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Jun 20, 2010 07:28 AM

Best and Worst World Cities for Food

I recently passed the U.S. Foreign Service Exam, and while I wait for my clearances to come through I'm engaging in the fascinating pastime of speculating on my future foreign postings. Being a chowhound, availability of delicious food is very important to my happiness. So, if you had to choose a world city to live in based solely on the food, where would you go? Where would you avoid? I'm especially interested in your thoughts on non-Europe areas of the world.

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  1. Sidney, Tokio (if you're gonna make big bucks....), Singapur, Saigon.

    Europe: Rome, Barcelona, Berlin.

    3 Replies
    1. re: linguafood

      Food in Tokyo can be surprisingly cheap. You can eat lunch sets in many excellent restaurants for ¥1200-1500, and simple but delicious foods like ramen are bellow ¥1000.

      You can eat fantastic 3 star Michelin sushi for ¥ 5500 too (US$ 60). Or just go to a popular place like Standing Sushi Bar and eat every kind of exotic fish (kohada, toro, unagi etc) spending around ¥1000.

      1. re: babreu

        Agreed! I've had JPY1,500 sushi sets in Tachiaigawa which still visit me in my dreams.

        1. re: babreu

          Or you can eat at ramen shops or a slew of local ticket-based vending machine outlets for less than 700 yen. Regardless of whose dime it's on, if you're in the mood for these greasy spoon-type places which have an interesting clientele in their own right, they certainly exist in Tokyo, among other Japanese cities.

      2. I am a food addict and I've traveled up and down, and here are my two cents. There aren't places to GO to per se, because it depends on what foods you like. If you can't handle spicy, for example, don't go to India.

        Here are places TO AVOID. Unless you're going to stay at a home (in which case the world is your buffet plate), you are guaranteed that you will have a passable but not remarkable time eating.

        A: UK. Home food's marvelous, but otherwise it's passable at best.
        B: Scandinavia. Might be good in some places, but bloody expensive to boot.
        C: Eastern Europe (Bulgaria, e.t.c.). Again, restaurants are unremarkable.

        I know this sounds prejudiced, but here is the rule of the thumb: Wherever feminism is NOT rampant, restaurant food's generally above average (Japan, Italy, France). My friend maintains that wherever the women are notorious (Brazil, Italy, Japan, France, Russia) for their aesthetic virtues (or whatever makes them appealing to the men), food's good. Basically if the women hold to their conservative roles, they cook and therefore aim to cook better, and ergo the restaurants will up their quality because they have to compete with the housewives. This sounds sexist but to my experience it holds true.

        Happy eating!

        19 Replies
        1. re: Gabrielleduvent

          Interesting theory, Gabrielleduvent. But what about India and Mexico, famous for the food and not so famous for the women?

          From my experience (I travel and eat a lot).

          Top 3 best:

          1. Tokyo (the rest of Japan too, but Tokyo is the real paradise for food lovers)
          It's a tie, 2 and 3: São Paulo/Brazil and France.

          Women-wise, it's Tokyo and Brasil too. :)

          Top 3 bad places for food:

          1. China (chinese food may be great, but the chinese are the opposite of the japanese when it comes to attention to detail. Not to mention the scary cantonese food).
          2. Tunisia (even the couscous is below average);
          3. Eastern europe.

          1. re: babreu

            It would seem you haven't been to Shanghai lately.

            1. re: babreu

              Just curious - what is it about cantonese food that makes you say it is scary?

              1. re: babreu

                I beg to differ about Chinese food. If you eat at some cheap mom-and-pop joint, you get exactly what you pay for. But higher end Chinese dishes often require much attention to detail. Some dishes require days to prepare.

                I am also curious why you are scared by Cantonese food.

                1. re: babreu

                  I'll have to take issue with some of these statements:

                  1.) Indian and Mexican women - India has won the Miss World title for 4 years in the 2000's. Hardly not famous aesthetically. And Mexican (and Colombian) women in telenovelas? (Makes hourglass shape with hands and wolf whistles).

                  2.) Doesn't sound like you've had an opportunity to experience real Cantonese food. Cantonese cuisine is considered to be one of the highest prestige cuisines in all of China, because of the hundreds of years of influences as a trading port and thus incorporating a diverse set of ingredients and cooking methods. Unlike other cuisines of China where liberal usage of spices and flavors reign, Cantonese cuisine relies solely on technique and freshness of ingredients. The intricacies of technique and preparation of high-end Cantonese cuisine is acknowledged as on par with high-end French cuisine.

                  1. re: HungWeiLo

                    (Eat in Guangzhou, Die in Liuzhou, Play in Suzhou, Live in Hangzhou)
                    as the saying goes.

                    1. re: huiray

                      I have a Chinese coworker who went to China last year. He said food in Guangzhou was amazing but other cities were very disappointing to the point he couldn't eat most of the time.

                      1. re: Monica

                        This is the most ERRONEOUS statement made about Chinese cuisine.
                        The type of food in Guanzhou is mainly cantonese. Presumably your coworker prefers cantonese.
                        Even so, he can find great cantonese restaurants in other Chinese cities like Shanghai, Chengdu. Too bad he missed out on the local cuisine,which are absolutely fantastic.!

