My recent post on The World’s Top 10 Cities took food into consideration, but also considered many other factors — such as scenery, sights, general ambiance, ease of getting around, friendliness of the residents, etc.
My list of The World’s Top Seven Food Cities includes several of those listed in my Top Cities post, but eliminates some and changes the rankings of others. (Like my Top Cities post, I’m sticking with international cities only, eliminating American cities because I’m partial to my former homes — San Francisco and New York — and would also have to include New Orleans and maybe Savannah, and by then I’d be more than halfway through my list.)
For starters, I’ll axe Jerusalem, Barcelona, Budapest, Venice, and Florence from my international food list, even though I’ve had some very good meals in each. Barcelona is especially hard to leave off, but I haven’t forgotten Spain.
Venice and Florence, being in Italy, certainly warrant consideration, but other cities simply offer more variety and fewer “tourist” places. Besides, in Venice it’s very hard to find that little gem of a restaurant at night that you’ve spotted somewhere while wandering around during the daytime — the maze of streets is just too daunting.
Here, then, are my Top Seven Food Cities:
* Brussels, Belgium: Simply put, moules et frites — mussels and French fries — are one of my favorite dishes on the planet, and Brussels does them as well or better than any other city. I especially like the restaurants that keep refilling your mussels bowl until you’re ready to burst, and that serve them with a variety of sauces to try. And the Belgian touch with French fries is the best, rivaled only by the Dutch. (Sorry, France.) Moules et frites is also one of the best bargains on earth, just about everywhere you travel.
* Valencia, Spain: I’m giving the nod to Valencia over Barcelona (and other Spanish cities that serve great food) because this is the home of paella, the quintessential Spanish dish. You can also get great seafood here — some of it, of course, on your paella — and delicious oranges. Valencia, often overlooked and overshadowed by Barcelona up the coast, is also a gem of a city.
* Rome, Italy: I love Italian food just about everywhere in Italy — oddly, the pizza in Naples, its birthplace, has never moved me — but I’ll give the nod to Rome because of the variety of the restaurants, the vegetable markets, and the views. Choose an out of the way restaurant down a sidestreet where you can sit outside and gaze at the Colosseum or other Roman ruins, illuminated at night — the prices will be right, the ambiance amazing, and the multi-course meals are often memorable in and of themselves.
* Istanbul, Turkey: Meze — a wide selection of Turkish appetizers such as grilled eggplant, pureed fava beans, stuffed vine leaves, grilled calamari and feta cheese, to name just a few — may well fill you up before the main course, and are intended to be eaten one at a time, savored slowly over drinks and conversation. You’ll usually be presented with a big tray in which to pick out the ones you want. Follow these with a simple grilled fish, and you will have sampled some highlights of one of the world’s great cuisines. For lunch, you can get one of the delicious fish sandwiches sold by street vendors or in small cafes.
* Hong Kong: The best Chinese food in Asia (in my opinion) is found in China’s Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong. Chinese food in China itself can be delicious, but it can also be overly oily and unfamiliar ingredients are sometimes not appealing to Western tastes. (I’m not suggesting that China try to appeal to Western tastes; in fact, when they do, the food often turns out to be too bland. I am saying that I’ve seen a lot of food go uneaten by Westerners in China.) Maybe because it used to be an English colony, Hong Kong cooking seems more reminiscent of the great Chinese food you find in San Francisco. Or maybe that’s because so many Cantonese people from southern China and Hong Kong have immigrated to San Francisco. I do know that I love eating in Hong Kong.
* Paris, France: Some of my favorite old haunts like Le Druout — where you could get multi-course meals and wine for a pittance and where the aging waiters totted up your bill on the butcher paper covering your table — are gone, but that still leaves an awfully lot of great bistros and other restaurants, and good French food is hard to beat. Lyon has a reputation as an even better food city, but I’ve only spent a brief time there, so I can’t properly evaluate it. Paris also has the most amazing open-air food markets I’ve ever seen. If you’re renting an apartment there or lucky enough to stay with someone who lives in Paris, you can shop for and cook the freshest vegetables, fish and meats imaginable.
* Bangkok, Thailand: Thai food in Thailand is even better than Thai food in the U.S., which is saying a lot. I’ve only had two bad meals out of dozens in Bangkok — one in a hotel (bland food) and one at a Thai traditional dance performance that was the very definition of a tourist trap. Stay far away from those types of evening “tours.” The simple sidewalk noodle stands in the city can rival some of the best food in high-priced restaurants in other cities, and the “good” restaurants can be spectacular.
As always, I invite you to write in with your own suggestions!
Readers: You can subscribe to my blog and get notification of every post by simply typing in your email address and clicking on the blue Subscribe button or downloading my free report, How to Ride the Coming Wave of Boomers. Thanks!