HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >
What have you made lately? Tell us about it

What's the most VARIED cuisine in the world?

euges720 Jul 1, 2011 05:04 PM

By varied cuisine, I mean which cuisine has the most variety of dishes? Can you eat a different Chinese/Italian/French/... dish for 365 days each day of the world? I'll let you define what you mean by "varied". For instance, if you consider beef fried rice and chicken fried rice to be two dishes, please state this assumption.

Just a bit of a discussion I had with my mom. (We're Chinese.) She's claiming Chinese cuisine to be most varied. I actually say it's Italian, or at the least, Italian cuisine can be just as varied as Chinese.


  1. drongo Jul 1, 2011 05:11 PM

    I'd say China is far far bigger in terms of geographical regions (and hence variation in biological systems), population, and area... so surely should have more different types of food.

    Perhaps Europe (as a whole) or the Indian subcontinent would be a better comparator?

    1. Veggo Jul 1, 2011 05:24 PM

      A nicely provocative question, and I never like being first to reply. China clearly brings trump cards to the table: history, size, conduit for human migration, land and sea. No one can dispute the signature dishes from many chinese provinces.
      Provocateur as I am, I argue that Mexico may not be in the same weight class as China, but is a contender in it's own right. Distinctive regional specialties, agrarian / seafarian excellence, great cooks and imagination and history.
      I'll enjoy the discourse to follow.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Veggo
        DiningDiva Jul 2, 2011 09:15 AM

        I think Mexico has the same weight as China in this arena. Both cuisines are amazingly diverse and varied.

      2. Gio Jul 1, 2011 05:40 PM

        When one considers the vast variation within not only regions but neiborhoods as well as households I think Italian cuisine to be the most variable. Think too about the use of butter versus olive oil; Pecorino versus Reggiano; Seafood versus beef/meat. Even garlic versus onion and there you have, from north to south, the most variable cuisine.

        Nota bene: I'm talking native cuisine, not Italo-American food.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Gio
          thegforceny Jul 1, 2011 06:27 PM

          Italy isnt even in top 10. It's a relatively tiny country. Chinese, hands down. Indian. Mexican.

        2. Karl S Jul 1, 2011 06:25 PM

          China is as vast as most of Europe, so it's kinda apples, oranges.

          I'd suggest the following five principal food cuisine families:

          1. Chinese
          2. Indian subcontinent
          3. Turkish-Persian
          4. French-Italian
          5. Mexican

          2 Replies
          1. re: Karl S
            FLFoodieGrl Jul 2, 2011 11:15 AM

            I think your breakdown is spot on. I would rank your list of cuisines in the same order and group them as you did because of the regional and cultural overlaps.

            1. re: FLFoodieGrl
              Karl S Jul 2, 2011 11:32 AM

              With further consideration about the key issue of variety, I would put the Indian subcontinent over China.

              I am not familiar enough with imperial Turkish and Persian cuisines to fully appreciate how they'd be ranked vis-a-vis French-Italian. But I am aware of it's something barely appreciated in the West.

          2. Tripeler Jul 1, 2011 06:35 PM

            Chinese can't really count because collectively it is a huge range of cuisines.
            My vote would be for Burmese cuisine. It is like having things from India, China, Thailand and Malaysia -- all at the same time.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Tripeler
              Veggo Jul 1, 2011 06:38 PM

              Except that the Burmese peninsula is frozen in time behind locked doors, with a desperate silent suffering population.

            2. paulj Jul 1, 2011 06:39 PM

              I have 1000 Classic Indian Recipes book, a 1000 Italian recipes book, and 1080 Spanish (though this has a lot of 'continental' recipes). Or how about America? The big yellow Gourmet cookbook has more than a 1000 recipes.

              1. e
                escondido123 Jul 1, 2011 11:29 PM

                How about the cuisines of the United States---since we seem to absorb all the others? If you went to restaurants in this country, or a variety of private homes, I believe you could sample most of the cuisines of the world, which is something you could not do in other countries.

                1. g
                  gilintx Jul 2, 2011 12:59 AM

                  China probably wins this based just on the sheer landmass of the place alone. I would also argue that Mexico has so many varied climes and regions that it would be a pretty good contender. Finally, I don't think that it's unfair to call the U.S. a varied place. Depending on where you go, you can get just about every kind of world cuisine, and I'm not entirely convinced that you can attribute it to its home country.

                  1. meatnveg Jul 2, 2011 01:05 AM

                    Definitely India. Not a doubt in my mind.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: meatnveg
                      Karl S Jul 2, 2011 08:27 AM

                      I am inclined to agree when we consider the issue is variety. For all of China's immensity, India's strikes me as even more diverse in its variety, and there are strong geographical, demographic, and cultural reasons for that.