                        1. re: towkay

                          We don't know about that coworker's travel conditions. Maybe he was in an organized tour eating in hotel restaurants or the kind of places where tourists are herded. I have heard such organized tour tourists say food in Italy and France is awful too. :-)

                          1. re: Parigi

                            That's true re organized tours...but food in other parts of China is more exciting TO ME -- I emphasize TO ME so Guangzhou chauvinists don't try to string me up...
                            Even within the corridor between Nanjing and Shanghai there are multiple cuisines -- Nanjing food is different from Wuxi food is different from Suzhou food (ah, Suzhou) is different from Shanghai food. And there are other ones I don't know about.
                            Yours sincerely, someone who must go back to China soon.

                            1. re: buttertart

                              I am a GZ chauvinist, I guess, but I like other cuisines too. t's organized tours I deplore :-)
                              I noticed something funny: people in HK, at least my friends there, consider S'hai food refined. When I was in S'hai, local friends wanted to take me to have … Cantonese food - ! - which they consider chic. Sort of the opposite of chauvinism.

                            2. re: Parigi

                              Chinese organized tours are hilarious - you will get Chinese food (bland and bad Cantonese) no matter where you go. Europe, Latin America, etc. And they LIKE it that way. One meal without rice and the tour members collectively riot.

                              towkay: Why is that statement erroneous? Cantonese cuisine is one of the main staples of Chinese cuisine, both historically and in modern times. As one of the posts above states, the Chinese have a saying (not just in Guangzhou) that one should "marry in Suzhou, live in Hangzhou, eat in Guangzhou, die in Liuzhou".

                              And it's not as if Guangzhou is the hick backwaters. It's got almost just as many varieties of good places to experience all regions of Chinese cuisine as Shanghai and Beijing.

                              1. re: HungWeiLo

                                Erroneous, as the implication that only ,"amazing" food is found in GZ and nowhere else in China. Good cantonese cuisine is subtle and refined.
                                I,wholeheartedly agree that different parts of China have equally "amazing" food!

                          2. re: Monica

                            I believe he was visiting his family in China and I do not think he was with a tour group.

                          3. re: huiray

                            In that order. I think Cantonese food in general turns me off primarily because when I'm not eating dessert, I don't want something sweet, or 点心 that makes me feel gross after just a few bites. There are definitely good Cantonese dishes out there (ones with fish, har gau, literal desserts), but at the end of the 日, it's still just my opinion. And about individual opinions, I think Taiwanese food is the pits...along with Kejia cuisine. A bunch of visits to night markets in Gaoxiong, Taibei (oh wait, it's called New Taibei City now, right?) and Jilong left me not craving anything particularly Taiwanese...both oyster pancakes and sweet potato cakes I've seen in Xiamen (not too shocking) and elsewhere. At least the 7-11s in Taiwan have decent drinks though (one was a pumpkin milk).

                      2. re: Gabrielleduvent

                        This is nonsense.

                        Russia and Eastern Europe have incredible women (Scandinavia, too, to a lesser extent), but the food there is, on the whole, substandard. Other countries with women who aren't renowned for their aesthetic virtues (India, Mexico) have excellent food.

                        In other words, the two (good food, good women) are completely unrelated.

                        In my experience, the highest correlatives to good food are quality ingredients (which depends in no small measure on climate -- hence the general quality of Mediterranean and other temperate cuisines, even if the country is undeveloped) and per capita GDP (since surplus income allows one to focus on the good life, e.g., haute cuisine).

                        1. re: porphyrogenitus

                          Hmm. Yet the OP's theory includes this statement:
                          "Basically if the women hold to their conservative roles, they cook and therefore aim to cook better, and ergo the restaurants will up their quality because they have to compete with the housewives."
                          I read this to mean that the women in these countries COOK WELL at home, in their "conservative"/traditional role, which is separate from (i.e. NOT the same as) saying the women are stunning va-va-voom bombs of physical attractiveness which the comments here are fixating on. :-) This might "account for" your supposition about womenfolk in Mexico and India?

                          OTOH, I don't know where you are from, but how do you know the menfolk in Mexico and India find their womenfolk physically attractive, for that matter?

                          1. re: huiray

                            Oops, I meant:
                            " do you know the menfolk in Mexico and India DON'T find their womenfolk physically attractive..."

                        2. re: Gabrielleduvent

                          theory fail.
                          the most promiscuous cities in america have some of the best food. Because people flirting like to go to restaurants. and good ones too.

                        3. Cuba had a good run as the jewel of the Antilles for a couple centuries, but the food in Havana now sucks.
                          Mexico City has great food.

                          1. Kuala Lumpur is a melting pot. You can find a lot of different types of food there. And Cairo is one of the best places to eat! Service sucks though.

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: ButteredUp

                              Cantonese food in KL is incredible - so different from HK's.
                              And Malay food - with its nasi lemak, ikan masak merah, rendang, laksa, etc - one of the world's great under-rated cuisines!

