There are a litany popular questions travelers are asked. The first is usually “What’s your favorite country?” A close second is “Which country has the best food?” These are not simple questions. However, I am going to attempt to answer the food question.
The Food Question
Answering ‘favorites’ and ‘bests’ questions are difficult.
“Which country has the best food?” may be impossible to answer. How does one compare Italian cheese with Sichuan hotpot? The experience of each of these foods is too distinct.
Thus, to answer the ‘best food question’ I am going to change the question slightly to talk about the best food in the world by country.
Best Food In The World By Country
I’ll take a look at my favorite foods from around the world. Below are my food favorites from 5 countries:
China is a vast country, about the same size as the United States. China has far more culinary regions and they are more diverse than the U.S. If you travel for food, China must be on your shortlist.
China is officially divided into 8 traditional culinary regions:
But there are many, many more.
The United States works to homogenize food. This is accomplished via chain restaurants. They succeed when customers can order exactly the same food. The same taste, texture, name, and quantity regardless of which city, state, or region. Grocery store supply chains deliver the same produce, meats, and other foods to every corner of the U.S.
In contrast, China has maintained regional, state, city, and even smaller area diversity. This diversity is not a variation on a theme, it is spectacularly diverse.
Given this, it will not surprise you that I can list a dozen favorite foods from China. I’ll limit myself to two.
Kim and I fell in love with the special flavor of grilled eggplant in Shandong where I lived. Each restaurant served it somewhat differently but, wow, what fabulous contrasting flavors and textures: sweet-savory, crunchy-soft.
We’ve tasted grilled eggplant in the U.S. The grilling technique or spices or a combination of both in China is different. This is a food one must experience in China.
The Spiciest Food In The World
Sichuan hot pot takes the number one position of the best Chinese dish. I can’t get enough of it. I find I crave it regularly.
I have a high tolerance for spicy food and Sichuan hotpot puts that tolerance to the test. Sichuan hot pot is a burn-your-face-off dish. I don’t think I can withstand anything spicier. Kim was unable to eat it. She actually had ice cream for dinner that night after we left the restaurant.
The broth in which you cook the meats and vegetables is full of flavor in itself. Of course, you select the meats and vegetables you want to cook. You also add a variety of known and (for us) unknown spices. Now what is already a delightfully spiced dish is uniquely yours.
You can find hotpot in many places in China but the best of the best is in Sichuan. Don’t judge hot pot until you try it in Sichuan.
Mexico is another travel food paradise. Of course, it’s well known for tacos and other fabulous dishes. But what stands out for me in Mexico is tacos al pastor from street-side vendors. High-quality pork is roasted on a slowly rotating skewer. The crispy blacked edges are sliced off directly on to the tortilla. The rich meat juices ooze from the finished taco shell producing a simple but outstanding flavor. Topping it off with homemade salsa results in as close to a perfect food as possible.
However, I have now discovered Birra tacos. Birra is a sweet, sour, slow-cooked beef stew. The taco shells are fried in the juice from the Birria pot. As if that was not enough, the profoundly flavorful meat juices are dripped or poured into the shell. Again, add homemade salsa and it’s one step closer to perfection.
No food list is complete without including Italy.
Yes, we have all eaten pizza and pasta. But you have not eaten REAL pizza or pasta. Not until you’ve tasted Italy’s pizzas and pastas. Yes, it’s all about pizza and pasta.
The pizzas Kim and I eat in other countries focus on toppings while the dough is merely a delivery mechanism. In Italy, the dough is exceptional enough to serve as dinner rolls, which they do. No one leaves the crust uneaten in Italy. The toppings in Italy can make you believe in god.
I’m giving France the edge on best cheeses, but really it’s a tie with Italy. Imagine spectacularly flavored Italian cheese, cheese for which you pay an outrageous price in a boutique shop in the U.S. This is what is used as a base for pizza toppings in Italy. Atop these wonderful cheeses are traditionally cured meats. Meats not from a commercial farm, rather from a local farmer. I not sure such meats are available in the United States.
If you have experienced flavorful, high-quality doughs, cheeses, or meats singularly, you are beginning to understand the remarkableness of Italian pizza.
I’m rapidly running out of space in this blog. For pasta, I’ll just ask, “How good can a noodle be? What more can you add to spaghetti sauce to make it empyrean?” You will have to travel to Italy to find out.
You may not think of Malaysia as a travel food destination. Its location at the tip of Southeast Asia, at the crossroads between India and China, places it perfectly as a travel for food haven.
The dish we fell in love with is not actually Malaysian. Kim and I discovered this phenomenal meal by accident. It is actually an Indian dish. We have not been to India so we can’t make comparisons. However, it would be difficult to imagine any improvement.
We actually ordered the wrong item, my Malaysian was (still is) terrible. Boy did we get a spectacular surprise! What we discovered was Puri and Dhal.
Puri is an unleavened whole-wheat flour bread deep-fried in fat creating a thin hollow ball. As terrific as that sounds the real treat is what you dip it into – Dhal.
Dhal comes in many forms. We experienced a thick, red lentil variety. We ate it by hand using the Puri to pick it up.
Dhal is a deeply spiced stew made from simmering red lentils (in this case). Kim and I are partial to many Indian spices which this chef seemed to get just right.
The restaurant was handily located at the entrance to our apartment. Thus, after our first Puri and Dhal experience, we ordered it at least once a day.
Can you name a Serbian food? We could not.
Serbia makes my ‘best foods in the world’ list for its grilled meats. I consumed so much meat in Serbia that at one point I ordered a mixed vegetable plate to give my body a break. The waiter misheard me or I ordered incorrectly (I never mastered Serbian) and was served the mixed meat plate. I was ok with this.
The meats in Serbia are spiced with robust, Eastern European, cold climate, flavors. Describing the flavors is difficult, I only know the meats are heart-stopping in character and cholesterol.
Meats are similar to wines in terms of the terroir. The flavors are influenced by rainfall, soils, the air, moisture, as well as a dozen other factors. Most importantly what the animals consume impacts the taste. Serbian meat tastes better because the animals are raised and fed in Serbia.
If you are accustomed to meats from America you will hardly recognize the flavors of Serbian meats. Serbian animals don’t ingest the hormones and antibiotics fed to American livestock. Nor do Serbian meats have additives to make the meat look better once it is packaged.
More To Come
I have additional countries and foods to add to the list. Look for more Best Food In The World By Country blogs in the future.