Best food from every culture
April 8, 2006 11:19 PM   Subscribe

What is the best food dish (speciality) out of every culture? I've decided to try at least one thing from as many cultures as I can think of and find an authentic meal for each. For example, I know nothing about Korean, German, Ethiopian, Lebanese, Portuguese, or Irish food - any suggestions there? Thanks!
posted by agregoli to Food & Drink (58 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
korean--chap jae and bulgogi are the ones newbies love and are well known. anything with ddok. i prefer kalbi to bulgogi myself.

you didn't ask for alsatian, but choucroute or the alsatian-tinged adaptation of sauerkraut is one of the most sublime dishes ever. so's sauer braten. le sigh.
posted by ifjuly at 11:21 PM on April 8, 2006

Scottish - Haggis, turnips (neeps) & potatoes (tatties).
posted by brautigan at 11:38 PM on April 8, 2006

pad thai seems to be the newbie dish for thai, as does chicken tikki masala for indian, general tso chicken for chinese, coq au vin for french, wiener schnitzel for german, ramen or teriyaki for japanese, tacos for mexican, fish and chips for english.

Not too many of those are authentic. They are a good entry foods though.

Also, ramen is just the japanese way of saying lo mein, so it's not really japanese. I guess you could go with udon or soba noodles if you were really serious.
posted by matkline at 11:46 PM on April 8, 2006

"Best English Cooking" is a contradiction in terms.

[In Heaven the policemen are English, the cooks are French, the mechanics are German, the lovers are Italian, and everything is organized by the Swiss.

In Hell the policemen are German, the cooks are Englishthe mechanics are French, the lovers are Swiss, and everything is organized by Italians.]
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 11:47 PM on April 8, 2006

I'd vote tamales for mexican food.
posted by mullacc at 11:51 PM on April 8, 2006

Koreans eat 40 pounds of kimchi per person ber year, and apparently it's realllllly good for you.
posted by stray at 11:51 PM on April 8, 2006

Oh, and for Malaysia and several other South East Asian countries, Roti Canai is a good one to try. Sooo tasty.
posted by stray at 11:53 PM on April 8, 2006

"Best English Cooking" is a contradiction in terms.

That's just the crap they feed the tourists. English Christmas Goose is quite tasty.
posted by tkolar at 12:05 AM on April 9, 2006

Swedish cuisine is far from the world’s finest, but there’s nothing wrong with a plate of plain old köttbullar (Swedish meatballs) with gräddsås (cream sauce) & new potatoes, with some lingonberries on the side.
posted by misteraitch at 12:39 AM on April 9, 2006

Dutch traditional grub is pretty unremarkable.

But bitterballen are wonderful when you're having a beer.
posted by jouke at 12:56 AM on April 9, 2006

matkline : "chicken tikki masala for indian"

Not even (truly) Indian.

India is like Europe in cultural diversity, but a single political entity. Within Gujarati cuisine, I am fond of Dal Dhokli and, Batata nu shaak & Alphonso mango pulp, served with puris.
posted by Gyan at 12:59 AM on April 9, 2006

Pad Gra Prow (spelling seems to vary from restaurant to restaurant), AKA Sweet Basil with Chili, is an excellent introduction to the fresh, spicy and light flavors of Thai food.
posted by letitrain at 1:01 AM on April 9, 2006

Yes, please, tamales for mexican food. They are the oldest mexican food, consumed by aztecs. I'd also perhaps a Pozole.

For portuguese, I'd say maybe Bacalhau.
posted by vacapinta at 1:04 AM on April 9, 2006

Hard to beat Greek souvlaki as an accessible signature dish, especially lamb or pork souvlaki grilled over charcoal with tzatziki, the yogurt-cucumber sauce.

Bonus tip: You have to let the water drain out of (most American commercial) yogurt to get the right consistency for good tzatziki.
posted by sacre_bleu at 1:39 AM on April 9, 2006

Molé is the dish most Mexicans break out for special occasions such as weddings and quinceanaras. Each family usually has their own recipe and ingredients vary by region, but chicken is a constant, along with cocoa, chile, peanuts and/or almonds.

