Which country has the best food in the world? Woah. Is there a more loaded question in the history of time? Locations aside, many countries are massive places with varying cultures that make up very disparate food scenes (no country is a monolith). 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. Savor it. Try things. Make bold declarations, fine, but expect to be proven wrong throughout your lifetime.
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 votes later and a very clear (if not particularly 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!
Thailand has made its mark internationally as one of the great global foodways. 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 haven.
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 Street Food: 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.
The world seems ready to (finally) embrace Lebanese and Middle Eastern food. A table full of hummus, pita, meaty kebabs, bright herb-based salads like tabbouleh, tart fruits, vegan-friendly bean-based dishes, and a confluence of spices from the world over creates a culinary scene that runs deep and very delicious.
Don’t sleep on Lebanon’s seafood or cocktail scene either. The nation’s capital, Beirut, is world-renowned for its beachside party and food scene with restaurants and bars perched on seaside cliffs or right on the beach. A plate of grilled fresh — plucked from the sea that day a few feet away — is the perfect base for a night of partying in your swimsuit with some serious drinks.
Iconic Street Food: Shawarma
There are few street foods more satisfying than shawarma. The combination of fatty spit-grilled meat (usually lamb, turkey, beef, or sometimes offal) with fresh lettuce, onion, tomato, and pickle inside a soft lavash or pita and smothered in garlicky yogurt and/or chili sauce is bliss in a one-hander. Everyone will have an opinion as to which shawarma stand is their favorite across Lebanon (and every other city with a shawarma scene for that matter). So our advice is simple: try a lot and find the one you love.
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 Street Food: Bao
If you have a few cents in your pocket (or an active WeChat account), you can score an amazing bao on the streets of China. While a country this big has so many street foods, bao still manages to transcend, as variations by region make it somewhat universal. The yeast-risen and steamed white buns are filled with everything from veggie-friendly red beans to succulently roasted pork to a million variations in between. The world is your oyster when it comes to bao, so dive in and don’t look back.
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 where the food scene 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 Street Food: Yakitori
There’s something deeply universal about seasoned meat on a stick cooked over a fire. Russia’s shashlik, west Asia’s shish kebab, Malaysia’s satay, and many, many more. The small wooden skewers of chicken offer a quick and delicious way to feel the textures and flavors of Japan in a small bite of great food. The best part is that you can do deep on this street food. Yakatori needs specific charcoal, can be savory or sweet-and-savory, and includes every preparation and part of the chicken you can image.
Don’t sleep on the chicken hearts with a side of something green.
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. Then there’s the influence of the Spanish, French, German, and Lebanese which help make 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 Street Food: 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.
Iconic Street Food: Gyro
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 near the top 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, the nation makes a strong case for this spot.
Iconic Street Food: Churro with Hot Chocolate
It’s okay if you associate churros with something fast and easy to get as you leave Costco. The Spanish street food found in “Chocolaterías” across the country (but especially in Madrid) is comfort food that’ll feel like home while you’re away. The fried spears of yeasty dough are covered in cinnamon and sugar. Then as a final coup de grâce, you’re given a deeply bitter and slightly sweet cup of viscous-y hot chocolate to dip them in and … we’re going to need a minute to collect ourselves.
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 stews 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.
Iconic Street Food: Pav Bhaji
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 slightly spicy veg stew 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.
Iconic Street Food: Baguette
This feels like such a cliche. But, you know what, we’re not apologizing for enjoying bread this damn good. Simply walk about any city, town, or village in France and you’ll 100 percent see local folks wandering around clutching fresh baguettes with a bite or two taken out of them. Wandering into a bustling boulangerie in the mid-morning or early-afternoon hours for a baguette is an experience that’ll redefine the way you think about bread. And we haven’t even gotten the best part: A baguette in France is less than a Euro, so about a dollar.
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?
Iconic Street Food: Pizza
Yes, pizza and Italy and almost synonymous. Yet, if you’re expecting a plain NY Slice, you’re going to be a little disappointed and, dare we say, challenged. Pizza in Italy can be anything and varies greatly region to region. Pizza al taglio in Rome are huge squares of pie with everything but the kitchen sink on them and are sold by the kilogram. Pizza in Naples are the classic Neapolitan style that informed the heritage of the New York and Connecticut pies. Sicilian pizza is often thick-crusted and sold from bakeries, not pizzerias. Then again, they 100 percent put hot dogs and fries on pizza in Sicily too. So even on that island, pizza is not a monolith. We’re only scratching the surface here.
The point is, eat pizza when you go to Italy and expand your pizza horizons in each corner of the country.