costa Brava to the cheeses of the high plains to the vermouth bars of Barcelona to the tapas bars of Seville, you’ll never run out of great food while in Spain.
One Iconic Dish To Try: Canned Seafood
It’d be really easy to say paella here. As someone who’s had paella all around Spain at least a dozen times at all the “best” places, I can say it’s only been good about twice. What has been both great and educational every time I’ve tried it in Spain is their tinned seafood. A can of mussels in chili sauce or razor clams in pesto or anchovies with capers are not the average can of fish you get at your local grocery store. These are tins that reach crazy heights of deliciousness due to the processes, recipes, and attention to detail in the fishing, cooking, and canning.
This is also one of the most accessible foods you can likely try right now. If you have a high-end grocer or deli in your town, they’ll probably carry canned seafood from Spain. It’s not cheap (a jar of real-deal tuna in olive oil will cost close to $10 or more) but it’ll be revelatory. Start with something easy like tuna and go from there.
8. Hong Kong
The Food Scene:
Hong Kong’s food scene is legendary. Hong Kong is a place where the world’s cuisine comes together on the streets, in food halls, on grocery store shelves, and in homes to create a culinary culture that’s pretty much second to none. The street food alone — with sweet rice balls, all the dumplings your heart could desire, and every type of protein you can imagine fried or grilled on a stick barely scratches the surface of this city’s immense food ecosystem.
One Iconic Dish To Try: Roasted Goose
Picking one dish feels crazy for Hong Kong but I’m doing it anyway. Roasted goose is the dish that sticks out most in my mind as something Hong Kong street vendors, foodhall cooks, and high-end chefs all do really well. A bowl of noodle soup with a roasted goose breast over the top is a thing of simple beauty and incredible depth. The meat is usually this juicy, meatier duck with super crispy skin that’s all imbued with a deep spice-flavor profile buried in every bite.
Look, it’s not that you can’t get roasted goose anywhere else. But it’s rarely this good and that’s whether you’re buying a bowl on the go on the street or sitting down for a long dinner with friends at someplace with white tablecloths.
The Food Scene:
This is another no-brainer for a list of countries with amazing food scenes. It’s also one of the harder cuisines to define. Brazil is massive and has vastly different cultures cooking foods all over the nation. You have Indigenous Amazonia, Afro-Carib, Southern European colonial, Northern European colonial, Afro-Indigenous, and mixes and matches of all of the above.
Is that what makes a great culinary scene in a country? A mishmash of various cultures in one place? That certainly seems to be the case when you’re talking about food in Brazil.
One Iconic Dish To Try: Feijoada
I wanted to call out the Italian-Brazilian classic fried mortadella sandwich here. But this really has to be feijoada. The cornerstone black bean dish was popular amongst the European colonizers and their slaves. The recipes, of course, would vary — with the enslaved using the nasty bits of the pig and cow to stretch out the beans while the colonial elite used the prime cuts in their stew. Whatever the origins, the black bean stew is a staple of every table around the country with as many variations as there are people in Brazil.
The next time you find yourself in a Brazilian restaurant in your neck of the woods (Boston, New York, and Miami have the biggest Brazilian diasporas), give the feijoada a try and don’t skimp on the manioc flour on the side.
The Food Scene:
Argentina and Spain both appearing on this list feels almost like cheating, since the two cultures’ food scenes bear serious similarities. The staples of Argentine cuisine almost always stem from Spanish colonization: Asador, tortilla, empanadas, all the cheese, and so forth. There’s also a deep Italian influence on Argentine cuisine. That puts Argentina at a sort of crossroads between Spanish and Italian cuisines, which, again, feels a little like cheating.
One Iconic Dish To Try: Fugazza
Argentina has a very similar Italian migration story as the U.S. Boatloads of migrants from Genoa and Naples arrived in the late 19th century and pizza came with them to the point that Argentina has one of the oldest pizza histories in the Americas. That all culminated in the Italian-Argentine delight, fugazza. This is a thicker crust pizza that’s made with a focaccia bread base and then topped with heaps of fresh mozz, plenty of parm, a mix of fresh and caramelized onions, oregano, and olive oil.
Naturally, crust thickness and toppings are going to vary from the traditional pie, depending on who’s cooking. But this is a bready, comforting treat worth seeking out.
The Food Scene:
South America really rocked this ranking, according to the masses anyway. Peru’s food scene is another very varied one. There’s a mix of colonial cuisines from Spain and Japan next to a deeply rooted and ancient Indigenous food culture that lives side-by-side on the city streets, on the beaches, and deep into the mountains and jungles. This is where thousands of varieties of potatoes, ceviche, tomatoes, quinoa, chilis, and so much more originally comes from. All of that makes Peru a wonderland for food.
One Iconic Dish To Try: Anticuchos
Yes, this is just meat on a stick. But when meat on a stick is done right, it’s transcendent. The name is Quechua for “eastern-style cuts” and should be made with marinated hearts in its most traditional form (though you can get standard cuts today). The Incans would use llama hearts for the dish and generally marinate them in an acidic base with chili, cumin, and wild onions. Today, beef heart has mostly replaced the llama and garlic has been added to the mix. The meat is then put on a big skewer, grilled over an open flame, and served with roasted potatoes and corn.
