Iconic Foods to Try From 40 Countries Around the World

Mole Mexicano, Poblano mole ingredients, mexican spicy food traditional in Mexico

Marcos Elihu Castillo Ramirez/istockphoto

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Mole Mexicano, Poblano mole ingredients, mexican spicy food traditional in Mexico
Marcos Elihu Castillo Ramirez/istockphoto

Culture Trip

It's difficult to whittle down an entire country's cuisine into one iconic dish — especially for countries as huge as China and India — but food is a great starting point for experiencing other cultures. So we took a look at countries around the world and came up with a dish that exemplifies its cuisine, including some that are familiar (gyros) to others that are less well-known (feijoada). If you'd like to experience more cultures at home, try cooking some of these diverse dishes to take a flavorful trip around the world.

Related: The True Origins of 19 Classic 'American' Foods

papaya salad and thai food

Thailand: Papaya Salad

Papaya salad is a classic dish that demonstrates Thai food's balancing of sweet, spicy, salty, and sour flavors. It comes from the northeastern part of Thailand, but you can find it all over with variations in neighboring countries. Shaved unripe green papaya is pounded with fish sauce, tamarind, palm sugar, chiles, and long beans for a salad that's both refreshing and complex.

Recipe: Hot Thai Kitchen

Related: The Best (and Worst) Foods to Get Delivered, According to Chefs

Vietnamese Pho Noodle Soup Dish

Vietnam: Pho

Though it was probably only created in its current form around 1900, pho is considered Vietnam's national dish. It's often sold as a street food, especially for breakfast and dinner. It's popular the world over thanks to its rich, aromatic broth made with anise, cinnamon, and cloves, and the contrast between its fresh herbs and fatty beef. If you make it at home, charring the onion and ginger for the broth is essential.

Recipe: Serious Eats

Related: Amazing Global Cuisines in U.S. Cities You Wouldn’t Expect

Rachel Kelly/istockphoto

Canada: Poutine

Poutine was created in Quebec in the 1950s, and it's become probably the best known Canadian food. French fries — preferably homemade and thick cut — are topped with a generous ladle of gravy and a smattering of fresh cheese curds, which are a squeaky, young cheese. It's a diner working-class food, but you can get it and variations of it all over and at every price point now.

Recipe: Food Network

Related: The Best Fried Foods Around the World

French baguettes

France: Baguette

There are few bakery items that inspire such adoration as the humble baguette, a staple of French daily life and cuisine. While it's a simple bread with only a few ingredients, it takes years of study to perfect the technique. Long shaped breads became popular in France in the 18th century, and in 2021 France submitted the bread for UNESCO heritage status. It's now known the world over, though with varying degrees of quality. 

Recipe: King Arthur Flour

Related: Babka to Yorkshire Pudding: 25 International Baked Goods to Try at Home

Eating pizza in a restaurant in Naples, Italy

Italy: Pizza

What else could possibly be the choice from Italy besides pizza? It's probably one of the most popular foods around the world, though some versions have strayed far from its roots. Modern pizza was created in Naples, though the term goes back to the 10th century and similar foods were being eaten for centuries before that. On your family's next pizza night, try making your own version at home.

Recipe: Serious Eats

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apple strudel

Austria: Strudel

Though it's popular in many central European countries, strudel is most often associated with Austria. It's made with a paper-thin elastic dough that's wrapped over and over around a filling, similar to phyllo dough but less flaky. It's most often filled with apples, but sweet farmers cheese, nut, and cherry fillings are also popular.

Recipe: House of Nash Eats

Baked meat with spicy sauce

Germany: Sauerbraten

Sauerbraten is considered one of Germany's national dishes, and it's featured heavily in German restaurants abroad. It's like a German version of pot roast, made with beef (or venison, and where available, horse) in a sweet and sour sauce flavored with things like juniper, cloves, peppercorns, vinegar, and red wine. Crumbled gingersnap cookies are often used to thicken the gravy after cooking.

