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Most nations have dishes that they are famed for — think “Japanese food” and sushi will immediately spring to mind — and rightly so. Regional specialties, however, may prove a little more challenging to find, especially outside the borders of a particular country. But when you do, your taste buds will thank you. Whether you’re dreaming of your next post-pandemic trip or just looking for recipe inspiration at home, here are 20 delicious lesser-known delicacies to expand your culinary explorations.
Just don’t call it a taco: Although this Honduran specialty is folded like an American soft taco, the similarity ends there. A favorite street snack throughout the country, the baleada in its purest form is a thick and fluffy flour tortilla loaded with refried red beans, mantequilla rala (the Honduran version of crema), and crumbled salty cheese. Souped-up versions add eggs, pork, chicken or beef.
Scallop Pie, Tasmania
You can’t always get what you want, as Australian colonists found when searching for oysters in the 1800s. Instead, they stumbled upon scallops, the most crucial ingredient in Tasmania’s beloved scallop pie. Rich with mornay sauce and redolent with (usually mild) curry, the scallops are wrapped in a flaky pastry crust before being baked to golden perfection. Devilishly delicious!
Fried pig is familiar in many parts of the world, and one particular version, chicharrón, is popular in most regions of Latin America. But whereas most takes on fried pig are crunchy enough to challenge your teeth, Peruvian chicharrónes are marinated in salt water before being boiled. The resulting strips are then fried in the accumulated fat for a treat that’s both pleasingly crisp and meatily moist. Accompanied by thick sweet potato fries and Creole sauce, it’s hearty enough for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Soup Joumou (Haiti)
If ever a soup tasted like freedom, it’s this one. The French forbade enslaved Haitians from eating this mildly spicy squash and beef stew (even though they were the ones to prepare it), keeping it only for themselves. After gaining independence from the French on January 1, 1804, the newly liberated Haitians celebrated with music, dancing, and this soup — which is still a favorite. It’s traditionally made with calabaza, but butternut or pumpkin will make a fine substitute.
Originating in the South Caucasus, this canoe-shaped stuffed cheese bread is beloved in the Balkans and beyond. Resembling an elongated pizza, the khachapuri is a yeasted dough formed into an oval with pointed ends. The boat is then filled with cheese — usually farmer or feta — then baked and topped with eggs that softly cook. Tear off an end, dunk it into the melty yolk, and enjoy.
Chiles en nogada (Mexico)
Although it’s often considered the national dish of Mexico (red, white, and green being the colors of the country's flag), chiles en nogada can be hard to find on menus outside of September, when they are served to celebrate Mexico’s Independence Day. Poblano peppers are stuffed with a picadillo (hash) of ground meat and fruit, enrobed in a creamy walnut cheese sauce, and then scattered with ruby red pomegranate seeds. Olé!
Poriyal is a fried or sautéed side dish common to southern India. Beets, carrots, cabbage — almost any vegetable can be cooked (in coconut oil or ghee) and spiced with mustard seeds, curry leaves, onions, and dal (beans). The healthy, tasty dish is traditionally finished with coriander, chilis, and — in Tamil Nadu — shredded coconut.
This oval, rye-based pastry is a staple for the Karelian people of Northern Europe. Historically stuffed with barley or roasted flours, the dish is now traditionally made with rice and hard-boiled egg mixed with butter. Other versions incorporate sweet berries (popular for breakfast), mashed potatoes, or even crab.
The Lot (Australia)
It’s not unusual for Australians to pile their burgers with pickled beet and an almost runny egg (because, why not?) but The Lot takes things a lot further. You’ve got your pineapple, naturally. Grilled onions. A slice or two of cheese. Bacon. A few rings of fried calamari? Go right ahead. It’s a bigger-than-a-baby’s-head extravaganza that gives new meaning to the term "burger."
Bloody Caesar (Canada)
Any country can mix up a serviceable Bloody Mary, but Canada takes the beloved brunch staple in a different direction (namely, North) with the Bloody Caesar, the Parliament-declared official cocktail of Canada. While it’s infinitely customizable like its mother Mary, the Bloody Caesar relies on Clamato (clam and tomato) for its base instead of pure tomato juice. This makes for a thinner but more flavorful quaff, so most Canadians go easier on the added seasonings. Rim the glass in celery salt or go for a mixture of celery salt and Montreal steak seasoning. Tasty, eh?
