Best countries for foodies - Discover the world’s best foodie vacations

The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach and a travelling man is much the same. We could spend our whole lives going from place to place in search of the best taco or the most succulent buttered chicken, scouring websites for foodies to read up on the latest food trends from Italy to Argentina. Largely though, the success of a dish is authenticity and, if that means pilgrimaging to the country, city or town of origin, then that’s what a real travel foodie must do! Let us whittle down your list of the best countries for foodies to just twelve, a shortlist that will satisfy steak lovers, sweet tooths and umami enthusiasts alike.

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1. France

French cuisine applies some of the most difficult cooking techniques and is a style taught painstakingly in culinary schools across the world. Some say it’s pomp, some say it’s sophistication, but all would largely agree that the flair and innovation displayed in French cooking is most impressive. Pushing our French fries to the side for a second, we must remember that the French are all about their cheese, an ingredient used generously in a number of dishes from soufflé to tartiflette. Other famous dishes include bisque and terrine, while macarons are perfect for a sweet, post-dinner bite.

Influenced by a number of countries in Europe, including Spain, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium and Italy, French food is decidedly its own, having perfected fusion recipes over the centuries. The culinary capital of Paris may seem daunting but you can easily find casual bistros at affordable prices dotted around, plus, thanks to bakeries on every corner, an easy breakfast of baguette or croissant is a given. For French wines, Bordeaux is a top choice, staying on the Left Bank and the Right Bank to get more of a variety of nearby wineries and neighbourhoods, including the biking paradise of Saint Emilion.

Paris | Photo: Jim Harris

Photo: Jeanbaptiste Burbaud

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With its influence felt all across Europe, Spain is no stranger to the leader board of foodie destinations. Passion and colour mark the people as well as their cuisine

2. Spain

With its influence felt all across Europe, Spain is no stranger to the leader board of foodie destinations. Passion and colour mark the people as well as their cuisine, on display in Flamenco halls and tapas bars the country over. Firmly Mediterranean, though increasingly Arabic-inspired the further south you go, Spanish dishes come heavy with fresh seafood and cured meats, starting with appetizing pintxo bites before making way for showstopping paella skillets that take up the entire table. Sign up for a pintxo tour or cider experience in Northern Spain, explore Catalunya and its cava wineries in Priorat and Emporda for a better understanding of how complex (and bubbly) foodie Spain can be.

Spain | Photo: Sandra Wei

Photo: Abdalla M

3. Italy

While in Europe, lest we forget the king of carbs himself, Italy, famed the world over for its creamy spaghetti and doughy Romano crusts. The great thing about Italian cuisine is that it was made to be accessible to anyone, first for the working peasants of Rome and then for everyone else who’s ever had a pizza craving on a Friday night. Because of this, it is also remarkably simple, combining just a few quality ingredients to sublime effect. Take for example Rome’s cacio e pepe which is made from Pecorino Romano cheese, black pepper and spaghetti, simple but effective and always served up with passion! See our article on Rome for foodies for more tips on what to eat (and where) while in the capital, pairing your meals with Chianti wines while in Tuscany or Lambrusco and Sangiovese red while in Romagna.

Other than foodie day tours in Rome, trips to consider include a DOP food tour of Parma, Modena and Bologna, where you can gain insights into how Parmigiano Reggiano, Parma ham and balsamic vinegar is made.

Photo: Hoja Studio

Photo: Daria Shevtsova

4. Japan

With one of their own identifying the fifth flavour of umami (in addition to sweet, salty, sour, and bitter) well before it became popular in the western vernacular, Japan flexes its foodie credentials with simple yet highly-refined cuisine. Food preparation is an esteemed profession in Japan, with great sushi chefs training meticulously for years under their masters before deigning to serve sashimi for themselves. The same goes for ramen, tempura, and unagi (eel), all dishes that follow cultural traditions passed down through thousands of years. Presentation is also important in Japanese cuisine and often you’ll find that even a train lunchbox includes some form of vegetable flower or edamame arrangement!

The key to good Japanese food is both freshness and quality, and you really haven’t tried sushi for real until you’ve been to Japan and tried Tsukiji Market’s catch of the day. Besides the quintessential sushi bar, Japan’s street markets are just as great for foodies, particularly Dotonburi street in Osaka which serves up an array of fast foods from takoyaki (octopus balls) to okonomiyaki (a messy, pan-fried vegetable pancake). After all that food, slow things down with a traditional tea ceremony; one of Tokyo’s best being held in Hamarikyu Gardens.

