The Best European Food By Country
Backpacking Europe » Food, Drinks and Parties
If you’re like us you will want to go everywhere! And in these everywheres you’d want to try everything, including all the food. Well that just ain’t possible, too much to see and do, limited funds, not enough time, etc. So instead we’ve compiled this list of the best, typical, or weirdest foods in each and every country in Europe, the dishes that you’ve just got to try. It was quite an undertaking, and our waistlines are really bearing the brunt of the effort, but we’ve got a very incomplete list for you to take into backpacking culinary battle with you, organised into rough geographical groupings.
Don’t want to miss a meal? See our guide to the average dinner times in Europe’s countries.
Western European Food
It’s the most visited part of Europe, the most well off and, perhaps, the most civilised. Western Europe is home to the cultures we’re most familiar with, but some foods that are utterly foreign as well – and that’s the way we like it.
Food From France
Ooh la la la France, where do we start with your gastronomic delights? Well, there’s escargot and frogs’ legs, which people totally do eat, there’s tartare de boeuf, or raw minced beef with a raw egg and capers, there’s foie gras, or the liver of a goose that’s been torture fed grains its whole life. The French are renowned gourmands and no trip to Europe is complete without devouring their manifold treats, but to be honest don’t some of the dishes they’re the most famous for seem a little bit… odd?
Food From The United Kingdom
The rest of Europe takes immense pleasure in playfully mocking the people of the British Isles for their lack of quality cuisine. The kingdom gets a bad reputation because Brits abroad are a very unadventurous bunch, when it comes to food, and because at home everything seems fried, bland, or both. Nevertheless, when in the UK you’d be mad to not try some of their specialities, like a full English breakfast, complete with blood sausage, a Cornish pasty, Scotland’s haggis, a chip butty (fries on white bread), a Sunday roast with Yorkshire pudding, butter chicken, tikka masala, toad in the hole, jellied eels, spotted dick and pigs in a blanket. Oh, and bangers and mash. Bangers and mash are real good, we just don’t recommend eating them, or any English food, for any great quantity of time.
Food From Germany
Every year at Oktoberfest the days are filled with alternating between litres of beer and delicious schweinshaxe, or pork knee, or roast chicken, or sauerkraut or any kind of wurst, which are sausages and actually the best. We’ve actually got a whole article about what to eat at the Oktoberfest, and that should be suitable as a guide for Germany in general.
Food From The Netherlands
Well, we don’t call them “cheese heads” just because it’s a gouda nickname. Edam, that pun sucks. But yeah, the Dutchies sure love their cheese, just like they love their atomically sweet stroopwafels, and their croquette and french fry vending machines. Their national dish, however, would have to be hutspot, or hotchpotch, which is a mashed mixture of potato, onions and carrots, and was said to be introduced to Dutch cuisine when some retreating Spanish soldiers left cooked potato behind, following their defeat in the 80 Years’ War. Given the deliciousness of Spanish cuisine, maybe the invaders from the south had the last laugh in that exchange.
Food From Belgium
Fries! Now the Americans may eat more of these delicious, deep-fried morsels, but the Belgians are literal freaks about their fries. For extra traditional effect try them with moules and suck the molluscs and then dip the frites in the sauce.
Food From Luxembourg
Another European heavyweight, Luxembourg is a landlocked city-state in the west of Europe, bordered by France, Germany and Belgium, and counting French, German and Luxembourgish as official languages. Like most small European countries, Luxembourg is a good place to keep your money, to brag to friends that you’ve been there, and to eat juud mat gaardebounen, which despite its spectacular name is simply pork and beans.
Food From Ireland
You know what the Irish eat… Guinness! By the pint-full and also used in all kinds of dishes, from stews and soups and even by itself, as some adherents consider the black beer to be a meal on its own. The Irish are also famed for their fondness of potatoes, which they put in Irish stew along with carrots and parsnips and mutton, or lamb. ‘Tis a simple fare, to be sure, but it’ll surely see ye through to the next Guinness.
