“Food is a central activity of mankind and one of the single most significant trademarks of a culture.” — Mark Kurlansky
Food can tell you a lot about a country. It can speak to the traditions, the resources, and the values of the people and the land. An Italian dinner of pasta, tomato ragu, bread, and olive oil, speaks not only of the recipes passed on through generations but of the fertile lands that bore the olives in the country. In Japan, sushi is representative of the vast resources the country inherits from the sea. A meal in a new country is a way to experience and enjoy the tastes and traditions of the place you are visiting.
With food, you will almost always find the best dishes by going straight to the source. With decades, or even centuries experience cooking the same dishes, the locals have learned the insider secrets to perfect their cuisine. There are so many regional cuisines that are praised throughout the world, that traveling just to taste the foods of the world can be a worthwhile adventure. But with so many options and a wide range of flavors, where do you begin? Here’s a list of the best local dishes around the world.
Ceviche in Peru
You may have heard of ceviche before. To put it simply, ceviche
is chopped raw fish that has been marinated in citrus and peppers. The fish “cooks” in the acidity of the citrus. The fish and citrus vary, but the flavor profile is the same — fresh, clean fish, the tangy acidity of lime or lemon, and subtle heat. Located off the Pacific Ocean, Peru has an abundant supply of fresh seafood. Popular options include sea bass, halibut, and tilapia. But as chefs continue to experiment, other varieties including marlin and shark are becoming popular as well. Lima is known to be the culinary hotspot of Peru, but there are great ceviche options throughout the country. Chez Wong is a must if you are in Lima. Also check out Jasusi in Máncora.
Chili Crab in Singapore
Be prepared to get your hands dirty when you dig into Singapore’s signature dish. You’re sure to find yourself licking your fingers as you try to savor every morsel of sauce. Chili crab is the perfect combination of sweet and spicy, providing an experience your taste buds won’t soon forget. The sweet and tender mud crab is smothered in a sauce composed of tomatoes, garlic, and spices. The degree of spice will vary from place to place, but it is generally believed, the spicier, the better. For authentic chili crab, a visit to Roland’s is a must, as they claim to be the place where the chili crab began. Few have been entrusted with the family recipe that makes this dish so special. Another favorite among locals is Jumbo Seafood, winner of numerous culinary awards and winner for best chili crab in 2006.
Poutine in Montreal
If you are looking for a comfort food that will stick to your guts, look no further than poutine. This local dish is comprised of crispy french fries topped with squeaky (as poutine connoisseurs like to call it) cheese curds and smothered in a rich brown gravy. This comfort food found its beginnings in Montreal, but can be found throughout most of Canada. Although the traditional variety is a favorite among locals, chefs throughout the country have found a variety of ways to spice it up. Be sure to visit La Banquise and try one of their 30 varieties including The Scooby, topped with steak, fried pickles, onions, bacon, and garlic sauce, or The Rachel, a vegetarian option topped with peppers, mushrooms and onions. Try Au Pied de Cochon, for a rich egg and cream infused gravy with a generous serving of foie gras on top.
Goulash in Hungary
You may remember goulash from childhood — ground beef, tomato sauce, noodles, a classic weeknight dinner. But that’s not the goulash we are talking about. Traditional Hungarian goulash (gulyás) is a local dish in Hungary containing a rich meat and potato stew. Though often made with large chunks of beef, it is not uncommon for veal or pork to be used as well. The meat is slowly simmered in a deep tomato broth, infused with smoky, Hungarian paprika. Potatoes and vegetables are added to create a warm, hearty dish that can be found on almost every menu in Hungary. If you are looking for an authentic experience, head to Budapest Bisztró.
Som Tam in Thailand
Thailand is known for its soups and noodles. And rightfully so. Thailand is home to Pad Thai, Tom Yum Goong (Spicy Shrimp Soup), and Pad Kee Mao (also known as drunken noodles). And while everyone loves a spicy noodle dish, there is another dish that travelers and locals keep coming back to. Som Tam is a green papaya salad. It can be found in street markets and in restaurants. Chilies, garlic, dried shrimp, fish sauce, and palm sugar are mixed together with a mortar and pestle. The resulting sauce is then combined with crisp, sour papaya. The sweetness of the sugar balances out the tart flavors and the chilies provide a nice heat. But be forewarned, the heat level will vary and some salads will provide quite a kick.
Pizza in Italy
When it comes to food, there are so many options to choose from in Italy. Italy is world renowned for its pasta, polenta, olive oil, wine — pretty much food in general. It’s hard to go wrong when choosing what to eat while in Italy. But perhaps the most iconic and arguably most delicious local dish to eat in Italy is pizza.
Pizza has been around for centuries, in multiple forms, flavors, and varieties. In Italy, pizza is at its best when it is kept simple. The best pizza is a showcase of its ingredients. Pizza Margherita is a classic. Crisp dough, a simple sauce, basil, and cheese are all that’s needed for the perfect slice. For a no-fuss traditional pizzeria, stop by L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele in Naples. In Rome, try La Gatta Mangiona and taste one of their seasonal favorites.