You’ve taken the flights. You’ve checked into your hotel. You’re settled in. Then, sure enough, the rumbling starts. You’re hungry. It’s time to eat. Where do you go first? Which international foods should you try?
If you’ve already made your way through Part One of our international foods list, we’ve got another leg of the foodie journey waiting just for you.
You’ll find in many places that food is served family style. Take this opportunity to try local cuisine and learn more about the region and culture from the heart of their roots – the people. Fair warning, once again: Use caution when reading this list on an empty stomach… You may find yourself planning your next trip around your international foods bucket list!
The Galapagos Islands are known the world around for incredible wildlife viewing. Often referred to simply as “The Galapagos,” it’s actually a province of Ecuador. And what that means is: fresh seafood! If saltwater fare isn’t your favorite, don’t worry – you’ll also find meat, potatoes, grains, and fruits here. No matter your preference, you’re in for light, bright, and fresh Ecuadorian inspired international foods!
This thick, fish-based soup (regarded as a national dish) will hit the spot and fill you up at a great price. In most Galapagos Islands households and restaurants, you’ll find encebollado with yucca, chilies, and onion included. If you’re more interested in lobster or shrimp (or even sea cucumber, if you’re feeling daring!), these are usually options as well.
Easily one of the most popular local foods, ceviche is a must try if you’re a seafood fan! Red onions and various types of seafood (from crab, clams, or lobster, to octopus or squid) are chopped in marinated in lemon or lime juice. Depending on where you order ceviche, you may also find mango, mango juice, jalapeno (or other peppers), tomatoes, and/or cilantro included. For a more authentic experience, try your ceviche with clams, lobster, and/or octopus (what you’ll usually get in the states is shrimp and/or white fish). Regardless of the variation you try, its bright, sparkling fresh flavor will dance across your tongue to the very last bite.
This Central American country – just south of Mexico – prides itself on food that comes from various backgrounds, making most dishes truly “international foods.” Here you’ll find Mayan and Spanish influences, African and Caribbean updates, and even some Chinese and American quirks. Trying Guatemalan staples is a must, but don’t pass up dishes that sound totally “Mexican” either. We’ve heard more than once or twice that the nachos in Guatemala were the best that travelers had anywhere!
While central and south American countries are known to use chicken in many meals, this dish has an interesting twist. The national dish of Guatemala, “Chicken Pepian” features chicken smothered in a spicy (but delicious) pumpkin and sesame sauce. You man even hear locals refer to it as Mayan curry. If the menu you’re ordering from doesn’t have much English, look for Pepian de Pollo.
Stop what you’re doing. Just stop right there. Remove from your memory the thought of the family gathered around the table ready to dig into ‘the bird.’ This turkey is not the Thanksgiving staple we know so well – no, this dish packs a powerful punch of flavor. Welcome to the most interesting bowl of turkey soup you’ve ever had. Spiced with coriander, achiote pepper, and chile peppers, you mustn’t leave Guatemala without giving this an enthusiastic slurp.
It would literally be impossible to showcase India’s wide array of tantalizing dishes in a blog post of any length. The best rule of thumb here: Order international foods that you wouldn’t necessarily find or order at home. Anything. Honestly. The fragrant, rich spices are around every corner and give nearly every dish that special ‘something’. Pair this with a culture that enjoys taking the time to do things the right way and you’ll have the ultimate ‘home cooked’ meal, thousands of miles from home!
Start your morning with this south Indian staple. Meant to be a breakfast food, Idli is a bit dense, so don’t plan for a giant meal. At first glance, you may think they’re ‘unpopped’ rice cakes – and you’d be wrong. These delicious little pucks of goodness are actually a fermented batter of ground rice and lentils. The round shape comes from steaming in small circular moulds. This savory dish may not floor you with strong flavors (which some people like in the morning!), but is often served with condiments (like chutney) for extra zing.
If you have a sweet tooth (but filled up on a bunch of other great Indian dishes at dinner), this bite-sized dessert is exactly what you need. These slow cooked gems are actually small balls of dried milk (often made from freshly curdled milk). Boiled simply in a sugar syrup, you’re in for a sweet treat. Top it off with some dried nuts for a final little tasty kick.
Have you met anyone from Peru? If you have, you probably knew before too long that they were very proud of their culinary heritage. And really, what’s not to love? Traditionally influenced by Spanish ingredients and European stews and sauces, Peruvian food is one of the world’s original ‘fusion’ cuisines. Ceviche again?! Yep – ceviche is also popular here, as the country’s national dish. (See above for more on ceviche.)
