Travel

Quintessential Continental

Don't leave Europe before trying one of these 20 must-have meals
Photo: Tasting Table
Steak Frites

This March, we're taking you on a tour of the Old World, with a focus on how traditional European dishes are influencing modern cuisine.

If you had time for just one meal in any one of the 20 European countries below, which should you choose? The answer is a matter of taste, of course, but every country has a signature dish that captures the nation in just a few flavors. From indigenous stews made from oversize, arctic beasts to immigrant-influenced stir-fry, here are the most delicious and authentic European (dinner) foods in 20 countries.

Iceland: Pylsur (hot dog)
When in Iceland, forget what you know about hot dogs—these aren't your run-of-the-mill ballpark variety. Icelanders make them with fresh local lamb (there are two sheep for every person in Iceland) and top them with anything from onion rings to a rémoulade made with mayo, capers, mustard and herbs.

Norway: Finnbiff (reindeer stew)
Eating Rudolph might be hard for some, but the indigenous Sami people in northern Norway have been dining on reindeer meat for millennia. A Norseman's favorite way to prepare it? Stewing thin slices of the meat, along with bacon, mushrooms, juniper berries, sour cream, milk, thyme and a brown goat cheese that adds an unusual caramel flavor.

Sweden: Sillsallad (herring salad)
Some of the best herring in the world gets pulled out of the waters off of Sweden's Baltic coast. Traditionally, it's pickled and then eaten as a snack or used as an ingredient in a wide variety of plates, but this salad, made with beets, eggs, apples, pickles, potatoes and parsley, is one of the most popular ways to try it.

Fondue | Photo: Jose Martinez via Flickr

Poland: Biggs Stew, Bigos (meat and cabbage stew)
A traditional smoky hunter's stew, bigos can be made with any kind of meat from bacon to veal, but it always calls for cabbage and is seasoned with dried plums, bay leaf, marjoram and juniper berries. If you're in Poland around Christmas, you'll find people stewing their bigos for a week, digging in to eat it and then replacing ingredients as the pot diminishes.

Ireland: Irish Breakfast
Irish breakfast isn't just some menu item that caught on at an Irish bar. It's a national pastime and by far the best breakfast in all of Europe. It's a large hot plate of bacon, a slew of sausages (usually made from pork and beef), eggs, vegetables and potato, all fried in creamy butter, along with either a black or white pudding. Plus, Irish soda bread to sop up all the delicious juices left on the plate.

Belgium: Moules Frites (mussels and fries)
As far as perfect moments go, there's nothing like eating moules frites and washing them down with a beer in Belgium. Pulled fresh out of the North Sea, they're served in a savory broth of white wine (sometimes replaced by Belgian beer), shallots, butter and parsley, accompanied by a side of crispy Belgian fries and mayo.

Bulgaria: Shopska Salata (Bulgarian salad)
Think of Shopska salata as a saltier version of a Greek salad. It uses sirine, a briny cheese popular in southeastern Europe, made from cow's or goat's milk. It's sprinkled over tomatoes, cucumbers, onions/scallions and peppers (raw or roasted), then served with olive oil and vinegar. To be completely authentic, try it with raika (fruit brandy).

England: Meat Pie

Not fish and chips? Actually, the heart of England's food is really the meat pie. Made up of flour paste and almost any meat available, it dates back to the Neolithic period and traveled to the European mainland during the Roman Empire. Today, there are nearly as many ways to make meat pie as there are sheep in England.

Schnitzel | Photo: Tasting Table

Greece: Souvlaki (grilled meat on a stick)
Souvlaki traveled to the U.S. long ago, but if you go to the birthplace of grilled meat on a stick, then you get to try it in its original form: made from pork fed on the grass and cooked on the grills of the motherland.

Hungary: Paprikás Csirke (chicken paprika)
There's no better paprika-based dish on Earth. Made with chicken, onions, red or green peppers and tomatoes simmered in a stock of chicken broth and sour cream, it's a delicious, mildly spicy, creamy comfort food that everyone in Hungary will tell you to try.

Portugal: Caldo Verde (green soup)
Kale has been the main ingredient in this traditional Portuguese soup for centuries. It's also made with potatoes, onions, garlic and is served with chouriço (chorizo) or linguiça (smoke cured pork sausage).

Scotland: Haggis in Whiskey Cream Sauce
For some, it might be better to try haggis before knowing what it is. For others, it'll be their Braveheart moment. Haggis is a savory pudding made from a sheep's liver, heart and lungs, minced with onion, fat, oatmeal, salt and stock, then cooked inside the animal's stomach. It's banned in the U.S.; the powers that be don't like the inclusion of lung in the ingredients list. Scotland's favorite way to eat it? With whiskey cream sauce.

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Switzerland: Fondue
What began as a 1930s marketing campaign by the Swiss Cheese Union has become one of the most beloved symbols of national pride in Switzerland. Fondue, literally "melted" in French, is usually made with a mix of cheeses (which are already really good in Switzerland) and served with crusty breadsticks, but you'll find variations.

Croatia: Hobotnica Ispod Peke (roasted octopus and potatoes)
One flavor that beats all others in this coastal European country is local octopus. It's pulled right out of the Adriatic Sea, sliced to fit into a casserole dish and then roasted with some potato, onion, tomato, garlic and olives.

The Netherlands: Bami Goreng (Indonesian stir-fry)
Holland's most beloved traditional food comes from its Indonesian immigrant community. They invented bami goreng in their new homeland when they arrived more than 400 years ago. It's a spicy stir-fry noodle dish made with sambal oelek (Indonesian red chile paste), ginger, diced ham, shrimp, chicken, eggs and veggies like carrots, leeks and red peppers.

Paella | Photo: Tasting Table

Germany: Schnitzel (breaded pork cutlet)
Germany's national dish is the perfect post-beer hall snack: tender cuts of pork, breaded and then fried and served with a creamy mushroom jägerschnitzel (sauce), french fries, leafy green salad and Kartoffelsalat (a vinegar-based potato salad).

Denmark: Smørrebrød (open-faced sandwiches)
Yes, there's Noma, but to get a true (and less-impossible-to-get-a-reservation-at) taste of Denmark, all you have to do is eat one of its famous open-faced sandwiches. They've been a favorite of the Danes since the Middle Ages and incorporate a number of fresh, local ingredients, with anything from smoked salmon with horseradish cream to shrimp with dill.

⑱­ France: Steak Frites
Everything including the crackers is delicious in Paris, but if you had a six-hour layover at Charles de Gaulle and had time to eat only one thing, go to any brasserie and get the steak frites. Wash it down with a local Cabernet.

Italy: Bucatini All'Amatriciana (sauce served on tubed pasta)
In a country of tomato-based sauces, this is the one almost everyone comes back home remembering. Made with black pepper and dried chiles, it's spicy but has a deep flavor derived from the guanciale, an Italian salt-cured pork jowl. It's served with a thick, tubed pasta called bucatini or sometimes with spaghetti.

Spain: Paella
Nothing against tapas, but you'll never get a paella anywhere else as good as you can get in Spain—especially Valencia. The dish is prepared a number of ways—the most popular is with seafood, but the most traditional is with chicken, rabbit, white beans, snails, saffron and rosemary.

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