I've never found a decent molé in a restaurant, but have thoroughly enjoyed many homemade varieties.
posted by buggzzee23 at 3:20 AM on April 9, 2006

Not that "best food" and "national dish" always coincide, but ...
Belgium ≈ moules meunière aux frites
Brazil ≈ feijoada
Lebanon ≈ kibbe
US ≈ maccheroni con formaggio giallo
posted by rob511 at 3:54 AM on April 9, 2006

Bavarians (and a few of my Swiss friends) do love their Weisswurst
posted by jedrek at 3:58 AM on April 9, 2006

Hungary: goulash (gulyás). With a side of homemade dumplings and a good wine. Right, now I'm hungry.
posted by milquetoast at 4:30 AM on April 9, 2006

Portugese - Pork and Clam Cataplana, charcoal grilled Sardines with Piri-Piri, grilled Chicken with Piri-Piri, Caldierada De Peixe (fish stew) and the aforementioned Bacalhau.
posted by fire&wings at 5:13 AM on April 9, 2006

Phillipines - Pancit Palabok
posted by pieoverdone at 5:27 AM on April 9, 2006

wiener schnitzel for german - um, Wien (German for Vienna) is the capital of Austria, so Wiener Schnitzel is not a German dish. Although Germany is much smaller than India, there are a lot of different regional cuisines - Bavarian Weißwurst, Sauerkraut etc. are well-known abroad, but nobody eats Weißwurst in Northern Germany. Other well-known foods are Maultaschen (from Swabia), Saumagen (from Palatinate), Grünkohl (curly kale, from Northern Germany), and Currywurst is a typical German fast food. You'll find more regional dishes from Germany at Wikipedia: German Cuisine.
posted by amf at 5:45 AM on April 9, 2006

Ethiopian: injera with your choice of wot (stewed meats).
posted by youarenothere at 5:52 AM on April 9, 2006

For Tibetan, you can't beat Tse Momo, vegetable dumplings, served with a fiery chile sauce.
posted by saladin at 6:11 AM on April 9, 2006

One problem with coming up with a list of foods based on the concept of "cultures" is that "culture" is a pretty amorphous term. If you try to simplify "cultures" to "nations," you immediately get into modern geopolitics and historical issues. What we think of as Germany, for instance, barely existed as a political entity before 1871. And in Italy, Greece, Spain, and much of the rest of the world, for culinary purposes, a "culture" can easily be something akin to a "city-state," for matters of seasonings, sauces or sausages, not to mention distinctive wines and liquors.

For the OP, such a realization makes the task of compiling such a list much greater, but also more rewarding, and offers the possibility of viewing the task through better, and perhaps historically more rewarding organizing principles. For example, in Germany, the national tourism board has put some effort into developing a "wine road" tour, as well as a "Romantic Road" tour, the latter being also, loosely (on its southern portion), the route for spices and exotic trade goods, including foods, making their way into northern and western Europe from the near East and Italy for centuries. Seen through the lens of dissemination through trade routes, basic foods such as preserved meats, breads and spirits provide a great way of learning about both culture and food through history.

So, it's not then so surprising to learn that Germany has, by many estimates, more than 1500 types of sausages, most only made in the locales of the towns or cities in which they originated, and, probably, an equal number of varieties of breads, schnapps, and beers. What a Bavarian would consider a "typical" lunch, would be looked upon by a Westphalian as not at all typical.

But to come to some point: A "typical" informal restaurant dinner in southern Germany, such as you might find at Ratskeller München this time of year, might be (taken from page 9 of the menu [PDF file linked]):
mit Morcheln in Sherryrahm
Schrobenhauser Stangenspargel
und Biokartoffeln


Roasted country veal chops in mushroom-sherry wine sauce, with white asparagus spears and organic potatoes. To this, we might add a Franziskaner Weissbier (pale wheatbeer) to drink.
posted by paulsc at 6:18 AM on April 9, 2006 [1 favorite]

I have traveled in Ireland and China. In Beijing, I would say the "signature" dish was probably Peking Duck. There were lots and lots of things to eat in Beijing that were vastly different from any thing one would have at an American Chinese restaurant (in fact, I found nothing there that really was like an American Chinese restaurant, except maybe spicy tofu dishes). You may be able to get good Peking Duck in Chicago. It seems the Beijinger way to eat it was to have the duck in thin slices in small bread wraps and cucumber matchsticks (I think that's called Mu Shu style in American restaurants) and to have the duck bones turned into duck soup.

