There are a million ways to discover the local culture while you travel. You could take a dance class in Argentina, explore the bustling bazaars in Morocco, venture though art museums in Spain or explore rural villages in China. But what’s the tastiest (and often most fun) way to immerse yourself in a new country? That’s easy: The food.

Food is one of the best ways to understand a different culture, which is why we have over sixty food and wine learning adventures. It’s exciting to try new dishes with the local ingredients, and they usually come with a story about how that meal came to be. There are recipes that have been passed down from generations to generations, all to be enjoyed around a table with family and new friends. Almost every country has its own specialty to offer, and each is delicious in its own right. However, a true foodie knows that there are just a few that live a cut above the rest. If you’re the type of adventurer that likes to get a good taste of the local culture, we know just what you should try.


1. Canada – Poutine

Oh, Canada. Known for their Mounties, top-notch ski resorts and Celine Dion, Canada also has a culinary specialty that drives people to the True North: Poutine. For some, gravy and French fries may seem like an odd combination, but the Canadians have it down to a science. The brown gravy adds a depth of flavor and a little softness to the crispy fries. Top it all off with ooey-gooey cheese curds and you have yourself the perfect savory snack.


2. India – Samosa

Dive right into India with this crunchy appetizer. Usually filled with potato, onions, green peas, spices and green chili, the samosa is a small, dumpling-like bite that’s deep fried to perfection. It’s often served hot and with a fresh Indian chutney, such as mint, coriander or tamarind, to balance out the fried dough. You usually get a few on a plate so they’re perfect for sharing (if you want to).


3. Ireland – Shepherd’s Pie

Come to Ireland if you’re looking for a more hearty meal. When you arrive, make your first stop at a traditional Irish pub for a pint of Guinness and order the shepherd’s pie just like a local. Filled with minced beef or lamb and topped with mashed potatoes, this is the ultimate comfort food that will make you feel like you’re at home in a foreign land.


4. Israel – Falafel and pita

If you eat anything in Israel, make sure you get full off of falafel. Though it most likely originated in Egypt, Jews who lived in Egypt, Syria and Yemen brought the dish to their homeland and have since made it one of Israel’s most popular foods. It’s often served in fresh pita bread with Israeli salad, hummus, fried eggplant and tahini dip, though you can pretty much add in anything from French fries to sauerkraut. Find falafel at most local restaurants or stop by a street cart for your pita fix.


5. Italy – Carbonara

Going to Italy and not eating a carb is pretty much impossible.   And what’s the best carb of them all? Why that’s the CARB-onara of course! So simple yet deceivingly hard to master, this classic Italian dish is just pancetta, Parmesan, egg and pepper. You might be asking yourself how a four ingredient spaghetti can be so delicious but something about the creaminess of the cheese and the saltiness of the meat make a magical combination that’s both rich and filling. After all the pizza and gelato, make the carbonara your next stop on the Italy food train.


6. Japan – Mochi

If you’re a first-timer in Japan, you might be overwhelmed by the abundance of unique foods that fills street markets and local restaurants. Our suggestion: Try as much as you can. If you can only try one thing: Get the mochi. Mochi itself is a gummy-like rice dough that has been a scrumptious Japanese treat for centuries. Though it can be eaten on its own, the more popular way to eat mochi is stretched around a sweet filling of red bean paste or cream (also called Daifuku). You can even get mochi frozen and wrapped around ice cream for a cool dessert. For a more savory take, try it roasted on top of hot noodles for a uniquely chewy texture you can’t find anywhere else.


7. Mexico – Torta

Not just your average sandwich, the Mexican torta is a mouth-watering medley of avocado crema, black bean spread, melty cheese and juicy meat between two fluffy buns. Basically, take the traditional, American ham and cheese and crank the flavor dial up to eleven. Unlike its cousin the taco, tortas are meant to be eaten for a to-go lunch, which is why you’ll likely see them on street carts through major cities. If you’re feeling adventurous, order one “con todo” (with everything) to get a true taste of the Mexican culture.


8. New Zealand – Pavlova

Though named after the Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova, this meringue-based dessert is a New Zealand delicacy created after the dancer toured the country. It’s a surprisingly light treat, consisting of a hard crust with a soft, airy inside and is traditionally served with some fresh fruit and whipped cream. New Zealand loves this dessert so much that students at the Eastern Institute of Technology created the world’s largest pavlova, stretching at a whopping 64 meters (210 feet) long. They appropriately named it “Pavkong.”


9. Peru – Ceviche

Though its exact origins are as mysterious as Machu Picchu, one thing is for sure: Peruvians love ceviche. So much so, that they’ve made it their national dish (and even have a holiday in its honor). If you’re a seafood lover, chances are you’ll fall in love too. Composed of raw fish marinated in citrus, sliced onion, chili peppers and salt, ceviche – or cebiche, as the locals say – is the perfect light summer meal best shared with friends over a refreshing pisco sour.


10. South Africa – Bobotie

A largely colonized country, South African cuisine draws influences from all over the world. In this case, babotie (pronounced ba-boor-tea), actually has Dutch and Indonesian influences, though it has been adapted by the Cape Malay community over centuries. This traditional casserole has both sweet and savory notes with its glorious mixture of minced lamb or beef, dried fruit, curry powder and turmeric, topped with a creamy egg mixture. To add to the sweetness, some even place sliced bananas or coconut on top.   Consider it the South African moussaka, but kicked up a notch.


Have you had any of these dishes?

Tell us in the comments below and check out our Food and Wine programs to expand your palate.


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