There are a million ways to discover the local culture while you travel. You could take a dance class in Argentina, explore the bustling bazaars in Morocco, venture through art museums in Spain or explore rural villages in China. But what’s the tastiest (and often most fun) way to immerse yourself in a new country? That’s easy: the food.
Food is one of the best ways to understand a different culture, which is why we have over sixty food and wine learning adventures. It’s exciting to try new dishes with local ingredients, and they usually come with a story about how that meal came to be. Some recipes have been passed down from generation to generation, all to be enjoyed around a table with family and new friends. Almost every country has its own specialty to offer, and each is delicious in its own right. However, a true foodie knows that a few are a cut above the rest. If you’re the type of adventurer that likes to get a good taste of the local culture, we know the best international food to try.
16 Best International Foods You Need to Try
1. Canada — Poutine
Oh, Canada. Known for its Mounties, top-notch ski resorts and Celine Dion, Canada also has a culinary specialty that drives people to the true north: Poutine. For some, gravy and French fries may seem like an odd combination, but the Canadians have it down to a science. The brown gravy adds a depth of flavor and a little softness to the crispy fries. Top it all off with ooey-gooey cheese curds, and you have yourself the perfect savory snack.
2. India — Samosa
Dive right into India with this crunchy appetizer. Usually filled with potato, onions, green peas, spices and green chili, the samosa is a small, dumpling-like bite that’s deep-fried to perfection. It’s often served hot and with a fresh Indian chutney, such as mint, coriander or tamarind, to balance out the fried dough. You usually get a few on a plate, so they’re perfect for sharing (if you want to).
3. Ireland — Shepherd’s Pie
Come to Ireland if you’re looking for a more hearty meal. When you arrive, make your first stop at a traditional Irish pub for a pint of Guinness and order the shepherd’s pie, just like a local. Filled with minced beef or lamb and topped with mashed potatoes, this is the ultimate comfort food that will make you feel at home in a foreign land.
4. Israel — Falafel and Pita
If you eat anything in Israel, make sure you get your fill of falafel. Though it most likely originated in Egypt, Jews who lived in Egypt, Syria and Yemen brought the dish to their homeland, and it has since become one of the most popular foods to try. It’s often served in fresh pita bread with Israeli salad, hummus, fried eggplant and tahini dip, though you can pretty much add in anything from French fries to sauerkraut. Find falafel at most local restaurants or stop by a street cart for your pita fix.
5. Italy — Carbonara
Going to Italy and not eating a carb is pretty much impossible. And what’s the best carb of them all? Why that’s the CARB-onara, of course! So simple yet deceivingly hard to master, this classic Italian dish is just pancetta, Parmesan, egg and pepper. You might be asking yourself how a four-ingredient spaghetti can be so delicious, but something about the creaminess of the cheese and the saltiness of the meat makes a magical combination that’s both rich and filling. After all the pizza and gelato, make carbonara your next stop on the Italy food train.
6. Japan — Mochi
If you’re a first-timer in Japan, you might be overwhelmed by the abundance of unique foods that fill street markets and local restaurants. Our suggestion: try as much as you can. If you can only try one thing, get the mochi. Mochi is a gummy rice dough that has been a scrumptious Japanese treat for centuries. Though it can be eaten on its own, the more popular way to eat mochi is stretched around a sweet filling of red bean paste or cream (also called Daifuku). You can even get mochi frozen and wrapped around ice cream for a cool dessert. For a more savory take, try it roasted on top of hot noodles for a uniquely chewy texture you can’t find anywhere else.
7. New Zealand — Pavlova
Though named after the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova, this meringue-based dessert is a New Zealand delicacy created after the dancer toured the country. It’s a surprisingly light treat, consisting of a hard crust with a soft, airy inside, and is traditionally served with some fresh fruit and whipped cream. New Zealand loves this dessert so much that students at the Eastern Institute of Technology created the world’s largest pavlova, stretching a whopping 64 meters (210 feet) long. They appropriately named it “Pavkong.”
