Few things draw people to a destination like food. The chance to feast on the bold flavours of new nations and experience unique cultures through food is something to relish. With this in mind, we’ve put together a list of great food cities around the world. If you’re a diehard foodie or simply enjoy a good meal, these cities will be a culinary delight to visit.
It’s obvious to have Paris at the top of the list, but the French capital that gave us butter croissants, haute cuisine, and modern food culture deserves its nod. For decades, Paris led the world in the number of Michelin-starred restaurants, and even though Tokyo has overtaken it in recent years, Paris still has plenty of high-end restaurants, like Mokonuts and Septime, that’ll make sure you have a once-in-a-lifetime dining experience during your time in the city. However, you don’t have to be into haute cuisine to take advantage of Paris’ food culture. You’ll find plenty of exceptional food experiences in the more-modest bistros and cafes throughout the city.
Whether you’re wandering around the Place Victor Hugo or jostling alongside other travellers in the narrow streets of the Latin Quarter on your France vacation, you’ll find bakeries abounding with crusty French bread and butter croissants, creperies dishing out chocolate crepes, and all manner of international restaurants showcasing different national cuisines, but all sharing the French dedication to good eating. From the cheese to the bread to the velvety red wines, you can’t go wrong with food in Paris. If you’re looking for a great restaurant that flies under the radar, try out Le Petit Retro just south of the Place Victor Hugo. It has great food and a classical atmosphere without any of the fuss you’ll find at Michelin-starred joints.
You could pick a lot of Italian cities for this list, but few have the same romantic allure as Florence. As well, it’s hard to compare to Tuscan cuisine, which thrives off fresh ingredients, the subtle flavours of olive oil, and traditions handed down over generations. The market of San Lorenzo is ground zero for chefs and foodies alike. There, you’ll find vendors selling cured meats, local cheeses, and Tuscan staples like aged balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil.
Even if you don’t opt for an organized tour on your Italy vacation, you’ll find a lot of spots in Florence that’ll satisfy your food cravings. The city has an abundance of enotecas, which are restaurants that are all about pairing Italian wines with specific dishes. You should spend at least one evening at an enoteca sampling incredible Tuscan reds while feasting on Florentine steak and other local specialties. Also, don’t forget the gelato. Florence has some of the best gelato in Italy and nothing satisfies better than a sweet gelato after a savoury Tuscan meal.
In the past 10 years, Tokyo has outpaced Paris as the de-facto “best food city in the world.” It has rapidly accrued Michelin stars just as it’s become one of the most popular cities on the planet. It’s easy to see why travellers, and foodies in particular, are so drawn to Tokyo on a trip to Japan. It simply has it all. From world-class sushi bars to upscale ventures by the world’s most popular chefs to rowdy izakaya serving up the ultimate bar food to ramen shops that feed the nation’s hungry workers (while conjuring up mouth-watering flavours to boot), Tokyo showcases the many wonders of Japanese cuisine.
If you’re curious about where the fish for your favourite sushi comes from, head to the Tsukiji Fish Market, where food vendors sell the choicest cuts of sushi-grade tuna and other seafood delights. If you’re a real diehard, you can wake up at 2am and get in line to see the tuna auction, which happens every early morning. Even if you’d prefer a bit more sleep, you’ll still find a lot of interesting things in the Tsukiji Fish Market. As well, the market is surrounded by all manner of sushi shops and small stores selling goods from inside, so you’ll find some of the best sushi lunches in Tokyo a few blocks from where wholesalers hack away at frozen slabs of tuna.
The rest of the city isn’t lacking great restaurants either. You’ll find incredible sushi joints around most corners, and even the top floors of popular department stores boast restaurants that would be the envy of other cities in the world. Also, while in Tokyo, don’t forget to eat the nation’s most popular food: ramen. You can find standing-room-only ramen bars in train stations, or head to more trendy joints like Kikanbo – which whips up an exceptional spicy miso ramen – to taste the heights of this Chinese-influenced noodle dish. You could fill your entire vacation with nothing but restaurants and not even scratch the surface of the city’s food scene. That’s just how much good food it has to boast of.
Eating Your Way Through a Trip to Japan
You won’t find better street food anywhere in the world than in Bangkok. The Thai capital and most popular city in the world is a haven for food vendors who cook up incredible curries, noodles, and soups for hungry Thais and travellers alike on their Thailand vacation. The mecca for Bangkok’s street food scene is in Chinatown (Yaowarat), where street food vendors line the narrow corridors and have hungry patrons who flock to their stalls each day to feast on delicious meals like tom yum goong soup and pad thai. You’ll also find great stalls near the popular backpacking street of Khao San Road, as well as around the Chatuchak Market area.
The street food in Bangkok is the main highlight, but the city also has a growing high-end restaurant scene, and mid-range restaurants offer incredible meals for modest prices. You’ll even find good food in the mall food courts, especially in high end malls in the Siam district, such as the Siam Paragon. Whether it’s the satisfying flavours of a green curry, a blisteringly-spicy papaya salad, or international favourites like pad thai and pad ka prao, the food in Bangkok is incredible.
