Perhaps the oldest and simplest cultural exchange one can undertake, is trying world cuisines. Essentially, a plate of food can offer insight to the culture and local customs of its origin. It was a pleasant surprise when I stumbled upon an article that highlighted countries with the greatest influence on world palate. Joel Waldfogel’s paper, titled ‘Dining out as a cultural trade’, used restaurant listings from TripAdvisor, Yelp, Tabelog and sales figures from Euromonitor to estimate world ‘trade’ in cuisines from 52 countries. He denotes domestic consumption of foreign cuisine as an ‘import’ and foreign consumption of domestic cuisine as an ‘export’. The balance between the net export and import dictated the top 5 cuisines that influence the world palate.

Top 5 cuisines with greatest influence on world palate

Italy, unsurprisingly, was the largest exporter of its cuisine. And United States with its purchasing power and appetite for world cuisine, the largest importer. The most popular cuisines or the greatest influencers of world palate are;

  • Italian
  • Japanese
  • Chinese
  • Indian
  • American

Top 5 cuisines, “net exporters”:

  • Italy
  • Japan
  • Turkey
  • Mexico
  • Thailand

Top 5 cuisines, “net importers”:

  • US
  • China
  • Brazil
  • Britan
  • Canada

The graph below, summarizes the largest “net exporters” and “net importers” of world cuisine, according to Waldfogel’s study, as published in The Economist. Interestingly, Waldfogel notes that the market for food at restaurants, is roughly ten times larger than the markets for music and film and that  “..cuisine trade patterns more closely resemble migration patterns than patterns of food trade or patterns arising from the extent of arable land in origin countries“.

Top 5 cuisines

Personally, I was elated to see my favourite cuisines make the top exporter list, in no particular order;

  • Turkish
  • Thai
  • Mexican
  • Vietnamese
  • Japanese

As a visual person, I love graphical representation of data and am glad I stumbled on Waldfogel’s paper through The Economist. If interested, the cheapest way to access Waldfogel, J. J Cult Econ (2019) would be through a city/college library.

Are your favourite cuisines represented in the chart above? Share with a comment below.