Guessing a Country’s National Dishes

written on July 20th, 2016 by

We Filipinos are known for nationalism and Pinoy pride, one thing that came up on my newsfeed amused me. There is an actual call to make Adobo as the Philippines’ national dish. There’s even a petition (if you’d like to check it out, click here).

I never gave it much thought, but I can see how it fits as the national dish. Considering every single household across the country probably has its own familial recipe, handed down from generations.

The adobo, basically your choice of meat (chicken or pork, or both!) stewed in vinegar, soy sauce and spices, has even had travel and food connoisseur, Anthony Bourdain , curious in his last trip to the Philippines.

What makes a national dish?

Ideally, it’s when the whole nation agrees on a comfort food that hits the spot. Although, I have read about other countries with official national dishes/food, that aren’t necessarily the favourite choice for everyone, but because they are unique to the culture.

So I was thinking about countries and the food that I thought were their national food, if only because I was being stereotypical. Let’s see how I fared:

  • India = Chicken Tandoori.

Apparently it’s not curry. I always thought it was. When I want curry I look for the nearest Indian resto. And they are even known to have various way of incorporating curry spices in every dish.

Some say it’s Chicken Tandoori, while others say there is no definite national dish because of the diversity of people and culture. Some regions have a different preference (like being vegetarian).

  • Thailand = Pad Thai.

Walking along the streets of Bangkok, you will be met with different stalls, vendors and restaurants selling Pad Thai, in the most basic form to the high end garnish. I figured this quick stir fry of rice noodles, egg, and a mix of vegetables, peanut and sauces (that can be spicy), has got to be their national dish.

You can get your fix of Pad Thai anywhere, as it’s also being sold as street food with very affordable prices.

  • England = Yorkshire Pudding and Roast Beef.

Yorkshire pudding is actually a kind of bread, made with a simple batter of egg, flour, and milk or water. Cooked with the drippings of roast or oil. Best paired with roast and gravy. But this pastry can also be eaten as a sweet dessert.

Believe it or not, Chicken Tikka Masala, was considered the national dish in 2001 for UK. English Curry came in second. This was a testament that the brits can adapt to different food cultures. What about Fish’n’Chips too?

If I had to choose, I would’ve picked the English Full Breakfast, nothing feels like comfort food than a plateful of beans, toast, eggs, and mushrooms or your choice of breakfast sausages and bacon – eaten not just for breakfast too 😉

  • Italy = Pasta.

My vote was for Pizza, but as it turns out Pasta rules over the flat bread. Not surprising, I mean it’s kind of a no brainer. I just love pizza more. But with all the good food from this country, it can be agreed that one can’t really pinpoint a specific dish.

  • USA = Hamburgers.

Burgers and a side of fries did cross my mind, but I didn’t take it seriously. Turns out it actually is agreed upon by most people, hamburgers seem to be the national dish for the USA.

Although, regionally each has their own set of distinct favored dishes, hamburgers and the variant side dishes seem to be an all time favourite. The oldest restaurant to serve hamburgers goes back to the 1900s, Louis’ Lunch, Connecticut. And it’s still serving until now.

  • China = Peking Duck.

I have to confess, I have not tried this dish yet, and it wasn’t for lack of opportunity. I guess it’s just me, and the darker meat of duck (as compared to chicken) that puts me off. But after discovering that this is a celebrated ancient Chinese dish, there’s a first for everything. Plus the “DIY” way of serving the Peking Duck, makes for an interesting dining experience.

I was convinced the national dish would be noodles. I thought I had Chinese food all figured out. It wasn’t until a recent banquet that I realized that I have not even began to scratch the surface.

  • Israel = Falafel.

Now this one, out of curiosity, I wondered if falafel (one of my favourite things to eat) was any country’s national dish. To my surprise it is, for Israel. Which was another surprise, it certainly was not among the countries I had guessed.

I had often thought it was from a middle eastern country – that’s where I had my first taste of it. But some of the best falafel I’ve tried was from a street food cart, in the middle of Portabello Road in London, served by a Somalian vendor.

Interesting how food travels huh?

I learned that for some countries there is never just one national dish. Hello Japan: Ramen, sushi, soba, etc. And some have their own dispute as to which is the one given that recognition. Then there are those that change their national dishes almost yearly (Like in the UK). As the locals adapt and certain dishes become popular.

One thing’s for sure, you can find most of the dishes being served somewhere in your local restaurant, but nothing beats getting a taste of authentic food from their place of origin.

So as my Mum would say, the next time you travel, don’t make a beeline for the nearest McDonald’s. Eat local and learn something about the place you’re visiting.