There's a lot more to travelling the world than just escaping our day-to-day lives and relaxing on beautiful beaches or hitting up all the over-crowded tourist traps to snap that Instagram-worthy pic. Travelling can be a way to open our eyes to new experiences, diverse cultures and a different way of living. Every culture has its own unique dishes and national foods, and although we're blessed with a multitude of international cuisines in Toronto, nothing beats trying the real deal straight from the source.
These days, you can find a lot of culinary comforts from home abroad — fast food chains span the globe and many dishes that are familiar to us have been popularized the world over. But if you're already taking the time to visit another country, why not do as they do and eat as they eat? We can guarantee that local fare, especially national foods, will be better than anything you can find on a resort.
Many destinations are worth visiting just for a taste of their food alone. In the U.S., culinary cities abound — from the Michelin-star restaurant heavy New York City to the heartland of Cajun cuisine, Lafayette, Louisiana. In the Caribbean, Anguilla's culinary experiences are worth the airfare alone (you need to add crayfish to your foodie bucket-list, stat). Stop over in Saint Martin, where you'll find the perfect mix of French fine dining and casual seaside Caribbean eateries. But Parma, Italy might be the most delicious city we've ever visited. There's a whole culinary world out there waiting to be explored with your tastebuds — start with these national foods that everyone needs to try at least once.
1. Ackee and saltfish
You can find variations of this traditional Caribbean dish served in restaurants and beachside grills all over the islands, primarily for breakfast and brunch. But Jamaica lays claim to the recipe as its national dish. The savoury saltfish, or salted codfish, is served tossed with onions, sweet ackee fruit and sometimes Scotch bonnet peppers — so watch out. And don’t skip on the perfectly crispy and doughy dumplings and fried plantain to eat on the side.
2. Cà phê đá
You haven’t truly experienced iced coffee until you’ve tried cà phê đá, Vietnamese iced coffee. If you’re travelling in Vietnam, be sure to stop by a local café to get your hands on the caffeinated treat, usually made with Vietnamese-grown coffee and sweetened condensed milk. Try it in different cities — there are regional variations that include egg coffee, popular in Hanoi, and salted cream coffee that’s popular in Huế. It can also be served black.
3. Loco Moco
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Poke might be the most popular food to come out of Hawaii, and you should definitely try it while you're here (some of the best poke can be found at the grocery store), but loco moco really stole our hearts. A staple of contemporary Hawaiin cuisine, this hearty breakfast dish is served all over the islands. White rice is topped with a hamburger patty, a fried egg and, depending on the version, accoutrements like onions and mushrooms, then it's all covered in a rich brown gravy.
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These tasty morsels may resemble pierogies, but varenyky are a popular Ukrainian national dish. When Ukraine is safe to visit again, you can find varenyky in plenty of restaurants in Kyiv and across the country. While potato is the most popular, they come stuffed with a variety of fillings like meat, vegetables and mushrooms. They can even be a dessert, too, with fruit-filled versions. Shaped like a half-moon, these dumplings also have a special cultural significance, representing a new moon.
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This sticky, dough-like food recently gained popularity on TikTok, but while there are plenty of recipes out there, you’ll want to try it from the source. Fufu is popular in many West African countries, including Ghana and Nigeria. Order it from street food stalls and trucks along with hearty soups or stews. Traditionally fufu is eaten with the fingers. Rip off a piece, make it into a small ball with your fingers, dip it in soup and enjoy.
Pupusas are a street-corner staple found in many countries throughout Central America. El Salvador and Honduras both claim to have originated the flatbread, but in El Salvador it’s been declared as the national dish and even has its own special day. Similar to Venezuela and Colombia’s arepas, pupusas are made with cornmeal or rice flour, but they’re usually stuffed with one or more fillings like cheese, chicharron (fried pork belly), squash or refried beans.
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Originating in Switzerland, but served in many Alpine regions, raclette is a cheese-lover's dream come true. Usually, a giant wheel of raclette (Swiss cheese) is heated facing a fire, under a heat lamp or with a special machine, that's also often called a raclette. The gooey melted part of the cheese is scraped off and slathered over potatoes, and served alongside cornichons, pickled onions and cured meat.
8. Pastel de nata
Pastel de nata, or Portuguese egg tarts have become popular in countries all over the world, but you'll have to travel to Lisbon to try the original recipe. First created by Catholic monks at the Hieronymites Monastery before the 18th century, these sweet treats were made with the leftover egg yolks after the whites were used for bleaching clothing. The original recipe was eventually sold to a sugar refinery whose owners opened Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém in 1837. The bakery still exists today in Lisbon where you can try this historic treat — still made with the original recipe that's kept locked away in a secret room. Now that's a taste of history.
This traditional open-faced sandwich is often served for lunch in Denmark, along with Norway and Sweden. The Danish dish is made with rugbrød, a sourdough rye bread that's buttered and layered with toppings. Pickled herring, cured meat, smoked fish, cheese, boiled eggs, along with fruits, veggies and other local delights could make an appearance on your smørrebrød. There aren't many rules when it comes to this traditional food served in shops all over Copenhagen, but there is one: Eat it with a knife and fork, not your hands!