You’re not alone if you’ve fantasized about eating your way around Europe. The continent is a foodie’s dream, with rich stews and dumplings in the Balkans, seafood in the Mediterranean, and of course delicious cheeses all over. Each country has one dish that is the most identifiable, famous, and sought-after by visitors: the cuisine staple that people think of when they think of the country. Traditional cuisines are delicious, but they also tell a tale about a country’s history, people, and traditions.
Join us as we travel through Europe and Eurasia’s culinary scenes, one country and iconic food at a time. Warning: This article should not be read on an empty stomach.
Albania – Byrek
Phyllo pastry is a ubiquitous element in Balkan cuisine, and byrek is just one of its delectable applications in Albania. Byrek is a pie that is stuffed with creamy feta cheese and spinach (and sometimes meat like lamb) and served as a main dish or an appetizer.
Austria – Strudel
Strudels, which are formed of crisp dough with delicate layers, can be filled with a variety of fillings. However, in Austria, the apple type, which often incorporates raisins, is by far the most popular. If you want to be like the locals, ask for a “Apfelstrudel.” Prepare for the sugar high of your life by topping with whipped cream or vanilla sauce.
Belgium – Waffles
Belgian chocolate and beer are among the country’s gastronomic highlights, but no meal is more famous than the Belgian waffle. While the Belgian waffle is typically huge and drenched in syrup in North America, the classic version is a modest street dish. Eat this dessert without forks, plain or with a little dollop of whipped cream and sliced berries on top.
Croatia – Black Risotto
Along Croatia’s coast, black risotto is a popular dish made with cuttlefish or squid, olive oil, garlic, red wine, and squid ink. Croatians call it “crni riot,” and it is infamous for turning people’s teeth black. Pasticada, a traditional Dalmatian dish made with tender beer and gnocchi, is another popular regional meal. Expect to see a lot of olive oil wherever you go in Croatia; there’s a reason it’s dubbed “Mediterranean liquid gold”, quite accurately too.
Cyprus – Halloumi Cheese
Halloumi cheese is widely consumed in the Middle East and Greece, but it is thought to have originated in Cyprus centuries ago (the earliest descriptions of the cheese date back to the 16th century). Halloumi gets its distinctive flavor and texture from a blend of goat and sheep milk, making it suitable for grilling rather than melting. Cypriots like halloumi with fresh watermelon as a delightful snack throughout the summer months.
France – Croissants
The croissant, like the Eiffel Tower, is indelibly linked to French culture. And it’s no surprise: the flaky, buttery delicacy of the pastry may be relished at any time of day. Fun fact: the treat originated in Austria before spreading to France and becoming extremely popular there. The name “croissant” comes from the French word “crescent,” which refers to the shape of the pastry. France, like many of the other countries on the list, has a popular soup: soupe à l’oignon, which is cooked with onions, beef stock, croutons, and (yum) melted cheese. It’s also known by its English moniker, “French onion soup,” in other parts of the world.
Germany – Pretzels
Pretzels may have been first eaten by European monks during the Middle Ages, but they’ve been linked with Germany for centuries. Today, they’re served with everything from ham and cheese to pumpkin seeds at German bakeries, restaurants, and beer halls. The greatest varieties have a crispy crust on the outside and chewy dough on the interior. Spaetzle, a sort of pasta made from fresh eggs, and a range of sausages, such as bratwurst (made from minced pig and beef) and blutworst (made from minced pork and cattle), are also popular in Germany (made from blood sausage).
Whatever traditional dish you choose, don’t forget to wash it down with a German classic: a boot of ale (aka “das boot”).
Spain – Paella
When visiting Spain, paella, a hearty rice-based dish, is a must-try. It is most strongly linked with Valencia, a port city on Spain’s east coast, and comes in a variety of forms, including vegetable, meat, seafood, and mixed (containing a combination of ingredients). Its name is thought to come from the Latin word “patella,” which means “pan.” In Spain, many people order tapas-style dishes. Croquettes, jamón ibérico de bellota (acorn-fed Iberian ham), and pan con tomate are also great for sharing (Spanish tomato bread).
United Kingdom – Fish & Chips
If you tell a Brit to go to the “chippy,” they’ll know just where to go. A parcel of fish and chips, wrapped in paper and served with salt and vinegar, screams Britain. From street corners to Michelin-starred restaurants, the dish may be found all over the country. Poppie’s Fish & Chips in London is well-known for its traditional cod and haddock dishes.