The Best Traditional Meals Around The World
A great food experience when you’re travelling, can easily become the one thing you remember a country for. Perhaps it was a fabulous location, or the textures of the food? Maybe it was the way it was cooked and the incredible aromas that came from your plate? Or perhaps it was a food tour or cooking school you attended.
Would you travel to a country, just to eat their food? Live vicariously through this compilation of amazing culinary experiences from across the globe.
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Which Country Has The Best Traditional Meal?
The Best Traditional Meals in Asia
China – Baozi
My absolute favorite food (that you can’t find just anywhere) is baozi, or Chinese steamed buns. Made with soft bread and different types of fillings, these are a popular food for any time of day.
When I spent a summer abroad in China, I ordered some every single morning for breakfast! Fortunately Dalian, where I studied in Liaoning province, had a little restaurant a couple blocks away from my apartment that specialised in this delicious food. Another bonus is that a full order of 8 buns only cost about $1 USD and I could cut the price by ordering half an order!
My two favourite options were the baozi with pork filling and the baozi with egg and chive filling. Good Chinese food is hard to find in the US and this particular dish isn’t easily found outside of big cities. I’ve tried to make it at home, but still haven’t gotten the hang of it. Therefore, I definitely want to return to China for these delicious buns (and because I love the culture, scenery and people, as well)!
Singapore – Laksa
Every local resident in Singapore, mentioned that we must must try the local Laksa. Laksa is a soup based dish which is made substantially filing with noodles inside. They are usually wheat based, but a gluten free rice vermicelli noodle is often available too. The soup is infused with a very rich curried coconut milk to really fill up the stomach!
We had it in the infamous Little India, Singapore and it was a true delight. The bursting flavours will not be forgotten and you could almost taste the centuries of hard work that had gone into perfecting the balance of spices. Worried about getting a balanced diet? There is nothing to worry about with the Laksa soup, it is traditionally loaded with an array of vegetables, including coriander, lemongrass, shallots, onions, chillies, ginger and garlic.
In all honesty, we have struggled to find such great Laksa outside of Singapore!
Written by Manpreet, HelloManpreet.com
Japan – Shojin Ryori
As a vegan, I was worried about finding food when I travelled to Tokyo. Little did I know the Buddhist culture there caters well for us and it is not hard to find variations of vegan temple food around Japan.
The official name for this Japanese Buddhist cuisine is shojin ryori and the meals often come in a few different dishes so you get to try a variety of tastes. While you can head to vegan Michelan-star establishment Itosho to get a taste, you can find this cuisine in very unassuming places. I used the HappyCow app to try and track them down, and often found myself down unassuming, residential alleyways or climbing up fire escapes.
I always loved eating at these establishments, which grew out of Zen Buddhism and felt welcomed when I entered the premises. Usually, it was shoes off and traditional, sit down seating arrangements.
Far from bland, they usually consist of all five flavours: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami. They generally consisting of a variety of soy meats, tofu vegetables, plus side dishes of pickles and miso soup. Two years have past and I still long for another hearty Japanese meal like this!
Written by Cassie, from Cassie The Hag
If this was a competition, I would boldly claim that Malaysia has the best cuisine in the world. As the literal melting pot of three distinct cultures of Chinese, Malay and Indian, these cultures are represented wholeheartedly in Malaysia’s incredible versatile and variety of dishes. It is challenging to pin-point one dish to represent the whole country, as it would potentially be doing a disservice to one of the cultures.
It could be the uniquely sour Asam Laksa or the humble roadside Nasi Lemak, but then we must also consider the wok-fried Kweay Teow and the fond memories of Roti Canai. Then again, the internationally renowned Satay, or the simplicity of the sweet Cendol would go amiss.
From the myriad of favourites, I might have to cheat my way out of this internal debate and settle for the simple Nasi Campur (pronounced Cham-Pur). The literal translation means Rice (Nasi), Mixed (Campur). The dish popularised in Penang, on the west coast of Malaysia is essentially plain white rice with whatever dishes are on offer on the day. If you head to a Nasi Campur stand, you will be greeted with possibly 20 different curries, vegetables, fish and side dishes that the vendor has prepared on the day to complement your rice.
It is always a surprise and allows you to sample the very best of the cultures – the best aspect is you can try a variety of completely new dishes the next day too!
Written by Akid Zolkifli, from Asian Boy Astray
Indonesia, Bali – Gado Gado
My most memorable traditional dish has got to be Gado Gado in Bali. The first time I ever tried it was from a street vendor at the beach on my first ever trip their and it instantly became my favourite Balinese dish.
