We don’t know about you, but when someone asks “why is traveling amazing?” our answer is always FOOD! One of the best things about traveling to a foreign country is trying new food. Every nation uses ingredients and spices in a combination that is unique to themselves. The great thing about living in today’s culinary world is that most cities usually offer a wide range of restaurants that specialize in ethnic foods. But nothing beats actually going to a new country and eating from the origin. There must be something in the atmosphere, but spices taste bolder, vegetables are crisper, somehow even a cup of coffee tastes different when you’re in a new country.
Even worldwide chain restaurants change their menus to suit the flavor of their country. Did you know that Japanese McDonald’s have shrimp burgers? Or that Pizza Huts in China have a pizza with abalone on it? Now, don’t go to a new country and only try fast food. That would be a waste of an opportunity! The best way to experience a country is by trying their local cuisine. We are firm believers of trying any food at least twice. All countries have a ‘national dish’ that expresses their cultural identity. Some might be official dishes labeled as such by the government. In other countries, the food could be an unofficially national dish and is just something that area is particularly known for.
If you don’t already have a plane ticket, you’re going to want to purchase one by the end of this article. Here are 19 countries and their signature dish.
19 China – Peking Duck
This dish deserves its “National Dish” title. It dates back to over 700 hundred years ago and was once eaten by royalty. If you get a chance to visit China, you must try this dish. The first record of this dish was in a cookbook by a royal dietary physician. This recipe had the duck roasted inside a sheep’s stomach. Luckily for us, today’s recipes no longer call for that. Still,
the duck generally takes around three days to prepare. Air is pumped under the skin of the duck so that it separates from the fat. Then the duck must be dried to the bone and covered in maltose syrup. After a day or so, the duck is hung in an oven and roasted to perfection.
Even though the duck may be finished cooking, that doesn’t mean it is ready for consumption. A chef with a steady hand must then carefully carve the skin off the duck. This is the first course to eating Peking Duck. Thin crepes layered with green onions, cucumbers, hoisin sauce, and slices of duck skin are served first. Then the meat of the duck is stripped and can be eaten plain, or turned into another entrée such as stir-fry or noodles. The sharp bite of the green onions against the tangy sauce and crispy duck skin is too incredible to describe.
18 Spain – Paella
The days of eating a sandwich over a kitchen sink are far behind us. If you’re in Spain, prepare for a feast. Paella has a long history in Spain. It was originally food for farmers and laborers and was a conglomerate of rice and whatever was laying around. The name comes from the pan that the rice is cooked in, which is a deep dish skillet. A good restaurant will always prepare the dish to order, so it takes a bit more time. But if we’ve said it once, we’ve said it a hundred times. Eating is an experience. So enjoy some tapas and wine while your paella is being prepared. The dish is served in the pan it is cooked in. The end result is a delicious layer of crispy rice that you’ll want to scrap off and lick.
It is a large dish and is meant to be shared. There are hundreds of different kinds of paella and each region of Spain has its own version. One of the most popular is seafood paella. The rice is scented with saffron and topped with mussels, shrimp, and fish. If you happen to chance upon a place that offers squid ink paella, you should definitely order it. The squid offers an incredible creaminess to the dish.
17 Ethiopia – Injera
If you hate washing dishes, this is the dish for you. This national food of Ethiopia is simultaneously the food, the plate, and the eating utensil. Injera is a sort of spongy flatbread usually made from teff, a grain found in Ethiopia. The batter is teff flour and water and made like a pancake in which the mixture is poured onto a large griddle. Once the injera is done cooking, various stews and salads are placed on top of it.
To eat this meal, you use your right hand to break off chunks of the bread and use it to scoop up the stews and salads. If you order this dish, you’d best be extremely hungry or with some friends because this is also a dish meant to be shared.
The injera ‘plate’ is massive and usually about the size of a bike wheel. Regardless, this is a must try when visiting Ethiopia. The presentation alone is stunning and colorful. And any excuse to use your hands to eat is a good one for us. Once the meal is done, so are the dishes! When you eat this dish, make sure to only use your right hand. Using the left hand is seen as rude because you generally use the left hand to clean up after yourself after using the restroom.