Recipe: Daring Gourmet


Poland: Pierogi

Practically every culture has its version of dumplings, and in Poland, that means pierogi. Traditionally there's been a different type of pierogi for every occasion, from holidays to festivals to funerals, but today the most popular are filled with potatoes, fresh cheese, sauerkraut, meat, and mushrooms. The dumplings are boiled and eaten with bacon, onions, butter, or sour cream, or pan fried after boiling to crisp them.

Recipe: Spend With Pennies


Scotland: Haggis

Though it's often the butt of jokes, haggis is well-loved in Scotland. Scottish poet Robert Burns, who wrote the poem “Address to Haggis,” is commemorated with the dish during a Burns Supper on his birthday. It's a sausage-like savory pudding made from sheep's offal along with oatmeal, onions, and spices, and cooked in the animal's stomach. Today, it's commercially made with artificial casing, and you can even get versions of it at fast food restaurants.

Recipe: Great British Chefs

Top down view of traditional vegetarian injera meal

Ethiopia: Doro Wat

Wat is a typical Ethiopian stew, and it's usually made with chicken, or doro in Amharic. It's often served during celebrations and festivals, but it can be eaten anytime. A popular version has chicken drumsticks or wings and hard boiled eggs in a deep red sauce made with onions, butter, and berbere, a spice blend. Injera, the ever-present spongy flatbread, is served with it and acts as an edible plate and utensil. 

Recipe: Immaculate Bites

Related: Traditional Holiday Dishes From Around the World

A Pile Hot and Spicy Beef Jerky with Red Pepper Flakes

South Africa: Biltong

Biltong is a dried, cured meat eaten as a snack and is often compared to beef jerky. While it was originally used as a way to preserve fresh meat like jerky, it differs in other ways, including being cut thicker and not typically including sweeteners. Besides beef, it's also made with kudu, springbok, and ostrich.

Recipe: Greedy Ferret

Related: 40 Foods That Americans are Missing Out On

Barbecue Chicken Jollof Rice

Nigeria: Jollof Rice

Jollof rice is a staple dish popular in most of West Africa, including Nigeria, and there's fierce rivalry as to which country makes the best version. In Nigeria, it's generally made with parboiled long grain rice, along with tomatoes and tomato paste, peppers, and stock for a brightly colored and heavily seasoned rice. You can eat it as-is, but it's usually served alongside a protein, stew, and other side dishes.

Recipe: Chef Lola's Kitchen

Koshary - Egyptian Food
Hamed Taha/istockphoto

Egypt: Koshary

A carb lover's dream, koshary is an ubiquitous Egyptian street food that has a devoted following. It's made with a lot of separate components — rice, macaroni, lentils, cumin-spiced tomato sauce, and crisp fried onions — that are all piled together onto one plate according to the customer's wishes. Chickpeas, hot sauce, and garlic juice are all typical toppings for customization. 

Recipe: Food Republic

Vegan food, plate with hummus ready to serve.

Israel: Hummus

Israeli cuisine is a mix of Mediterranean, Arab, and Jewish influences, and at the center of it all is hummus. The nutty, pureed chickpeas can be used as a dip or condiment, and when it's made well it's smooth, ethereally light, and almost fluffy. It's commonly eaten in pita by itself, with falafel, or just as a requisite addition to any meal. 

Recipe: Food & Wine

Mole Mexicano, Poblano mole ingredients, mexican spicy food traditional in Mexico
Marcos Elihu Castillo Ramirez/istockphoto

Mexico: Mole Poblano

Mexico has huge variations in its regional foods, but most have a favored mole. A complicated sauce in both preparation and taste, the most famous is mole poblano, which is served at festivals and celebrations. Its dark red color comes from roasted dried chiles along with dozens of other ingredients like chocolate, sesame seeds, raisins, and garlic. It's often cooked with poultry and another Mexican staple: corn tortillas.

