Avatar photo

By Citizen Reporter


Great food cities – Delectable perfection on the street or a plate

Jozi’s kota sandwiches rank at no 2

What makes a great food city? It isn’t its number of plaudits and Michelin stars, but something a bit more simple: options. Good-quality meals at reasonable prices.

Time Out leisure Magazine asked thousands of city-dwellers to tell them exactly how good – and how affordable – it is to eat out in their hometown right now.

To create and rank the final list, Time Out narrowed down the selection by including only the highest scoring city for each country.

ALSO READ: Here’s why it’s best to avoid drinking alcohol on planes

The world’s top 10 foodie cities

1. Naples

    Must-eat dish: pizza margherita You can’t talk food in Italy without talking Naples – and you can’t talk food in Naples without talking pizza.

    The pizza was born in Naples in the 19th century as a quick, affordable meal for the city’s working classes, and old-school pizzerias (mostly centred around Via dei Tribunali, aka Pizza Street) continue to feed hungry Neapolitans.

    While there are elevated iterations around the city, it’s still the cheapest bite in Naples – locals named pizza a portafoglio the city’s best-value dish, a grab-and-go folded slice that costs around €1 (about R19.50) a pop.

    And the proof is in the pie: Naples ranked as the most affordable city to eat out in our survey.

    Writer and Naples local Gabriela Proietti says: “This rich food culture can be found everywhere in the city: it’s in the piping hot plates of pasta alla genovese and Neapolitan ragù, the morning sugar rush from ricotta-filled sfogliatella or rum-soaked babà, a stroll through the 16th-century Mercato della Pignasecca.”

    CRUSTY PERFECTION. A pizza near the sea in Naples. Picture: Supplied

    2. Johannesburg

      Must-eat dish: kota sandwich

      Cape Town might steal the limelight for its international cuisine, but Joburg is a worthy rival for the title of SA’s food capital.

      From Ethiopian cafes in Little Addis to Nigerian and West African eats in the south of the city, you can eat your way across the continent here, though the majority of locals surveyed recommended the city’s traditional South African delicacies, like the Sowetan kota sandwich, bunny chow, and mala mogodu.

      Johannesburg food writer Thando Moleketi-Williams says: “If Joburg is the soul of South Africa, Braamfontein is the pulse of the city. It’s home to some of my favourite places to eat, people-watch and dance, with some of the most innovative ventures combining the forces of food and culture.

      “Head to Mamakashaka and Friends on De Beer Street for weekends of wine and hip-hop, cocktails and playlists, a monthly book club, and an exciting rotation of food collabs.

      A few blocks up on Reserve Street, Artivist is a restaurant and gallery space that’s recently launched a monthly fine-dining Sunday brunch club residency by award-winning chef Katlego Mlambo.

      “While you’re there, don’t miss speakeasy and live music space Untitled Basement.”

      ‘THE SOUL OF SOUTH AFRICA’. Johannesburg offers terrific dining experiences, especially Braamfontein. Picture: Supplied

      3. Lima

        Must-east dish: ceviche

        Lima is not only the culinary capital of Peru but of the entire South American continent.

        It’s home to the “world’s best restaurant” in Central, and you can sample Peruvian flavours on Central’s 10-course tasting menu everywhere in the city for a fraction of the price.

        Tangy pisco sours, citrusy ceviche, and lomo saltado (Peruvian beef stirfry) all got the nod from locals, but when it came to value, the simple, hearty arroz con pollo (chicken and rice) was named its most affordable dish.

        Travel writer Steph Dyson says: “Lima’s meteoric rise to leading culinary city was cemented last year when Central topped the world’s best restaurant list, throwing light on a country where ancient grains meet the fish-rich Humboldt Current and the culinary influences of Chinese and Japanese immigrant communities.

        The latter shaped Lima’s emblematic marinated fish dish, ceviche; you can sample it everywhere from five-star restaurants to portside markets.”

