I love traveling. Full disclosure: My ideal job would be some version of Anthony Bourdain or Andrew Zimmern. Exploring various countries and experiencing their culture not just through their architecture and art but their cuisine. No matter which country you visit, there are always new and interesting foods to try and some that truly are synonymous with the country itself and its people. Here are few iconic dishes from countries around the world that should definitely be on your travel and dining bucket list:
- Masala Dosa — This Southern Indian dish looks like a crepe and is usually vegetarian filled with potatoes and peas but can also be a vessel for a variety of meats. The crispy exterior and taste will surprise you. It is made with a variety of spices to give it a kick as well as the mint or coconut chutneys, pickles and lentils that usually accompany this unique dish. Many even eat it the savory version for breakfast!
- Seafood Paella — If you love seafood, this Spanish dish is for you. It contains crustaceans and shellfish over a bed of paella (Spanish rice) and there is no set amount of seafood for this dish. Some use crab, lobster, clams, mussels or crayfish in the mix. Traditional seafood paella is made without vegetables and seasoned mildly with saffron to let the local seafood really shine. If you want a funky version add squid ink to your rice to make it midnight black in color as a backdrop for your seafood. In other parts of Spain, the paella is mixed with meat like duck or sausage for a heartier meal. Anywhere there is local seafood you will find some version of paella to showcase it—but nothing beats the original!
- Poutine — This Canadian staple puts a twist on french fries—cheese curds. When you see it for the first time, it’s not appetizing. The french fries are drenched in a brown gravy with melted cheese curds. The iconic yet humble potato, cheese and gravy late night staple has not surprisingly gotten the foodie treatment in recent years. You can find this dish on Michelin Star awarded restaurants with duck fat fried potatoes with duck confit or lobster and truffled hollandaise. Anyway you like it, Poutine is a dish of the people and will have you looking for it the next time you’re up north.
- Octopus – Don’t let the tentacles freak you out—octopus when fresh and cooked correctly is tender and delicious. You might get into a debate as to whether the Spanish or Greek preparations are better—but when I was in Greece last year I ate octopus every single day. Prepared simply—it is usually boiled in the sea water it was caught in (how cool is that?), then chilled and marinated in Greek olive oil and oregano then grilled to add that nice char. Sliced and topped with more olive oil, lemon, oregano and finishing salt and you have the quintessential taste of the Greek Isles.
- Thai Larb – Larb, is a weird name for a salad but this Thai salad is mostly meat (usually pork) with a sweet, spicy and acidic dressing. The minced pork is seasoned with fish sauce which is basically fermented fish carcasses. Sounds nasty but think a more funky tasting soy sauce. Add in lime juice, chili peppers, and tons of fresh herbs including mint and cilantro and serve it over toasted sticky rice with some vegetables and you have an absolutely addictive and healthy taste of Thailand.
The old saying “looks can be deceiving” can certainly be applied to each of these dishes. Each one is a fun and delicious representative of its country and should be tried—at least once. In addition to the tourist spots you plan to visit on your trip, be sure to also eat the dishes the locals eat as another way to learn about their history and experience their culture. If it’s funky, go find it and as Adam Zimmern says,”If it looks good. . .eat it!”
Erik Halvorsen is a devoted father, loving husband, and ambitious innovator; he is consistently searching for new technology to help cure diseases, benefit patients’ lives, and change how we experience healthcare. He was named one of the top 30 Chief Innovation Officers in healthcare in the country, and he has been listed as one of the Top 40 Under 40 in Boston. Erik is also a member of the Forbes Technology Council.