Around the world in 15 dishes
Journeys | 26.06.2020
Whether it's downing kimchi in South Korea or indulging in the pistachio-topped dessert of kunefe in Turkey, each country on this beautiful planet of ours is characterised by its unique cuisine. We count down the best (and sometimes most peculiar) dishes from around the world, with 15 delightful dishes to get your taste buds tingling…
Lamb Tagine – Morocco
Dating all the way back to the eighth century, the humble tagine is essentially a clay pot made of two pieces: a shallow base topped with an almost cone-like lid, first used by nomadic tribes in North Africa. While the pot itself originates in nearby Tunisia, the art of the 'tagine' was perfected in Morocco by the local Berber population who used it to slowly cook tough meat, to leave it irresistibly soft and juicy.

Nowadays, it is the use of lamb that makes the tagine so famous in Morocco. Served everywhere from the maze-like streets of Marrakech to high end restaurants in Casablanca, the lamb tagine is a fragrant stew-like dish punctuated by flavours of ginger and coriander and finished with a sprinkling of dried apricots or prunes.
Bunny Chow – South Africa
An absolute oddity of a dish only available on the streets of South Africa, t 'bunny chow' is a mix of Asian, European and South African heritage all rolled into one innovative meal.

Essentially to make the ubiquitous dish you take half a loaf of plain white bread, hollow it out by removing all the dough inside, and then pour in whatever curry you can find, until it almost flows over the top.
While the origins are sketchy, it said bunny chow was a way to serve black customers during the country's Apartheid rule. Since they weren't allowed in the restaurant, the bread loaf served almost as a 'takeaway' container. The beginnings of the name are also unknown, although it's been said that it's because it resembles the body of a rabbit, or is a mispronunciation of 'banya chow', the name for the Indian population in the hometown of Durban at the time.
Kunefe – Turkey
It isn't easy choosing just one Turkish dish to serve – from sickly sweet baklava to doners, pides and kebap, the country has contributed many a treat to the international menu. But it's the dreamy dessert of kunefe that makes it onto our list. Not as well-known as many other dishes, this is a must on any trip to Turkey.

You'd be surprised to learn that the main ingredient is cheese, ideally a soft cheese like urfa peyniri although if you're making this at home, a bit of mozzarella will do. The cheese is topped with shredded wheat strings called kadayif, soaked in syrup and then topped with clotted cream and pistachios. Yum.
Jerk Chicken – Jamaica
It's known throughout the Caribbean but is most often associated with the island nation of Jamaica: jerk chicken, that smoky chicken best served with a side of plantains, some rice and some crispy cornbread fritters.

Now 'jerk' doesn't just refer to chicken – it's the way of cooking meat and also the spices themselves that make up this cooking style. Just take your chicken (or pork, vegetables or even goat!), coat it with Scotch bonnet chillies, allspice and a handful of flavours in a spicy rub, and cook it over a fire using green pimento wood. The result? A smoky, sometimes hot dish bursting with island flavour.
Poutine – Canada
Possibly the heartiest dish on this list, the French-Canadian classic of poutine is as much a family dish as it is an almost mythical hangover cure. Legend has it the carb-laden combination of French fries, cheese curds and brown gravy has almost restorative powers if you had one too many drinks the night before.
Its history of the Poutine is said to have started in Canada's Quebec province where a truck driver asked a diner waitress to make him something 'hot to go'. She threw together the ingredients, he went on his way and the dish's fame started to spread across the country, as truckers requested it along their routes.

Nowadays poutine is enjoyed across the board – from casual diners and takeaway joints to fine dining establishments who pair it with delicacies like duck confit and foie gras.
Paella – Spain
Hailing from the gorgeous Valencia region of Spain, the world-famous dish of paella is a quintessentially Spanish dish. Named for the cooking pan it's supposed to be made in – la paella – this rice dish is not actually just one dish, but has hundreds of recipes, all perfected over time.
Known across the globe as a meal made of rice along with green beans, butter beans and chicken or duck, international editions usually include a mix of seafood while true paella, made in the Valencia style, doesn't have a prawn in sight!

Like many of the dishes on this list, it has humble beginnings as paella was originally 'farmers food', a dish that farm labourers would make over a wood fire for a nourishing lunch.
Goulash – Hungary
Easily considered the national dish of Hungary, you have to eat goulash once in your lifetime. This delicious stew is made up of meat and vegetables, cooked slowly, and sprinkled with paprika, one of the most famous spices to come out of this enchanting land.

The name itself comes from 'gulyás', which translates as herdsman. That's since goulash was invented by roaming Hungarian herdsmen, groups of men who used to roam the plains tending cattle. If one of the cattle died, the herdsmen would feast, creating a simple stew of the beef, onions, water (and later paprika), cooked in heavy black cauldrons they carried across the country.
Tacos – Mexico
Possibly as famous in the USA as they are in their country of origin, Mexico, tacos is a dish served everywhere from roadside stands in Mexico City to diners across the States.

The start of this dish is a little fuzzy as many don't know how tacos originated but prominent taco expert (yes, there's such a thing), Jeffrey Pilcher believes they date back to the Mexican silver mines of the 18th century. In the mines, 'tacos' were small slips of paper wrapped around gunpowder to excavate ore, giving them their unusual curved shape.
The humble taco truly rose to fame in the 1960s when California-based fast food chain, Taco Bell, began its US expansion plans, making tacos a staple on American menus and the rest, as they say, is history…

Whether it's made of wheat or corn tortillas, tacos are a heavenly handful of meat (usually beef, pork or chicken), layered with lettuce, onion and tomato, and served with dollops of salsa, guacamole and sour cream. SpecTACOlar!
Hangi – New Zealand
Less a concoction and more a style of cooking, hangi hails from the small island nation of New Zealand, with its roots in the local Māori traditions.