In Ireland, there were lots of fish and chips places, with each having different breading. The fish I found the tastiest was plaice. Also, Irish stew is considered a (the?) national dish - basically lamb, carrots, potatoes, spices in stew.

If you're thinking cultures rather than countries, have you had every regional kind of American food? Frybread? Hot brown? Detroit Coney? (Those are just things off the top of my head from places I've lived and visited).
posted by Slothrop at 6:24 AM on April 9, 2006

I meant to say about the fish and chips "with each having different breading, fish, etc." The chips vary quite a bit as well.
posted by Slothrop at 6:27 AM on April 9, 2006

Also, my Senegalese friend made a stew called mafe which is apparently very popular there.
posted by pieoverdone at 6:41 AM on April 9, 2006

There are lots of wonderful dishes in Cuban cuisine.

Ropa Vieja (shredded seasoned beef) and Picadillo (seasoned ground beef) are both wonderful dishes without too many unfamiliar ingredients. If served with black beans and rice and fried plantains they are a little slice of heaven.

Cubans are also a people of the sandwich. Plain Cuban sandwiches made with real cuban bread are the best. Medianoche sandwiches are made with a different type of bread, but are still a favorite in my family.
posted by Alison at 7:09 AM on April 9, 2006

Irish - Shepherd's pie.
Vietnamese - Pho (one of the most sublime foods of *any* country.)
Ethiopian: doro wat, a spicy chicken stew, served with injera, a flat spongy bread.

Also, from the Balkans, you have to try my new favorite: borek
posted by CunningLinguist at 7:31 AM on April 9, 2006

Also, for Vietnam, you need to immediately get your hands on an authentic Ban Mih sandwich.
posted by CunningLinguist at 7:37 AM on April 9, 2006

Is it me, or is the concept of a restaurant that serves a whole menu made up of national dishes a great idea?
posted by CunningLinguist at 7:39 AM on April 9, 2006

Cunninglinguist, see The Twenty-One Balloons for an application of a similar concept.
posted by nonane at 7:45 AM on April 9, 2006

In Laos I would suggest the Lap, which is mix of a finely minced meat (beef, fish, chicken are all common versions), mint and roasted rice (gives it an excellent nutty texture) served with sticky rice. Here is a beef lap recipe and here a photo of a lap paa (fish lap). The contrast between meat and mint is excellent, which the toasted and crushed rice gives it a nutty taste reminiscent of the peanut.
posted by furtive at 8:20 AM on April 9, 2006

CL it is a good idea, but it would probably be difficult to do properly, because of the lack of overlapping ingredients.
posted by empath at 8:22 AM on April 9, 2006

for good english food, i'd recommend what we used to have on sundays at my grandparents: yorkshire pudding with mushy peas followed by meat and potato pie with veg, and then something like steamed treacle pudding or, in the summer, apple pie with a piece of cheshire or wensleydale cheese and, finally, rock buns (with more cheese) and a good cup of tea.

(i had deer goulash with dumpling at a czech restaurant last week - pretty good).

here in chile they're irrationally proud of "ensalada chilena" which is basically tomato and onion salad. in fact, the food is quite like english food here, but with more emphasis on corn and beans. good dishes include thick bean soup/stew (sometimes with bits of sausage in, although that may be more spanish than chilean); the equivalent of yorkshire pudding (lamb stew in a pot covered with mashed potato), but made with mashed corn instead of potato; empanadas (similar to cornish pasties, but with, traditionally, an olive and piece of egg inside). more popular/commerical/modern food includes completos (hot dogs with all the trimmings) and various pieces of meat "a lo pobre" (with chips (french fries), fried egg and fried onion).

in both countries, it's not "fancy" food, but comforting, filling, tasty, traditional fare that stands out.
posted by andrew cooke at 8:22 AM on April 9, 2006

For Dutch, you could serve oliebollen (oil balls, heh) for desert. Very good.