The moment was made even more memorable by the fact that my partner had been telling me about it and I thought he was talking about “gateaux” so I was expecting a cake or dessert. Imagine my surprise when I actually got stir fried vegetables, spicy peanut sauce, crispy tofu, fried egg and of course shrimp crackers.
I look back now and not only laugh at my naivety but remember how much that experience changed my life forever. It was one of many firsts for me on that trip and Bali has become a place that is very dear to my heart with the food being one of my favourite things about it.
Udaipur, Rajasthani Thali
A trip to any place in Rajasthan, India is never complete without eating an authentic traditional Rajasthani meal. A couple of years ago, on our trip to Udaipur, we enjoyed this extravagant eating experience too. But instead of visiting a restaurant popular among tourists, we chose one which the locals love.
Once inside, we had to sit cross-legged on the floor. A turban was placed on our head just like the locals wear it. Waiters greeted us with a smile and placed a large plate (called thali) before us neatly lined with small bowls called katoris. Each katori was then filled with typical Rajasthani lentils, curries, vegetable preparations, sweets, buttermilk, etc.
All of these preparations cooked in ghee (clarified butter) taste heavenly. In addition to that, the bread also called as the roti made out of locally sourced grains such as jowar, bajra, makka etc. is placed in the centre of the plate. The most popular items on the plate are the dal bati choorma, pyaz di kachori and the ghevar.
There are no screens distracting you here and there is no fancy menu. You eat with your hands. The waiters urge you to eat to your heart’s content. Ultimately, the experience of eating a meal cooked with a lot of warmth and love is so enriching that it forces you to stop counting calories when you eat but instead teaches you to count your blessings!
The Best Traditional Meals in Europe
Italy – Tigelle e crescentine
The medieval town of Bologna, located in Northern Italy, is quite a hidden gem compared to Venice, Florence and Milan. The traditional dishes of Bologna that come to mind are tortellini, lasagne or pasta with bolognese sauce (in Italian “ragú”). However, the most unusual and memorable traditional meal we enjoyed in Bologna was “tigelle e crescentine”.
Let’s start with the basics: “tigelle” bread are flat and round, the size of the palm of your hand. “Crescentine” bread instead are fried, bigger than a fist, crunchy outside but soft and empty inside. These types of bread come warm in baskets, ready to be filled with all the most delicious products of Bologna and of the region of Emilia-Romagna. Usually, a platter will include local cured meats (“salumi” in Italian) such as mortadella and prosciutto crudo; typical soft cheeses like stracchino or squaquerone, light and easy to spread; and lots of pickled vegetables, from mushrooms, to onions and peppers. Each restaurant may have their own secret recipes of spreads and extra delicacies.
We loved tigelle and crescentine because of the possibility to mix and match flavours and textures: it felt like exploring the whole city and its culinary tradition.
Don’t forget to ask for some local wine! The typical Bologna house wine is a red called Sangiovese. Enjoy!
Written by Giulia and Darek, from Travelling Sunglasses
Italy – Puglian Cuisine
We all think we know Italian food, but the fact is that there are many different cuisines throughout the 20 different regions of Italy. Puglia, the heel of the boot in Italy’s far south, is home to a cuisine that’s rather different from anything you’ve ever tasted in Rome, Florence or Venice, and certainly different from anything you’ve eaten at an Italian restaurant outside Italy.
Long considered to be the poor part of Italy, the style of cooking here is known as “cucina povera”, or “poor man’s cuisine”. Stale bread is moistened and reused in soups and salads, ingredients are used only when they’re in season, and nothing goes to waste. Since the land here is not suitable for grazing cattle, most of the dishes are based on vegetables, grains and legumes rather than animal products. Indeed, Puglia’s cuisine is probably the most vegan-friendly cuisine in Italy.
As a vegan foodie traveler and Italophile, I’m in heaven whenever I go to Puglia! My favorite local dish is orecchiette cime di rapa, which is made with Puglia’s most popular pasta shape, orecchiette or “little ears”. While most other types of fresh pasta contain eggs, orecchiette are made just with durum wheat flour (semolina) mixed with water. When tossed with sautéed broccoli rabe, they made a nutritious and delicious meal!
Written by Wendy Werneth of The Nomadic Vegan
Think about food, and the first country that comes to mind is most likely Italy. But contrary to what many think, there isn’t just one traditional Italian food, but many regional cuisines – each of them unique, delicious and offering a fantastic culinary experience.