Recipe: Serious Eats

Related: 15 Memorable Things to Do in Oaxaca, Mexico's Culinary Capital

Jerk Chicken

Jamaica: Jerk Chicken

Jerk is actually a style of cooking, so it's common to say you jerked a chicken. No matter the terminology, jerk chicken is a fiery staple in Jamaica that you can get at roadside stands and restaurants everywhere. The meat is marinated in a spice paste made with scotch bonnet peppers, allspice, thyme, scallions, and soy sauce, then smoked or grilled over an open flame.

Recipe: Food & Wine

Peruvian Ceviche

Peru: Ceviche

If you thought ceviche was only a Mexican dish, think again. It's probably even more popular in Peru and it has some unique hallmarks. Fresh fish is marinated in leche de tigre — that's the Peruvian name for the citrus marinade — along with shaved red onions and chiles. It's served with thick, boiled sweet potato slices and corn on the cob or toasted corn kernels. 

Recipe: Bon Appetit


India: Biryani

India has a dizzying array of foods, but rice is one of the things that's consistently a staple at home and in restaurants. Biryani, a dish made by cooking rice together with an array of proteins, vegetables, and spices, is something you can find variations on around the country. It's often made with chicken or goat and flavored with seasonings like cardamom, saffron, bay, ginger, garlic, chiles, and nutmeg. 

Recipe: Dassana's Veg Recipes


Japan: Ramen

Though you may think of ramen only in its cheapest, most convenient, 25-cent packet form, the soup has been painstakingly made in Japan since at least the 1800s. It's cooking has become an artform, with chefs perfecting the complicated broths and springy, wavy noodles. The comfort food comes in many variations with practically endless toppings, but the pork-based tonkotsu is a favorite around the world. 

Recipe: Serious Eats

Related: This Is the Best Ramen in Your State, According to Customers


Australia: Pavlova

Named for the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova, pavlova is a dessert that's popular all over Australia and New Zealand — with Australia claiming its origin. It's made with a ring of baked meringue that's crisp on the outside and chewy inside and topped with piles of fluffy whipped cream and fresh fruit. You'll often see it topped with passionfruit, kiwi, or berries and it's especially popular at Christmas, when many fruits are in season.

Recipe: Sally's Baking Addiction

Fish and Chips
Zax Avila/istockphoto

England: Fish and Chips

Fish and chips are probably the most well-known British food outside of England, and it's just as popular in the country as well. The first chippys opened in the 1860s, selling batter-fried fish and potatoes. It's such a large part of the country's identity that supplies for fish and chips were safeguarded during both world wars, and it was one of the few foods that wasn't rationed. Nowadays you can still get it in takeaway spots, at pubs, and in fancy sit-down restaurants, often with malt vinegar and mushy peas.

Recipe: Daring Gourmet

Brazilian Feijoada Food. Top view

Brazil: Feijoada

Feijoada is often considered a national dish of Brazil, and it's especially popular in big cities like Rio de Janeiro. It's an economical stew made primarily of black beans and whatever meat is available, usually various cuts of pork including trotters, bacon, and ribs, and smoked sausages. The rich and hearty stew is generally enjoyed on the weekends, when it can be made and enjoyed leisurely. 

Recipe: Smithsonian Magazine

Pastel de Nata | Portugal

Portugal: Pasteis de Nata

Little egg custard tarts that have crisp pastry on the outside and a smooth yellow filling are sold all over Portugal, with some bakeries selling thousands each day. The tarts were created at a monastery in the 1700s to use up the egg yolks leftover when monks starched clothing with egg whites. The best tarts have deep brown spotting on the custard and a hint of cinnamon.