Photo: Taryn Elliott

Photo: Thomas Marban

5. Mexico

In Mexico, ‘Taco Tuesday’ comes every day, as does the day for burritos, carnitas, and enchiladas, all bright in flavour and all smothered in guac. Believe it or not, fast food like chimichangas and burritos – and even the humble margarita – were actually invented in the US. And, while you can still get a sublime taco in Mexico, more authentic dishes include the moles and tamales of Yucatan, the oysters of Puerto Vallarta and breakfast fare such as chilaquiles, huevos rancheros and mollettes.

Visitors will get to delve deeper into Mexico’s superb food culture, discovering the European roots – as well as Indian and African influences –  that shaped the dishes we know and love. Though Spaniards helped hone Mexico’s palate, the nation’s cooking styles actually date back some 9,000 years, melding indigenous cultures with Spanish colonial styles to produce one of the oldest food cultures in the world. The capital is a great place to start your Mexico food trip, filling up on the intense colours, spices and flavours that are at once inexhaustive and totally authentic. Great restaurants such as Pujol and Maximo Bistrot can be added to your map, though simply wandering around Mercado Roma can put you in reach of something delicious. Food tours and cooking tours are also great ways to explore the culture in more depth.

Mexico | Photo: Roberto Carlos Roman Don

Photo: Christine Siracusa

6. Thailand

A spicy addition to the list of foodie vacation options is Thailand, arguably south-east Asia’s culinary capital. As in Japan, rice is Thailand’s staple food but here it is combined with a whole lot more chilli, cilantro, coconut milk and lime. Lying close to Vietnam, Cambodia, China, Indonesia and Malaysia, Thailand offers a number of internationally influenced dishes, the majority of which are super affordable and served up whiplash quick right on the street! While in the capital of Bangkok or the northern capital of Chiang Mai, take a cooking class or food tour, sampling everything from street food to Michelin-starred fare, making sure to stop by the daily fresh markets for exotic fruits like mangosteens and dragon fruit. Of Bangkok’s best markets, there’s Chinatown, Wang Lang and Chatuchak Weekend Market, but for your main dish you’ll want to veer off a side street to try an authentic tom yum (spicy shrimp soup), tom kha gai (coconut chicken soup) and khao soi (curried noodle soup), the latter originating from Chiang Mai.

Photo: Lisheng Chang

Photo: Cottonbro

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Chinese cuisine is so good that every major city has an enclave of dedicated migrants prepping regional dishes, from Canton, Shandong, Jiangsu Sichuan and beyond

7. China

Though not in great standing on the political stage as of late, China cannot be overlooked by foodies for its huge clout in world cuisine. Chinese cuisine is so good that every major city has an enclave of dedicated migrants prepping regional dishes, from Canton, Shandong, Jiangsu Sichuan and beyond, spanning every dish from takeaway chow mein (fried noodles) to gourmet dim sum feasts. Venture to the big nation itself however and be prepared to find another perspective entirely, where authentic foodie hashtags include #皮蛋 (pi dan; thousand-year-old egg) #臭豆腐 (chou toufu; stinky tofu), alongside more familiar snacks such as dumplings and spring rolls. Be brave and try a night market, marvelling at the pan-fry and wok skills of many a vendor, finishing up with an oolong tea from the local mountains.

China | Photo: Jimmy Chang

China | Photo: SJ

8. India

Cranking up the heat with its curries, biryanis and tandoori bites is India, a favourite among vegetarians thanks to its range of meat-free (and all beef-free) dishes. While in Japan the secret is freshness, in India the secret is spice. If the dish does include meat (likely chicken or lamb) the meat will be marinated in advance in a number of herbs and spices, most commonly star anise, cloves, garam masala, cardamom, garlic and turmeric. This preparation in combination with thick coconut or tomato-based sauces makes for an intense flavour profile that’ll have you salivating long after the final bite. Take advantage of the low, low prices while in India by nabbing an extra serving of flaky paratha, naan or roti alongside your meal to mop up the juicy leftovers, finishing up with sweets such as pav baji bun and mango lassis (yoghurt milkshake) all for under $1USD!

If wondering where to go in India, try Delhi, a city known for its heritage monuments and the oldest neighbourhood in the nation, Chandni Chowk, the whole city scattered through with local vendors selling street eats like aloo chaat, jalebis and chole kulche. Other traditional dishes to try while in India include pani puri (a hollow fried flatbread filled with flavoured water) often served street-side, with panir, an Indian white cheese, making a common appearance in authentic curries. As for drinks, don’t expect to find any alcohol (except perhaps Goa), instead opting for a cup of masala chai or another lassi.

