We may not be able to travel to every country on Earth, but a great way to get a taste of a culture is to sample its signature dishes. Try cooking up a storm in your own kitchen or – when dining out is on the cards again – find a great restaurant and let your taste buds set sail on a culinary adventure across the globe. Here’s a selection of popular dishes you shouldn’t miss.
A dish that’s fallen out of favour and then become popular again more times than we can count, beef Wellington’s origins are as unclear as its connection to Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington. Traditionally, it’s a beef fillet steak, coated in pâté and mushroom duxelles (an extremely finely chopped mixture of mushrooms, shallots and herbs), wrapped in puff pastry, then baked. Its modern-day popularity is largely thanks to Gordon Ramsay who’s made it one of his signature dishes.
Onion soup, France
photosimysia/ShutterstockVery few dishes are as comforting as French onion soup – a blend of mellow, slowly cooked, caramelised onions in a broth laced with white wine and cognac. It’s thought that a version of the soup has existed since at least Roman times, but the modern version originated in 18th-century Paris. The soup is served in a ramekin, topped with a slice of baguette and cheese that’s then melted under a grill.
Peking duck, China
A dish cooked and eaten in Beijing since the Imperial era, today Peking duck is a Chinese restaurant favourite across the world. There are countless methods of preparing and cooking the duck, but originally it was roasted in a closed oven until the kitchens of the Qing Dynasty developed the open-oven style to cook several ducks at the same time. The duck is then served with steamed Chinese pancakes, cucumber, spring onion and sweet bean sauce.
Shakshuka, the Middle East
Claimed as one of their own throughout North Africa and the Middle East, untangling the web of where shakshuka is from is simply impossible. All we know is that it’s an incredibly tasty and filling dish that’s become a popular breakfast and brunch meal throughout the world. Literally translating as a mixture, it’s usually cooked by reducing down tomatoes, onions and a range of spices before the eggs are poached on top.
A spicy, sweet, sour and fragrant soup from Southeast Asia, laksa is mostly associated with Malaysia. The origins are murky with several theories in different countries and a wide range of laksa exist, from regional varieties to differences in preparation. Typically, either a rich and spicy coconut milk broth or a sour asam broth made with tamarind, the soup is made with thick wheat noodles or rice vermicelli and served with chicken, prawn or fish.
Clam chowder, USA
Creamy clam chowder is Massachusetts’ finest dish that’s prevalent throughout New England. Made with potatoes, crushed oyster crackers and chunks of local clam, it’s a flavourful and hearty dish to have all year long. The most famous place to eat it, Legal Sea Foods in Boston, began life as a market frequented by Julia Child and has been cooking up perfect chowder for decades.
Gua bao, Taiwan
Slawomir Fajer/ShutterstockThe popularity of bao buns has skyrocketed in the Western world in the last decade or so and while these steamed buns are Chinese in origin, it’s the Taiwanese version that’s proved to be the most popular. A traditional gua bao consists of slices of pork belly meat dressed with pickled mustard greens, coriander and ground peanuts.
Bouillabaisse is synonymous with the South of France, especially the port city of Marseille, and is a wonderful celebration of sea creatures caught just off the coast. The soup is made with a selection of spices and Provençal herbs as well as heady saffron. Various fish and shellfish are then added at different times to cook in the broth. In Marseille the broth is traditionally served separate from the seafood with slices of bread and rouille (a sauce of olive oil, breadcrumbs, garlic, saffron and cayenne pepper) on the side.
Tatiana Volgutova/ShutterstockAlthough often cooked as a meat sauce or stew across Europe and beyond, the traditional Hungarian goulash is actually a soup. Beef shin, shank or shoulder and vegetables (typically carrot, peppers, celery but not potatoes) are heavily seasoned with paprika and traditionally slowly simmered in broth over an open fire in a cauldron. It’s then eaten either in a bread bowl or with the Hungarian version of spaetzle noodles.
Texas-style barbecue, Texas, USA
Other states along the so-called barbecue belt that include the Carolinas, Tennessee and Kentucky will have to forgive us, but Texan barbecue takes the spotlight. Drawing on the diverse cultural traditions within the state, Texas-style barbecue has strong German and Czech influences, and mostly features brisket, sausage and beef short ribs as well as smoked meats. The selection of sides usually includes some type of a slaw and beans as well as potato salad, mac ‘n’ cheese, fried okra or green beans.
A Japanese noodle soup, ramen has grown in popularity outside of Japan in the last decade and it’s easy to see why. In its simple form, it’s a rich meat (or occasionally fish) broth, flavoured with soy or miso and served with toppings such as mushrooms, seaweed, sesame seeds, spring onions and soft-boiled egg. As with most dishes, there are regional varieties too, including the most popular