Here Are The Top International Cities For Food
They say “travel is the only thing that you buy, that makes you richer.” It’s so easy to get caught up in your day-to-day routine that sometimes you forget how much is outside of your neighborhood, city or even country. If you’re like us, you probably agree that food is the single most important part of any vacation. You can learn so much about a culture through a city’s cuisine and the customs that surround those cuisines. If you’re lucky enough to travel out of the country, it’s helpful to know which cities are most well-known for their food and what makes them destination-worthy. Here’s a taste of the top international food cities.
What makes Tokyo a culinary phenomenon and arguably the best food city in the world? The answer doesn’t actually lie in sushi. The capital of Japan has around 226 Michelin-starred restaurants, a majority of which serve French cuisine. What sets Tokyo apart from the rest of the world is precision and obsession. Restaurants operate on a smaller scale in Tokyo, allowing chefs to have more control over what they’re serving. It comes down to the strong traditions, the highest quality fresh produce throughout all four seasons and sometimes it’s all about masterfully filleting fish. Chefs in Tokyo have spent their entire careers focusing on specific types of cuisine. There’s always ramen, tempura, sushi and yakitori, but in Tokyo everything is on a completely different level. There’s the common misconception that it’s an insanely expensive city to travel to. If you want to dine at Michelin-starred restaurants then yes of course, but if you’re on a budget, you can still eat amazing quality food just about everywhere you look. Street food vendors in Tokyo can rival some of the best Japanese food elsewhere.
Denmark’s capital is one of the most intense culinary cities in the world, a big part of which can be credited to Noma, the influential Scandinavian restaurant by Danish chef René Redzepi, which has been ranked as the best restaurant in the world multiple times. Noma pretty much started the Scandinavian gastronomy movement and gave new life to Copenhagen’s Nordic cuisine, with Redzepi’s contemporary and naturalistic style of cooking. Noma, which Redzepi also expanded to London, Tokyo and Sydney, paved the way for chefs to start foraging for their ingredients. Aside from all of the Michelin-starred restaurants in Copenhagen, the Danish capital is also known for its vibrant cafe culture, outlandish food combinations and bold culinary endeavors. You can also eat on a budget with things like smørrebrød, open-faced sandwiches with toppings like smoked salmon, radishes, hard-boiled eggs and rye bread. Hot dogs are also going through a culinary renaissance as Denmark chefs make them healthier and more inventive.
Mumbai is India’s primary destination for culinary indulgence without actually having its own defined cuisine. You can experience an insanely wide variety of regional cuisines from all across India. You’ll find everything on the spectrum from vegetarian to non-vegetarian dishes like aromatic curries and all sorts of Indian bread like roti, chapati and paratha. The city is known for its street foods like chaats — savory snacks based on fried dough with traditional ingredients like potatoes, crisp fried bread like Dahi vada, chickpeas, spices, homemade Indian chillies, coriander leaves and yogurt. Mumbai food stalls offer everything from kebabs to pav bhaji (thick vegetable curry fried and served with a soft bread roll) to bhelpuri (puffed rice and vegetables with a tangy tamarind sauce) to vada pav (seasoned balls of mashed potatoes spiced with garlic, chili and herbs). Don’t forget to drink all of the mango lassis and find dessert like malpua pancakes (sweet Indian pancakes) and the sweet custard, firni. There are fancier, air-conditioned places to eat, but street food in Mumbai is the move.
One of the coolest things about Singapore, an island city-state off of southern Malaysia, is that the street food, which has been ranked the best in the world, is held to higher standards than in other cities and countries. There are strictly enforced regulations and most food stalls are required to display cleanliness grades so you know what’s safe and what’s not. These are perfect conditions to experiment and challenge your adventurous eater side! One of the most popular areas to eat is the hawker center (an open-air complex with stalls that sell a variety of inexpensive food) called Maxwell Food Center, located fairly close to Chinatown. You’ll have to try Hainanese chicken rice — rice cooked with chicken fat and chicken stock, from poaching the whole chicken, mixed with ginger and garlic and other ingredients — fish head curry, roti prata, chicken satay, oyster omelets and pepper crab. The price tag on everything is extremely affordable and the cuisine in Singapore combines Chinese, Malaysian and Indian cultures. There are also a lot big name restaurants like Mario Batali’s Osteria Mazza and Daniel Boulud’s DB Bistro Moderne.