New Delhi | Photo: Raghu Nayyar

India | Photo: Azmaan Baluch

9. Greece

Another contender among European countries with best food choices is Greece, a down-to-earth destination where tzatziki appetizers at sunset are worth the airfare alone (though actually are often given free!). Greece has much foodie heritage, 4,000 years of it in fact – utilising citrus, olive and Mediterranean herbs in dishes that infuse Middle-Eastern concepts with European methods.

Thessaly, one of the nation’s main wine regions, also happens to be home to some of the best food, simply made with fava beans, white eggplant and tomatoes in Mediterranean styles. Though largely healthy (traditional Greek salad for lunch anyone?), Greek cuisine can also be indulgent, particularly saganaki (pan-seared Greek cheese) and the desserts of bougatsa (custard pie) and baklava (nut-filled pastry). Other dishes to try include pitta gyros (a type of wrap sandwich perfect for grabbing on your way to the beach) and spanakopita (a spinach pie best eaten sitting down!). Save room for more dessert however as you still have to try loukomadies (doughnuts) and kourabiethes (almond shortbread) alongside a Greek coffee come late afternoon.

Santorini | Photo: Kamala Bright

Photo: Despina Galani

10. Turkey

Gateway to the Middle East and key migration zone, Turkey is in a fine position to meld Middle Eastern, European, Asian and African tastes to create a food culture that fizzles with exciting flavours. Turkish food lies rooted in Ottoman history but it is decidedly diverse, offering anything you could wish for, adventurous and not. Stay on the Mediterranean Sea for fusion dishes close to what you might find in Greece and Southern Spain, alongside more local specialities like dürüm (kebab wrap), pide (Turkish flatbread) and meze platters (an appetizer featuring dips, feta, olives and nuts). Lovers of Italian fare may also feel at home with a lahmacun, a round of dough topped with minced meat and vegetables, also known as a cheese-less pizza. As for dessert, Turkey again seems similar to its Greek neighbour with its own version of baklava and various other pistachio-sprinkled sweets and nougats.

Photo: Roxanne Desgagnes

Turkey | Photo: Suad Kamardeen

11. Argentina

Home to the best steak in the world and many of its top wines to boot, Argentina is an easy addition to this list. A melting pot of flavours, Argentina melds influence from across South America and its European colonists to create a menu of meaty dishes often prepared by Asado, a barbeque technique as much as a social function! Don’t leave Argentina without first hustling an invite to an Asado gathering, sipping Malbec and smoking slabs of meat with new friends as a great introduction to the culture. Otherwise, visit the foodie city of Mendoza, one of Argentina’s great wine regions with a hefty load of winery restaurants to match, many with terrace views of the Andes to enjoy while eating succulent steaks, grilled lamb and more.

The region of Patagonia conjures images of mountains and ice, but this is also where much of the country’s seafood, lamb, fruit and cocoa is produced. Wherever in Argentina, you eat, however, cattle are grass-fed and said to be even more delectable because of it. Besides meat, Argentina can offer other dishes such as provoleta (baked cheese served with olives, bread and chorizo) as well as the Buenos Aires bakery speciality of alfajores (dulce de leche biscuits) or various types of empanadas (pastries filled with cheese, onion, creamed corn, or – you guessed it – more meat).

Photo: Wom Creative Studio Verona

Photo: Alexander Ugolkov

12. United States

George Orwell once said that ‘a human being is primarily a bag for putting food into’ – one of the best quotes for foodies that allows us to eat our way through a trip in the United States completely guilt-free! We start in New York for a towering deli sandwich to imitate the skyscrapers surrounding, stopping in Chicago for a molten deep-dish pizza, before swinging by Philadelphia for an original Philly cheesesteak. Sure, you’ll have your choice of hamburgers, French fries and chocolate chip cookies, but delve further into the culture and you’ll find that the USA has some unexpected fusion flavours, elevated within Michelin-starred restaurants or made accessible via the humble food truck. As a country of immigrants, America has been influenced by all the countries of the world, each settler bringing something of their home nation, creating everything from Tex-Nex nachos to the Japanese-fusion California Roll.

New Orleans is a case in point to showcase the country’s international influence, a place where the food culture comes deep-rooted in Creole and French heritage, to inspire the gumbo, the jambalaya and the beignets (sweet French doughnuts), alongside a very impressive cocktail scene. Also on your radar should be Hawaii, an often overlooked state with an equally strong number of migrants – notably Japanese – that has built a great food scene and food truck empire in recent years! While vacationing in the US, try downloading OpenTable or another of the best apps for foodies, allowing you to make dinner reservations at some of the top restaurants with zero hassle.

Photo: Jesson Mata

Photo: Nappy

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Japan | Photo: J Torres

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