                    2. h
                      Harters Jul 2, 2011 04:40 AM

                      Probably American as it takes its dishes from so many different origins.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: Harters
                        Karl S Jul 2, 2011 08:32 AM

                        We may get there in a couple of hundred years, but I don't think we're even near there yet, and I think climate change will have a strong bearing on this development.

                        Two assets are a huge and varied population and variety of climate zones. One key limiting factor: aside from Hawaii and southern Florida, we don't have a truly tropical zone. Climate change is not necessarily going to help get us one, as we are more likely to see an expansion of the aridity customary in the Horse Latitudes, rather than the truly tropical weather of the areas south of those latitudes.

                        1. re: Karl S
                          ipsedixit Jul 2, 2011 09:16 AM

                          I'm not sure that climate zone is a limiting factor, Karl.

                          Given the magic of modern transportation, we've basically eradicated "seasonal" from the lexicon of fresh fruits and vegetables. I can get pineapples year round (although I'll pay a pretty penny for them in the winter months in N. America, but you get the idea), and just about any type of vegetables can be had at any time of the year.

                          And even truly seasonal tropical fruits (e.g. melons, papayas, etc.) are easily accessible here in the U.S.

                          If I can get fresh durian in the U.S., there are very few boundaries left in the world.

                          1. re: ipsedixit
                            Karl S Jul 2, 2011 09:47 AM

                            But what is their condition compared to locally fresh?

                            I understand that one can get things. But often not in peak condition. That has a tremendous effect on cuisine development.

                            For example, we hardly get the array of mangoes one can get in India, and in the same condition.

                      2. limster Jul 2, 2011 08:24 AM

                        Probably Cantonese, especially since they constantly absorb new ingredients into their already vast repertoire.

                        1. paulj Jul 2, 2011 08:27 AM

                          A variation on the question is: where is a typical person's diet most varied? India has a wide variety, but any one person will the diet of his own region and cultural/religious group. Obviously describing 'a typical person' is difficult in any country.

                          1. porker Jul 2, 2011 08:41 AM

                            My vote is Irish - you can eat a potato dish for 365 days, year in year out ;/)
                            On a more serious note...
                            I would discount America - yeah you can sample cuisines from around the world, but this in itself is not a single varied cuisine. When someone says "American cuisine", I think BBQ as a true type, or perhaps Cajun or Creole or Carolina Lowland etc etc - regional types.
                            Like many on this thread, I feel it should be Chinese, hands down. Mexican may not be tops, but still, in the top 5 somewhere along with Italian.
                            Alas I am quite ignorant when it comes to Indian and cant form an opinion there.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: porker
                              Karl S Jul 2, 2011 09:13 AM

                              Most Americans have a very limited sense for the variety of cuisines in the Indian subcontinent.

                              A version of Punjabi cuisine dominates the US impression of Indian food the way that a version of Cantonese once did of Chinese food. And a limited array of southern and Bengali dishes now count for variety in urban areas where there is a strong presence of ex-pat Indian professionals; this is parallel to the advent of a kind of Szechuan/Hunanese cuisine in major US urban areas in the 1970s.

                              As always, the key to development of a broader sensibility will be the availability of ingredients, especially hard given how difficult it can be to replicate fresh tropical products on another side of the globe.....

                              But, it would be wise for Americans to consider that our appreciation of Indian food is like what our appreciation for Chinese food was like forty years ago.

                            2. ipsedixit Jul 2, 2011 08:55 AM


                              Because if you are allowed to consider beef fried rice different from chicken fried rice, then heck, I can think at least 365 different variations of hot dogs. And that's just hot dogs!! I'd still get to go through all the iterations of hamburgers, grilled cheese sandwiches, etc., as well as all those Americanized dishes like gloppy Chinese food, Chipotle style burritos, hardshell tacos, gargantuan overgrown nachos, oversauced pasta dishes, etc.

                              [tongue firmly planted in cheek\

                              1. jiminy Jul 2, 2011 09:45 AM

                                if your using the geographical region method i would say north americian would be most diverse...think about it wr are almost all immigrant or ancestors of...easily the most diverse.

                                8 Replies
                                1. re: jiminy
                                  escondido123 Jul 2, 2011 10:20 AM

                                  I doubt there are many people in India eating kim chee, in France eating tacos, in Argentina eating jambalaya, in Ireland eating pho, yet in homes around the US all those dishes are being made or they are available in the nearest major city.