        STAPLE. Ceviche, Lima’s emblematic marinated fish dish, is the go-to meal for locals in the city. Picture: Supplied

        4. Ho Chi Minh City

          Must-eat dish: pho Saigon

          Sweet, spicy, fragrant, fishy – Vietnamese cuisine never compromises on flavour, and you can sample the very best of it in Ho Chi Minh.

          Beyond the streetside food stalls and bustling markets hawking banh mi, snails, broken rice and offal stew are a clutch of Bib Gourmand and Michelin-starred restaurants serving up creative renditions of classic dishes.

          But by far the most mentioned dish was pho. The noodle soup – in the south heavily garnished with basil, coriander, chilli and hoisin sauce – is a Vietnamese staple.

          Ho Chi Minh writer Dan Q Dao says: “Though Hanoi might be the birthplace of Vietnamese cuisine and culture, Ho Chi Minh has emerged as the country’s most exciting dining destination.

          “In District 1, the central downtown hub, there’s Ănăn Saigon, chef Peter Cuong Franklin’s ‘new Vietnamese’ restaurant that nabbed the city’s sole Michelin star in last year’s inaugural guide to Vietnam.

          “It’s within walking distance of Bánh Mì Huynh Hoa, a 30-year-old street food institution specialising in French-influenced Vietnamese baguette sandwiches, which originated in the city.”

          EATING OUT. Ho Chi Minh City is known for its spicy cuisine and this open air restaurant at Ben Thanh Market seems popular with the locals. Picture: Supplied

          5. Beijing

            Must-eat dish: Peking duck

            Beijing is a city for carnivores. Asked which dish everyone should try, locals overwhelmingly put meat on the menu: gongbao chicken, hot pot, and (of course) peking duck were common answers.

            But veggies won’t be disappointed – stir-fried, steamed, spiced, or parcelled in a dumpling, you can find the good stuff all over the Chinese capital.

            And while Beijing has its share of gourmet restaurants, the city’s many snack streets and night markets ensure eating out won’t cost a fortune – grab a jian bing (a Chinese savoury crepe) and a local beer and you’re set.

            Wendy Xu, editor at Time Out Beijing, noted: “Peking duck is the quintessential Beijing cuisine, and my go-to spot is Siji Minfu.

            It’s not unheard of to wait more than an hour to be seated here, even when you book ahead, but their perfectly roasted ducks with crispy skin make waiting in line so worth it.”

            CRUNCHY DELICACY. Peking duck served with vegetables and sauce is an automatically loved Beijing meal. Picture: Supplied

            ALSO READ: Meeting Elvis drinking beer in the Winelands in Franschhoek

            6. Bangkok

              Must-eat dish: som tum

              The street food capital of the world unsurprisingly ranked as the third-most affordable city to eat out in.

              Sizzling in streetside woks or served up from a boat in a floating market, street eats are the lifeblood of the city; locals named som tum, a sweet and slightly spicy papaya salad as the must-eat dish.

              Beyond the markets and nofrills food joints is a city flush with gourmet accolades: Bangkok has 34 Michelin-starred restaurants, and won big in the recent Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants awards.

              Top Koaysomboon, editor of Time Out Bangkok, says: “Street food is the heart of Bangkok’s food scene and it’s only becoming more exciting, with emerging foodie hub Ban Tad Thong rivalling the classic street food hotspot of Yaowarat Road.

              “On the fine-dining side, there are more restaurants with Michelin stars and 50 Best accolades than ever, which have given a much-deserved spotlight to beloved female chefs like Tam Debakham of Baan Tepa, Pam Soontornyanakij of Potong, and Garima Arora of Gaa.”

              GOOD TIMES. A family enjoys dining on street food in a crowded restaurant at Yaowarat Road, Bangkok. Picture: Supplied

              7. Kuala Lumpur

              Must-eat dish: nasi lemak

                The Malaysian capital is a big, delicious melting pot, with a food scene influenced by Malay, Chinese, and Indian culture and reflective of centuries of migration.

