A country’s national dish is more than just a phenomenal meal—it’s a people’s history and a cornerstone of their culture. National dishes touch everything from economy to lifestyle, and each plate represents how a people define themselves and present their culture to the world. (What would America be without the hamburger?) It is the most significant dish they have to offer, and by those standards, the best food in the world. Take a look at how 15 countries define their cuisine. Also check out how different cultures celebrate Valentine’s Day.
Mole, a sauce containing nuts, fruit, and chili, is the national dish of Mexico. However, no Mexican mole sauce recipe is exactly the same! The country has many regional variations of their national dish; colors of the sauce vary from dark brown to red to green. Mole Poblano, for example, is made with chocolate and chillies. It is heaped atop meat, tortillas, rice, and other typical Mexican foods.
English Tikka Masala
England has several national dishes—roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, fish and chips—but the one that is championed by many is the dish with the most complicated past: chicken tikka masala. England’s colonization of India was a huge influence on British cuisine, to the point that England considers the Indian food staple part of its own cultural identity. The chicken tikka masala you’ll eat in England, though, is not the same as the original Indian dish; rather, it is an Anglicized version of it.
Japanese Curry Rice
Japan has so many flagship foods to choose from: ramen, sushi, udon. But the national dish of Japan is none of those; it’s curry rice. Japanese curry stands apart from other countries’ curry dishes because of its brown color and viscous, stew-like consistency. Tonkatsu, Japanese fried pork cutlet, is often enjoyed alongside curry rice for the perfect hot meal. Check out five types of curry from around the world.
Couscous isn’t just the national dish of Morocco, but a weekly ritual. Every Friday after prayers, people all over Morocco come home to enjoy traditional couscous with their families. While each Moroccan couscous recipe varies slightly, they typically contain some or all of the following: beef, lamb, onions, raisins, carrots, pumpkin, zucchini, turnips, cabbage, and chickpeas. Another Moroccan food favorite is khobz, one of the must-eat Mediterranean street foods.
Pot-au-feu literally translates to “pot on fire.” Its simple name points to the French stew’s roots as a peasant dish made of what are, today, common ingredients. Beef, marrowbone, and root vegetables such as carrots, onions and turnips are easy for most people to acquire now, but hundreds of years ago, French commoners could only afford meat on rare occasions. Over the centuries, pot-au-feu worked its way through all levels of social class and became a beloved, rustic, hearty French stew of which the whole nation could be proud.
Not far from France is Germany, a European country whose national dish is also one of beef. German Sauerbraten is roast beef that has been marinated for days until unbelievably tender. It is then covered in sweet and sour brown gravy, and can be served with spaetzle (German noodles) or Semmelknödel (German bread dumplings).
Jamaican Ackee and Saltfish
Outside of Africa and the Caribbean, many people have never even heard of the ackee fruit. Poisonous if eaten before ripe, ackee is the national fruit of Jamaica. It looks like a pink flower blossom studded with large, dark, grape-like seeds. When cooked, the flesh of the ackee is paired with cooked chunks of saltfish (or codfish), onions, and peppers for a dish that looks almost like scrambled eggs.
In 1810, Argentinians took their first steps toward independence from their Spanish colonizers. A revolution celebrated on May 25 every year, this important day in Argentina would not be the same without indulging in locro, a national stew of meat, white corn, and butternut squash. This yellow winter stew contains beef, pork, and tripe for a hearty, warming meal. While you’re at it, try this seafood paella recipe, the national dish of Spain.
Danish Stegt Flæsk
The Danish national dish of stegt flæsk—pork belly with boiled potatoes and parsley sauce—was only recently agreed upon. After a country-wide survey in 2014, stegt flæsk earned the majority of the vote as Danes decided that it was the dish most representative of their culture. This simple meal is a cornerstone of everyday life in Denmark.
The national dish of Thailand also came about as the result of a competition. Almost 100 years ago, the newly established ruler, Plaek Phibunsongkhram, set out to create a new national identity. The winner was Pad Thai, a delectable rice noodle dish made with tamarind, bean sprouts, peanuts, and other ingredients. The effort to make this meal a national ambassador for Thailand worked; even across oceans, Pad Thai is the most recognized Thai food. (It can also be made totally vegetarian!)
Chinese Peking Duck
Peking Duck, named after the Chinese capital city of Beijing, is the national dish of China. The tender duck meat is delicious, but the real prize is the crispy, glazed duck skin dipped in hoisin sauce. This Beijing roast duck recipe is a great source of national pride, having been beloved by Chinese royals and nobility since the Ming Dynasty (first appearing in the Yuan Dynasty). It is an honor—and practically a ceremony—for foreign dignitaries to enjoy Peking Duck when in China.
If you ask the Lebanese, they would tell you that the best food in the world is kibbeh, fried meatballs encrusted in bulgar wheat or rice. The center is filled with ground lamb, or ground lamb and beef. This hearty, crunchy comfort food can be eaten as an appetizer or served as a main dish with typical Lebanese side dishes, such as tabbouleh, salad, or hummus and pita bread.
The world knows Switzerland for its cheese, and rightly so! The country even had a Swiss Cheese Union, which popularized the national dish of fondue both at home and abroad. Traditionally, Swiss fondue is made from molten emmentaler, gruyere or sbrinz cheese. Meat, bread, or vegetables dipped in a pot of gooey cheese is a hot meal to be enjoyed with friends after skiing. And don’t forget the white wine!
Colombian Bandeja Paisa
Bandeja Paisa is a lunch dish from Northwestern Colombia that is practically a buffet. All on one plate, you’ll find beans, white rice, pork hocks, beef, chorizo, fried egg, plantain, avocado and arepa. No one is left feeling hungry after eating this extravagant Colombian platter, that’s for sure!
The national dish of Brazil, feijoada, is a black bean stew containing smoked pork and beef. This Brazilian stew is traditionally served with white rice, sautéed greens, orange slices and toasted cassava flour. It is a social meal that is enjoyed weekly by families all over the country.