Best bites around the globe
ARENA Creative/ShutterstockWe may not be able to travel to every country on Earth, but a great way to get a taste of a culture is to sample its signature dishes. Try cooking up a storm in your own kitchen or – when dining out is on the cards again – find a great restaurant and let your taste buds set sail on a culinary adventure across the globe. Here’s a selection of popular dishes you shouldn’t miss.
Beef Wellington, England, UK
A dish that’s fallen out of favour and then become popular again more times than we can count, beef Wellington’s origins are as unclear as its connection to Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington. Traditionally, it’s a beef fillet steak, coated in pâté and mushroom duxelles (an extremely finely chopped mixture of mushrooms, shallots and herbs), wrapped in puff pastry, then baked. Its modern-day popularity is largely thanks to Gordon Ramsay who’s made it one of his signature dishes.
Onion soup, France
photosimysia/ShutterstockVery few dishes are as comforting as French onion soup – a blend of mellow, slowly cooked, caramelised onions in a broth laced with white wine and cognac. It’s thought that a version of the soup has existed since at least Roman times, but the modern version originated in 18th-century Paris. The soup is served in a ramekin, topped with a slice of baguette and cheese that’s then melted under a grill.
Peking duck, China
A dish cooked and eaten in Beijing since the Imperial era, today Peking duck is a Chinese restaurant favourite across the world. There are countless methods of preparing and cooking the duck, but originally it was roasted in a closed oven until the kitchens of the Qing Dynasty developed the open-oven style to cook several ducks at the same time. The duck is then served with steamed Chinese pancakes, cucumber, spring onion and sweet bean sauce.
Shakshuka, the Middle East
Claimed as one of their own throughout North Africa and the Middle East, untangling the web of where shakshuka is from is simply impossible. All we know is that it’s an incredibly tasty and filling dish that’s become a popular breakfast and brunch meal throughout the world. Literally translating as a mixture, it’s usually cooked by reducing down tomatoes, onions and a range of spices before the eggs are poached on top.
A spicy, sweet, sour and fragrant soup from Southeast Asia, laksa is mostly associated with Malaysia. The origins are murky with several theories in different countries and a wide range of laksa exist, from regional varieties to differences in preparation. Typically, either a rich and spicy coconut milk broth or a sour asam broth made with tamarind, the soup is made with thick wheat noodles or rice vermicelli and served with chicken, prawn or fish.
Clam chowder, USA
Creamy clam chowder is Massachusetts’ finest dish that’s prevalent throughout New England. Made with potatoes, crushed oyster crackers and chunks of local clam, it’s a flavourful and hearty dish to have all year long. The most famous place to eat it, Legal Sea Foods in Boston, began life as a market frequented by Julia Child and has been cooking up perfect chowder for decades.
Gua bao, Taiwan
Slawomir Fajer/ShutterstockThe popularity of bao buns has skyrocketed in the Western world in the last decade or so and while these steamed buns are Chinese in origin, it’s the Taiwanese version that’s proved to be the most popular. A traditional gua bao consists of slices of pork belly meat dressed with pickled mustard greens, coriander and ground peanuts.
Bouillabaisse is synonymous with the South of France, especially the port city of Marseille, and is a wonderful celebration of sea creatures caught just off the coast. The soup is made with a selection of spices and Provençal herbs as well as heady saffron. Various fish and shellfish are then added at different times to cook in the broth. In Marseille the broth is traditionally served separate from the seafood with slices of bread and rouille (a sauce of olive oil, breadcrumbs, garlic, saffron and cayenne pepper) on the side.
Tatiana Volgutova/ShutterstockAlthough often cooked as a meat sauce or stew across Europe and beyond, the traditional Hungarian goulash is actually a soup. Beef shin, shank or shoulder and vegetables (typically carrot, peppers, celery but not potatoes) are heavily seasoned with paprika and traditionally slowly simmered in broth over an open fire in a cauldron. It’s then eaten either in a bread bowl or with the Hungarian version of spaetzle noodles.
Texas-style barbecue, Texas, USA
Other states along the so-called barbecue belt that include the Carolinas, Tennessee and Kentucky will have to forgive us, but Texan barbecue takes the spotlight. Drawing on the diverse cultural traditions within the state, Texas-style barbecue has strong German and Czech influences, and mostly features brisket, sausage and beef short ribs as well as smoked meats. The selection of sides usually includes some type of a slaw and beans as well as potato salad, mac ‘n’ cheese, fried okra or green beans.
A Japanese noodle soup, ramen has grown in popularity outside of Japan in the last decade and it’s easy to see why. In its simple form, it’s a rich meat (or occasionally fish) broth, flavoured with soy or miso and served with toppings such as mushrooms, seaweed, sesame seeds, spring onions and soft-boiled egg. As with most dishes, there are regional varieties too, including the most popular tonkotsu (pork bone broth) ramen of Kyushu and the miso ramen of Hokkaido.