Recipe: Leite's Culinaria

Максим Крысанов/istockphoto

Spain: Paella

Hailing from the Valencia region, paella is one of the most popular Spanish dishes both inside and outside of the country. It's the name of the round, shallow pan the dish is cooked in as well as the dish itself. Rice makes up the majority of any paella, and is often bright yellow thanks to the addition of saffron. Various vegetables, meats, and seafood are arranged on top of the rice for a beautiful presentation, especially when it's made in huge pans for a crowd.

Recipe: Tastes Better From Scratch

You Like Trying New Foods
Alexander Spatari / Moment / Getty Images CC

Georgia: Khachapuri

You may already be familiar with the popular Georgian bread khachapuri without even knowing it because of its growing popularity on social media. Online or offline, fans love khachapuri largely due to its delicious cheese filling. It's a restaurant and street food in the country, with bread shaped into a boat that holds a mixture full of cheese. An egg yolk is often placed on top of the piping hot filling and mixed in, creating a fondue-like pool that you can dip the bread into.

Recipe: King Arthur Flour


South Korea: Kimchi

Kimchi is a dish made of salted and fermented vegetables, with the most typical being napa cabbage seasoned with a paste made from bright red chile flakes and other ingredients like fish sauce, carrots, and scallions. While kimchi isn't a main dish itself, it's served in some form with practically every meal, and often as an ingredient in other dishes as well, making it one of the most ubiquitous foods in South Korea.

Recipe: Maangchi 

Related: 20 Foods Americans Eat Now That They Never Heard of 20 Years Ago

Traditional Ukrainian borscht

Ukraine: Borscht

The typical borscht we think of today with its bright red color from beets originated in Ukraine. There are many variations on the soup in other countries and regions, but they're all characterized by a sour flavor that usually comes from vinegar. Borscht is generally made with beef or chicken stock, onions, carrots, potatoes, and the quintessential beets and flavored with allspice, dill, or marjoram with a dollop of sour cream on top.

Recipe: Natasha's Kitchen

Lumpia Rolls

Philippines: Lumpia

Spring rolls are common in a lot of Asian countries, but the Filipino version, lumpia, are iconic in that country. They're served at practically every holiday and gathering, and are a comfort food adored by kids and adults alike. The paper thin fried shell is flaky and crunchy around a filling that's typically made with ground pork mixed with chopped vegetables and garlic, ginger, and pepper.

Recipe: Epicurious


Venezuela: Arepa

Arepas are a pre-Hispanic snack and side dish popular in parts of South America, especially Venezuela. The round discs are made with ground maize and have a flavor similar to a corn tortilla, but are much thicker and more bread-like. They're often stuffed with cheese or beans, or sliced open and filled with shredded meats, cheese, sweet plantains, avocado, and sauces for a filling sandwich-like dish.

Recipe: Serious Eats

Related: 23 Traditional Hispanic Foods Most Americans Don't Know About (But Should)

Beef Rendang on black plate at black slate table top. Indonesian padang cuisine meat dish. Asian food.
Andrei Kravtsov/istockphoto

Indonesia: Rendang

Rendang originated in the Minangkabau culture in one part of Indonesia in the 16th century and is still used in ceremonial gatherings today. The thick, rich, stew-like dish was probably influenced by Indian cooking as it contains an eclectic mix of flavorings like cardamom and cinnamon which are traditionally Indian, and lemongrass and makrut lime leaves, which are Indonesian. Today it's usually made with beef and coconut milk and cooked down until it's thick, rich, and brown.

Recipe: Rasa Malaysia 

peking duck

China: Peking Duck

Roasted duck has been eaten in China for thousands of years, but the dish now known as Peking duck probably originated in Beijing around the 14th century. The first restaurant specializing in it, Bianyifang, opened in 1416 and is still operating today. The roasting of Peking duck is an artform that results in crispy, burnished skin and juicy meat. It's often carved in front of the diners and served with fresh vegetables and sauce to be rolled in a thin pancake.

