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Booking.com travellers love the food in Hong Kong, Sao Paulo and Tokyo; Vancouver takes top marks in Canada

Hong Kong makes sense. Certainly Tokyo. But Athens?

And how does my home city of Toronto end up fifth best for food in Canada?

Booking.com today released a list of the top destinations its travellers enjoy for great food. There are some obvious inclusions and some surprising exclusions, if you ask me. (Which you technically didn’t).

Here’s what booking.com customers came up with for a ranking of the food scene in Canada:

1. Vancouver
2. Montreal
3. Halifax
4. Winnipeg
5. Toronto

I don’t want to get all parochial here, but there’s not a chance Toronto is only the fifth best food city in the country. Almost any top chef in the country would likely tell you Toronto is either at the top or, at worst, third. Toronto restaurants, along with Montreal and Vancouver, consistently dominate the rankings of Canadian places to dine. The 2017 version of the restaurant rating site Canada’s 100 Best had, I believe, 23 Toronto restaurants in the top 100, including five of the top 10 and nine of the top 20.

Personally, I think Calgary would have to be on the top five list. There’s amazing food at places such as Pigeonhole, Shokunin and Ten Foot Henry, as well as Model Milk and River Cafe, which all made the top 100 in the Canada’s 100 Best ranking.

They make lovely and tasty food at Kampai Garden in Montreal. – JIM BYERS PHOTO

But obviously booking.com users have other ideas. I’ve had good food in Winnipeg and also in Halifax (I quite like The Press Gang in Halifax, as well as Da Maurizio, which Rick Mercer has named one of his fave spots to eat). So good for them for finishing in the top five. I’m sure both cities don’t mind being ranked ahead of Toronto (insert smiley face icon here).

I won’t argue with Vancouver and Montreal being where they are on the list, as the food is excellent in both cities. I seldom have anything other than a great meal in Montreal (I loved Kampai Garden on my latest visit) and Vancouver is also fantastic (try Hawksworth at the Rosewood Hotel Georgia or Nightingale, also a product of David Hawksworth).

Here’s what booking.com came up with on the international front:

1. Hong Kong
2. Sau Paulo
3. Tokyo
4. Athens
5. Kuala Lumpur
6. Melbourne
7. Bangkok
8. Granada, Spain
9. Las Vegas
10. Buenos Aires

Interesting.

I can see Hong Kong in first place as you can get every kind of food imaginable; from killer (and often inexpensive) dim sum to high-end Italian. I’ve twice managed a lunch at Tim Ho Wan, billed as the cheapest one-star Michelin place in the world. I believe they now have one in New York City. I’ve also had exquisite dim sum at the fabled Peninsula Hotel, where the service and surroundings are super luxurious. The food at the Langham Hotel also is great, as is the Ritz Carlton. But you also can get tremendous noodles and seafood at casual places all over Hong Kong, including some of the outlying islands a lot of tourists never get to, including Lamma. So I get Hong Kong being there.

I’ve never been to Brazil so I can’t really comment on Sao Paulo’s status in the number two slot. But I’ve been to Tokyo, and their third-place ranking makes tremendous sense. The Japanese place tremendous importance on food; not only the taste but the presentation. You probably won’t find lovelier, more Instagram-worthy food anywhere else on the planet.

But then there’s fourth place and Athens. I’m shocked by this one. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love feta cheese and olives and thick, Greek yogurt. I’ve had good meals in Athens, mostly grilled lamb, but never a great one. Mind you, I ate mostly in the Plaka on my first visit (back around 1989 I think). And my last adventure in Athens was covering the Olympics for the Toronto Star in 2004, when I mostly ate at the press centre and got out only a couple nights for a real meal. The food was good, and I’m sure there are great restuarnats. But I’m surprised as heck to see the city in fourth place. And I’m wondering if I need to go back!

Andiron in Las Vegas serves lovely pasta and other great dishes. – JIM BYERS PHOTO

I haven’t been to Kuala Lumpur but I was in Malaysia a couple years ago and had outrageously good (and cheap) food in Georgetown. I was in Melbourne only once and that was 17 years ago, but I hear great things about the food scene. I’m also pretty sure Melbourne folks will be happy to see that they made it on top 10, while rival city Sydney didn’t make the list.

I’ve been to Bangkok a couple times and thought the food was absolutely first-rate. But I think Thai food is some of the best on the planet, so that’s not a surprise.

I can’t commment on Granada in the 8th spot, although I’ve had great meals in Barcelona and very good ones in Valencia and I know Spanish cuisine can be absolutely terrific. Likewise, I’ve never been to Buenos Aires but hear good things.

That leaves Vegas in the ninth spot as a fully-deserving participant. The food in Vegas is, I think, tremendous. I’ve had fantastic food at Giada’s at the Cromwell Hotel (run by celebrity chef Giada de Laurentiis) as well as at Libertine Social at Mandalay Bay and at Beauty and the Essex at the Cosmopolitan. I also had great pasta and other dishes at Andiron in suburban Las Vegas last fall.

The food in Granada, Spain gets great marks from booking.com travelers.

It’s surprising to see Vegas as the only US entry on the list. I would’ve thought New York or maybe San Francisco would make it. Neither even made the top 25 in the world! But booking.com is based in Holland, and perhaps this is more of a European-based group making recommendations. Mind you, the only European entries were Athens and Granada. You don’t see Paris on the list, either.

Food has always been a large part of the travel experience. But it seems more important now, in this age of Pinterest and Flickr and Instagram.

Some 69% of Canadians surveyed said they would travel somewhere that’s known for food and wine. More impressively, 79% of travellers between the ages of 18 and 34 suggested they’d go somewhere that’s specifically known for its food scene.

All in all, then, a few solid choices and a few surprises on both the world and Canadian fronts. Which is why we like to look at lists, right? I mean, if they were predictable it wouldn’t be fun.

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