                                  1. re: escondido123
                                    porker Jul 2, 2011 10:30 AM

                                    True, but I think the OP is asking about a single, varied cuisine, not which country or geographical area offers the most diverse cuisines.

                                    1. re: porker
                                      escondido123 Jul 2, 2011 11:46 AM

                                      Well then, maybe we need to define the word "cuisine?" I see a definition that is "a style or quality of cooking." Or maybe we are talking about "traditional" cuisine? How far back to we go? Does Italian cuisine get to include tomatoes and corn from the New World? Does British cuisine include that of its former colonies, India in particular? Since Mexicans have been in the US since before there was a California, is that not a US cuisine? Don't know if this is all so easily defined.

                                    2. re: escondido123
                                      Karl S Jul 2, 2011 10:38 AM

                                      You'd be surprised. People get around, darnit.

                                      The Chinese were, for example, present in Mexico City at least by the early 17th century, when complaints were sent to the Spanish crown about their dominance of the laundry trade.

                                      IIRC, about 10% of Ireland's population is now non-Irish.

                                      Buenos Aires is as much a melting pot as, say, Boston.

                                      A favorite memory of a visit to Rome in 1994 is of watching two elderly Chinese ladies in a Metro subway car, speaking in a mix of Italian and Chinese, in Chinese tones, with Italian hand gestures.

                                      Et cet.

                                      1. re: Karl S
                                        limster Jul 2, 2011 11:02 AM

                                        Peru does have its own version of Chinese food, and so does the US.

                                        1. re: limster
                                          Karl S Jul 2, 2011 11:30 AM

                                          We miss Sam F!

                                        2. re: Karl S
                                          escondido123 Jul 2, 2011 12:09 PM

                                          I know people move and there are all sorts of people in all sorts of places, that's why I said doubt there are "many" not doubt there are "any." Just looked at stats on Ireland, 5% are non-Irish/non-white. But turns out there are enough Vietnamese in the country for there to be three Vietnamese restaurants, as long as you live in or are willing to drive to Dublin!

                                      2. re: jiminy
                                        LorenM Jul 3, 2011 02:53 PM

                                        Though I think one could (perhaps) make an argument for the North American continent as a whole- I would vehemently disagree that the United States has the most varied cuisine as a country. We are not a culture that eats almost anything and everything that crawls, walks, flies or swims as a majority on a regular basis (and almost every part of every animal). I think we have a lot more "rules" about what is acceptable food (eg. insects, balut, winged mammals, rodents, dogs, horses, etc., etc.) than many other cultures from other countries and that all of our regional and ethnic foods get abridged and "dumbed down" by these rules. And that's just meat- not to mention fruits, veggies, grains, fermented things, et al.

                                      3. JMF Jul 2, 2011 12:17 PM

                                        I remember hearing about this in a lecture in college or Culinary school that Peruvian cuisine is the most varied, and has the most unique dishes. It's because of the Native American, Spanish, German, Italian, Japanese, Chinese, Indian, and other immigrants.

                                        1. m
                                          Muchlove Jul 2, 2011 12:23 PM

                                          Without a doubt, India. HUGE variety. And the funny thing is that most people are completely unaware of it. In fact I'd say that your average person knows basically nothing of real Indian food.

                                          1. t
                                            tastesgoodwhatisit Jul 2, 2011 06:44 PM

                                            The thing is, caling "Chinese Food" a single cuisine is sort of like referring to "European food" as a monolithic entity. Isn't it normally divided into eight separate regional cuisines? I count nine, because I add foreign Chinese food (like American Chinese) as a separate regions.

                                            And as an aside, yes, I've been known to say "Hey, want to go out for Western food today."

                                            13 Replies
                                            1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit
                                              Veggo Jul 2, 2011 06:49 PM

                                              You are funny. What would be typical "western food"?

                                              1. re: Veggo
                                                paulj Jul 2, 2011 07:08 PM

                                                If we were living in Chengdu going out for 'western' would make more sense than going out for 'chinese' - or at least it would narrow the options more.

                                                1. re: paulj
                                                  Veggo Jul 2, 2011 07:19 PM

                                                  paulj, your range of food knowledge and its origins has always impressed me, Mexico to Asia. cheers.

                                                  1. re: paulj
                                                    tastesgoodwhatisit Jul 3, 2011 07:39 PM

                                                    Exactly. When you live in a Chinese country, you never say "Hey, let's go out for Chinese tonight!", but there may be only a handful of authentic Western restaurants around.

                                                    Actually, when we want totally American restaurant food, we typically go to some place like Chilis or Outback or Gordon Biersch, were you get the same food you would at that restaurant in the US, rather than the local interpretation. Taiwanese Italian is an interesting experience, for example.