Come to the lesser known island of Sardinia, for example, and a traditional meal is most likely a feast that will have you seated for a minimum of 3 hours and trying a variety of appetizers which usually include vegetables cooked in about a million ways, cheese, meats, pasta (malloreddus and culurgiones are usually on the table) and the real king of traditional Sardinian cuisine: “porceddu” – a suckling pig slow roasted on the fire until the meat melts in your mouth and the skin becomes crispy. A meal won’t end without Sardinian sweets – usually a mix of dry cookies made with almonds, and “sebadas,” a light pastry filled with a mild cheese mix with lemon grind and fried until golden and crispy and served with honey. Meals are usually accompanied with Sardinian wine – the most popular is Cannonau – and concluded with traditional liquors such as mirto.
The best places to try a typical Sardinian meal are agriturismi. Keep in mind that if you want to taste the suckling pig you do need to make reservations in advance, because it can take up to 5 hours to cook!
Written by Claudia Tavani, from Strictly Sardinia
Italy, Florence – Wild Boar Ragu with Pappardelle
Eating a rich, delicious wild boar ragu with pappardelle in the dish’s native Tuscany is an experience all visitors should indulge in while on vacation.
Wild boar (‘Cinghiale’ in Italian) features in several Tuscan dishes as they roam wild across the Tuscany region and when slow cooked, it’s as tender as fish and is especially tasty with a local Tuscan red wine.
I enjoyed my first wild boar ragu with pappardelle in Florence where I have now lived for a year. In fact, it’s probably my favourite meal when I dine out.
The combination of the tender wild boar, amazing home-made pasta and rich sauce is something to savour. And of course, with a glass of red, it becomes not just a meal but an experience.
It makes you feel like you’re really immersed in the Tuscan environment.
So if you’re planning a Tuscan vacation, add wild boar ragu with pappardelle to your to-eat-list!
Written by Matt, from It’s All In Italy
Greece – Lentil Soup “Fakes”
Greek cuisine is renowned for its marinated meats and street food dishes like souvlaki and gyros. However, Greek food is so much more than that. Contrary to popular assumption, there are plenty of vegetarian and vegan options in Greece. Fakes (pronounced Fah-kes) is one such example.
Fakes is the Greek answer to lentil soup. The dish is quite simple yet incredibly flavourful. It is made up of tender lentils drizzled in extra virgin olive oil and cooked with red wine vinegar and onions.
You can find fakes in tavernas and restaurants across Greece all year round, but this soup is especially popular during the winter months when people want something to warm themselves up. A huge portion of fakes at an Athenian taverna will usually cost you no more than €4-5 including a side order of bread. You can get a pot of soup to take away and eat at home if you wish and the portions are huge!
Written by Melissa, from High Heels & a Backpack
Greece – To steki tou Ilia
There are many foodie experiences in Athens that are worth writing home about, and one such experience is eating lamb chops in “To steki tou Ilia”. Located close to the Thissio metro station, “To steki tou Ilia” is a psistaria (grilled meat restaurant) that is famed for its tasty, succulent cuts of meat especially lamb that are grilled to perfection.
While the signage of “To steki tou Ilia” is barely noticeable from the side of the road, the delicious smells wafting through the street and the full tables of locals will let you know you’re in the right place! The wooden tables covered with gingham cloths and the low-key atmosphere all add to the charm of the place and in summer, when the restaurant expands into a hidden garden over the road, “To steki tou Ilia” is the place to be.
The menu here at “To steki tou Ilia” is simple and traditional but this just goes to show that these guys stick to what they know best. The best way to enjoy a meal at “To steki tou Ilia” is to visit with friends and order a collection of lamb and pork chops along with dips, chips and salad and let everyone dig into their heart’s content.
Written by Chrysoula, from Athens and Beyond
Poland – Pierogi
There is one thing I crave as soon as I land in Poland and that is Pierogi. Pierogi is a traditional Polish style dumpling that is just the most divine food that fills you and makes you feel warm on the coldest of nights.
There are so many different types that you can try from meat and cabbage even a vegetarian style in some areas, either steamed or fried. Some will have them as an entree to a larger meal and some places will have servings large enough for an entire meal. Whatever you chose you will love them either way.
For us, we have been lucky enough to have them homemade in a tiny kitchen from a friends mother. This is an amazing way to try a favourite Polish meal. For others not so lucky you can head to a local restaurant to try them. In most of the places you will stay in Poland they will have a favourite place that prepares them, normally by a local lady.
If you are in a larger city you can head to a Restauracja Zapiecek for a serving as they make a very good one here.