Recipe: The Woks of Life 

Köttbullar by erik forsberg (CC BY-NC)

Sweden: Köttbullar

The retro buffet and IKEA cafe favorite Swedish meatballs are actually popular in Sweden, but while you can get them in restaurants, they're often prepared as a home cooked meal. There's a lot of variation in recipes, including some with onions, some with more pork fat, and some with mashed potatoes as a binder. But one thing that never changes is that they're served with a brown gravy and sweet-tart lingonberries. 

Recipe: Swedish Food

Homemade Moules Frites Mussels and Fries

Belgium: Moules Frites

A dish of mussels served with french fries is so popular in Belgium that it's considered a national dish. The mussels can be cooked in many different ways, but they're almost always steamed in a flavorful liquid that can be sopped up with the fries or with bread. The fries are always served alongside the mussels so they stay crisp, hot, and ready for munching in between mouthfuls of mussels. 

Recipe: Food Network

Hungarian Goulash

Hungary: Goulash

Though similar stews eaten by Hungarian shepherds date back to the Middle Ages, the paprika-laced dish Hungarians love today didn't come about until the 16th century when the spice was introduced from the Americas. There are many varieties of the dish in the country, from thinner and soup-like to filled with kidney beans or sauerkraut, but most versions are made with beef, stock, and plenty of paprika. 

Recipe: Serious Eats

A close-up of a gyro pita sandwich with a salad and fries.

Greece: Gyros

Because of the massive popularity of gyros in the U.S., you may think that they have nothing to do with Greece, but they did originate there. Cooking meat on a vertical spit came from traditions in Turkey and the Middle East, and by the 1970s, Greeks had made the cooking method their own with a mixture of lamb and beef wrapped in bread and served with tzatziki.

Recipe: Christina's Cucina

Moroccan Chicken Tagine

Morocco: Tagine

Like paella, tagine is the name of a dish as well as the name of the pot it's cooked in — in this case, a conical earthenware pot. It's so ingrained in North African cuisine that the dish appeared in “One Thousand and One Nights,” the famous collection of Arabian tales compiled in the 9th century. It's made like a stew, with meats and chunks of vegetables with typical seasonings like cumin, turmeric, saffron, dried fruit, and nuts.

Recipe: The Mediterranean Dish

Ropa Vieja

Cuba: Ropa Vieja

Literally translated as "old clothes," ropa vieja matches that utilitarian spirit. It's a stew of beef slow-cooked for so long that it shreds and falls apart, making it seem like old, ripped clothes on the plate. It often includes onions, bell peppers, tomatoes, paprika, and pimento-stuffed green olives, and is served with rice and beans or plantains.

Recipe: Bon Appetit

Taiwan's typical food, soup dumpling or known as

Taiwan: Xiao Long Bao

Commonly referred to as soup dumplings, xiao long bao originated in China and have become endlessly popular in Taiwan. They're made with a thin, wheat dumpling skin wrapped around a filling that's mostly meat broth, making it a challenge to eat without spilling it or burning yourself with piping hot liquid. It may seem like magic to get liquid into a dumpling but it's really not — good broth is full of natural gelatin and is solid when they form the dumplings cold.

Recipe: The Woks of Life

Fried momos dumpling

Nepal: Momo

Momo is fun to say and fun to eat. The Himalayan dumplings are usually round and filled with ground meat and vegetables before steaming and occasionally pan frying. They're typically served with one or more achhar, types of dipping sauces that usually include a spicy tomato-based chutney or a creamy, peanut-based sauce.

Recipe: Food Network

Pickled Herring Smørrebrød

Denmark: Smorrebrod

Smorrebrod isn't a single dish, but rather a type of open-faced sandwich. They can have practically anything on them, but they often have an artistic touch so that eating them is a feast for the eyes and stomach. They often start with a piece of buttered dark rye bread and get piled with toppings like cold cuts, shrimp, salmon, hard boiled eggs, and cucumbers.

Recipe: Saveur