International Foods: Dishes to try in our favorite destinations, Part I
“What should I eat?” is one of the most common questions we get from our travelers. And who could blame them? Food is a large part of the heart of a culture or country. And international foods tend to be considerably different in their native lands, since American versions of the same foods are usually tempered to cater to American tastes and familiarity.
So, which international foods should you try? The short answer is, “It depends.” It’s not a non-answer, we promise! It does depend. It depends on your tastes, where you’re traveling, how adventurous an eater you are, and whether or not you have any dietary restrictions or allergies.
While we obviously encourage you to interact with locals anywhere you go, we’ve taken some of the legwork out of discovering the most traditional foods on our trips. Enjoy Part One of our list of international foods to try. Fair warning: Use caution when reading this list on an empty stomach… You may end up on a plane before you know it, jonesing to try some international cuisine!
There are tons of Australian dishes to add to any international foods list – far too many to list here. Our top two suggestions? Kangaroo and Lamingtons.
Low in fat but loaded with flavor, kangaroo meat is commonly consumed in Australia (even though it is the national animal). It can be cooked in all kinds of ways, though you won’t typically see it cooked much past rare or medium. With it’s exceptionally low fat content, it’s prone to drying out.
If you just want dessert, this is the home run on our list for you! This “National Cake of Australia” is comparable in looks to some American snack cakes you’re familiar with. This is no average snack cake, though. This square or rectangular shaped sponge cake is often layered with pastry cream or jam in the middle. The finishing touch: a perfectly thin layer of chocolate icing and a quick roll in coconut.
Indonesian food is both complex and simple, fresh and fragrant. International foods aren’t always alike from region to region, even if the regions are similar. With thousands of Indonesian islands comes just as many variations of Indonesian culture and food. In Bali specifically, we suggest trying both lawar and betutu.
A simple mix of finely chopped meat, veggies, spices, and coconut (grated, of course), Lawar is as traditional as it gets. Know before you order: in some areas, this dish is prepared with fresh blood (mixed with the spices and meat). If that isn’t your thing – or if meat isn’t your thing at all – consider ordering ‘white’ lawar instead of ‘red’. The white is typically meatless (and bloodless).
This is a whole chicken or duck. However, it isn’t as basic as it sounds. The bird is stuffed with spices (traditional to Bali). It’s then wrapped in banana leaves, lodged snugly in banana trunk bark, and baked (or buried in the ground with hot coals for many hours). What you end up with is some of the most tender, rich, juicy, fall-off-the-bone meat you’ve probably ever tasted.
Fire up those tastebuds! You can’t leave Belize without trying chicken escabeche and a fry jack.
This isn’t your mom’s chicken soup. This Belizean favorite uses (in addition to always fresh chicken) an impressive list of roasted spices (think Spanish-like).
This simple little fried side is a must-try. Deep fried and reminiscent of an American biscuit (in terms of ingredients), fry jacks are usually served with a main course (fresh and hot, right out of the fryer), but can be found and ordered on their own as well.
International foods are oftentimes a mixture of multiple different regional flavors. Such is the case in the Dominican Republic. Traditional dishes here contain notes of Spanish, Taino, Middle Eastern, and African flavors.
Plantains are a staple in many Caribbean cuisines. But this Dominican staple is quite different than other dishes you’ve experienced. Once boiled, green plantains are mashed up (similar to mashed potatoes) and topped with sauteed or pickled red onions.
Habichuelas con Dulce
One of the most popular Dominican foods, Habichuelas con Dulce is actually (roughly translated) “Sweet Cream of Beans.” Does it sound strange to you to consider eating beans for dessert? It’s not strange here – and you definitely won’t regret this. Made with red beans, spices (cinnamon and nutmeg especially), coconut milk, evaporated milk, butter, sugar, and raisins, this is quite a sweet way to end a meal.
When in Costa Rica, be ready for even more beans. Costa Rican cooking (as with many other international foods) is rife with both beans and rice, prepared in a multitude of ways. Our suggestion: Try some for breakfast.
Frequently served with coffee and fresh fruit, gallo pinto rounds out a hearty Costa Rican breakfast. Your run-of-the-mill scrambled eggs are transformed by adding fried plantains, black beans and rice, and sour cream. Bonus: This simple dish is relatively easy to recreate at home.
Yes, the Cuban sandwich (or Cubano) is popular. No, we’re not including it on our list. You can get incredibly traditional Cuban sandwiches much closer to home, so we’ll leave that one to your local Cuban restaurant owner. When in Cuba, you should instead try the ropa vieja. And do not forget to save room for dessert – the flan is waiting for you.
Literally speaking, ropa vieja is simply flank steak (or sometimes, other types of meat) slathered with a rich sauce. Don’t be fooled. Many International foods sound deceptively simple, but are packed with off-the-charts flavor. Ropa vieja is a prime example. Slow cooking beef with onions, peppers, fresh tomatoes, garlic, and wine give this dish a distinctively fresh, comforting taste.
Have you had flan before? It’s not too tough to find in the states… but you’re rolling the dice on whether or not what you’re eating is traditional. Save this silken custard and caramel delicacy for when you’re actually in Cuba.
Hungry yet? Stay tuned for Part II for more mouthwatering dishes from the rest of our destinations!
What are the most interesting international foods you’ve tried? Tell us in the comments below!