National Dishes You've Never Heard Of

If you're an avid traveler and passionate foodie, you know half the fun of visiting new countries lies in sampling the local cuisine. Often, roadside stalls serve luscious dishes you won't find anywhere else. For savvy travelers, they provide the best options for savoring unique delicacies. Think you're pretty familiar with local specialties round the world? See if you've heard of these six national dishes.


Ema Datshi: Bhutan

Ema datshi, consisting of chili peppers and cheese in a bowl
Credit: bonchan/ Shutterstock 

If you love spicy food, be sure to include Bhutan on your next list of destinations. The national dish of this country is ema datshi. The word "ema" means chili, while "datshi" means cheese.

However, this curry-like dish isn't just made from one type of chili pepper. While the peppers featured come in green varieties similar to Anaheim and poblano peppers, the dish also incorporates red peppers and "white" peppers — or green peppers that have been blanched and sun-dried. Yes, Bhutanese people love peppery meals. Meanwhile, the cheese in ema datshi is usually made from yak's milk.

Thinking of trying this dish? You can order a hearty meal of ema datshi served over rice in any city in Bhutan. If you're not a fan of spicy food, you don't have to miss out. Order kewa datshi (potatoes and cheese) or shamu datshi (mushrooms and cheese), instead.


Hákarl: Iceland

Hakarl or fermented shark meat hanging up in a warehouse
Credit: Michael Zech Fotographie/ Shutterstock

Planning a vacation that'll take you through several Northern European countries? Be sure to do some research ahead of time so you don't miss any of the exciting flavors Iceland has to offer.

Well known for being one of the healthiest countries in the world, Iceland has a national diet full of healthy fish and dairy dishes. So, it's no surprise that seafood is on the list of national favorites. If you're familiar with Scandinavian dishes, you understand the popularity of fermented seafood in the region.

That said, hákarl, which is fermented sleeper shark meat, really takes the cake. You can find it at almost every grocery store in Iceland, but be prepared for a strong ammonia smell when you open the container. If you pick up a package as a souvenir, save it for when you're off the cruise ship. Alternatively, you can also save it for celebrating þorrablót, Iceland's midwinter festival.

But, you ask: Why ferment the shark meat in the first place? Good question. The meat is actually poisonous if you eat it fresh. Ultimately, the concentration of urea and trimethylamine oxide makes it toxic if it isn't chemically broken down before ingestion.


Khachapuri: Georgia

Khachapuri, a cheese-filled bread with egg yolks on a wooden board
Credit: Zufar Kamilov/ iStock

Street food will take center-stage if your next European tour takes you through Georgia. While you're there, be sure to order khachapuri to get your morning started right. Khachapuri is a type of cheese-filled bread. It's nothing like a cheese sandwich, however. The bread forms a bowl around a pocket of melted cheese, and you can rip off pieces of the crust to dip into the gooey filling.

Khachapuri isn't just a national delicacy. It's such a staple dish in the country that the Tbilisi State University started using the "khachapuri index" to measure inflation. Basically, the index determines inflation by tracking the costs of the ingredients needed to cook khachapuri: milk, butter, eggs, cheese, yeast, flour, and milk. The index also tracks the energy costs (electricity and gas) of producing the dish. Who says economics is a staid social science?

No matter what region of Georgia you visit, you'll find different types of khachapuri here, from Gurian khachapuri to Ossetian khachapuri. The former consists of a cheese and hard-boiled egg mixture enclosed in a crescent-shaped dough. Meanwhile, Ossetian khachapuri consists of a grated potato, cheese, and butter mixture enclosed in a yeast-raised flatbread.


Mansaf: Jordan

Mansaf, a dish of lamb, rice, and yogurt
Credit: bonchan/ iStock

Many staple meals in the Middle East follow a simple formula: meat, yogurt, and rice, with a plate of fresh herbs and onions on the side.

Mansaf or "large dish" is a delicious meal made from rice and lamb braised in a fermented dried yogurt sauce. Sometimes, bulgur is used in place of rice.

What makes this dish so different from lamb dishes you may have tried is the jameed. These are white, round balls of dried goat's milk yogurt. This yogurt isn't fruity or sweet in taste. Instead, it's more like plain Greek yogurt. Jameed, however, has a thicker consistency and is salted. This ingredient is what gives the dish its signature creamy, salty flavor. If you're celebrating a special occasion in Jordan, you're sure to find mansaf on the menu.


Nasi Goreng: Indonesia

Nasi goreng or Indonesian fried rice with shrimp crackers and cucumber slices
Credit: Bvlena/ Shutterstock

If your next vacation has you diving off the coast of Bali, Indonesia, remember to order a bowl of nasi goreng (fried rice) when you get back to land. You may have had fried rice before, but nasi goreng is different.

Strictly traditional versions of nasi goreng consist of rice fried with shallots, belacan (shrimp paste), kecap manis (sweet soy sauce), and a bit of sugar. However, at popular hawker stalls, you may find shrimp or chicken added to the dish. It's the belacan and kecap manis that distinguish nasi goreng from other fried rice dishes in the Southeast Asian region, however.

Want to make your nasi goreng more festive? Add shrimp crackers for a bit of crunch, pickled vegetables for tang, or gently fried sunny-side-up eggs for a balanced consistency. Want to sample an even more unique type of nasi goreng? Try Nasi Goreng Pattaya, Indonesian-style fried rice wrapped in a perfect omelet. Ultimately, nasi goreng is a great dish for visitors new to Indonesian cuisine, as it can be customized in hundreds of ways.


Ndolé: Cameroon

Ndole, a dish of stewed nuts, meat, and ndoleh leaves
Credit: Fanfo/ Shutterstock

Infusing unique combinations of familiar ingredients in food can be a great way to expand your palate. However, trying food with ingredients you've never tasted before can be a taste adventure in itself.

Ndolé, the national dish of Cameroon, consists of stewed nuts, beef or fish, and ndoleh leaves. Ndoleh leaves are long, thin, and bitter in taste. They're also indigenous to West Africa, so you may have never tasted them before. To really wow your tastebuds, pair it with bobolo, a type of fermented casava paste.


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