16 Vietnam – Pho
Fee-fi-PHO-fum, we smell the soup of a Vietnamese dish! This delicious dish of Vietnam is pure comfort food. The base is a rich broth made from boiling marrow bones for several hours, toasted spices, and roasted ginger and onions. The noodles are made from rice and have a delightfully springy texture to them. Layers of thinly cut beef are added to the soup. The dish is then topped with fresh bean sprouts, basil, and a dash of lime. If you are daring, you should try the combination pho which includes various cuts of beef. These include tripe – stomach lining of a cow, and tendon – which are gelatinous and chewy. We promise it’s all delicious.
There are several debates on how to properly eat pho because it is often served with two sauces on the side, hoisin sauce and Sriracha sauce. Some people put the sauces into the broth and mix it all up. We think the best way to eat it is to dip the meat into the sauce. That way we don’t ruin the lovely broth. You can find this dish anywhere in Vietnam, it’s a staple. Just wander down any street, and you will see vendors and shops claiming that they have the best pho you’ve ever tasted.
15 Germany – Eisbein
Germany doesn’t have an official national dish, but eisbein is definitely one that is beloved by most Germans. You may not be as keen once you find out what it is exactly. Eisbein is a meat dish made from pickled ham hock. Wait! Before you entirely dismiss this dish, hear us out. It is actually a delightful meal.
The word eisbein means ‘ice leg’ and refers to its past in which the bones of the hock were used for ice skates. The meat is cured with salt and then boiled with spices until tender. It is usually served with some sauerkraut, another staple of Germany, or some mash potatoes.
The meat is soft with that amazing gelatinous texture from the skin and fat and has just the right amount of salt. If you’re a fan of bacon, you’ll enjoy this treat. It is sometimes even roasted, so the skin is crispy and melts in your mouth. Pair it with one of Germany’s famous boots of beer, and you are set to go! Even Nicolas Cage enjoyed this meal when he visited Germany, now if this isn’t a good recommendation, we don’t know what is.
14 New Zealand – Bacon And Egg Pie
Eggs and bacon is the quintessential breakfast combination. If we were organized enough in our life to actually have time to make breakfast, we would make it every day – although our cholesterol levels wouldn’t thank us. New Zealanders also seem to love this perfect pairing, so much so that they decided to make it into a pie. Can you imagine? Creamy eggs, salty bacon, all enveloped into a buttery crust? We’re making ourselves hungry just thinking about it. It sounds similar to a quiche. However, cheese and milk are not included.
Also, the eggs usually aren’t beaten. Whole eggs are dropped into an open dish lined with pastry dough, bacon is added, and then the dish is covered in another layer of dough. This dish is classic, simple, and easy to make. You can find many New Zealanders having a slice of this for a quick breakfast or even more common, packed away for a picnic in the park. When you visit New Zealand, and you want to keep meals simple, just get a whole pie. You can grab a slice and be out the door every morning bright and early to explore the rich country.
13 Scotland – Haggis
Did you know that it is tradition to wear nothing under a kilt? You’d best look the other direction when one of those brawny men trek up the stairs, or you’re in for an unpleasant surprise. Aside from the colorful plaid skirts,
Scotland is also known for haggis. A dish that involves a sheep’s liver, heart, and lungs, minced and mixed with oatmeal, onions, and spices, and then boiled in the sheep’s stomach. Today, most haggis recipes skip the sheep stomach and use an artificial casing.
In older days, haggis was a fantastic way to make sure every bit of meat was used. It might sound like a horrifying dish, but the Scots adore this sheep medley. In fact, Robert Burns, a famous Scottish poet, wrote a poem Address To A Haggis, that talked about the wonderfulness of this meal. His poem placed haggis as the national dish of Scotland and every year on his birthday, January 25th, people all over Scotland enjoy a Burns Supper. The poem is recited at the start of the meal, and then everyone dives into a plate of haggis. If you’re visiting Scotland, give this dish a try! Just don’t be the foolish tourist who was tricked into believing a haggis is an animal with uneven legs running around Scotland (which has happened more times than you'd think).