Generally, this is still a street food staple, but you might get lucky and find some good ones the next time you drop into your local Peruvian restaurant.
The Food Scene:
Greece feels like a good fit for the top five. The land of lamb gyros, endless seafood, funky farmhouse cheese, plenty of olive oil, and robust wines rarely leaves anyone hungry or unsatisfied with their options. The whole country feels like endless beaches, countless islands, and dry farmland leading to rugged mountains. Greece is also relatively small, especially if you’re comparing it to massive colonial empires in the Americas. That doesn’t mean the cuisine is one-note; more that it’s dialed in — based around the ideals of Mediterranean cuisine, with a heavy emphasis on fatty fish, fresh produce, plenty of dairy and olive oil, and all the wine you can drink under that hot southern European sun.
One Iconic Dish To Try: Gyro
There’s a good chance you’ve had a gyro from a mall food court or food truck and it was probably just fine. The real-deal version you get in Greece dials things back a bit by not overstuffing their gyros. Instead, you get a few shavings of spit-roasted fatty lamb with a lush yogurt sauce, some sliced onion, maybe a little tomato, and a few just-cooked thick-cut fries all wrapped in an impossibly soft pita with a slight sourdough funk.
It’s devilishly simple yet very easy to mess up. Add in the likelihood in this island and coastline rich country of eating one beside the ocean and you have an unforgettable food experience.
The Food Scene:
Like Greece, Turkey sits at the crossroad of Europe, Asia, and Africa and the cuisine only benefits from the millennia of traffic that’s gone through this country. The heart of Turkish cuisine really depends on whether you’re in the mountains or on the sea. Very broadly, the closer you get to the Middle East through the interior of the country, the closer the cuisine leans into those foodways.
Likewise, the closer you get to Europe and the Med, the closer the cuisine leans into Mediterranean dishes.
One Iconic Dish To Try: Balık Ekmek
This is more than just a fish sandwich. This is Turkey in your hand. The bread is French, the fish is Turkish/Mediterranean, and the spices are Middle Eastern. The fish is usually caught right from the sea next to the sandwich stand itself. They’re usually dressed with a simple mix of lemon juice and chili pepper flakes but that’ll vary and you’ll often see sumac thrown in the mix.
It’s a super cheap lunch that can’t get any more fresh or local.
The Food Scene:
Mexico being in the top two on this list should shock exactly no one. You can get legit tacos on the streets of Boston, Bangkok, Barcelona, and Berlin these days. Of course, Mexican cuisine goes well beyond tacos and blends French, Spanish, and German colonial foodways with ancient Indigenous American dishes and techniques to create one of the world’s most beloved cuisines.
One Iconic Dish To Try: Guacamole
This might seem like a “huh?” pick but bear with me. Guacamole is the iconic Mexican dish. The name, which is a Nahuatl word, literally means “avocado sauce.” Way back before European colonization, guacamole was a staple of cuisines that stretch from what’s now the United States towards Panama, thanks to over 10,000 years of cultivation of the fruit in that area. The original recipes were a bit simpler than the concoctions that you see today and only included ground avocado, sugar, and citrus juice. Fast forward a few thousand years and you still have almost exactly that on every avocado toast from Melbourne to Memphis. Grocery stores from Dallas to Delhi sell the stuff in one form or another — this humble dip has become universal.
The best part is that you can probably make some at home right now. Go ahead! Whip some up, crack open some tortilla chips, and binge that show you’ve been waiting to binge all week.
The Food Scene:
Italy is almost synonymous with “food.” Well, maybe it’s synonymous more with “food and wine.” Either way, Italy at number one feels right. Food is the heart and soul of Italy. Entire regions build their tourism around food culture, farming, wine, cheese, sausage, and so on. You can go to a theme park for regional Italian cuisine outside of Bologna, that’s how seriously food is taken there.
Sure, some people might go to Italy for the sights (the art, history, and architecture are stunning) but the food is almost always the central focus of any trip to Italy.
One Iconic Dish To Try: Pizza
Italians really got around the world. There’s nary a corner of this planet where you can’t find pizza (or pasta). I’ve been deep in Afghanistan, Congo, and Sumatra and I still found Italian pizza in one form or another. But it’s never the same as the variations and quality you get in Italy (no, not even in the U.S., Brazil, or Argentina). I know that sounds very hyperbolic, but you rarely get the unique toppings, perfect cheese, and great crusts you find in Italy anywhere outside of Italy (even in the US, where we have some spectacular pizza).
Grabbing a slice of french fry and hot dog pizza in Sicily is a kitschy delight. Getting a whole pizza from a street cart in Naples for less than $2 will always be the perfect street food experience. Pondering which slice to buy by the kilo from a shop in Rome with some of the most outrageous toppings — this is what pizza is all about. While you can get very close to those experiences in the U.S. at places like L’antica Pizzeria da Michele in Los Angeles or 2 Amys in Washington, DC, you’re still missing the vibe and ingenuity of being in Italy and eating the ever-evolving, globally beloved gift of pizza.