My Top 10 countries cuisine-wise

(esp. from a semi-vegetarian perspective – see also food & drink): 
4. Japan
5. USA (gourmet and regional cooking – not the burgers!)
6. India
7. Belgium
8. Georgia
9. Poland
10. China
(see comments below!!!)
Others (runners-up):
Spices and the best cuisines in the world:
In Asian countries it's not so much the additional flavours of particular chillies that matter (they just provide the heat) but the combinations with other spices. Sri Lanka is top of the league table for that reason. And it's so easy to get a great range of food within the semi-vegetarian category too. Cinnamon, cloves, mace, nutmeg, curry leaves, cardamom – all are of the highest quality on this spice island (Madagascar comes close too, though). The heat of the added chillies only enhances all those fantastic flavours.
In Thailand, on the other hand, it's the combination of chilli heat with herbs that makes it: Thai basil is the most aromatic herb of them all by a huge margin, and the use of coriander leaves by the handful is also right up my street. Lemongrass and galgant, obviously are also important. And again, the abundance of seafood makes staying away from meat easy.
South Africa is the perfect melange of various local and imported cuisines – curry flavours of Cape Malay dishes are outstanding, integration of old Dutch colonial and ancient indigenous traditions make for highly interesting dishes. And not all of them need to be fiery – but highly aromatic in any case. I had some of the best curries of my entire life in South Africa!
At the non-spicy end of the spectrum Japan (and Okinawa) stands out: here it's the natural, only minimally manipulated flavours that play the lead role – as does presentation! Nowhere else on earth is even standard everyday food presented so beautifully.
Poland may be a surprise in this list. But indeed I had some of my best meals ever in Poland … again rather of the not-so-spicy, but extremely tasty sort. Maybe I was just exceptionally lucky – as the country doesn't have the reputation of being a top place for culinary delights, esp. for those like me who are not into meat. But I found plenty of highly inspiring dishes. The Florianska restaurant in Krakow in particular stands out in my memory – I went back a second night, I was so impressed, and that's something I very rarely do, normally preferring to look for more variety. The Florianska, however, was too irresistible. Some simple regional mushroom dishes were extremely memorable too, though. So it's not just the haute cuisine.
No one will argue with China being in the Top 10, though, and those who know a few basics about Belgium will not be surprised with it taking its place in this list either. Even the average standard of restaurants in provincial parts of Belgium can be stunning. More than great inspirational national dishes it's rather the high-quality level of execution in general that makes Belgium stand out (in my opinion even above its bigger neighbour France!). That even applies to their 'friten', i.e. 'chips' in British English – or 'French fried potatoes' in American English (a completely erroneous designation, as they were indeed "invented" in Belgium!). What is normally, globally a simple greasy fast-food stable, can reach highest culinary heights in Belgium, where they are treated as a delicacy and served with a wide choice of sauces that leave the ordinary ketchup miles behind. (On the ethnic food front, however, Belgium's big rival and neighbour Holland may have the edge thanks to its colonial influences from Indonesia and Suriname.)
Georgia may not be all that well known internationally, at least outside the countries of the former Soviet Union (where it was almost universally appraised as top-notch), but especially from a vegetarian point of view it had to feature here. It's heavy and not exceptionally varied, but where it is good it is outstanding: cheese lovers will relish the national dish of khachapuri (a kind of cross between a cheese pie and a pizza), and devotees of spices, garlic and walnuts will adore pkhali (a kind of veggie dipping mousse) and the many sauces.
The fact that the USA features in this list at all will probably shock quite a few people – some will think "he must be out of his mind! How can a nation living off greasy burgers, fries and ketchup even get a mention?". To explain: I don't mean the USA as the fast-food nation that it indeed is in general. What I mean are the regional cuisines, even if they don't make much of an impact on the national restaurant scene – and certainly not on the reputation of the States internationally. But if you can track it down, there's some wonderful stuff: some of the world's best seafood is to be had along the coasts (Cajun being the overall winner on that front), mushrooms and potatoes of the highest order feature in the mountainous regions of the North West. Highly interesting melanges of native and colonial influences have left their mark everywhere. And in the South-West: well, it's a chilli-head's nirvana! The burger many have ruined America's culinary reputation globally beyond repair, but if you're in the know about those less well-known regional delights, you just have to celebrate them.  
Finally, it should not come as a surprise that India is in this list. Another great world cuisine and one that perhaps has had more influence on global culinary developments than any other. Moreover, India is a paradise for vegetarians who like it spicy (like me!). India is by no means totally veggie, though. Except for some parts like Gujarat, there's always also meat and seafood (and some parts are very meaty indeed, such as Lucknow). But you always get vegetarian options everywhere, and they are always very clearly marked as such. Spiciness varies greatly, with a general tendency towards the south being spicier than the north. Overall, however, I found the food in India not quite as totally overwhelmingly fantastic as that in Sri Lanka.  
One cuisine that is widely – and rightly – regarded as one of the world's best and certainly the shining star of South America is Peruvian. The only reason I don't have Peru featuring in the list above is the simple fact that I haven't yet been to that country. But whenever I'm somewhere that has Peruvian restaurants they are a priority for me (especially in Hispanic countries such as Chile, Spain or the Dominican Republic, but also the USA or Britain). Almost all of the dozen or so Peruvian restaurants I've been to so far were outstanding! One day I will have to travel to Peru – for the cuisine alone, if need be. But maybe I can also find a few dark sites to add to this website's coverage (any tips? then contact me!).
As an additional treat here's my list of the best restaurants I've ever eaten in.
The worst countries on the culinary front that I've ever been to are a) Venezuela and b) Slovakia. In both places I found it near impossible to get anything that wasn't meat (OK, had I stayed on the coast in Venezuela, there would have been plenty of fish and seafood, but inland, where I was, it was just rubbery chicken and pork). Both "cuisines" are also pretty bland. Admittedly, there were the occasional exceptions, like the lovely fried smoked cheese I once had in Bratislava, Slovakia. And in Venezuela, I had a very agreeable piece of locally made cheese in the Los Llanos … but otherwise, my oh my! Nobody seems to have enlightened them about the existence of spices, or sauces … it was all dry, dreary, dreadful.
Pretty bad was also Kazakhstan – like in all of Central Asia, for the Kazakhs meat (and exceptionally ugly meat at that) is king and veggie options other than salads are nearly unheard of, unless you opt for international fare such as pizza, or foreign cuisines (like Georgian – still popular in all former Soviet republics). Similarly meat-dominated (though of a significantly higher quality at least) is Argentina, where vegetarians have to adopt the usual evasive strategies and opt for other nations' cuisines.
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©, Peter Hohenhaus 2010-2019

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