                                                2. re: tastesgoodwhatisit
                                                  huiray Jul 3, 2011 08:15 AM


                                                  At least "Chinese food" is slightly better than "Asian food". The use of that hated latter term always drives me bonkers, especially when the folks who say it really do mean "Chinese food" in practice and not even "Japanese food" or "Korean food" etc.

                                                  1. re: huiray
                                                    Muchlove Jul 3, 2011 08:33 AM

                                                    Good point. In the UK, asian often indicates indian, whereas in America it seems to more often mean chinese or at least east asian. This may not be everyones experience but it is something I have noticed.

                                                    1. re: Muchlove
                                                      paulj Jul 3, 2011 09:36 AM

                                                      That American use of 'Asian' to refer to all of eastern Asia, from Japan south to Indonesia, seems as widespread among immigrants from that area as among Anglos. Look for example at this 'about' page from 99Ranch
                                                      which talks about 'quality Asian food products' and ' needs of Asian immigrants'. That chain is strongest in Chinese products. There are some Indian, Middle Eastern and even Hispanic products, though no more so than a well stocked 'Western' market.

                                                      But there is an even broader category, which I call multi-ethnic. I shop at a couple of produce stands that also stock groceries from India, SE Asia, Mexico, Middle East/North Africa (eg. French made pasta with Arabic labeling), and Eastern Europe. One even has a rack with Ethiopian items. With a mix like that, it is impossible to come up with labels or categories that will satisfy all sensibilities.

                                                      1. re: paulj
                                                        huiray Jul 3, 2011 10:43 AM

                                                        "That American use of 'Asian' to refer to all of eastern Asia, from Japan south to Indonesia, seems as widespread among immigrants from that area as among Anglos."
                                                        I would suspect it is often so because they are being influenced by the white American sensibility and culture around them, and are also using the "White American convention" term "Asian" when using English (or, rather, American English). In Chinese "Asian" is not normally used to refer to Chinese folks or Chinese cuisine. The Chinese blurb on that website (the 'about' page) instead appears to use the terms for "The East", "Orient" (loosely), "China" [Middle Kingdom], (Chinatown) etc.

                                                        Oh, BTW, that supermarket calls itself Tai Wah (大華) in Chinese.
                                                        In context, 'Wah' (華) also refers to China.

                                                        1. re: huiray
                                                          paulj Jul 3, 2011 11:28 AM

                                                          How's your Korean?
                                                          "Online Shopping for Asian Grocery, Korean Kimchi, Rice Cookers, Appliances & more at everyday low prices."

                                                          1. re: paulj
                                                            applehome Jul 3, 2011 11:46 AM

                                                            Yeah, but they're purposely trying to attract Asians other than Korean. They carry non-Korean cuisine items. Would Koreans refer to their own cuisine as Asian? I doubt it, although the context matters. Here, we've referred to European cuisine in some contexts, but clearly, we're able to differentiate between the major characteristics of each country's own cuisine (with some overlap, to be sure).

                                                            That Americans can't tell (and mostly don't care) that a Chinese "Itamae" is serving them sushi or that a Vietnamese person is throwing the knife and spatula around at their Teppanyaki (which is a New York invention, albeit by a Japanese person) is just normal. But to say that a Japanese person would be ok with that is mostly going to be untrue. Of course, there are exceptions - well trained cooks can come from anywhere. But nationality does matter to the people from those Nations, regardless of how things are marketed in our great mixing bowl.

                                                            1. re: applehome
                                                              paulj Jul 3, 2011 12:03 PM

                                                              With reference to their own cuisine, nearly everyone is going to use the more specific terms, not one that spans a continent or subcontinent. An Ecuadorian would not want their 'seco de chivo' to be confused the Peruvian version, even though both might shop at a Plaza Latina. It's South Carolina pulled pork or Texas brisket, not American BBQ. New England clam chowder (with debates whether Maine or Boston has the true version), not American clam chowder.

                                                              One food writer (interviewed on The Splendid Table) opined that teriyaki was the quintessential Seattle fast food. But the owner of such as shop probably is not Japanese, but one of the many recent immigrants - from Asia or even Africa.

                                                            2. re: paulj
                                                              huiray Jul 3, 2011 01:56 PM

                                                              "How's your Korean?"
                                                              Non-existant, sorry.

                                                        2. re: Muchlove
                                                          Harters Jul 3, 2011 11:30 AM

                                                          As Muchlove indicates, here in the UK, we use "asian" as a fairly generic term indicating food (and, of course, people) form the Indian subcontinent and around - so India, Pakistan , Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka.