For Canadian food, something with maple syrop would be a propos, or anything mentioned on this ask.mefi post about Canadian Food.
posted by furtive at 8:25 AM on April 9, 2006

just seen alison's comments on cuban sandwiches - they're also good here (chile). the popular combinations have popular names with no connetcion (that i can see) to the contents. my favourite is chacarero (heh. in boston...)
posted by andrew cooke at 8:28 AM on April 9, 2006

My favourite Korean food is Bibimbap.
posted by lemur at 8:56 AM on April 9, 2006

Burek is indeed a popular Balkans specialty, but I'd say that for Serbia at least, the really defining dish is Gibanica.
Chinese regional cuisine varies so much it's hard to think of just one dish that exemplifies it- in Peking duck is a good one for the northeast, or maybe Mongolian Hotpot, while Sichuan obviously is famous for its very spicy and delicious food. Or you could go by Chinese street food: Uighur-made yang rou quanr (lamb kebobs), the inimitable qian bing, tang hu lu (candy coated crab apples- yummy), etc.
posted by Oobidaius at 9:06 AM on April 9, 2006

Spanish - paella, or the tortilla espanola (basically a potato omelet.)

Canadian - poutine

American - poptarts [snark]

Jamaica - Jamaican beef patties

Russia - Borscht

(You Forgot) Poland - Pierogies

Second pho (Vietnam), cubano sandwich (Cuba), mole (Mexico)

See also Wikipedia:Cuisine By Nationality.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 9:15 AM on April 9, 2006

Somebody above mentioned feijoada as the best dish representative of Brazilian culture, but for those of us that don't like pig parts, my vote goes for bobo de camarao, a shrimp stew originating in the northeastern state of Bahia, but enjoyed by all throughout the country. Yummy!
posted by msali at 9:47 AM on April 9, 2006

Best Welsh dishes:
Laver bread
Cawl (broth)
Glamorgan sausages
Bread and butter pudding
Open to debate: Welsh rarebit
posted by ceri richard at 10:26 AM on April 9, 2006

Turkish - there are so many, but if i have to pick one that is easily accessible in the restaurants in Turkey, I'd have to with Iskender (Alexander).
posted by eebs at 10:33 AM on April 9, 2006

South Indian food: have a dosa, especially a Mysore masala dosa. This dish was once described by a food critic from the Village Voice as "the world's most perfect food."

Thai: Pad Kee Mow (Drunkard's Noodles) is my favorite, and has the added bonus of being a hangover cure.

Chilean: Empanadas are unbelievably good.

Mexican: Trying a lot of different kinds of mole would be a fun project. There is a lot of confusion in the US about mole. The word "mole" just means sauce; for example, "guacamole" is "avocado sauce." What is called "mole" by many people in the U.S. is really mole poblano, a scrumptious chocolate/chile sauce. There must be hundreds of different moles made in Mexico.

Persian: I recently had Persian food for the first time, and had a sauce/soup type thing called Fesenjan made of walnuts and pomegranates that was amazing.
posted by medusa at 10:37 AM on April 9, 2006

Fit tabouleh in here somewhere, too, please. I suppose it's Lebanese, but there are a few versions. I like the one that's mostly mint and parsley with a little wheat bulgar tossed in.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:11 AM on April 9, 2006

sorry, where i said "equivalent of yorkshire pudding" i meant "equivalent of shepherd's pie" (which someone else claims for the irish).
posted by andrew cooke at 11:38 AM on April 9, 2006

"Best English Cooking" is a contradiction in terms.

yorkshire pudding is one of the most delicious things ever. and so's real fish and chips. mm...
posted by ifjuly at 11:40 AM on April 9, 2006

French Canadian - Tortierre (meat pie) is good. Pouting is a given.