The Maoris believed that the earth was the giver of life, and that food was meant to come from the soil. With this in mind, a hangi is a pit dug deep into the ground, where meats like mutton or lamb, and vegetables like pumpkin or cabbage would be cooked.

While traditional methods would see the chef use leaves to wrap the food, known as 'kai', nowadays you'll most likely see more modern equipment, including foil and wire baskets. But the idea remains the same: the baskets, brimming with food, are placed on hot stones in the hole, covered with a wet cloth and roasted beneath the ground, creating a smoky and absolutely soft and tender meal for those willing to wait it out.
Pad Thai – Thailand
It's not easy to choose a signature dish from Thailand – there's tantalising tom yum soup, more-ish mango sticky rice and spicy papaya salad to name just a few. But it's probably pad thai that is the most renowned of the Thai foodie scene.

A scrumptious stir-fried bowl of rice noodles, pad thai sees the dried rice noodles mixed with tapioca flour and then fried with eggs and tofu, before receiving lashings of fish sauce, dried shrimp, shallots and a few lime wedges, topped with roasted peanuts. It's a sweet and salty dish best served straight out of the wok.
Unlike most of the meals on this countdown, pad thai is a more modern cuisine. It was created by then Prime Minister, Plaek Phibunsongkhram, in the 1930s for two reasons: to counter the serious rice shortage at the time and to create a national 'noodle dish' to compare to all the historically Chinese noodle dishes popular at the time
Kimchi – South Korea
It takes the title of the 'oldest' dish on this list, as kimchi from South Korea, dates as far back as 37 BC, in the Three Kingdoms of Korea. Long before the refrigerator was born, pickling vegetables was a great way to preserve them and this is where kimchi was first conceived.

A spicy dish made out of salted and fermented vegetables, a bowl of kimchi is best known for it's unique 'kick', essentially a fiery paste made out of chilli powder, red peppers, garlic and usually fish sauce. There isn't one specific vegetable used but more popular ones are napa cabbage, gat (mustard leaf) and oi sobagi (a type of cucumber).
Pie, Mash and Liquor – England
Many British dishes are simple fare like fish and chips, steak and kidney pies and more regional fare like Cornish pasties or Yorkshire pudding. But there is a lot of solace in simplicity; soul food that warms you up in more miserable weather.

One of the best of the British bunch is the meal of 'pie, mash and liquor'. While pies – usually a meat filling wrapped in thick layers of pastry – are thought to have come from ancient Egypt, they have a long history in the United Kingdom, as a fashionable street food as far back as the Victorian era.
Around that time, pie, mash (mashed potatoes) and liquor (a parsley sauce) stores started to open, selling pies with a really unusual ingredient: eels! One of the only fish that could survive in what was a very polluted Thames river, eels were readily available and so included as a key ingredient, usually as 'jellied eels'.

If you're in London and wanting to get your pie, mash and liquor fix, try out Manze's, it one of the best in town.
Schweinshaxe – Germany
In a country most notable for its massive production (and consumption) of beer, you need a solid meal to accompany a day's worth of drinking. Enter the schweinshaxe, a German roasted ham hock, also known as a pork knuckle.

A cut of pork meat from just above the ankle, this Bavarian dish is also known in other parts of the country as Eisbein, where the hock is slightly pickled.

Another food originating from humble beginnings, the schweinshaxe was invented as a way to use the tougher, less expensive meat. That means the meat is usually cooked for a very long time; sometimes marinated for up to a week and cooked for around three hours. Served with a large helping of creamy potato mash and a side serving of the country's infamous sauerkraut (finely cut cabbage), this is one German dish you need to try.
Peking Duck – China
A dish fit for the royals, Peking Duck was originally prepared as far back as 1330 for the then Emperor of China. It was a feature on royal menus throughout the ages, a key dish at imperial feasts most notably in the Ming and Qing Dynasties.

The dish burst onto the global scene in the mid-20th century with diplomats and celebrities extolling its virtues on return trips from Beijing, and many famous politicians like Henry Kissinger, Fidel Castro and Helmut Kohl counted as famous fans.
Specially prepared, Peking Duck is characterised by its very thin, crispy skin and ducks that are specifically bred for the signature dish. Served in slices, it's usually accompanied by spring onions, cucumber and sweet bean sauce, most often paired with pancakes that the diner rolls themselves.
Injera – Ethiopia
Last, but definitely not least, to round out this list of the world's best (and most bizarre) country culinary treats is the simplest of the lot: a form of Ethiopian bread called injera.

But injera is not just any kind of bread. A gigantic, spongy bread almost akin to a pancake, the common injera has been called one of the globe's 'best kept secrets'. Made out of tef, the smallest commercial grain on earth, this bread is the base for most of the nation's collection of cuisines, often topped with huge mounds of curry or heaped with meat.

The texture is a little odd to start (it's even been mistaken for a tablecloth by unsuspecting tourists!) but injera is a great foundation for stand-out toppings like kitfo (similar to steak tartare), fuul (fava beans) and dulet (minced tripe, liver and lean beef).
As a food quote from James Beard explains, 'food is our common ground, a universal experience'. Regardless of their origins, all the foods on this list share one thing: a love for eating, and the experience of dining with family and friends.

Whether you're assembled around the table together, swapping bowls of Greek meze or tucking into bowls of Vietnamese pho, the world has many a multicoloured dish, fit for every occasion.
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