Which country has the best food in the world? Woah. Is there a more loaded question on earth? Locations aside, many countries are massive places with varying cultures that make up very disparate food scenes. So, is the Basque country of Northern Spain better than Northern Thai food from Chang Mai? How does one even go about deciding that?
One doesn’t, that’s how. Our ethos: enjoy it all, folks.
Though we don’t know if this subject is truly rankable, we are curious about which cuisines around the world people dig the most. To find an answer to that, we turned to the masses over at Ranker. The question was simple, “which countries have the best food?” Over 400,000 people voted and a very clear (if not that surprising) top ten emerged.
When looking at the top ten, it’s hard to argue one country over another here. Even in seemingly small countries like Italy or Greece or Thailand, there’s enough internal variation in regional cuisines to argue about which of those are the best, much less trying and compare entire nations.
Still… we’re game to try if you are!
This is probably the most shocking upset on the list. Germany lands at ten with blazing pretzels, plump sausages, and plenty of schnitzels to go around. In reality, Germany is so much more than its stereotypical beer-hall-fare (that’s mostly from Bavaria).
German cuisine is a very seasonal and locavore-driven country with smoked fish dominating as thoroughly in the northern states as roast pork shanks dominate across the south. This is a country where food matters, local matters, seasonal matters, and innovation triumphs, making it one of the hippest food scenes right now.
Iconic Dish: Schnitzel
Look, going to Germany and not trying to find the best schnitzel is a waste of a trip, if you ask us. The breaded pork or veal cutlet is fried to crispy perfection. It’s often served with a tangy and very light potato salad alongside freshly grated horseradish. It’s surprisingly light fare given that it’s straight-up deep fried. Happy schnitzel hunting next time you’re in Germany!
Thailand has made its mark internationally as one of the great cuisines. There’s sweet pork BBQs in the south, sour noodle soups in the north, and a cornucopia of tropical flavors and spices in between that have made this country a food-lover’s mecca.
Every major city has Thai food. And if you need more proof of Thai food’s greatness, just look at the tourism numbers. Yes, people flock to Thailand for the idyllic beaches but the food is probably one of the biggest draws besides those sandy shores.
Iconic Dish: Pad Thai
Here’s the play. Rock up to a beach somewhere in the south. Wait for dusk to arrive. Vendors will park up on the side of the streets with motorcycle-cum-mobile-kitchens and start cooking amazing food. Find the pad thai stall. Pay about a buck. Eat some of the best pad thai in your life as the sun sets on another beautiful day in Thailand.
China is vast. From the Himalayan peaks to the northern deserts to vast prairies that give way to lush mountains that crash into the craggy Pacific Ocean coast. With all that terrain comes a plethora of cuisines, making China a fantastic place to eat a different meal every day and never grow bored.
Really, it’s hard to say “Chinese food” without clarifying what the hell you’re talking about. The thick stews from Harbin have little to do with the lightly steamed fish coming out of Kowloon Bay. Sure there is a throughline between Shanghai street dumplings and momos on the steppes leading up to the Himalayas in Tibet but that thread is very thin. What we’re trying to say, China is a vast country with some of the most unique and amazing food on the planet.
Iconic Dish: Peking Duck
Dumplings aside, you kind of have to eat Peking Duck when you’re in China. The dish is just so damn delicious. The slow cooked duck is basted in umami-bomb sauces and touched by fire. It’s unctuous, crispy, and one of the best preparations of duck on the planet (sorry, France).
Wandering the izakaya dens, sushi bars, Kobe joints, ramen houses, and markets of Japan is a wonder for the senses. The food is big here yet it’s delicate and, dare we say, simple. It’s new and old at the same time. Contradictions abound. But one truth remains, Japan has great food.
Japan is, however, another place that varies greatly. Our recommendation is to start by eating steamed seafood and rice in the south around Okinawa and work (eat) your way north until you end up in Hokkaido eating cold water salmon and buckwheat noodles.
Iconic Dish: Ramen
Ramen is everything. The umami broth with a hint of the sea, the stewed meats, funky egg, fresh green vegetables, and alkaline noodles make for on the most perfect dishes around. Simply wander the streets of any Japanese town and look for a ramen shop sign. If it’s busy, take that as a good indicator of quality. Step inside and bask in the glory that is a bowl of local ramen.