Cacio e pepe, Italy
There are countless divine Italian pasta recipes, but this one is genius in its simplicity. Translating as cheese and pepper, the dish, as its name suggests, uses a handful of basic ingredients: black pepper, cheese, pasta and butter. You’ll find versions made with either spaghetti, linguine or pici, which is a short, thick worm-like pasta, and there’s also debate about what cheese to use – it’s usually either Parmesan or pecorino romano.
Southern fried chicken, USA
You might think that there couldn’t be anything easier than deep-frying a piece of chicken – but you’d be wrong to assume it’s as simple as that. Making the perfect batter, adding just the right amount of seasoning and choosing the best way to fry takes practise. A dish deeply rooted in the American South, a perfect basket of fried chicken is one for the bucket list.
Boeuf bourguignon, France
This classic French dish might look rustic, but plenty of work and skill goes into making it just right. Consisting of beef slowly braised in red wine, plus beef stock, carrots, onions and sometimes mushrooms, this super-rich dish is packed with layers of flavour. It’s also become one of the most famous recipes from Julia Child’s groundbreaking cookbook The French Chef.
Lifestyle Travel Photo/ShutterstockBarramundi is key to Australian cuisine and you’d be hard pressed to find a restaurant, a café or a fish and chip shop Down Under that doesn’t have it on the menu. This white fish can be fried, grilled, barbecued, baked, chargrilled or steamed, and it’s excellent when served with a lemon and dill butter.
margouillat/ShutterstockBoth the name of a cheese and a full dish, this is a traditional après-ski meal. The cheese is either melted under a grill or in a little pan and then served with potatoes, cornichons, pickled onions and sometimes a selection of charcuterie. Thought to have been invented in the Swiss canton of Valais, it’s traditionally made with raclette cheese produced in the region.
This warm, comforting noodle dish has taken the world by storm and rightly so. Its apparent simplicity hides complex flavours that are at once unctuous and refreshing. Born in northern Vietnam in the late 19th century, pho’s development was influenced by Chinese and French cooking, mirroring the history of the country. Today, it is a uniquely Vietnamese offering that you won’t have to go far to find, wherever you are in the world.
Habib Sajid/ShutterstockIt might not be a looker, but this Québec dish is certainly delicious, and is now not only popular across Canada and the northeast of the US but further afield too. Comprising fluffy-on-the-inside, crunchy-on-the-outside French fries, and thick, rich and meaty gravy, poutine is elevated to a culinary event by the addition of cheese curds. These small, solidified white cheese bites retain some of their shape under the heat of the gravy.
A celebration of spices and rice, biryani’s origins lie with the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent. Today, endless varieties of biryani exist, depending on the region where it’s cooked and the cook who makes it, but the basics – rice and an assortment of spices – remain untouchable. You can make yours with meat or skip it for a vegan or vegetarian treat.
The hamburger has its roots in Germany and is named after the city of Hamburg where, during the 19th century, local beef was ground and mixed with onions and garlic and then formed into patties. But the dish we know and love today is no doubt an American icon. The modern incarnation is attributed to several Americans and is an essential part of the American food culture.
These soft corn tortillas full of delicious beef, pork and chicken have mysterious origins that are often traced back to Mexico’s 18th-century silver mines. Contrary to American tacos, the Mexican version doesn’t include garnishes like lettuce, tomato, cheese or even sour cream. In fact, Mexican tacos are usually topped with coriander, finely diced white onion and a type of salsa or, sometimes, guacamole.
A dish commonly found across all Scandinavian and Baltic countries, this open-faced sandwich has its roots in Denmark. Back in the 1800s, slices of rye bread where used instead of a plate and the tradition of smørrebrød (literally, buttered bread) started when decorating the bread slices became a fashionable craze. Common toppings include pickled herring, prawns or smoked salmon which is then paired with sliced egg, mayonnaise and cress. Modern smørrebrød can also be vegetarian, vegan or topped with meat.
Som tam, Southeast Asia
This spicy, crunchy salad is the taste of Southeast Asia on a plate, made with shredded unripe green papaya and other local fruit and vegetables tossed in a delicious sweet and sour dressing of palm sugar, chilli peppers and lime juice. Originating from Laos, it’s also eaten throughout Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. Making a traditional som tam means lots of shredding and pounding with a pestle and mortar, but modern, less messy and time-consuming takes on the traditional dish abound.
Arepa, Venezuela and Colombia
nehophoto/ShutterstockArepa is a type of traditional bread from Colombia and Venezuela, which is made from cornmeal and stuffed with sweet or savoury fillings. The flat, round, unleavened dough is grilled, baked, fried, boiled or steamed and eaten daily in the region, where the recipe has remained largely unchanged for centuries.
The kebab has a long heritage (the name was first recorded as far back as the 14th century) and is thought to have originated in Turkey with soldiers cooking their freshly hunted meat over open fires. Kebabs come in a multitude of varieties, from the popular shish and döner to regional specialities like Adana and testi. Traditionally, only lamb is used, however, as tastes have evolved so has the variety of meats.