I'm often chiding U.S. tourism folks or websites for being too Ameri-centric. Here's an instance of things going the other way around, though.
Lonely Planet has published a list of the 11 top countries in the world for food, and the USA didn't make the list. No, in all likelihood the Lonely Planet folks were writing for Americans who want to travel to other parts of the world. Still, you'd think they might slip the US in there somewhere, given the magical array of fresh and inventive dishes on display in California, New York, Chicago and Miami alone, not to mention the barbeque of Texas or Tennessee and the remarkable Cajun/Creole cuisine of Louisiana.
I was talking with a friend at work the other day, and he surprised me by defending Americans for not spending as much time out of their own country as do Canadians or Brits or Aussies or other folks in the world.
"They've got just about everything you can imagine in the U.S., so it only makes sense to stay," he said, or words to that effect. It IS pretty remarkable that in one nation you can find everything from some of the highest mountain peaks in the world - permanent zones of ice and snow and black rock - to tropical flowers on a sweeping beach lined with palm trees to vast, painted deserts and mesmerizing cities and bayous and backwoods lakes and rolling hills and misty rainforests.
From a geographic standpoint, the U.S. pretty much covers it all. Culturally, of course, it's another story. There's nothing in the U.S. to resemble Quebec City, and there aren't many places in the U.S. where you get the feelilng you're in another country.
Anyway, notwithstanding the U.S. issue there's some solid thought behind the Lonely Planet list. There's a huge, tasty world out there and they've pretty much nailed some of the top spots in my book. These have numbers assigned but the LP folks said they weren't ranking them; just mentioning their top 11
1. Thailand. The crossroads of China, Oceania and India. Remember when we only had a few Thai joints in Toronto? Now there's one on almost every block in some neighbourhoods.
2. Greece. Oven-fresh bread, rosy tomatoes and fish fresh from the Mediterranean.
3. China. Incredible regional variety and a real balance of yin and yang; sour and sweet, salty and fresh. A no-brainer for any top food list.
4. France. No kidding. Worth it just for the cheese alone. I don't know if it's true, but I once saw a quote attributed to former leader Charles DeGaulle that went something like this: "How do you expect me to run a country that makes 763 (or something) types of cheese?"
5. Spain. Excellent food but always a little hard to define Spanish cuisine in my opinion. When you think Italy you know what comes to mind. Ditto for Greece or Thai. Spanish food is a little harder to put into a box, but it's still excellent. Full marks just for inventing the tapas bar, too.
6. Mexico. You wouldn't know it by staying at some all-inclusives, I suppose, or by trying Tex-Mex joints iN Toronto. But Mexican chefs do remarkable things with fish, chocolate and other foods. Kind of a marriage between Europe and new world, I think.
7. Italy. Also remarkably varied. Risotto and game meats in the north, couscous in western Sicily, pasta and fresh veggies and seafood just about everywhere. Hell, even folks in Arkansas who've never been outside of the state like Italian food.
8. India. Hear, hear. So rich and flavourful and exotic and varied; with huge disparities in style from one region to another. I had some dynamite Keralan cuisine my last day in Delhi a year ago.
9. Japan. Inventive and classic and such attention to detail. There's plenty to love, even if you don't like sushi or even if you don't like any kind of fish. Also, a fine Japanese meal is an exquisite, beautiful experience.
10 and 11. Malaysia and Indonesia. I don't see as many of these restaurants in Toronto as I used to. I loved Ole Malacca up on St. Clair, and there used to be a fine rijsttafel (Dutch for 'rice table') place downtown for Indonesian food. Again, a real crossroads with traces of India, China and more.
It's not quite top 10, but I will say that British food has come a long way in the past 20 years. And I'm quite partial to the fish in Hawaii, where they use a mix of world cuisine styles to make wonderfully fresh and inventive food. I haven't been, but I heard they make a mean steak in Argentina...