Food From Monaco
In Monaco you can eat whatever you like, because you are so fabulously well off. And you can eat it on a yacht, heck, have it served to you on your yacht. The Monacans also adore barbajuan, Uncle John in the local language, Monégasque, an appetizer made from pastry and cheese and that is rather plain for such a well off bunch, and nothing at all like anybody’s Uncle John.
Southern European Food
The Mediterranean is famed for its long, lazy lunches and world-beating produce. The gastronomy found here is what dreams are made of and wars are fought over. Food in Southern Europe transcends mere nourishment and becomes a way of life, a passion, something worth dying for… are we being dramatic? You won’t think so once you taste the following treats.
Food From Italy
Mamma mia! The old boot at the bottom of Europe is a king in the kitchen world. Has there been a more successful exporter of dishes than the Italians? Pizza, pasta, risotto, minestrone… the list goes on and on. But forget what you think you know about Italian food, in the land of Caesar it’s the produce that takes centre stage, and less is more when it comes to some of the hits we’ve adopted at home. The perfect pizza? Depends on where you are, but it’s all about the base, then some tomato sauce, mozzarella, a pinch of salt, extra virgin olive oil and a few fresh leaves of basil. Leave the pineapple out of this.
Food From Spain
Ooh España, keeper of our heart, liver and especially stomach. It’s tough to pin down just one dish, as the kingdom is really a collection of diverse nations, and the tapas and pintxos culture means that multiple plates should be eaten at every meal. Nevertheless, if there was to be one typically Spanish dish that is enjoyed across the country it would be tortilla de patata, the thick, puffy, omelette with potatoes and sometimes onion that is underappreciated as a breakfast plate. Regionally, you should enjoy a gazpacho in Andalucia, paella in Valencia, chistorra in the Basque Country, pulpo a la ferrerría in Galicia, migas in Extremadura and pa amb tomaquet in Catalonia. All of them are delicious and worth a visit by your tastebuds.
Food From Greece
When we think of Greek food we think of feta cheese and eggplant moussaka, grilled seafood by the Aegean Sea, fresh tzatziki, lamb souvlaki, and all eaten off freshly-repaired smashed plates. These meals are all typically Greek, but are more the fare eaten when in the islands, or on special occasions. The most typically Greek treat for all occasions, from the suburbs of Athens to the heights of Mount Olympus, is the humble gyros, the Greek doner kebab, beef or pork shaved from a vertical rotisserie, wrapped in pita bread, slathered in tzatziki and accompanied with tomato and onion. An integral part of any budget backpacker diet.
Food From Portugal
Portuguese food is the thing of legend. Long evenings spent chewing on sardinhas by the seaside, mornings that begin by nibbling on some Portuguese tarts, and let’s not forget the frango with piri-piri sauce, tasty spicy Portuguese style chicken, broken until it’s flat and cooked over charcoal. Other famed dishes in Portugal seem to go for the can’t-decide-it’s-all-good-just-use-everything school of cooking. First you’ve got the cozido à portuguesa, Portuguese stew that features beans, potatoes, onions, turnips, rice, cabbage, chicken, pork ribs, bacon, pigs’ trotters, ears, various bits of beef, chorizo, blood sausage, other sausages – whatever you’ve got! Or, how about the francesinha, or little French girl, or heart attack sandwich, which is fried bread filled with ham, at least three types of sausage, steak, sometimes chicken, covered in grilled cheese and served soaking in a thick beer-tomato sauce. Further proof that the world isn’t fair is the lack of obese Portuguese people.
Food From Croatia
You’d think that when you’re wilding aboard a Croatia sail trip the only thing you’ll eating is beer bottle tops and big mouthfuls of seawater. Yeah, that’s probably about right, but Croatia is at the crossroads of many cuisines and the Italian, Mediterranean and Balkan influences are evident in a big bowl of crni rizot, or black risotto made with seafood and squid ink. Gimme.