Aji de Gallina (Creamy Chicken)
Does a combination of chicken, cream, ground nuts, chili pepper, and cheese sound odd to you? Think twice! This traditional Peruvian dish will have you wondering why your shredded chicken isn’t bathing in a perfectly creamy sauce with a crunch and a slight bite.
A list of must-try international foods wouldn’t be complete without something you have no chance of finding at home, right? Imagine a perfectly roasted (or fried, or braised) cut of meat with skin so crisp it nearly shines – and tender, smoky dark meat that rivals the best poultry you’ve ever had. Add to that local herbs and a side of expertly cooked potatoes, and you have what sounds like an ideal dinner, right? Hear us out. Yes, cuy is actually guinea pig. In the states, we think of them as pets. But in this region, cuy is actually one of the most popular meat sources available (alongside alpaca). If you see it, you should consider giving it a taste.
With historical influences ranging from German, Greek, Italian, French, to British descents all playing some small part in South African food, you’re in for a culinary tour of international foods without ever leaving your chair. These flavors, paired with indigenous cuisine and ingredients, guarantee you all of the jazzed up grains, roasted game, and locally grown vegetables you could ever hope for.
Chakalaka & Pap
A South African mainstay, Chakalaka & Pap are pretty close to any American comfort food you’d enjoy around the table with your family. Chakalaka is a vegetable dish typically including peppers, carrots, tomatoes, beans, and spices. You may find it warm on occasion, but it’s usually served cold. Pap is served with chakalaka and is essentially the South African equivalent of grits. As is, this is a vegetarian meal. Stop there, or order it served alongside barbecued meat!
Before you get weirded out, no, you won’t be eating rabbit food. Nor will you be eating rabbit, actually. “Bunny Chow” is a tasty (yet portable) street food out of Durban. Pop by any food truck serving the dish and be on your way with a delicious hollowed-out (small) loaf of bread stuff with curry (vegetarian, pork, chicken, or mutton). It can be a bit spicy, so be sure to ask about its level of heat before chomping down.
Similar to their neighbors to the south, Tanzanians (East Africa) love their proteins. Roasted and barbecued meats are staples in Tanzania, and are usually paired with types of bread, rice, grains, and some vegetables.
Ugali (maize porridge)
While technically a “maize porridge,” ugali is actually the perfect side to have with stews, curries, and soups. This easy (but tasty) side is made from cornmeal and may remind you of its Italian cousin polenta. “African cornmeal mush” is what you might hear people call it, but don’t worry – it’s not mushy at all. Break a piece off and get to dipping!
If you’re going to East Africa, you’re going to run into Nyama Choma. Literally translated, this dish is roasted meat. You may not think you need to travel thousands of miles from home for great “barbecue”, but hear us out. This fresher-than-fresh goat (or beef or chicken, depending on the area you’re in) is as natural as it gets – grass-grazed, free-range, and slow roasted to perfection. Kill two birds with one stone by having one of the most common South African dishes on the side: Ugali!
Much like we didn’t recommend a Cuban sandwich in Cuba, we’re going to skip Pad Thai in Thailand. Yes, it’s wildly popular. Yes, it’s delicious. Sure, if you love it, give it a try. But you can get some pretty legit Pad Thai closer to home – which is why we’re recommending two slightly less common finds. Give them a try!
If you enjoy hot pot cooking (traditionally Chinese), you’ll love Jim Jum. This is essentially Thailand’s equivalent of hot pot. Gather round the table with some friends, take a seat by your small clay pot, and get ready for a hearty (and fun!) meal. Your host (or server) will bring veggies (almost always to include cabbage), meats (pork and liver are most common), eggs (already beaten), and glass noodles. Throw ‘em all in your pot filled with pork-flavored broth, let it boil, and you’ve got yourself a quintessentially Thai dinner at your fingertips.
Sang Kaya Fug Tong
We like things to end on a sweet note, so we’ll wrap up with a delectable dessert. Bye bye, pumpkin pie. Hello Sang Kaya Fug Tong. As visually pleasing as it is tasty, this interesting dessert is actually pretty simple. This hollowed out pumpkin is filled with the most luxurious, creamy, tongue-hugging custard you’ve ever had. Once the custard sets up, the pumpkin is cut like a pie and you’ve got a slice all to yourself!
Still hungry? Take a culinary tour through our other favorite destinations & their dishes here!
What are the most interesting international foods you’ve tried?