Do we all agree that the greatest cuisine in the world is French? Oui? But what other cuisine is it's equal? I used to think it was Chinese, and maybe it is - but I now think (based on my time in Japan), that Japanese should be right up there with the other two. The reason I think this has to do with the way French cooking can take the common idiom of the cuisine and build endless variations, like a very sophisticated language, with a large vocabulary, which you can use to say almost anything. On our trips to France we rarely saw the same thing on a menu twice, and when we did (bouilliabasse, mousse au chocolat), the dishes always turned out to be different from each other in important ways (bouilliabass in one place, Bouilliabasse Royal with lots of saffron in another; mousse au chocolat in one place, mousse au chocolat made with sour cream in another).
We saw the same sort of thing going on in Japan - again, except for a few traditional or standard items (like soba, or tempura), we never got the same thing twice - yet it was all identifiably Japanese. The "language" of the cuisine is sophisticated and capable of seemingly endless variation - something that I had to go there to realize, stuck, as I usually am, in the sushi-sameness of Chicago.
My husband contends that if we went to other countries (like Greece), we'd see a similar variety that we simply don't get in this country. I maintain that a cuisine like Greek, though tasty, is just not at the same level. Some cusines seem not to have evolved beyond a limited repertoire of standards (much as I love Lao cooking, for instance, it's certainly not in the same league as French).
I'd like to hear others' thoughts on the subject.