Food From Malta
While other European nations were busy colonising the world, Malta, down there at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea, was busy being a colony of the United Kingdom, a status that it only shook in 1964, and a legacy that it still bears in the form of traffic flowing on the left-hand side of the road. Another hangover from the Brits, perhaps, is the Maltese national dish, pastizz, which are pasties filled with cottage cheese or mushy peas. You say pastizz, they say pasties.
Food From Andorra
Andorra is a tiny little mountain principality wedged between Spain and France high up in the Pyrenees mountains. While it is most famous for its Andorra ski weekenders, and being a place to hide money, the locals there love to eat escudella, which is a soup with a bunch of vegetables and some pasta and also all kinds and different parts of animals, including chicken and veal and pigs’ snouts, ears and trotters too.
Food From San Marino
While the 30,000 or so Sammarinese might be enjoying one of the highest per capita GDPs in the world, 10% of which is due to the tiny Italy-locked nation selling their postage stamps to international collectors, their cuisine struggles to find uniqueness due to the small republic being so surrounded by undeniably delicious Italian food. One thing they do have, however, is the torta tres monti, three mountain cake, that consists of layers of wafer, glued together with chocolate or hazelnut cream, and covered in chocolate fondant, and probably features on one of their more sought-after stamps.
Food From The Vatican City
The Vatican City is the world’s smallest independent nation and finds itself confined completely within the city of Rome. People who call the Vatican City home work for the Catholic Church and eat, we presume, the body of christ, or pizza.
Central European Food
Alpine in parts, cold winters and hot summers have created a more pragmatic approach to gastronomy than in the south. Hearty meals and comfort food rule supreme, and like its political history of war and conquest, you’ll find many dishes cross borders and take on regional attributes in their new homes. Come and warm your insides along Europe’s broad belly.
Food From Switzerland
Switzerland is the little mountain nation that couldn’t… chose a side in any of the wars. With inhabitants that speak French, German, Italian or Romansh, you can imagine that they have a magnificent diversity of cuisines to choose from. The world knows rosti, the potato hash fritters we can take with our brunch, and all over Switzerland folk are barbecuing cervelat, little sausages that were originally made with brains (cerebrum), but the dish that really defines Switzerland would have to be the fondue, the cheese fondue, none of these chocolatey imitators, melted cheese in a pot heated by a naked flame that all the diners sit around and dip bread into until their stomachs are blocked and/or the cheese is scraped dry. A word of warning to inexperienced fonduers, to lose your bread into the cauldron is a faux pas that is punished by having to perform a dare that will be proposed by the other dippers.
Food From The Czech Republic
Czech food is like many people’s experience there – full of cheese and meat, lol. But look, the Czechs aren’t going to win any heart foundation awards with their greasy, savoury, damn tasty fare, but you’d be missing out if you didn’t try a Bohemian Platter, consisting of roast duck, pork, beer sausage, smoked meat, red and white cabbage, and dumplings made of bread, bacon and potato. Oh the rhapsody! Oh the coronary!
Food From Austria
The country that created Arnold Schwarzenegger was always going to have something meaty as its national dish, but we never thought it would be so tasty/not exactly good for you. Enter the wiener schnitzel, a crumbed veal fillet, accompanied with a salad and chips, and served in pubs from Graz to Grafton to Green Bay..
Food From Hungary
Hungarians are the only European tribe who can honestly claim to being fond of spicy food. Paprika and peppers on gosh-darn everything. And while many neighbouring nations claim to variations, the Hungarian gulyás is undoubtedly the real goulash, with Atilla’s descendants perfectly combining meat, vegetables and paprika into a spicy stew since the middle ages.
Food From Liechtenstein
Liechtenstein, the tiny nation that is so landlocked even its two neighbours, Switzerland and Austria, are landlocked, is the world’s number one manufacturer of false teeth, accounting for 20% of the global market! They also just love to dine on Käsknöpfle, which is basically mac and cheese, and probably rots your teeth, because why else would they become so good at making false chompers?
