Top Summer Travel Destinations and How Chef Rob Rainford Rates Canada

Can you guess what Canada, Sweden, Switzerland, Australia and Norway have in common?

Here’s a hint, in the form of another question. Did you know that studies are done on the reputations of countries?

I didn’t, until I saw research results put out recently by the Reputation Institute, an international consulting firm that, well, does just this. They rank countries according to reputation.

Specifically they look to rate and rank qualities like beauty, enjoyment, appealing lifestyle, how friendly and welcoming the people are, safety, culture and efficiency.

I’m sticking to the categories that are likely to impact the traveler. Specifically the leisure, adventure, vacation, culinary or lifestyle traveler. Take your pick, wherever you best fit.

In other words, not the business traveler, although good and wise business travelers manage to fit in at least a bit of culture, culinary pleasure and enjoyment, if not all of the above.

The Top Five

OK. It’s summertime.

So where to this year — and why?

Seems a good place to start is with the five countries that have the best reputations.

The most recent reputation study asked 27,000 people to rank 50 countries across 15 categories. Click through to the Reputation Institute link to scrutinize all the data yourself.

For those happy with a summary, Canada won the title for a third year in a row with a score of 76.6 followed by Sweden (76.5), Switzerland (76.3), Australia (76.1) and Norway (74.1).

The U.S. came in twenty-third on the list at 57.4.

Way down at the bottom of the ladder were — probably not surprising, given what’s happening politically in them right now — Russia (36.7), Nigeria (34), Pakistan (28.8), Iran (22.6) and Iraq (21.2).

The List: Facts, Tips and Culinary Pleasures

Number One: Canada

So, Canada is cool and uber-delicious. There’s no getting away from it, they are geared to lifestyle and tourism and for the traveler with a culinary focus, as a country, can one do better? I can’t say I’m overly taken by the poutine and was alarmed when given a Yukon drink featuring a putrefied toe, but besides that, they just seem to do things really well.

Check out the official Vancouver, Toronto and Quebec links for summer travel ideas to start with.

Personal favorite places that I’ve been to and gone back to and would go back to again include Vancouver Island (food, wine and probably the best boutique hotel I’ve ever stayed at anywhere in the form of Brentwood Bay Resort and Spa) and the historic Empress Hotel in Victoria famed for its high teas, which are pretty touristy but still memorable; Vancouver — difficult to beat, as far as cities go, for diversity, culinary selection (it is currently ranked third-best food truck city in North America and if you like your beer fresh, local, delicious and enjoyed in good company, their craft beer scene is trending right now) and scenic beauty (beyond the winning water, mountains and architecture combination, Vancouver always looks scrubbed).

But let’s get some reasons why Canada deserves to be number one from the horse’s mouth, so as to speak, as in from someone who is a key figure in the Canadian food scene.

Chef Rob Rainford on Canada

Toronto-based Canadian celebrity Chef Rob Rainford, author of Rob Rainford’s Born to Grill, former host of Licence to Grill, which was viewed in Canada, the U.S., Australia, Africa and Asia, reckons that what makes Canada so hot to visit starts with “our multi-ethnic cultural eating scene.”

See how to grill with Chef Rainford on YouTube.

“Where I live in Toronto,” Rainford says, “we have just about every kind of restaurant you can imagine.

“We also have some of the most diverse chefs working in Canada.”

He names the following to look out for when you go visit.

“I have many friends whose food I’d recommend like Ned Bell from BC, Victor Bongo from the Congo also a BC guy, Claudio Aprile here in Toronto and Michael Pasto who is of Italian/French background, in Niagara, Ontario. Then there’s John Higgins — of Scottish heritage and also here in Toronto. Last but not least my own Chef de cuisine Richard Zephyrine from Trinidad.”

These, he says, “are just a few of my chef friends who are breaking food down and making Canadians happy one bite at a time.”