Anglo Canadian - Kraft Dinner (heh), a CoffeeCrisp chocolate bar, and a bottle of Labatt's beer.
posted by Radio7 at 12:52 PM on April 9, 2006

Oy - that should read "PoutinE"
Pout at your own discretion.
posted by Radio7 at 12:53 PM on April 9, 2006

Irish stew is the best Irish dish... apart from Guinness, heh.

Here's a list of a few other Irish recipes.

Try them out.
posted by knapah at 1:08 PM on April 9, 2006

Chinese food per se encompasses many different regions so it's hard to pick out one "singularly Chinese" dish, but here's my attempt:

Xiao long tang bao - Shanghai-ese small steamed soup dumplings, served with lots of ginger and vinegar

chong yiu bing - Onion pancakes

tong yuan - Dumplings in either a sweet or savory soup, to be eaten when it's ridiculously cold outside. The peanut and sesame filled ones are great

dou jiang and sao bing/yiu tiao - the singular chinese breakfast--fried dough sticks sandwiched between crispy-tender, sesame-coated bread and a huge honking bowl of piping hot, sweet or savory soy milk.

These are somewhat off the beaten path in a typical Chinese restaurant, but you will be well rewarded if you can find a place that serves it.
posted by scalespace at 4:30 PM on April 9, 2006

Persian: I recently had Persian food for the first time, and had a sauce/soup type thing called Fesenjan made of walnuts and pomegranates that was amazing.

Yeah, Fesenjan is up there, but it doesn't look very appetizing. In fact it resembles diarrhea (sorry!). It is the only dish my American gf who has grown to love Persian food refuses to try, just based on its appearance.

There are two varieties of Fesenjan, one is sweeter, and the other is more savory. It was traditionally made with game birds such as duck, but most people make it with chicken now. Some recipes involve dropping a hot piece of iron into the pot, so it's a chemistry experiment as well as a meal. And btw, it's not a sauce or soup, but a stew that is served over rice, as most Persian dishes are.

My favorite Persian dish is Khoresh Bademjaan, which is a tomato based beef, eggplant (and often also zucchini) stew served over rice. There are other ingredients such as onions and sometimes sour grapes, but the name of the dish literally means eggplant stew. You should try it.
posted by Devils Slide at 4:37 PM on April 9, 2006

Australian cuisine is hybrid in nature, but I think it's fair to say that you can't really go past a rare to medium rare piece of kangaroo steak. Similar to venison, very lean and red. Great with spicy sauces e.g. plum or cajun. It may be at a premium elsewhere, but here in south australia it's cheaper than prime beef cuts.
posted by fFish at 5:36 PM on April 9, 2006

My favorite Brazilian dish by far is moqueca, which is usually a fish or shrimp stew, but I've even had one made from jackfruit - moqueca de jaca at Bode Grill in Lençois. Can't say much for feijoada besides yuck.
posted by dmo at 8:36 PM on April 9, 2006

Jewish (Ashkenazic) - Try tzimmes. I have not tested this recipe but it looks right on the money.
posted by dudeman at 8:44 PM on April 9, 2006

For Arabic food, there's baba ghanoush--a dip made of eggplant and tahini.

Egyptians love their moloukiha--a soup or stew made from a green plant that gets slimy when cooked. I think the Egyptians might consider it their national dish. But for foreigners it's rather an acquired taste. Kinda like snot soup.

The Egyptian salatet baladi is finely chopped lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, parsley, and a dressing of oilive oil, lemon juice, cumin, and salt and pepper. With feta cheese sprinkled on top, and with a few olives. Similar to greek salads.

Mexican food--menudo is the special Sunday stew of tripe and hominy, highly seasoned, of course.
posted by gg at 8:49 PM on April 9, 2006

Ethiopian - injera just refers to the actual bread or eating of Ethiopian food. The classic dish is supposed to doro wat which is chicken in a really spicy sauce served with hard-boiled eggs, those (the eggs) are supposed to the be the best part.

Also tebs which is beef sauted with oinions, jalapenos, tomatoes and is really very good when the meat is of quality.
posted by heartquake at 7:38 AM on April 10, 2006

You'll want some soda bread with your (Irish) Shepard's Pie or stew.
posted by ubersturm at 8:04 PM on April 10, 2006

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