Written by Bec Wyld, from Poland Travel Expert
The Best Traditional Meals in the America’s
Costa Rica – Rondon
Although many travellers come to Costa Rica for its stunning views, eco tourism experiences and the pura vida lifestyle, you cannot overlook the incredible Costa Rican food.
The country has delicious fruit, vegetables and fantastic seafood opportunities. Food here is influenced by the Caribbean, especially Jamaican immigrants who arrived to work on the railroad.
In southern Costa Rica one of the popular dishes is called rondón. The name comes from a Spanish take on the English phrase “run down” as it is a versatile dish based on whatever the home cook could acquire or run down.
It is a spicy coconut fish soup that uses Panamanian pepper, a spicy but fruity chile pepper in the scotch bonnet family. The soup often includes whatever fish is available and sometimes lobster or crabs. It is given a bit of heartiness with large chunks of root vegetables, which may include plantains, taro root or cassava.
Written by Ayngelina Brogan, from Bacon Is Magic
Costa Rica – Gallo Pinto
Since creating a home-base in Costa Rica, Gallo Pinto has become one of our favourite dishes. In fact, we like it so much it ends up on our plates even while we are abroad.
Gallo Pinto is the national dish of Costa Rica. It is a traditional Costa Rican breakfast food that consists of rice and beans served with egg, sausage and slathered with Lizano sauce (a Costa Rican local’s favourite).
Some foreigners liken Gallo Pinto to just “rice and beans” but we would contest it is much more than that! It is a delicious mix of white rice, black beans, fresh red bell peppers, cilantro, and onion.
Gallo Pinto is a staple of every Costa Rican household and shared amongst family and friends. Its ingredients go a long way in creating other dishes and often leftovers are cooked up into another favourite Costa Rican dish – Casados. Zero waste is a win in our books!
Written by Oksana & Max from Drink Tea & Travel.
Argentina, Buenos Aires – Asado
Argentina is world-famous for its meat so of course my most memorable traditional meal involves eating the best steak in Buenos Aires. But not in a steakhouse (or as the locals call it, a parilla), at an asado. Asados are events, barbeques with family and friends. They are drawn out affairs and can last the entire day.
Living here in Argentina, it’s how I spend most of my birthdays and special events. All my closest friends come over with a bottle of wine in hand, while we prepare the meat. Chorizo, sweetbreads, and blood sausage always make up the first course. They’re followed by massive hunks of beef, tenderloin, and ribeye, as well as racks of ribs, that have slowly cooked for hours over the fire. The meat, like the event, is communal. It’s sliced at the table to be shared.
To attend an asado is to experience a traditional aspect of Argentine culture.
Written by Erin Mushaway, from Sol Salute
Mexico – Tacos
We loved visiting Mexico city for the tacos. Tacos al Pastor are the local Mexican taco variation. It reminded us of a London kebab store because the meat is grilled similarly. Then we found out the reason! The Taco Al Pastor was started in Mexico by Lebanese immigrants. Instead of the usual lamb used in Shawarma wrapped in pita, they went with local ingredients – pork and tortillas. The pork is also marinated with a chili/vinegar sauce before it is grilled. The taco filling is put into a taco shell and it’s super delicious.
You can also get tacos of other varieties as well. We love all sorts of tacos fillings from fish and meat to vegetables. We have frequented lots of places in the world where tacos have been brought by Mexican immigrants, including Paris and London. Our favourite fast casual taqueria in London is Benito’s Hat. They’ve put out a cookbook which also lets us make cool taco fillings at home. The great thing about tacos is their endless variety and they make great street food snacks. We even found a variation of French Tacos in Toulouse where they have a crepe wrap instead of the usual tortilla.
Written by Shobha George, from Just Go Places
The Best Traditional Meals in the Middle East
Egypt – Koshary
Travelling to Egypt is almost guaranteed to encompass unique experiences, friendly locals, beautiful landscapes, and a good mix of cultures and languages.
Known for its ancient monuments and Pharaonic civilisation, however not much is known about the food of Egypt that includes delicious dishes such as koshary, ful, and fiteer. Egyptian food makes heavy use of legumes, vegetables and fruit from the region’s rich Nile Valley and shares similarities with the food of the Mediterranean region.
The national dish of the country would be koshary, served in virtually every restaurant and in every home. Originating in the early 19th century, koshary is made of rice, macaroni, and lentils mixed together, topped with a spiced tomato sauce and garlic vinegar. It is then garnished with chickpeas and crispy fried onions with sprinklings of garlic juice, garlic vinegar and hot sauce. This cheap and simple dish is easy to find and is a must try dish when in the country.
Written by Rai, from A Rai of Light