                                                    2. e
                                                      escondido123 Jul 2, 2011 07:14 PM

                                                      Apropos of this subject, I just happened to buy Molly O'Neil's book "One Big Table" at our library's bookstore today. She spent years on the road looking for and eating American food. Her take includes foods from all the immigrants--an interesting read. She talks a one point about how immigrants take their simple dishes--with limited local ingredients in their own countries (economic availability being a big factor)--and turning them into new dishes using the abundance of food/ingredients in the US. As one Vietnamese immigrant observes, "I can make the best Vietnamese food now that I live in America."

                                                      1. applehome Jul 3, 2011 10:09 AM

                                                        Variety comes from foreign influences - whether thousands of years old, or merely decades. In those terms, I don't think you can have a cuisine more varied than the US. Consider, also, our free market forces. Instead of the standardizations of an Imperial cuisine, we do anything to please anybody - as long as there's a buck to be made. That, of course, creates our headlong drive to the lowest common denominator - to fast foods, central kitchens, economical shortcuts, etc., but ultimately, it's all variety - we reintroduce our shortcutted variants back to the rest of the world as fast food. We do hit a blank when it comes to using offal and to making cheap ingredients taste great. But maybe soon, when the bottom 99% have only 0.5% of the wealth, we'll learn to make that stuff edible.

                                                        If we think of quality as a factor - that is, variety with quality - then Japan has the edge. Japanese cuisine has absorbed all its foreign influences (yoshoku) and raised each to new heights. Given its ultimate seafood base - with the entire world as their backyard pond to play with as they see fit, and then the level of development they've attained in Beef (WaGyu) and Pork (KuroButa), I see no other country, not even the US, that can compete. They've absorbed all the cuisine from the countries they overtook, including China and Korea, and the western influence has never ended.

                                                        1. e
                                                          escondido123 Jul 3, 2011 12:33 PM

                                                          How about Indonesia? I have a friend who lived there who misses it so because when you go out to many of the restaurants there is such a variety of dishes available because it has been the "stomping ground" for a lot of different countries over many, many decades.

                                                          4 Replies
                                                          1. re: escondido123
                                                            paulj Jul 3, 2011 12:53 PM

                                                            I was thinking about Malaysia or Singapore, for similar reasons. But like the USA, it might be argued that those are mixtures of cuisines, not an integrated one. A foreign TV host is more likely to sample the diversity of one those countries than a local (e.g. a Muslim from Java probably won't sample a Balinese roasted pig, or a sago palm grub from Iran Jaya).

                                                            1. re: paulj
                                                              escondido123 Jul 3, 2011 01:00 PM

                                                              But that is true of any country. Are Chinese of the north likely to sample the cuisine of the south? Are Indian vegetarians likely to sample an Indian cuisine more focused on meat? The larger the country in size, population, ethnic groups the more diversity there will be in their cuisines and the greater likelihood that some will never sample the others.

                                                              1. re: escondido123
                                                                paulj Jul 3, 2011 01:54 PM

                                                                That's why I think there 2 very different notions of diversity. It's very hard to compare the diversity of India as a whole with that of a city like New York or Los Angeles.

                                                              2. re: paulj
                                                                huiray Jul 3, 2011 01:48 PM

                                                                In Malaysia, lots of folks eat "across cuisines", so to say, and it is considered 'normal', except perhaps for a fair part of the Muslim/Malay population.

                                                                As an aside, however, the enforcement of "Halal" regulations by the Muslim-majority government especially in the capital, Kuala Lumpur, in all public food courts (with one notable exception - Hutong @ Lot 10) means that pork is strictly forbidden in such places, so you have the nonsensical parade of "altered" Cantonese dishes from various stalls in those places where pork and all pork-derived ingredients is missing/replaced in those dishes. This is nonsensical because pork is so integral to the taste & flavor profile of so many authentic Chinese/Cantonese/Hokkien/etc dishes and cuisine. Any restaurant (especially in hotels, which also enforce Halal regulations) that wishes to be certified as "Halal" under Muslim rules (or lose, at the minimum, any possible governmental business or affiliation if they do not get "Halal" certified) has to eradicate all pork products from the premises and from the food. This all results in an alteration of "native" Chinese or Malaysian-Chinese food and any other cuisines that normally use pork products in any place that is obliged (or chooses) to be "Halal" certified. Yes, there are various places that still serve pork in their dishes, with some even declaring loudly in their signage about serving lots of pork - but all such places would have to be stand-alone private concerns. This "Halal"-dom-ness is not as prevalent in some other parts of Malaysia (e.g. Penang) and certainly not in (Chinese-majority) Singapore.

                                                            Show Hidden Posts