In neighboring Provence the French call it socca, but in Italy, it’s known as farinata or cecina. Either way, this large pancake is a staple of the Ligurian coast. Unleavened and adorned simply with sea salt (and maybe a sprinkling of cheese or herbs), farinata is more than the sum of its parts — which is little more than finely ground chickpea (garbanzo bean) flour, water, and olive oil. It’s crisped over a wood fire or quickly baked in a hot oven.
Anar Bij (Iran)
Persian food is frequently a cause for celebration, but this stew hailing from the northern province of Gilan makes any occasion special. Gilan borders the Caspian sea, and its people are known for their love of sour flavors. Anar bij combines ground meat (often lamb, usually in the form of meatballs) that are simmered with pomegranate paste, ground walnuts, onions, and turmeric; the mixture is then flavored with fenugreek leaves and parsley. Like all Persian stews, fragrant perfectly steamed rice is an essential complement.
This traditional New Year’s soup is eaten all over Japan, with many regional variations. Ingredients come and go, but (unflavored, unsweetened) mochi is a must. The mochi is typically simmered in a broth of clear or white miso with kombu, soy, and taro root. Mountainous regions will rely on mushrooms and forest vegetables, while coastal versions will boast an abundance of fresh seafood.
Beef Suya (Nigeria)
Kabobs are common in many places around the world, but Nigeria takes meat on a stick to a new level with delightfully spicy beef suya. Sold on street corners across the nation, the skewers are flame-grilled and spiced with yaji, a fiery and flavorful blend of dried peanut powder, ginger, cayenne, paprika, onion, and garlic. Serve with toasted chopped peanuts and thin slices of red onion and tomato.
The country that introduced the concept of terroir celebrates the specialties of its many regions, and the north is no exception. Here, beer and cider reign side by side with wine. Carbonnade boeuf de flamande is a rich stew of beef, onions, and dark beer, which is sometimes thickened with not-too-sweet slices of local gingerbread. Rich and filling, it’s ideal for cold winter nights.
Pap (South Africa)
Coarsely ground maize is a staple of indigenous South African cuisine. Much like grits or polenta, it’s relatively bland (but filling) on its own. However, this porridge is usually accompanied by grilled or stewed meats, often accented with spicy chakalaka vegetable relish, which gives the dish plenty of flavor.
Cao Lầu (Vietnam)
In the Vietnamese city of Hội An, one family has been producing unique rice noodles for four generations. Local rice is boiled in water that’s been mixed with ash from trees also grown in the area. The resulting dough is stretched, rolled, and cut by hand, then steamed and cooled beneath banana leaves. It’s then hand-delivered to grateful residents and restaurants, who turn it into a variety of delicious (and hyper-local) dishes.
In the lakeside city of Trakai, a former capital when the country was the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, you’ll find a golden crescent-shaped pastry stuffed with mushrooms, spinach, mutton, and other fillings. Kibinai was introduced by the Turkic Karaim minority, who were said to be brought to the duchy as spoils of war. While the treat can be found throughout the country, Trakai is still the best place to sample the original.
Ema Datshi (Bhutan)
In the mountainous kingdom of Bhutan, the cheese is mild ... and the chile peppers are anything but. These are the primary ingredients of ema datshi, Bhutan’s fiery stew. Onions and tomatoes may try to tame the heat, but it’s best eaten with generous bites of red Bhutanese rice.
Butter Pie (England)
Beginning in the 18th century, the northwest county of Lancashire boasted a large population of Catholics, particularly around the town of Preston (“Priest Town”). The residents needed a hearty meal on meatless Fridays and during the Lenten season. Bakers omitted meat and added butter to the usual filling of onion, salt and pepper, and “Friday Pie” was born. Today it’s popular with eaters of all faiths, and a favorite at chippies (fish-and-chip shops), supermarkets, and soccer stadiums.