Mexico is another massive country where deserts give way to jungles which become mountains and it’s all hugged by two impossibly long coastlines on two different oceans. It’s a place where you’ll be hard-pressed to find a bad meal.
Like China, the food cultures of Mexico are distinctly varied. These food cultures run deep into Indigenous foodways that have been handed down for millennia, making pan-Mexican cuisine one of the best there is. You could spend a lifetime traveling around Mexico eating food and you’d never grow tired thanks to the variety.
Iconic Dish: Taco
We mean, can this be anything else? From Baja to the streets of Mexico City, the taco reigns supreme. It’s the perfect delivery system. The masa tortilla can hold an almost endless array of proteins, sauces, and garnishes, making this one of the most versatile foods there is.
Greece has the advantage of being a sea-faring culture at a crossroads between Asia and Europe. And the crossroads is where you find the best foods borne from cultures sharing their cuisines as they passed through — offering locals the chance to pick up techniques, spices, and ingredients. It’s the best of all worlds, really.
Greek food is the continuing evolution of sharing food culture. That’s kinda awesome if you ask us. Also, call it cliche all you want, but a gyro in the plaka in Athens is one of the best 10 meals on earth.
Bread, meat, sauce, crunchy veg topping, and a few thick-cut fries just can’t be beaten. Really though, there’s something uniquely special about the soft gyro bread, fatty grilled lamb, and yogurt and garlic-forward sauce that makes a gyro a must-have every time you set foot in Greece.
Spain in the top five makes sense if you consider the acorn butteriness of Jamon Iberico alone. Then there’s the food culture that lives on the streets across Spain of Pintxos, Tapas, Cañas, and Copas. Little bites of food from the land and sea to go with little glasses of beer or wine in a perfect pairing of thrift and expediency.
Spain is also where chefs like Ferran Adria are straight up changing the fine dining game down to its DNA and giving it to the world to toy with and further evolve. So, yeah, Spain has amazing food. It’s hard to argue with that fact.
Hit up Valencia. Walk the streets and you’ll see paella restaurants peddling their huge pans of spiced rice. Always follow the locals for the best. Look for the paella joint that’s busy (and probably not advertising their paella on the streets). You’ll have a great meal and make some new Spanish friends in the process. Also, don’t sleep on the jet-black squid ink paella. It’s a super savory seafood rice that’ll stay with your forever.
India is a massive country with varied and deeply rooted food cultures spread over a billion-plus people. You can bet your ass that what’s being cooked on the streets and in the kitchens of Mumbai and Delhi and Amritsar deserves to be recognized as some of the best food in the world.
Really though, the food cultures in India are crazy varied. The heavy meat curries in the Islamic north are wholly different than the veggie Tamal plates you find in the Hindu southeast. And that’s before you even start digging into the different major cities and their phenomenal street food scenes. You won’t have a bad meal in India is what we’re saying.
Mumbai is one of the best cities for street food in the world. The dish you have to try: Pav Bhaji. The dish is everywhere and it’s goddamn delicious. Two sweet rolls are buttered and grilled on a flattop grill while a chickpea curry is mashed and warmed up. That’s all served together with a little lime, onion, and pickle. It’s divine, filling, and costs less than a dollar.
Somewhere deep inside you always know it’s going to come down to Italy and France. It’s a classic battle of the ages.
The influences of the old French masters on western cuisine is indelible. France is a country that cares deeply about food and it shows in every meal, every ingredient, and every style. French food is about eating the best food for pleasure and truly enjoying the bounty — sustenance is just an ancillary benefit.
Picking one French dish about all others is a fool’s errand. So, we’re picking Steak Frites. The main reason being that this is the most French dish that has made it to every corner of the world. Great steak with perfectly executed frites is a delight that translates to almost every culture because it’s simple and delicious.
In the end, Italy feels like the right food culture to sit at number one. They care as much about food as France, they’re as varied as India, and their food is as exciting as Spain’s. It’s the best of all worlds where you can eat a two hour, multi-course lunch with a bottle of wine and nice grappa at the end, then stroll to a gelateria for ice cream afterward and never feel bad about a single decision you made.
Who wants to argue that?
Yes, the pasta is amazing and varied. But it’s pizza from Naples that changed the world. The original Neapolitan pizza was exported to the U.S., Brazil, and Argentina over 100 years ago and it changed how nearly the whole world eats. That’s why you have to go to Naples and try the original yourself, at least once in your life.