                              1. re: klyeoh

                                ...although the halal laws make finding pork in the place more difficult than in Singapore or HK, for example. [Cantonese cuisine without pork - in restaurants that choose to be or are obliged to be halal - is faintly nonsensical ;-) ]

                                p.s. you have posted extensively also about the cuisines of China other than Cantonese in KL also; as well as some examples of very good European/Continental places there...

                                1. re: klyeoh

                                  How different is it, for Cantonese in KL as compared to HK? Presumably there are good tasting Cantonese in KL, but generally Cantonese/Chinese cuisine is assumed to be more refined and sophisticated in HK than anywhere else in Asia.

                                  Any fine dining for Malay/Cantonese/Penang style in KL?

                                  1. re: towkay

                                    HK's Cantonese cuisine is definitely more refined than KL's, but I found that the more robust, assertive KL Cantonese flavors suit my (Singaporean) palate more: liberal lashings of chillis, dried shrimps & "belachan" (fermented shrimp paste), use of local ingredients like the "petai" (stink-beans), "kangkung" (water-spinach), etc. In Cantonese restaurants in KL, there is also sometimes a blurring of lines between different Chinese regional cuisines (so you can find Hainanese or Hakka dishes alongside Cantonese ones) and local/Nyonya hybrids like "kangkong fried with sambal belachan", which has been accepted as a "Chinese" dish.

                                    Recently, I noticed that New Fook Lam Moon in Gerrard Street (Chinatown, London) was taken over by Malaysian-Chinese owners and, besides the usual traditional-Cantonese dishes, they'd added quintessential Malaysian-Nyonya-Chinese ones like chilli crab, steamed fish topped with chilli-beansauce, "bak kut teh" (herbal pork-rib soup), etc. - see attached photo.

                                    Fine-dining Malay restaurants are, frankly, not worth the money - Malay cuisine has not evolved much beyond simple homecooked fare, so you probably end up paying big bucks for the same food which you can get in roadside street-stalls: "ikan bakar" (grilled fish), "sambal petai" (stink beans stir-fried with chillis & belachan), "gulai ayam" (chicken curry), fried tempe, "ulam-ulam" (raw vegetables, served with sambal belachan dip), etc. Some fine-dining Malay restaurants in KL included Enak (Starhill mall), Bijan (Ceylon Road), Bunga Emas (Royale Chulan Hotel) andmost recently Songket restaurant at Jalan Yap Kwan Seng (opened by a group of Bijan alumnus).

                                    Good fine-dining Cantonese in KL included Ming Room (Bangsar Shopping Centre), Han Room (Gardens, the Mall), Oversea (Jalan Imbi), Li Yen (Ritz-Carlton Hotel KL), and the halal/no-pork Lai Poh Heen (Mandarin Oriental KL), amongst others.

                                    There are no fine-dining Penang-style restaurants anywhere, as Penang fare is usually street-food style, but you can find good Penang food in air-con comfort in Litte Penang Cafe (branches in Suria KLCC, Mid-Valley Megamall, etc).

                                    1. re: klyeoh

                                      Thank you. Great take on Cantonese cuisine in KL. Seems like a fusion of Cantonese with local Malay ingredients.

                              2. All my opinions:
                                Japan -- everywhere -- and Singapore are my favorites. I love Asian food, so I adore Malaysia, Thailand, and Hong Kong as well. One can eat well in Indonesia too, but badly as easily. In Italy, Italians eat much better than tourists, so it depends. Austria has high standards if the meat appeals to you. London has become better, but it is so expensive. Berlin is really average, but I love the high quality Vietnamese places which have been springing up. Buenos Aires is fabulous. I do not love Cairo or Tel Aviv, generally speaking. Paris is too expensive, but the markets are so great that eating at home is a treat. Barcelona is delicious. Athens is great for a month, then it all repeats itself. Istanbul is better to me.

                                7 Replies
                                1. re: taiga

                                  We have a week of dining in Istanbul. What do you suggest. Thanks

                                  1. re: taiga

                                    IMO, Tel Aviv has become great in the past 30 years, particularly in the past 3 years...

                                    1. re: veggielover

                                      I agree, Tel Aviv is now amongst the best. I also like KL, Toronto, Sydney, Bangkok and of course New York.

                                      1. re: DDD

                                        Check Montreal out. It is the most interesting city in Canada for food.

                                        1. re: towkay

                                          I agree about Toronto. Walked into a random restaurant with my husband and i still remember their memorable. And the baguettes we picked up from a random bakery, so good. Overall, i thought food was better than nyc...god knows it's so hard to find good baguette even in NYC.

                                          1. re: Monica

                                            Are you serious? I can get wonderful baguettes here in Miami, and I suppose it would take me about 30 minutes to find them in New York. I love Toronto, but better food than NYC?

                                            1. re: taiga

                                              I can't walk into a random bakery and find the perfect baguettes in NYC but I did in Montreal at a fraction of prices I normally pay in NYC.
                                              I think quality of baked goods are still pretty low in NYC but that's my opinion.
                                              There are a lot of good restaurants in NYC but often times, you have to pay for it.