The top ten countries I've been to, ranked by food

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This past week, I got to set foot in my 42nd country. Iceland. I celebrated with a few bites of local delicacies like hot dogs, really dark rye bread, and that famous fermented shark dish, harkal.

Sorry to say, Icelandic cuisine is not among my top ten out of the countries that I’ve been to. Who is? Well, I’ve just made that list and here it is–

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10. South Africa

A lot of people aren’t even sure what South African food is, so it flies well under the radar. Indigenous, British, Dutch, Malay, and Indian influences are all pretty prominent in everyday South African food, and its geography lends itself well to some outstanding ingredients. You’ve likely heard of South African wines, right?

South Africa boasts the best fish and chips I ever had– prepared British style but with better fish! The country has a love for braai (barbecue) that calls for high quality meats. Then there’s the curry which you’ll see plenty of. 

Don’t miss: Pap and woers is the national dish blending maize meal and grilled sausage.

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9. Thailand

Thai food doesn’t need much of an introduction. It’ll probably introduce itself to you in the form of pad thai or green curry, but what’s great is that you’ll continue to find new dishes and flavors years after getting acquainted. Thai cuisine can be very region-specific. That means there’s a lot to discover, often when you’re in that specific area.

Some of my favorite dishes come from the north of the country, where coconut and lime are especially well featured. Khao Soi is perfect for a colder day when you still want brighter flavors.

Don’t miss: Pad see ew is my go to order, whether in Thailand or at a Thai restaurant back home.

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8. Turkey

I spent a week in Turkey. That was all it took to make me crave the street döner that was so widely available everywhere I went. That wasn’t all, though. My favorite home-cooked meal ended up being a bursting eggplant and ground meat dish. Börek was great, too. Turkey taught me the simple joy of a fresh baguette and runny egg for breakfast. I even found the Turkish interpretation of Belgian Waffles to be great.

Turkish cuisine really shows up through robust flavors, and so it’s actually hard to go wrong.

Don’t miss: If I could go back and grab just one meal, it’d probably be a simple döner kebab from a street vendor.

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7. Argentina

Whenever I find an Argentine restaurant that does things even remotely well, I get excited. That’s how much I miss the food in Argentina.

What the country is most known for is meat, meat, meat. Beef, specifically. It’s the beef capital of the world and raises higher quality meats with less processing. A traditional Sunday asado, or a parilla for two were some of my favorite dining experiences.

Argentine wine is some of my favorite, empanadas are as good of a street food as it gets, and choripan is a great caloric, hangover-cure sort of item.

Don’t miss: My personal favorite item became morcilla- a black sausage that crisps up real well when grilled. It’s quite difficult to find in the U.S., so the treasure hunt is half the battle.

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6. United States

The ranking of the USA so high might surprise a few people. After all, it’s pretty often that I hear somebody declare that there’s no such thing as “real American food.”

Okay, I hear that, cuisines were adopted from ancestors and then they evolved based on local cultures and geography. That’s equally true of Argentine, Filipino, and even Italian food. Plus, when I think of great American food, some of my favorite dishes come to mind: Philly cheesesteaks, New England lobster rolls, gumbo, French Quarter beignets, Nashville Hot Chicken, Texas BBQ, and the gourmet doughnut.

Are those too regional to be truly considered foods that represent the whole U.S.? Some of your favorite Chinese and Indian dishes are probably similarly localized.

Don’t miss: Nashville Hot Chicken. I can’t get enough.

5. Japan

Sushi remains an absolute favorite of mine, and the endless variations and worlds-within-worlds of sushi helps to cement Japanese cuisine pretty high on this list. I’ll take some unagi, fresh tuna, or salmon skin, and be as content as ever.

It goes without saying, but the cuisine stretches far beyond sushi. Japanese beef products are often treated with care and expertise as they’re prepared. When I’m in the mood for ramen, nothing else can take its place. Then there’s the deep, deep world of Japanese beverages- teas, sakes, and beers all having lots of personality.

Don’t miss: If I had just one meal to spend in Tokyo, I’d try and find the same alleyway donburi place I had a few years ago. It was a lot of goodness in one bowl.

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4. Mexico

Living in San Diego makes it a little too easy to take Mexican cuisine for granted. I think about how much I would probably be obsessed with it if I grew up in Europe, though. I’d probably rave on and on about fresh tortillas, cabeza and nopal as great taco ingredients, or about the richness of locally grown avocadoes.

To get region specific, Oaxacan food stands out to me the most with molé and mezcal being a few of my favorite things. Then again, being so close to Baja California means that seafood is also usually fantastic. Even trips to a big city like Mexico City reveals a playground of restaurants waiting to be discovered.

Don’t miss: As much as I encourage people to go beyond the obvious when it comes to Mexican food, you can never go wrong with street tacos.

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3. Malaysia

I was so pleasantly surprised by the food in Malaysia during my short stint in country. Malaysian culture is strongly influenced by Malay, Chinese, and Indian ancestry, and strong influences from its Southeast Asian Neighbors and Middle Eastern trading partners also come through. That cultural blend results in some excellent foods.

I couldn’t believe how cheap it was for me to be sitting in front of a bowl of something wonderful. Beef broth soups reminiscent of pho, but simpler. Char kway teow dishes of thick, rich noodles in a great savory coating. And often, these massive meals were like, two bucks.

Don’t miss: Curry mee is a great curry seasoned noodle dish, for when you want some South Asian flavors but on the texture of hot noodles.

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2. South Korea

I’m not surprised at all to have South Korea so high on this list. Eating out in Seoul is relatively cheap, and so every visit has resulted in great adventures walking from one hidden restaurant into the next.

Korean barbecue needs little explanation. Kimchi is also widely known. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find marinated chicken dishes that remind me of adobo, cold noodle soups, and street food delicacies like soondae. Bibimbap out of a stone bowl remains a favorite.

Don’t miss: Korean fried chicken is probably my favorite fried chicken, honestly. Grab an order of it, along with a beer, and you’re good for a night out.

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1. Italy

This is where my love for discovering foods all began. Nothing about Italian food will seem new. It’s brilliance comes from how well-tested its methods and ingredients have been for centuries.

My favorite thing about Italian food is that it isn’t about the quantity or unusual combination of ingredients. Few people try to reinvent the wheel. It’s simply about quality. Most Italian dishes are actually quite simple items, prepared with excellence.

Don’t miss: Almost any pasta strikes me as noteworthy, but pizza al taglio bought from little street side vendors makes me the most happy.

Philippe Lazaroblog, blog18