10 Signature Dishes From Around the World

Travel insights from Jenna Buege, associate editor of The Compass

Discovering an amazing dish is arguably one of the best parts of travel. From exciting new flavors to colorful presentations, the wide variety of delicacies from around the world is enough to make any foodie’s heart sing.

However, amongst all of the fabulous fare, there’s no denying that some destinations remain the reigning champs when it comes to regional specialties. Below you’ll discover 10 places around the globe and a signature dish that they do better than anywhere else. We hope you’re hungry.   

Poke, Hawaii, U.S.

Our first dish originates from the sunny stateside island of Hawaii. Often featuring a mishmash of fresh protein(typically fish), veggies, fruit, and rice, you’ve probably seen a variation of the traditional Hawaiian-fare somewhere in your city in the form of the ever-popular poke bowl.

However, the poke of today looks quite different than the kind ancient Hawaiians consumed in pre-contact times. Back then, poke consisted of freshly caught fish covered in sea salt combined with seaweed and crushed inamona, also known as kukui nuts. The meal packed a filling punch and fueled the islanders of yesterday for whatever came their way.

If you decide to grab some poke from The Aloha State expect a few changes from what you might be used to on the Mainland. First, the seafood will probably be fresher and more flavorful. Second, don’t expect anything too fancy, many local-style poke bowls don’t come with things like quinoa, cauliflower, zucchini noodles, and so on. Lastly, prepare to expand your pallet beyond poke bowls. Poke tacos, poke nachos, and poke sushi sliders, there are several innovative ways to enjoy this tasty meal in paradise.

Currywurst, Germany

The invention of Berlin’s beloved currywurst is something of a mystery. Although it cannot be confirmed for certain, it’s believed that this scrumptious sausage dish came to be in 1949 when Herta Heuwer discovered the magical combination of tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, and curry powder topped upon a boiled weisswurst.

Today, native Berliners and travelers alike still savor the satisfying street food that is currywurst. Seriously, Germans love this dish so much that they’ve devoted an entire museum to it. If you find yourself in this historic city be sure to experience the wurst for yourself at one of the many currywurst vendor stands scattered around town.  

Asados, Argentina

Calling all “Grill Masters”, if you’re an enjoyer of fine meats and barbecue, Argentina’s legendary Asados will be right up your alley. At a staggering average of 123 lbs of beef per year, per capita, this South American country is one of the largest consumers of meat in the world. This is because, for Argentinians, finely prepared meat isn’t just a meal, it’s an art. 

Asado dates back to the XVIth century when Spanish conquistadors brought bullocks and cows to the region which eventually became a primary food source. Part of the red meat family, asado is cooked in a variety of ways, most of which include preparation above an open flame. Interestingly, Argentinians like to eat their meat very well cooked, so don’t expect your dish to be “mooing” on your plate.

Locals often pair Asados with Chimichurri, a sauce made from chilis, or, if they’re feeling less traditional, mustard and ketchup. As for sides, potatoes, veggies, and salad are commonplace. 

Knafeh, Dubai

Everyone knows that cheese is the real MVP, but Dubai’s Knafeh(sometimes referred to as Kanafeh) takes the gooey favorite to a new level. Featuring a crispy crust formed of dried noodles, this sweet yet savory concoction contains stuffed cheese soaked in sweet syrup. The result? Heavenly cheesy goodness.

While it can be a bit pricey, many travelers insist that this hot dish is worth the splurge. Be sure to add Knafeh to your foodie bucket list. 

Pavlova, Australia

Another sweet contender, Australia’s Pavlova has been described as, “simply the greatest thing any human can eat.” Crafted from egg whites, caster sugar, cornflour, and white vinegar, Pavlova is a meringue-like treat that’s best served paired with whipped cream and a mountain of fresh fruit.

This after-dinner treat is often served in The Land Down Under in tandem with a Christmas feast, but Australians and New Zealanders will argue that it’s perfectly appropriate to indulge all year round. Fun fact: The dessert was named after Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova who toured the area in the 1920s.

Red Curry Soup, Thailand

For a rollercoaster of flavor, you won’t want to miss Thailand’s red curry soup. Spicy yet savory, this hot meal includes a variety of ingredients like coconut milk, mango, veggies, and your choice of protein. The result is a combination of deliciousness that will keep your tastebuds guessing.

Red curry soup, and curries of all varieties for that matter, can be found all over Thailand. From high-end restaurants to lesser-known eateries, this dish shouldn’t be hard to find. Another thing worth noting for curry novices, Thai curry differs from Indian curry as it’s more broth-like with a touch of spice and lots of flavor. 

Kimchi, Korea

Take a bite out of history during your next excursion to East Asia with Kimchi. The dish has evolved over time, but Kimchi has been enjoyed by Koreans since ancient times when Korean ancestors began salting their veggies in an attempt to balance their health and nutrition during colder seasons. However, it wasn’t until various spices and seasonings were added to the mix that modern fermented Kimchi was born. In fact, according to bibigo.com, a Korean food blog, each Kimchi is formulated using at least fifteen different ingredients which vary depending on freshness and the time of year.

Variations of Kimchi differ from region to region, but the dish is almost always served as a main course paired with rice, noodles, or soup. Its flavor profile is described as refreshing and savory.  

Mole Sauce, Mexico

If you’re looking for an instant mood-booster why not sample Mexico’s famous sauce, Mole. While there are several variations of mole, some popular ingredients include chiles, onions, garlic, spices, ground nuts, and dark chocolate. When combined, these fixings are said to induce adrenaline, endorphins, and serotonin.

The origin of mole is unknown, but one popular tale states that the dish was discovered by a woman named Sor Andrea who lived in a Dominican convent in Santa Rosa. It’s said that Andrea prayed for inspiration and was conveniently, “guided to add nearly all the ingredients in the huge convent kitchen to a more ordinary stew,” according to Jim Peyton’s book on the subject “New Cooking from Old Mexico”.

Mole sauce can be described as velvety smooth and comes in a variety of flavors from sweet and savory to spicy and smoky. The sauce is often served in tandem with a bed of rice, fresh protein like eggs, chicken, beef, or pork, or as a base for tacos and burritos.

Paella, Spain

Credit for this popular Spanish dish can be attributed to mid-nineteenth-century workers who unwittingly concocted an early version of Paella. Busy in the fields, the workers would cook up some rice in a flat pan during their lunch break and throw in whatever they could find - think snails and veggies, or when they were lucky other meats like rabbit and chicken.

Today, paella is the country’s national dish and it is traditionally cooked over an open flame in a flat-bottomed pan. The meal is often eaten family-style, directly from the pan with no plates, and includes flavors such as rice, seafood, and meat, seasoned using saffron.

Döner Kebab, Turkey

To best enjoy the country’s rotisserie grilled meats, you need to try Turkey’s famous döner kebab.

The word döner means “turning” and refers to the way that Turks use massive vertical rotisseries to cook their meats from the outside in. As the meat cooks it is sliced off in thin pieces from top to bottom and then added to either a plate or a pita with various toppings such as tomato, lettuce, cabbage, onion, pickled cucumber, and chili. The combo is then topped with various sauces resulting in a tasty and portable meal.

Although the döner kebab looks similar to shawarma, another popular Middle Eastern dish, the two are not the same. Firstly, shawarma is much spicer than döner due to the seasonings used to prepare the meat. What’s more, the two are served using different sauces which completely changes the overall flavor profile of the dish with döner often being topped with sumac onions and shawarma being paired with hummus.