Believe it or not, London is one of the top cities for food lovers in the world. The culinary scene goes far beyond fish and chips these days, with a high-volume of award-winning restaurants and norm-challenging chefs making their mark in the U.K. There are Michelin-starred restaurants like Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, headed by chef Ashley Palmer-Watts, where British culinary traditions meet experimental techniques such as the iconic meat fruit (a chicken liver mousse created to look like a mandarin orange). There’s the Michelin-starred Pollen Street Social by chef Jason Atherton, Story by Tom Sellers (Noma alum) — where they honor the history of British food, influenced by memories, using the freshest seasonal British produce while arousing your sight, smell and taste — and The Clove Club with chef Isaac McHale, where they serve bold five-course meals using overlooked British ingredients. London’s food scene is just as varied as its population. There isn’t one way to define the cuisine. You can find everything from comfort food to some of the best Indian food in the world. You can explore nose-to-tail butchery and bone marrow delicacies, upscale Mediterranean cuisine and contemporary Cantonese dim sum.
You might think Florence and Rome are the top culinary cities of Italy, but Bologna should also be high on your list. After all, this is where Bolognese sauce originated, although in Bologna it’s just considered their signature ragu. You can indulge in all of the tagliatelle, meat-filled pasta and charcuterie boards that your heart desires. Stroll through the food stalls at the central market, Mercato di Mezzo, eat local parmesan and visit the Pasquini, one of the top mortadella producers in Bologna. You can learn about the Bolognese approach to food and wine pairing, called abbinamento. Bologna is the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region in northern Italy, where you can find some of the best sparkling reds and white wines in the country. There’s no shortage of food stalls in the streets offering everything from fava beans to fresh fish. If you’re into cured meats like Parma Ham, Mortadella and Culatello, this is an ideal food destination for you.
Paris is Paris. There’s that famous tower people love to kiss in front of, historic monuments, revered museums, quaint cafes and pastries people would die for. Lyon, however, is much smaller and more sophisticated. The French region is the perfect place to visit French vineyards and it’s close to Burgundy wine country. The local cuisine is very hearty and can be relatively inexpensive compared to Paris. It’s home to L’Auberge du Pont de Collonges, also known as Paul Bocuse (a highly respected French chef known for his innovative approach to French cuisine), which is currently the oldest three-Michelin-starred restaurant in the world. Lyonnaise cuisine centers around meat and particularly offal (organ meat) like tripe and sausages. Chef Bocuse was the one to drastically alter French cuisine by cutting down on heavy cream and butter and instead focusing more on fresh ingredients. Aside from all of the highly acclaimed restaurants in Lyon, there’s also a more affordable way to eat by browsing the food stalls at Lyon’s main market, Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse, where you can find local produce, meats, cheeses and French delicacies.
Whether you’ve actually been to Thailand, or everything you know comes from watching The Hangover Part 2, you know Bangkok is filled with beautiful chaos. The capital of Thailand is more than street food, massage parlors and inexpensive shopping. There are young chefs popping up all over the city making their mark on the traditional food of Bangkok with a modern twist. There are insane omakase experiences, healthy restaurants and more importantly, there’s the number one restaurant in Asia, Gaggan. Aside from the amazing street food (a crispy Thai oyster omelet is a must), there’s a little bit of every culture — you can find Italian, Indian, Middle Eastern, East African and even barbecue. The local seafood should be a priority and so should late-night izakayas and Isaan Thai cuisine.
Fes And Marrakesh, Morocco
Fes is a city in northeastern Morocco that’s considered the cultural and culinary capital with an old-world atmosphere. Fes often gets compared to Marrakech, a major economic center that’s home to mosques, palaces and gardens. It’s also a little more commercialized, glamorous and chaotic with traditional Moroccan food, snake charmers, fortune tellers and all kinds of art. Fes gives the illusion that you’ve stepped out of a time machine and into a medieval cobblestoned world. Marrakech has more restaurants and a wider variety of cuisines. For street food, head to the Achabine area of Fes and the Djemaa el-Fna or Essaouira areas of Marrakech. Something to also note is that Moroccans tend to snack between 6 to 8 pm before they have dinner later on, so make the most of that window of time and explore all of your street food options. Some classic Moroccan dishes include B’ssara (Moroccan fava bean soup) kefta tagine (beef or lamb minced with garlic and coriander, parsley and cinnamon rolled into balls and cooked in a bubbling bath of tomato and onion sauce), couscous, zaalouk (vegetable side dishes served at the beginning of every meal), B’stilla (Moroccan pigeon pie) and sweet mint tea. You can expect camel heads displayed outside butcher chops and you’ll see families bringing their bread to be baked in the communal oven every morning as a ritual. The culinary scene in Fes is scattered and the food itself is bizarre yet delicious and all based on heavy tradition.