There’s a lot to be said for “eating like a local” when you’re traveling abroad. Enjoying the regional cuisine in the same way as the people of that country always gives you a better sense of the flavors, cultures, and the history of the place. National dishes are a must try because they usually embody the best tastes the country has to offer.
National dishes are not like the national bird or the national coat of arms… they’re rarely officially designated as the endorsed dish representing the country (though in some cases this does indeed happen). National dishes are considered more the favorite food of the country — something it’s known for and that the local population enjoys eating regularly. For example, indulging in a big bowl of Doro Wat in Ethiopia, a spicy stew usually made with slow cooked lamb in a regional red wine (“wat” means “stew” or “curried stew”), is as normal a fare as chowing down on a burger and fries in the U.S.
In many countries, the national dish represents the melding of many different cultures; it’s the amalgamation of hundreds of years of colonization, occupations, and the settling of immigrant populations that all brought their own foods with them and integrated it into the local cuisine. Today those national dishes are a wonderful mix of all those flavors and histories.
In South Africa, for example, a common national dish is bobotie — a mixture of minced meats baked in an egg-based topping and served with rice and spicy chutney. The recipe actually appeared in a Dutch cookbook from the South African Cape as early as 1609 but the dish actually goes back much further than that… likely all the way back to Indonesia and a similar dish called “bobotok.” Today it’s enjoyed by people all over the country, though especially by communities in the Cape Peninsula.
Argentina is known for its high-quality, grain-fed beef so it’s understandable that the national favorite dish of churrasco con chimichurri, a grilled flank steak served with a delicious tangy herb sauce, is built around that beef. In the Philippines, lumpia, similar to egg rolls, are so popular that the Filipino communities abroad have imported the dish to eat no matter what country they’re in.
Read on to find out more about some incredible and delicious national dishes eaten across the world.
Philippines — Lumpia
Also sometimes called Filipino Spring Rolls (and the smaller meatier ones are called Lumpiang Shanghai), these are usually made of ground meat, minced onions, finely chopped carrots, and seasoning all rolled up in a paper thin wrapper made with flour and water. It is sealed at the end either by using a sticky beaten egg or plain water.
Argentina — Churrasco con Chimichurri
This Argentine favorite is a grilled flank steak with a tangy herb sauce that is traditionally made with the grass-fed beef and cooked over a wood fire on a grill grate called a parilla or a cast-iron skillet called achapa. At home, you could use a charcoal or gas grill, a broiler, or even a cast-iron grill pan. If you're using a grill and want to add extra smoke flavor, toss a handful of soaked wood chips over the coals before cooking.