There are so many wonderful foods from around the world that many of us don’t even know exist. So why not set out to broaden your palate and try something new? With some restaurants still closed due to COVID-19, now is a great time to experiment with different ingredients and tastes. Sometimes breaking out of our cooking routines and tried-and-true recipes can seem daunting, but don’t be scared! Check out these international dishes that are truly must-tries and travel the world from your kitchen!
Originating in Quebec in the late 1950’s, poutine consists of French fries and cheese curds topped with gravy. There are many claims as to how this dish was discovered, but the most-believed story comes from the small town of Warwick, where local restaurant, Le Lutin qui ruit a, decided to add cheese curds to fries. To keep the combo warm, hot gravy was added on top, and poutine was born! By the 1980’s, it was a common street food and was even being incorporated into high-end restaurants. It’s considered a typical Canadian dish and has even been labeled as “Canada’s national dish.”
Brought to Brazil via European settlers, feijoada is now a widely-loved favorite in the massive country. The dish is a type of black bean stew mixed with beef and pork. The beans are brewed with a variety of salted and smoked pork and beef. The stew is then accompanied by rice, sautéed collard greens or kale, orange slices, and embellished with toasted cassava flour. It’s usually prepared as a Saturday lunch and is considered not just a meal, but an event for the whole family. It’s a process to make, which is why Saturdays are the preferred day to eat it— providing extra time to perfect the dish!
Jamaica’s national dish is ackee and saltfish. When the fruit, ackee, is ripe, it is split open to reveal black seeds covered by spongy flesh, which is the edible part. The inedible parts, are the poisonous seeds, which must be removed. If eaten unripened, they can cause vomiting and in severe cases, a coma or death. Although fresh ackee is illegal in the U.S., you can still buy the canned and frozen versions. Ackee and saltfish is made by first preparing and boiling the fruit, then frying it along with the saltfish, onions, tomatoes, vegetables, and peppers. Finally, it’s served with a side of plantains, breadfruit, or rice.
Mofongo is just one of the delicacies to hail from Puerto Rico, but it is certainly one of the best. This dish consists of green plantains that are fried and mashed into small mounds, which are then topped with garlic and usually a meat— popular choices include shrimp, crab, chicken, lobster, and pork. An early version of mofongo was brought to Puerto Rico from West and Central Africa with the slave trade, and once the dish was introduced to the Tainos, the native peoples of Puerto Rico, they modified it with their own ingredients from the island. After that, the traditional Puerto Rican mofongo was born.
Most will recognize at least this dish on this list: ceviche. It is the national dish of Peru and includes slices of raw fish or shellfish that are spiced with salt, onions, and chili peppers, then marinated in lime juice. The lime juice gives the whole dish an acidic and citrusy flavor and also acts to “cook” the meat without any heat involved. There are plenty of unique ceviche plates around thanks to the seemingly endless combinations of fish and shellfish. It is traditionally served on a bed of lettuce with pieces of corn, chunks of sweet potato, and soft, boiled yuca.
Vietnam’s national dish is pho, a noodle soup traditionally made with chicken or beef broth, rice noodles, juicy meat slices, sprouts, and plenty of herbs and spices. At the end of the 19th century in Nam Dinh, when Vietnam was being colonized by the French, a high demand for beef led to a surplus of beef bones, causing Chinese and Vietnamese vendors to add them to their broths. The broth evolved again in the town of Hanoi, when people began to replace buffalo meat with beef in their local noodle soup called xao trau. Rice noodles were soon added, and after that, the concept of pho was mastered!
Biryani is a world-renowned Indian dish made with long-grained rice (usually basmati), Indian spices, a base of meat, eggs, or vegetables; and a ton of optional ingredients such as yogurt, dried fruit, and nuts. The combination of ingredients vary as there are a ton of diverse ways to make biryani. Some include yogurt, others incorporate lots of spices, and some are even cooked differently with various techniques. The admired dish is thought to have originated in Persia during The Mughal Empire (1526-1857), before being introduced to India via traders and immigrants. Despite its widespread popularity, biryani is considered a “special occasion” plate.
Greece is known for lots of foods like gyro and souvlaki, but perhaps the most notable is moussaka. It is essentially a baked meat and eggplant casserole that is then covered with a thick layer of béchamel sauce until it turns crispy and golden. The yummy baked dish is thought to have been brought into Greece by the Arabs, when they introduced eggplant to the area. Moussaka was a much simpler dish up until the 1900’s, when béchamel sauce was added by Greek chef Nikos Tselementes. This newer version became so widely enjoyed that it is now made all over the country!
Italy has so many scrumptious dishes that it’s hard to pick just one, but one of the most celebrated is no doubt spaghetti carbonara. The simple yet appetizing pasta is made by tossing spaghetti with guanciale (cured pork jowl), egg yolks, black pepper, and Pecorino Romano cheese. There are a couple of theories on how this pasta creation came to be, but the most popular seems to suggest that it arrived after the liberation of Rome in 1944. Food shortages caused Allied troops to give out bacon and powdered eggs, which people then mixed with water to make pasta sauce.
The national dish of Morocco, couscous, is a type of pasta made out of semolina and wheat flour that is moistened and mixed together until it forms into tiny grains. It is then formed into a pyramid and topped with vegetables, meats, spices, fruits, raisins, chickpeas, and other additions. There are many unique ways to make couscous and it can serve as either a main dish, a side dish, and even a dessert! However, the main function of couscous is as the last dish of the evening, meant to guarantee one’s fullness and satisfaction. This ties into the Arabian saying, “No guest should go home hungry.”
Time for something sweet! Kunāfah is a dessert that is listed as one of Egypt’s national dishes and it’s oh so good. It’s made of two crunchy layers of shredded and buttered kataifi or knefe dough, which are then filled with cheese cream that is flavored with orange zest and cardamom, then all of it is drenched in a sugar syrup infused with lemon juice and orange blossom water. The origins of this saccharine treat are unconfirmed, but some believe it debuted in pre-Islamic Syria, while others think the Palestinian city of Nablus is responsible. Either way, this dish is adored by Egyptians, especially around Ramadan.