12 Bahamas – Conch
The national dish of the Bahamas isn’t so much a specific dish as it is an ingredient. Conch is a giant marine snail. You’re probably familiar with the huge pearly pink shells that everyone holds up to their ears to hear the ocean. Well, those are conch shells, and the critters that live inside of them are delicious! The meat is fleshy and chewy and surprisingly sweet for an animal that lives in the ocean. There are hundreds of ways to prepare conch. In the Bahamas, you could eat conch for every meal for a week and still not cover all the recipes. Conch can be served in salads, pasta, and burgers. It can be fried, sautéed, steamed, or served raw. It is literally impossible to avoid conch when you’re exploring the islands.
Our favorite is when conch is prepared in a fresh, cold salad. The meat is soaked in lime juice to tenderize it before it is diced up and tossed together with bell peppers, onion, tomatoes, and spicy peppers. The tang of the lime with the kick of the peppers make this salad a perfect beach treat. Even better, you can take one of the shells back as a pretty souvenir.
11 France – Macarons
First off, don’t confuse macarons with macaroons. Macaroons are baked desserts made with coconut flakes. Macarons are the pretty jewel-like pastry that lines the streets of France. You will find every bakery in France with a display of these gorgeous cookies. The pillowy desserts are made with meringue, almond flour, and various fillings. Today’s macarons barely resemble their ancestors which were more cookie like and often nicknamed ‘priests' bellybuttons.’ Those cookies were single layered and didn’t have a filling.
Macarons today are two layers with a filling in the center. Flavors range from simple vanilla to decadent salted caramel. With so many options it is so difficult to choose which ones to get. The best place to buy macarons in France is probably at Ladurée in Paris. But the French adore this dessert so much that you can even get them in a McDonald’s in France.
We’re so jealous! Our apple pies seem to be plain compared to those elegant desserts. We’d suggest making them yourselves, but macarons are notoriously difficult to make. You’d be better off finding a bakery that specializes in them, or buy a ticket to France and get them first hand! That sounds like a much more fun option.
10 Greece – Gyro
For the love of gyro, will someone please tell us how to pronounce this food! We’ve heard everything from “hero,” “yee-ros,” “gaee-ro,” and every variation in-between. We’ll leave the argument there and focus instead on the deliciousness of this pita wrap. Gyros are the most popular street food in Greece and have taken the Greek title of “national food.” You’ll see hundreds of stalls with the massive rotating towers of meat.
Up until recently, we’ve always thought that those blocks of meat were from one single part of an animal. We’ve recently discovered that they are actually cuts of meat stacked upon each other! What’s even more amazing is that often they are several kinds of meat ranging from lamb, pork, beef, and chicken. The meats meld together and the chefs make vertical cuts so that you get a little bit of everything into one delicious pita. Topped with some tomatoes and tzatziki sauce, you’ve got an entire meal in your hands. These wraps have become so popular that you can usually find at least one restaurant or stall that offers it in every city. But nothing beats eating a fresh gyro while you’re walking around the ancient Greek ruins. Just make sure you're not wearing heels, or you'll get fined!
9 Indonesia – Nasi Goreng
If you tell us you’ve never heated up some leftover shrimp fried rice for breakfast, we won’t believe you. Alongside cold pizza, leftover fried rice is a classic breakfast item. This is true even in Indonesia. In Indonesia, you can enjoy some fried rice on a regular basis because it’s a staple breakfast item. Nasi goreng translates directly to ‘fried rice.’ It is similar to Chinese fried rice because it is flavored with soy sauce and has various ingredients added to it. But Nasi goreng has more complex flavors than simple Chinese fried rice. It also uses shrimp paste, tamarind, and chili. So it has a smokier and more aromatic flavor than the common fried rice. The rice is usually leftover rice from the previous day. This way rice isn’t wasted and the extra day lets some of the water dry out so the dish doesn’t become mushy.
This delicious meal is Indonesia’s favorite national food. It's more than just a breakfast item, though. It can be enjoyed with any meal and is easy to find. Every restaurant and food stall will have some version of nasi goreng. This traditional dish is the perfect way to start off a day of exploring the Philippines!
