Trying the foods and dishes typical to a country you are exploring is just as (if not more) important than hitting the major landmarks and tourist attractions, when you’re trying to grasp the vibes of a city. Each place has its own cuisine that it does best, and you can’t really get the full cultural experience without trying it all. I know that when I ask friends for travel tips one of my first questions is always “what do I have to eat there?” So start checking things off this list and you’ll fit right in with the locals, at least at dinner.
Stroopwafels, which are made of two thin waffles stuck together with caramel, are a must try in Amsterdam. You can get them at bakeries and grocery stores anywhere in the city, but trying a giant, warm, fresh one from a market or street vendor is really the way to go. I’ve heard even McDonald’s (in Amsterdam only) has their own McFlurry version that’s almost as drool-worthy as the real deal.
2. Indonesian food
The Dutch adopted rijsttafel or “rice table” meals from the Indonesians, so at the city’s many Indonesian restaurants you can order a wide array of small side dishes to share (we’re talking 10-40 samplers here). Rice tables often include dishes such as egg rolls, satay, fish, and vegetables of various flavors and spiciness level, of course served with rice.
3. Space cakes
Not exactly a traditional Dutch delicacy or even something that tastes particularly phenomenal, but still. If you’re not into that sort of thing, window shopping at a coffee shop is still an important Amsterdam tourist attraction.
This traditional Spanish rice dish with veggies, seafood, or meat is definitely worth a try but is actually from Valencia, not Barcelona. For a Catalonian twist try Fideuà, made with noodles instead of rice.
2. Patatas Bravas
Basically Barcelona’s version of french fries, but served as crispy chunks with mayonnaise or a spicy aioli. Plus they’re often served as tapas so you can order a few other little dishes with them and get the classic Spanish tapas experience at the same time.
This dish, found in restaurants and street stands across the city, consists of bratwurst with a curry ketchup sauce, often with a side of fries. Plus eating the fries with the funny, mini plastic forks they generally give you is definitely something you need to try.
2. Döner Kebab
These flatbread sandwiches filled with shredded meat, vegetables, and sauces originated from Turkey and can be found in different variations all over Europe. However, my (döner obsessed) friend swears the best in Europe are from Berlin.
They’re not called Belgian waffles for nothing. Waffles were invented in Brussels and can now be found at stands and cafes around the city. Their waffles are larger, crispier, and lighter than any you’ve ever had and are available with a wide variety of mind blowing toppings.
French fries were also invented in Brussels and there are now friterie stands all over. They come served in a cone, drenched with your choice of unique sauces, such as mayo, pili-pili (chili), andalouse (mayo, tomato sauce, and peppers), tartare, or curry.
This Hungarian beef and vegetable stew is a must-try in Budapest. Plus it’s seasoned with paprika, which Budapest is famous for.
2. Kürtőskalács (Chimney Cake)
This pastry is spun on a rotisserie, rolled in sugar, and baked over charcoal. It comes off fluffy with a sugary crust and is often rolled in additional toppings like cinnamon sugar, walnuts, or chocolate shavings.
Bonus: Anything at the Central Market Hall
The second level of the market hall has a busy row of stalls, all serving traditional Hungarian dishes such as fried Lángos, stuffed peppers or cabbage, sausages, and meat stews. Ordering something from the stalls and sitting at one of the communal tables to eat makes visiting the market worth the trip.
1. Irish coffee
No combo will ever make you feel as warm and happy as this mug of pure coffee, whiskey, and cream. Dublin definitely knows what they’re doing here.
I guess I’m just saying get drunk in Dublin. Honestly, though, taking the Guinness storehouse tour is basically a required tourist destination in Dublin.
I thought I was a diehard New England ice cream shop girl, but I’ve definitely been converted by European gelato and now I can’t stop dreaming of this rich and creamy Italian treat.
Pizza, pasta, bread- just go for it. It’s friggin’ Italy. They’re notorious for their carbs here so you have to go crazy, even if your waistline expands a few inches.
1. Pastéis de Nata
These adorable egg custard tarts, dusted with cinnamon and powdered sugar, are in bakeries all over the city. However, I walked two miles to get them from the original bakery, Pastéis de Belém, and those were worth every step.
Being on the Atlantic, Lisbon claims this salted codfish as a national Portuguese dish. There are supposedly 365 ways to prepare the fish, including this popular version, bacalhau à bras, made with shredded cod, thin potatoes and scrambled eggs.
1. Fish and Chips
This one practically goes without saying. The UK is famous for this combo of crisp, flaky fried cod with fries, usually served with mashed peas and seasoned with salt, vinegar, and lemon juice. Bonus points if you eat it at a traditional London pub to get the full British experience.
2. Indian food
This definitely wasn’t the first thing that came to mind when I thought about British food, but if you visit Brick Lane it’s literally impossible not to notice the many Indian restaurants. The curry houses along the street have employees outside calling out to you, promoting their restaurant and offering discounts to compete for your business. The food was good and I even got 20% off and a free mango lassi by holding out on picking a restaurant.
As someone studying abroad in France it was hard to pick just a few, but for the most quintessential French experience I would try…
When in Paris you definitely have to try a crêpe from a street vendor. Eating on the street is very french to begin with, then make it a crêpe, throw in a great view of the Eiffel Tower, and voilà: you’ll fit right in. I’d also recommend hitting up a restaurant for a savory crêpe because those are pretty dope too.
The French macaron is just two almond meringue cookies with a jam or cream filling. One of the most famous macaron shops in Paris, Ladurée, is even credited with the innovative idea of adding the filling between the cookies, making it a necessary stop in this city.
3. Pain au chocolat
Or any pastry really, but pain au chocolate is a classic and definitely my favorite. I generally don’t like pastries when I’m in America, but trust me, French pastries are a whole other subject and can convert even the biggest skeptic.
1. Trdelník (Chimney Cake)
Like Budapest, Prague is also known for its chimney cakes. I thought the cake in Budapest was lighter and more moist, but the filling options available in Prague (from chocolate, to ice cream, to pizza) allowed their version to rival Budapest’s.
Even as someone who isn’t usually a beer fanatic I was blown away by Prague’s Pilsner. Especially in comparison to the cheap beers available back at college.
1. Sacher Torte
The cake was invented in the 1800’s for the prince of Austria and has been famous in Vienna ever since. The dessert was a little overhyped for chocolate cake but the experience of sitting in a classic Viennese coffee house and eating the popular dessert was very enjoyable. Plus, if it’s good enough for a prince it’s definitely good enough for me.
Viennese schnitzel is typically thinly cut, fried veal and is the national dish of Austria. A tour guide in Vienna told me that “Vienna is schnitzel, Sacher torte, and music.” so I wouldn’t recommend leaving without experiencing at least the first two.
Just as they say food is the way to peoples’ hearts, this semester I’ve also realized it’s one of the best ways to understand the customs and true atmosphere of a city. Food and eating are so linked to culture and I’m always more than happy to take this delicious route to expanding my horizons. However, this list is clearly just the basics and honestly the best way to explore a city is to wander, get lost, and ask a local on the street to direct you to their favorite restaurant.