Lima is in the midst of a culinary revolution and the world is starting to take notice. You wouldn’t initially think that the Peruvian capital is one of the world’s leading food cities, but people in the know have raved about Lima’s food scene for years, and it’s finally getting recognition after being hailed as the world’s leading culinary city for several years in a row. Much of this culinary resurgence is due to Gaston Acurio, who runs a series of high-profile restaurants such as Astrid y Gaston that helped put the city on the world’s food map. Other world-class restaurants like Maido and Central followed suit, and now Lima has three restaurants in the world’s Top 50, and attracts people from all over the world purely for the food.
Part of the cool thing about Lima is that the food draws on so many different influences. Criollo cooking, which is traditional, home-cooked Peruvian, uses lots of potatoes and beans as you’d expect, but the most popular style of restaurant food is Nikkei, which blends Japanese influences into traditional Peruvian dishes. You’ll also find a lot of Chinese influence, borne out in Chifa cooking, as well as more radical returns to traditional Peruvian fare at places like Central, which recreate ancient Andean dishes with modern gastronomical practices. You’ll find a lot of variety and great flavours in Lima, no matter what kind of cuisine you opt for on your trip to Peru. Just expect large portions and huge quantities of meat; if you’re a vegetarian or on a diet, this might not be the city for you.
Like Bangkok, Hanoi thrives as a street food city. It’s also a showcase of the fresh flavours of Vietnamese cuisine, which continues to be hugely underrated on the world stage. Hanoi has a variety of high-end restaurants that cater to wealthy travellers and the country’s emerging middle class, but most restaurants are more modest and would qualify as budget in most other places of the world. That doesn’t mean that these restaurants don’t serve quality food; quite the opposite actually. For less than a Big Mac back home, you can score savoury banh mi, fresh bun cha, or nourishing pho that’ll amaze your palette.
On your Vietnam vacation, you’ll find stalls selling pho, banh mi, and banh xeo (Vietnamese crepes) all throughout the Old Town of Hanoi. Within the narrow pedestrian streets and alleyways, you’ll also find a lot of great hole-in-the-wall restaurants where you can enjoy a delicious meal for only a few dollars. Back in 2016, Barack Obama and the late Anthony Bourdain visited one of these restaurants, Bun Cha Houng Lien, on an episode of Parts Unknown. You can visit Bun Cha Huong Lien to try its delicious version of bun cha for yourself, or you can skip the lines that have become regular occurrences after the episode aired and try out some of the many other great joints serving bun cha and other Vietnamese classics, discovering a hidden gem for yourself. Either way, you’ll have great eats at ridiculously-affordable prices in Hanoi.
San Sebastian, Spain
Like with cities of Italy, you could also pick half a dozen cities in Spain for this list and have a convincing argument for each one. We’ve chosen the Basque city of San Sebastian because it continues to garner more acclaim on the world stage and attract more visitors each year who want to taste its bounty of seafood. San Sebastian is known for pintxos, which is the Basque-style tapas of small dishes consisting of bread topped with all variety of goodies, from marinated anchovies to fresh prawns to chorizo and Spanish ham. You’ll find plenty of great restaurants in the Parte Vieja (Old Part), as well as several Michelin-starred restaurants (fun fact: San Sebastian has more Michelin-starred restaurants per square metre than any other city on the planet). You’ll also find several great markets in San Sebastian, including San Martin and La Brexta, which is arguably the most famous fish market in the world this side of Tsukiji. If you love seafood and the bright flavours of Spanish cuisine, book San Sebastian on your next European vacation.
Cape Town, South Africa
Cape Town is famous for its diversity, so it makes sense that its food would be a marvellous display of different cultural dishes and flavours. Located on the Cape Peninsula, Cape Town is a seafood haven. You can enjoy seafood right on the beaches, feasting on freshly grilled crayfish and shrimp. You can head to trendy Bo-Kaap to try incredible Malay dishes, which use a variety of aromatic spices and flavours similar to Indian, Malaysian, and Sri Lankan cuisine, to create incredible dishes like bobotie. You can take the more generic option and fill yourself on braii (pronounced “bry”), the local version of barbeque that South Africans love more than anything else. If you really want to experience Cape Town’s cutting-edge food culture on your trip to South Africa, book a table at The Test Kitchen, the city’s most famous restaurant and one of the 50 Best Restaurants in the World. Also, remember that Cape Town is close to the Cape Winelands, so you can sample some of the world’s best wines in addition to indulging on all the bountiful flavours of the city’s many cultures.
There’s no better way to experience the essence of a culture than to feast on its food. These eight food cities promise to unveil the delights of their respective cultures and leave you satisfied with the incredible culinary flavours and rich histories imbued in each bite.
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