8 Ireland – Colcannon
Of course one of Ireland’s national food is going to include potatoes! This simple dish is pure comfort food. Creamy mashed potatoes and kale are blended together to make this dish. If the restaurant you’re going to is feeling fancy, they may even toss in some green onions, leeks, or onions! Be careful if you’re eating the dish during Halloween, though. A popular tradition is to hide small prizes in the mound of potatoes. You never know when you might bite into a ring, thimble, or money! This classic Irish dish even has a song about it. And it goes like this:
Did you ever eat Colcannon, made from lovely pickled cream? With the greens and scallions mingled like a picture in a dream. Did you ever make a hole on top to hold the melting flake Of the creamy, flavored butter that your mother used to make? Yes you did, so you did, so did he and so did I. And the more I think about it sure the nearer I'm to cry. Oh, wasn't it the happy days when troubles we had not, And our mothers made Colcannon in the little skillet pot.
We don’t know about you, but we are 100% ready to eat a massive bowl of this stuff!
7 Italy – Pasta
Most people think that Italy is the birthplace of pasta. But did you know that pasta was actually brought to Europe from China? Some people believe that Marco Polo introduced pasta to Europe in his book, “The Travels of Marco Polo.” But others argue that pasta came to Europe before Marco Polo ever mentioned it. Regardless, however it reached Europe, pasta has become the national food of Italy. Now imagine sitting on a veranda overlooking the gorgeous Italian countryside. A glass of wine (Italian, of course) and a steaming bowl of pasta cooked al dente (to the tooth). We’re ready to hop on a plane right now.
Since Italy has the perfect climate for tomatoes, the most popular sauce base is tomato sauce. If you’re brave enough, you can even do squid ink pasta. Like we’ve mentioned above in Spain’s national food entry, the squid ink adds a rich and creamy ocean air taste to the pasta. One of the best things about pasta is its possibilities. Cream sauce, tomato, white wine, or butter, there are so many ways to make pasta, and they are all delicious. No matter how you serve pasta to us, we’ll eat it!
6 Morocco – Couscous
If Italy has pasta and Asia has rice, then Morocco has couscous. Made from crushed durum wheat, this grain-like pasta is a staple in Morocco. Many people think couscous is a grain when they look at it, but actually, it is a kind of pasta. It even uses the same flour that most pasta is made from. In America, most people use instant couscous which merely involves some boiling water and a few minutes. However, in Morocco, there is an art to preparing the perfect couscous. The pasta must be cooked with the littlest amount of water possible so that it is barely moist. The couscous is soaked in cold water and then steamed. It sits for a short while before it is steamed for a second time before it is done. New York Times describes the finished product
“and the ethereal result, one of the glories of Moroccan table, is to American-style couscous as honest, homemade mashed potatoes are to the instant kind.”
With such a description we’re ready to eat the pasta as is! And that’s before any of the delicious toppings are added! Mounds of lamb and vegetables in a rich sauce are heaped onto the couscous and everyone digs. The best part is? Couscous is considered finger food in Morocco, so you get to dive in with your hands!
5 Singapore – Hainanese Chicken Rice
If both Anthony Bourdain and Gordon Ramsay love this dish, then you know it has got to be good. This dish has even made it on CNN’s list of ‘50 Best Foods in the World.’ Although it is the national food of Singapore, this dish has its origins from China. Specifically, it is from a southern province called Hainan and was called Wenchang chicken. The recipe initially used wengchang chickens (hence the name) that were smaller and bonier than other breeds. In Singapore, the dish has switched to using a plumper breed with more meat. The chicken is poached in its entirety and placed in an ice bath as soon as it comes out of the boiling water. The ice helps keep the skin of the chicken taut and springy.
The resulting stock is used to make the rice and is mixed with ginger, garlic, and pandan leaves (a local plant in South Asia). The chicken is served alongside the rice and a combo of chili sauce and ginger. If you go to Singapore, you have to try Tian Tian Chicken Rice at the Maxwell Food Center. The chef at this restaurant even beat Gordon Ramsey in a cooking competition. Now that is definitely a dish we want to try!
