It's not like these countries have bad food. In fact it's usually the opposite. These are some of the world's greatest gastronomic destinations, the kind of places you would travel to just to eat.
The trouble is that when you do, you'll probably be disappointed. Because these countries are holding back on the good stuff; they're subjecting travellers to watered down versions of their finest cuisine, they're making visitors work, forcing them to hunt for the restaurants and cafes that are serving the authentic local dishes that everyone really wants to eat.
Not every country does this. Think about somewhere like Japan: the food there isn't being tinkered with for foreign palates, it's not being dialled down for the tourist market. Go to any hotel or touristy restaurant in Japan and there's a good chance you'll still be served legit local cuisine. That's part of why it's such a popular destination.
The following countries, however, make you do a bit more work for the good stuff.
Before I travelled to Jordan last month I asked a few friends what the food was like there and they all said pretty much the same thing: "Meh. It's OK." That seemed weird, because the food of the Levant – of Palestine, Lebanon, Syria – is extremely good, so it would follow that Jordan would be the same, right? Well, not really. Jordanian food is delicious – rich stews, delicious dips, sweet desserts – but you'll have to work extremely hard to find a restaurant that serves it there. Most Jordanian hotels serve bad versions of Western food, and most restaurants just do schwarmas and burgers. There seemed to be only one restaurant – Sufra in Amman – that was doing great, home-style cuisine.
Trastevere district, Rome. Photo: Alamy
"Pizza in Italy sucks." You hear that so many times from travellers returning from Europe. And they're probably right – the pizza they had in Italy did suck. That's because so many tourist-focused restaurants in that country, the ones with the English menus and the TripAdvisor signs, are serving really terrible versions of Italian cuisine. If you want to get the good stuff, the stuff Italians actually enjoy and are proud of – the best pizza, the best carbonara, the best vongole – you need to know exactly where to go, and exactly what to order.
Mohinga, Myanmar. Photo: Alamy
Proper Burmese food, the stuff locals are eating, the noodle soups and rice dishes you buy from markets and street stalls across the country, is extremely good. It's spicy, it's herbaceous, it's loaded with turmeric, and it's all tasty. However, that's not what travellers are usually served. Most of what you'll get in hotels and fancy restaurants in Myanmar is bad, watered down versions of Thai food, and the odd attempt at Western cuisine. Tourism is only in its infancy in Myanmar, so I guess people haven't realised yet that local food is actually part of the attraction.
There are few things sadder than a Sri Lankan hotel buffet. The hotels take this amazing cuisine, these curries and sambals that, when eaten in $2-a-plate hole-in-the-wall restaurants across the country, will slap you fair in the face with flavour after flavour – and they kill it. They wring the life out of it. They dial down all of the flavours. They take out the spices, and the herbs, and everything that makes Sri Lankan food great, and serve up a bain-marie of boredom instead. My advice: give the hotels a big miss and stick to cheap local restaurants.
Iran is much like Jordan, in that there is some extremely good food to be had here, cuisine that has been refined and perfected over millennia – only it's not being served in restaurants. Iranian restaurants mostly do kebabs and rice, which is great for the first meal or two, but gets pretty monotonous after a couple of days. To access the country's best cuisine, you'll have to wait to be invited into someone's home.
It's baffling when you sit there in a Vietnamese hotel, ready for breakfast, and you're served an American-style coffee from a jug. Vietnamese coffee – the legit stuff that's dripped from a mini-percolator into a glass with condensed milk – is some of the best in the world, so why isn't it being served to tourists? Same goes with some of the tourist-focused food too, which is often boring stir-fries or "safe" takes on street-food style cuisine. The food is far better, unsurprisingly, out there on the street.
A dish at Chile's Borago. Photo: Borago/Facebook
There's an increasing focus on good food in Chile, with chefs such as Rodolfo Guzman (from Borago, the restaurant rated number 42 by the World's 50 Best), and Pilar Rodriguez (from Food & Wine Studio) combining local ingredients with inventive flair to create a cuisine you would travel to Chile just to eat. But they're the outliers. Most food in regular Chilean eateries is pretty average – it's steaks, but not as good as Argentina; it's ceviche, but not as good as Peru; it's burgers, but not as good as the US. The good stuff is only just beginning to appear.
Which countries do you think are letting themselves down with their food? And in which countries is it easiest to get the good stuff?
See also: The best country in the world for food
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Podcast - Where to find the world's greatest street food, with guest Dan Hong
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