8. Peru — Ceviche
Though its exact origins are as mysterious as Machu Picchu, one thing is for sure: Peruvians love ceviche. So much so that they’ve made it their national dish (and even have a holiday in its honor). If you’re a seafood lover, chances are you’ll fall in love too. Composed of raw fish marinated in citrus, sliced onion, chili peppers and salt, ceviche — or cebiche, as the locals say — is the perfect light summer meal best shared with friends over a refreshing pisco sour.
9. South Africa — Bobotie
A largely colonized country, South Africa draws its culinary influences from all over the world. In this case, bobotie (pronounced ba-boor-tea) has Dutch and Indonesian influences, though it has been adapted by the Cape Malay community over centuries. This traditional casserole has both sweet and savory notes with its glorious mixture of minced lamb or beef, dried fruit, curry powder and turmeric, topped with a creamy egg mixture. To add to the sweetness, some even place sliced bananas or coconut on top. Consider it the South African moussaka, but kicked up a notch.
10. Sicily — Arancini
What's not to love about a breaded, deep-fried rice ball? This iconic Sicilian dish is something you can't miss when visiting Italy’s largest island. The name "arancini" means “little orange” and is made with Arborio rice cooked as if for risotto. From there, the rice is cooled, formed into balls, and stuffed with a meat ragù, green peas and melty mozzarella. Often piled high in shop windows, arancini are the perfect appetizer for any party or even a late-night snack.
11. Mexico — Pozole
If you’re looking for time-honored, mouth-watering Mexican comfort foods to try, pozole satisfies both the soul and the stomach. Depending on the region, the stew can be prepared either with red, green or clear soup stock and typically includes an assortment of flavorful ingredients such as hominy, chilies, oregano, shredded cabbage, sautéed garlic, lime and radishes. Pozole is traditionally served with a side of warm tortillas to soak up the broth, making it even more irresistible.
12. Prague — Bramborák
With as common a crop as the potato is, it’s no surprise that there are several potato pancake variations out there. The Czech spin on the potato pancake is called bramborák, which has become a street food staple in the heart of the country’s nightlife scene, Prague. The main difference between bramborák and other potato pancakes in neighboring Eastern European countries is the strong aroma of garlic, marjoram and caraway seeds.
13. Greece — Moussaka
The epitome of Greek comfort food, moussaka is a casserole-style dish made with layers of tender roasted eggplant, aromatic ground meat and a creamy béchamel sauce. It’s rich, decadent and seasoned with dashes of nutmeg, cinnamon, oregano and paprika. If you’ve been looking for a recipe your family and friends will keep asking for, moussaka should be at the top of your international foods list.
14. Morocco — Tajine
For people who travel for cuisine, Morocco is hands-down one of the best spots to treat your taste buds to some of the most delicious food in the world. This North African nation is home to a dizzying number of exotic seasonings and spices, which means each meal is packed with flavor.
The most well-known dish in Moroccan cuisine is tajine, which refers to the Berber dish itself and the cookware used to make it. A slow-cooked Moroccan stew made with meat, poultry, fish and vegetables, tajine is known for its sweet-and-sour flavor profiles, which feature ingredients such as turmeric, paprika, saffron cinnamon, olives and dried fruit.
15. Spain — Paella
It’s no secret that Spain is a foodie haven, but there are few dishes quite as representative of the European nation as paella. Originating in the mid-19th century in Valencia, paella is a rice dish, first and foremost. But, over the years, it has evolved to incorporate everything from seafood, chicken and rabbit to onions, beans and saffron.
The dish was mostly enjoyed by Valencian farm laborers who made it from different ingredients each time. They would typically use whatever was available or left over from the previous day, which is part of the reason paella came to have several iterations over time.
16. Vietnam — Spring Roll
A culinary favorite worldwide, the spring roll has been consistently ranked as one of the top 10 international dishes by numerous food critics and food magazines. Fresh and full of texture, these rolls are surprisingly simple to make. Though many versions of this popular Vietnamese appetizer depend on preferences, the main ingredients include rice paper, rice noodles, fresh mint, cucumbers, carrots, shrimp and pork. Spring rolls can be served cool with fish, plum or peanut sauce.