National dishes are considered to be symbols of pride for a country’s cuisine, and something which ought to highlight and epitomise the very best of a nation on the global stage.
Such a meal should be the very first thing eaten by a foreign visitor who seeks an introduction to a country’s culinary tradition.
While there are certainly many fantastic national dishes across the world, there are some countries which have rather questionable ones. To make matters worse, in several cases the rest of the cuisine in these places is actually quite good, further emphasising the disservice these meals are doing in representing their respective nations.
Netherlands – Haring ‘Hollandse Nieuwe’
The Dutch are known to have their quirks and this ‘dish’, which consists of raw sour herring, raw onions and a gherkin, clearly supports that notion.
Given the traditional method of eating this food is by lifting the herring by its tail, followed by a quick bite and swallow of the dangling fish, proves that perhaps the Dutch aren’t all that fond of it either.
This snack can be commonly seen consumed by the more daring tourists, who likely will not be asking for a second portion.
Instead, try this: Stroopwafel. While more of a dessert as opposed to an actual dish, the waffle cookie filled with sweet syrup will surely help with the dreadful aftertaste from the herring.
Costa Rica – Gallo Pinto
Though the combination of rice and beans is very commonly found across Central America and the Caribbean, Costa Ricans have gone ahead and declared it their national food.
To be fair, there is nothing actually offensive or distasteful about this meal, but rather the dull fact that there is literally nothing more to this dish than rice and beans. No spices, no sauces, or no meat, just a food that one would normally expect only as a humble side plate.
Instead, try this: Fruit. Costa Rica, with its lush vegetation and tropical climate offers some of the best fruit in the world, such as mango, papaya, passion fruit, and many others.
Czech Republic – Svíčková
On the face of it, with sirloin steak and bread dumplings, Svíčková could have easily been a fantastic meal. However, the overly rich sauce which uses heavy cream, as well as the sweet lingonberry sauce on the side, results in a dish that is exceedingly heavy and becomes difficult to eat more than a couple forkfuls of.
Instead, try this: Beer. There are some other great dishes in the country, however, Czech beer should receive recognition as the national culinary icon since it can truly be described as world-class.
Iceland – Hákarl
Likely not a food that one will be at any risk of encountering outside of Iceland, Hákarl is a fermented Greenland shark that has been air-dried for around five months. Tourists visiting the island nation have typically not been fond of the dish, describing the flavour as strongly fishy with an Ammonia-rich taste.
Instead, try this: Kjötsupa. A more normal meal which is basically a stew consisting of lamb, herbs, and vegetables.
Philippines – Balut
This common street food is essentially a half-developed bird egg embryo that is boiled and eaten straight from the eggshell. Depending on the diner’s specific preference, the bird, usually either duck or chicken, can have its beak and feathers already visibly present. Although purported to be quite nutritious, the visual aspect which leaves little to the imagination will surely turn off even the more adventurous eaters.
Honestly, the less said about this dish the better.
Instead, try this: Lechon. An entire pig is stuffed with herbs and slowly roasted over an open fire for several hours until the skin is extremely crispy.
United Kingdom – Fish and Chips
Britain’s reputation within the culinary world is certainly not helped by the popularity and national status of this food. When prepared in the classic ‘chip-shop’ manner, this dish always ends up tasting bland, which is somewhat surprising given the insane amount of salt and oil used to make it.
The side portion of mushy peas that occasionally shows up does little to salvage the rest of this deep-fried mess.
Instead, try this: Sunday Roast. While not the lightest meal either, a properly executed Sunday Roast is inarguably excellent and hopefully redeems at least some of the unfortunate missteps British cuisine has taken.
Canada – Poutine
Originating from the French speaking province of Québec, Poutine is an unsophisticated food that is mostly eaten by Canadians after a night of drinking. With the classic version comprising of chips, beef gravy and cheese curds, this dish is nowadays considered more of a base much like pizza, upon which an endless assortment of toppings can be added.
Although the meal may initially sound appetising, especially after the consumption of a few alcoholic beverages, Poutine inevitably devolves into a soggy, greasy slop as the chips quickly absorb the liquid gravy.
Instead, try this: Butter Tarts. This simple flaky pastry, filled with a butter, sugar, and egg mixture, is definitely not something to miss trying on any visit to Canada.
(Northern) Germany – Labskaus
While technically not a national dish eaten across Germany, Labskaus can be considered as such in the northern German states. This full plate is a strange combination of potato mashed together with salted meat, herring, gherkin and beetroot, and then finally topped with a fried egg.
Originally conceived as a meal to use up old, leftover meat for undiscerning hungry sailors, this dish does little to highlight the quality seafood commonly available in this region of Germany.
Instead, try this: Most restaurants in Northern Germany will have a decent selection of local, fresh fish served along with a side order of Bratkartoffeln (i.e. pan-roasted potatoes with bacon).
Portugal – Francesinha
This meal is basically a soggy, meat sandwich covered in tomato sauce and melted cheese. In most cases, chips are thrown in on the side which results in a dish that is hardly worthy of representing a nation.
Instead, try this: Sausage, such as Alheira or Chouriço. Portugal is undeniably underrated in regard to the wide variety of delicious sausages that are smoked, dried, or fermented.
We’ve been bombarded with terms like Hygge or Fika, but what about some of the more churlish Nordic vocabulary that aren’t as known?