Rainford points out that a recent bylaws change has seen a new and vibrant food truck scene spring to life in Toronto “With people like Fidel Gastro and Zane Caplansky we’re in good hands.”

He also points to Canada’s local produce as being good enough to warrant its top spot, even though this is not something specifically measured under “reputation.” But for culinary travelers of any permutation, “our meat, fish and poultry is second to none in the world. I believe we are a country that takes this very seriously. Alberta Beef, BC Spot Prawn, Saskatchewan Wheat, Southern Ontario wines, lobster from Nova Scotia and Atlantic Salmon.

“This is only a small cross-section of what makes us a hot eating country.”

Go there to indulge in the food, enjoy all the other attributes, including scenic, that account for its hot reputation.

Number Two: Sweden

Sweden is runner-up on the reputation list. I haven’t been to Stockholm or anywhere else in Sweden, but having spoken to people who have, and done a fair amount of research, start by checking out this list of 20 top things to do in Stockholm, the capital.

You want to try Swedish food? Go explore the food section of your nearest Ikea store. You don’t believe me? Well, look at this list and tell me what you can’t get at Ikea! Ten things to know about Swedish food.

At the risk of getting roasted by some but agreed with by multitudes, I’m going to suggest that the best thing to come out of Sweden by way of food is Chef Marcus Samuelsson who grew up in the port city of Göteborg with a Swedish family. They adopted him and his sister after they recovered from the tuberculosis that took his mother’s life in Ethiopia.

The acclaimed New York chef and restaurant owner has said, including in his memoir, Yes, Chef, that his love of cooking was kindled in his Swedish grandmother’s kitchen, where he describes, “The yeasty aroma of freshly baked bread or the tang of drying rose hips hit you as soon as you walked in.”

Number Three: Switzerland

Everyone seems to love Switzerland, and not just the rich with Swiss bank accounts. Mountains and lakes and pastoral scenes of cows with bells round their necks, and watches and precision, and rosti, raclette and fondue. See the BBC’s list of Ten Top Foods to Try in Switzerland.

I was in Switzerland, not long enough to say I even began to get to know it, but for a couple of days some years ago, with my daughter, who was then age 13, at Lake Lucerne. We were doing Europe, the pair of us, and as happens when one travels with a sense of direction but without pre-arranged bookings or a set agenda, the unexpected happens (we were literally dropped off in Switzerland when our intended destination was Italy).

Being in Switzerland, naturally, we had to eat fondue. It took us forever to find a place that served us, but when we did, it was memorable. So I’ll say, go to Switzerland, eat a proper Swiss cheese fondue, stay to discover the attributes that makes it number three in terms of reputation. Then report back!

Number Four: Australia

Yes, it’s vast. Yes, you can go there for the Great Barrier Reef. Yes, you can ride miles across dessert. No, I’m not going to try to reduce Australia to a paragraph here.

Suffice to say, go there to explore and to enjoy pockets of culinary heaven and sublime wine. For ideas, read Eat, stay, play: an insider’s guide to Australia’s best food precincts. Food editors John Lethlean and Necia Wilden cover Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney and Hobart, Tasmania. Enjoy!

Number Five: Norway

Surveys have given Norway the tag “the happiest place on earth.” If you haven’t been, and I haven’t, yet, get a hint as to why to go there by scanning this Huffington Post piece on 25 reasons Norway is the greatest place on earth. Then think smoked salmon, juniper berries and lingonberries, midnight sun and Northern Lights — and pack your bag.

Cuisine Noir readers: If you’ve experienced in any of the “top reputation” countries above, please drop us a comment and share a few thoughts.

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Long-time Cuisine Noir contributor Wanda Hennig is an award-winning food and travel writer, an author, a blogger and a life coach. A native South African, she believes we are what (and how) we eat (and drink). Thus, she says (only a little tongue-in-cheek), the best way to truly understand a country, a city, a culture—and a people—is via your taste buds and your stomach.