4 Belgium – Moules-Frites
What genius decided to pair French fries with mussels?! The Belgium version of fish and chips, this staple is a match made in heaven.
The salty crispness of the potato paired with the sweet briny mussels is a combination that was meant to be. You can actually find moules frites all over Europe, but Belgium is where this dish shines.
The popularity of mussels in Belgium stems back to 1780 when during the winter there was often a shortage of fish. Mussels became a popular alternative because they were plentiful and cheap. Potatoes were also popular during the winter for the same reason. With so much in common, it is no surprise that these two dishes merged together to form one happy union. When you travel to Belgium, you’ll find this nation’s specialty on every corner. Each restaurant will have its own blend of flavors for the mussels. From simple butter and herbs to white wine and cream, every wonderful bite of the briny bivalves will go perfectly with the fried potatoes. Don’t worry about not having enough of this delight! A normal portion for each individual is usually around a pound of mussels per person. This dish looks so good that we wouldn’t even say no to two pounds!
3 Canada – Poutine
“PO-TA-TOES. Boil ‘em. Mash ‘em. Stick ‘em in a stew.” We just got to say, potatoes are probably the world’s most versatile vegetable as Samwise Gamgee so astutely points out. We’ve already mentioned them twice already in this article, and we’re bringing them back again. Probably Canada’s favorite drunchies (drunk munchies) poutine is a heaven-sent for any late night cravings. Legend has it that the delicious combination of French fries, cheese curds, and gravy started off as a delightful accident when a man asked for a bag of fries and cheese curds. When he looked into his bag, he exclaimed, “This is a poutine” which is slang for a “mess.”
Gravy joined the duo when a restaurant-owner in Quebec noticed that several people would order cheese curds on the side of their fries and gravy. However it started, we won’t complain. When this dish grew in popularity, it became the national dish of Canada and even made the list as one of Canada’s greatest inventions. Today, poutine has become such a part of daily life that even the Canadian McDonald’s offer it as a side dish. Even better, it has fewer calories than a Big Mac. Talk about delicious, eh?
2 Chile – Empanada
These enchanting pastries are just one of Chile’s national food. Brought over from Spain, empanadas have entrenched themselves into Chilean’s culture. They started out as whole pies, but have evolved to become the hand-friendly treats many people recognize today. However, Chile cannot claim the empanada to themselves. Most of Latin America, if not all, and even the Caribbean countries have some form of the empanada. Even America has something similar, we just call it a Hot Pocket, though (original right?).
The best thing about these hand-sized balls of yumminess is the uncountable number of things that they are stuffed with. Every culture has their own blend of meats and spices. Along the coast of Chile, there is an incredible version that is stuffed with mussels, clams, and shrimp.
The most common type is called ‘pino’ and is filled with beef, egg, olives, onions, and raisins. It may sound like an odd combination, but if every street is lined with people selling basketfuls of this stuff, they must be doing something right. So, when you visit Chile, make it a goal to try as many different empanadas as possible! Since these are the ultimate portable meal, you can make the most of your time in this country by just grabbing one on the go.
1 Egypt – Koshari
We’ve mentioned some unusual combinations so far. From mussels and fries to pig hocks and sauerkraut, this one may take the prize for “what’s in it?”, though. The national dish of Egypt consists of rice, lentils, macaroni, and a spicy tomato sauce. Food lovers say “whaaaat?” Funny enough, rice and macaroni are not indigenous foods in Egypt. Instead, good ‘ol trusty British colonization brought the first combination of rice and lentils to Egypt. Since then, the dish has evolved into today’s favorite combination of pasta, rice, beans, and sauce. Today, this meal is a go-to for any native. The dish is easy to find, every restaurant and food stall has some form of it. It’s cheap, ranging from a few cents to a few dollars. And it is extremely filling, it’s got three different kinds of carbs in it for goodness sakes. Traditional kushari is actually vegetarian because there is no meat added to the dish. But, if you’re one of those people who must have some kind of meat in their meal, there are meat versions sold alongside the vegetarian ones. Don’t worry about struggling to find this dish. Just follow the sounds of clanging spoons and the seductive scent of tomatoes and spices, and you’ll happen upon a stall soon enough.