                Nasi lemak, an aromatic dish of coconut milk rice, crispy anchovies, cucumber, and boiled egg, was named the city’s must-eat meal, followed by Thai tom yam soup and roti canai, a crispy pan-fried flatbread.

                Writer Ng Su Ann says: “Kuala Lumpur punches well above its weight with some of the most sought-after food in all of Asia.

                Make time for our many kopitiams, mamak and hawker stalls, and neon-lit night markets to sample our world-famous street fare, like laksa, roti canai, and nasi lemak.”

                Mouthwatering. Nasi Lemak Ayam Goreng Berempah. Picture: Supplied

                8. Mumbai

                  Must-eat dish: vada pav

                  Mumbaikars are proud of their food scene, scoring it the highest for quality of all cities surveyed.

                  Locals’ favourite dishes are proof that this city is full of explosive flavour: fiery manchurian (roughly chopped vegetables or meat, fried and smothered in a sticky sauce), creamy butter chicken, and street food staple vada pav (a deep-fried potato dumpling stuffed into a bread roll, accompanied by red and green chutneys) were named must-eats.

                  Writer Kunal Bhatia says: “Everyone has a favourite find here, from a street vendor for a quick bite to rooftop bars with sweeping views.

                  New restaurants are always opening in the lively neighbourhoods of Bandra and Lower Parel, but my favourite places to eat are in my home turf of Versova.”

                  ON THE GO. Bright and fragrant cooking of vegetarian dishes on the streets of Mumbai. Picture: Supplied

                  9. Dubai

                    Must-eat dish: mandi

                    With its man-made islands and vertiginous skyscrapers, Dubai isn’t afraid to innovate.

                    In recent years, the city’s propensity for pushing boundaries has extended to the food scene, with new-wave dining experiences and emerging local chefs scooping up awards left, right, and centre.

                    The emirate, home to the world’s largest expat community, is a magnet for international culinary talent.

                    But while it’s possible to sample cuisine from almost anywhere on earth, locals named traditional Middle Eastern dishes – mandi rice, shawarma, and charcoal-grilled chicken – as their must-eats.

                    Yousra Zaki, food editor at Time Out Dubai, says: “Right now, the city’s culinary landscape is more diverse and creative than it’s ever been. We’ve seen a rise in incredible chef-led dining experiences that break all the rules; Moonrise, for example, has created its own version of ‘Dubai cuisine’ with a 12-course omakase menu (one of the dishes is inspired by food court alfredo pasta).

                    “Another home-grown concept, Jun’s (Time Out Dubai’s Best Asian Restaurant 2024) is all about third-culture cooking, with dishes influenced by Chinese, Indian, and North American cuisine; an approach that really reflects Dubai’s multicultural population.”

                    10. Portland, Oregon, US

                      Must-eat dish: pizza

                      New Orleans has gumbo, Boston has clam chowder; but Portland isn’t known for just one iconic dish, but rather for its food scene at large.

                      The laidback Oregon city has made headlines for being one of America’s most exciting food and drink destinations, where the city’s best plates can be found not only in restaurants but at food carts, farmers markets, and breweries.

                      Portland’s pizza scene got the biggest nod in our survey, with a slice of Mexican pizza (topped with typical taco ingredients) named the city’s best-value bite.

                      Writer Alice Reichert says: “What I love about the Portland food scene is that high calibre doesn’t mean high prices. Of course, if you want fine dining there’s no shortage… But what makes this city’s food stand out is affordability, which Portlanders unwaveringly prioritise.”

                      AL FRESCO. Diners enjoy a summer evening dining at a lobster shack in Portland, Maine, a city which is known for its pizza. Picture: Supplied

                      NOW READ: A guide to where to eat on your next holiday in the South Coast

                      Read more on these topics

                      food travel

                      For more news your way

                      Download our app and read this and other great stories on the move. Available for Android and iOS.