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The Sorbonne, Paris

Food capitals of the world

The Sorbonne, Paris

Whether you’re nibbling meats grilled on a communal fire at a boisterous South Korean barbecue or dining off fine china in the hushed elegance of a Parisian bistro, eating is one of the best ways to explore a culture while you travel. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of our top-five culinary capitals of the world based on an analysis of Tripadvisor data, focusing on the highest number of restaurants with five-star ratings.

1. Seoul, South Korea: 4,926 five-star restaurants

Our top food capital of the world is Seoul in South Korea. Cooks from this country have created more than 100 different ways to serve fermented cabbage — clearly, this is a culture that takes food very seriously. That’s just one reason it ranks first in our list of food capitals of the world. Another reason: eating is a fundamentally communal experience in South Korea, making restaurants one of the central hubs of social life here. There are few places more convivially boisterous than a chimaek, a casual eatery that serves fried chicken and beer, or a South Korean barbecue.

Alcohol is an important part of the eating-out culture here and, in addition to beer, you can also expect to find soju and makgeolli. Though they’re both made with rice, the two spirits are very different. Soju resembles vodka, though it’s often infused with a variety of tastes like citrus or even chocolate, and is available everywhere from high-end restaurants to convenience stores. Makegeolli, on the other hand, is less potent, with a fizzy, milky body.

For a closer look, read our brief introduction to the complexities of South Korean food.

Learn more: You can easily include a variety of food tours and cooking classes on any visit to Seoul.

Bongeunsa temple, Seoul
Bongeunsa Temple, Seoul

2. Tokyo, Japan: 4,597 five-star restaurants

Eating out is something like a sport in Tokyo, a city where the apartments are so small that many don’t bother with a kitchen. There are whole magazines and TV shows dedicated to keeping track of the dynamic culinary scene here. That dedication to gastronomy is common across Japan, which has one of the world’s most layered and nuanced cuisines.

This is also the capital of one of just two countries with cuisines that have been deemed worthy by UNESCO of the title Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. (For the other, see number four on our list.) That’s why we’ve found that you can count on a great meal when you’re in Tokyo, no matter if you’re eating at a little hole-in-the-wall noodle shop or a Michelin-starred restaurant with sweeping views of the skyline.

Our specialists have created a guide to some of Japan’s best-known foods, including ramen, sushi, and bento. However, it’s just a taste of this country’s ancient and complex cuisine.

Learn more: From street-food tours to bento-making workshops, you can easily incorporate food into any visit to Tokyo.

Shibuya Crossing, Tokyo
Shibuya Crossing, Tokyo

3. London, UK: 2,345 five-star restaurants

The UK’s cosmopolitan capital has shaken off the country’s reputation for lackluster cuisine and become a hotbed of gastronomic innovation, that’s why it appears at number three on our list of culinary capitals of the world. Thanks to its vibrant population of immigrants from around the world, you can find restaurants serving meals from across the globe. Jollof rice from Nigeria, sushi from Japan, butter chicken from India, and kabuli pulao from Afghanistan are all easy to find. Additionally, many of the city’s chefs have been in the forefront of the farm-to-fork movement, serving innovative, seasonal cuisine that’s been thoughtfully sourced from local producers.

Of course, you can also find traditional English fare in pubs across the city, where you might tuck into classics like sausage rolls, bangers and mash, steak and kidney pie, or fish and chips. You can also sit down for the genteel ritual of afternoon tea at tea shops that range from casual to elevated — hotels like the Ritz and the Kensington offer particularly elegant tea menus that might also involve a glass of Champagne.

Learn more: London’s cuisine is just the start — you can also enjoy Scottish culinary experiences on a visit to the UK.

Westminster, London
Palace of Westminster, London

4. Paris, France: 2,055 five-star restaurants

For centuries, gastronomy has been a national obsession in France and nowhere more so than in Paris. As in Tokyo, you can count on an excellent meal in almost every eatery, from small boulangeries where the bread is made daily to corner cafes with chalkboard menus. Of course, this is also home to some of the most renowned restaurants in the world, where the food is refined, the atmosphere elevated, and the wines exceptional.

When touring this food capital of the world, you might want to visit Le Procope, a Michelin-starred cafe where Napoleon’s hat is on display (left as collateral against a still-unpaid bar bill), and enjoy silky, rich coq au vin. At Café de Flore and Les Deux Magots, you can nibble on croissants and sip chocolat chaud in the same place where the Lost Generation wrote their poetry. You’ll also be able to enjoy classic Parisian fare like onion soup or a croque madame at almost any bistro. Or, you might simply buy a baguette, cheese, and a bottle of wine for a picnic in Luxembourg Garden.

Learn more: Food and wine are a quintessential part of any visit to Paris.

Eiffel Tower, Paris
Eiffel Tower, Paris

5. Bangkok, Thailand: 1,798 five-star restaurants

The proliferation of Thai food around the world means most people are familiar with the cuisine’s balance of heat, sweet, sour, and salty, as well as a handful of traditional dishes. That said, the selection on offer at most restaurants is just a slim collection of the country’s varied regional cuisines, which differ wildly between the mountainous north and the hotter south.

In Bangkok our final food capital of the world, you can find the whole panoply of regional cuisines as well as cutting-edge fusion food. The result of this blending is a city where even the street vendors win Michelin stars. We suggest starting your exploration with at least one guided tour of the street-food scene — you’ll get your bearings in the city as you sample from the ever-changing landscape of stalls and eateries. You might enjoy coconut ice cream created using a traditional recipe, mouth-tingling green curry, or Kanom Thua Paep, a glutinous rice dumpling stuffed with mung bean paste.

Learn more: If you want to replicate the dishes you sample in Bangkok, you can include a cooking class with a home cook during your travels.

Grand Palace, Bangkok
Grand Palace, Bangkok