Food From Slovakia
The former Yugoslav republic of Slovakia avoided much of the violence associated with the Balkan War and quickly became a member of the European Union. The country is full of forests and lakes and its most famous dish is a dormouse obra, and that is a traditional stew made from wild mice, insides and outsides. Mouse stew.
Food From Slovenia
This proudly Slavic nation has a lot more going for it than formerly being a part of Czechoslovakia. The country boasts more castles per capita than any other nation on earth, was the birthplace of Andy Warhol’s parents, and is home to Adriana Sklenaříková, a Slovak model with the Guinness World Record for being the fashion model with the longest legs. Well, perhaps Adriana owes her world’s-best pins to bryndzové Halušky, the national dish of boiled potato lumps and soft sheep’s cheese sprinkled with bacon fat. Model food if we’ve ever heard of it.
Note: we mixed these two on purpose. Apparently members of both the Slovakian and Slovenian governments have to meet to exchange missent post, so rife is the mixing up of the two nations. We played a little joke, because we are little jokesters.
Eastern European Food
Europe’s exotic east still carries with it some negative Cold War connotations of bland food served in cans to people waiting in line. This is not the case as the tongue-inspired traveller will find fusions and inspiration from the near east and Russia, as well as plenty of good beer and spirits. Nazdrave!
Food From Poland
For a nation so fond of vodka, you’d think that Polish cuisine was potato heavy, but look at the national dishes – bigos, or meat and sauerkraut, pierogi, meat, cheese and/or fruit dumplings, kotlet schabowy, crumbed pork cutlet, żur, which is sour rye soup, and gołąbki, cabbage rolls filled with meat, onions and rice. It would seem that the prudent Poles use their potato rations for vodka distilling and waste less useful foodstock on eating.
Food From Bulgaria
Here you’ll find foods found all over the Balkans and through Greece, like moussaka and chevapi, but for a real Bulgarian treat that will have you shot-putting in no time you can’t go past shkembe chorba, a super spicy soup made with tripe that is renowned for its hangover curing properties (nothing to do with the beer it’s always washed down with).
Food From România
Romania’s a great place to experience the culinary heritage of conflicting east and west, European and Turkish, cultures. The best thing about Romanian cuisine, apart from it being very well priced, would have to be the mititei, little rolled up sticks of pork, beef and lamb meat, spiced to perfection, grilled, and served with french fries, mustard and pickles, on a piece of cardboard, on the street. Slam a few of those down before you make friends with Bucharest’s €1.50 pints.
North European Food
This is where things get weird. Renowned for their advanced society, the people of Northern Europe hang on to some rather strange culinary customs. Perhaps the product of long winters and scarce produce, many things that we wouldn’t consider edible are fair game from the Baltic up.
If you believe The Muppets, Swedish chefs like to throw things around and make a general mess, but the well organised and traditional Swedes couldn’t be further from that marionette stereotype. Swedes are a straightlaced bunch who like nothing more than cracking the lid off a tin of surströmming, or pickled herring that is made so it’s just on the fermented side of rotten, and thus has been scientifically proven to have the most putrid odour of any food on earth. Less gross, Swedes love to celebrate a kräftpremiär, or crayfish party, where manifold crustaceans are devoured, as well as more than each participant’s share of beer and schnapps. But as anybody who has been to Ikea will tell you, and that’s more or less everybody, the really Swedish plate has to be köttebullar, meat balls, that can be found everywhere and that are really as delicious as the pickled herring is probably disgusting.
Bound to have some bizarre dishes, the gastronomic traveller is often disappointed to learn that the Nordic nation’s national dish is fårikål, a rather bland mutton and potato dish. Instead the brave stomach wanderers prefer to try smalahove, boiled whole sheep’s head, or hvalkjøtt, which is the morally dubious, but totally delicious, steak of whale meat.
Iceland is in vogue for its stunning landscapes, soothing music and spectacularly beautiful people. Its cuisine, on the other hand, is an oft omitted part of the Icelandic experience. Why? Because their national dish is kæstur hákarl, or fermented shark. Yep, rotten shark. They also ferment sheep heads, ram testicles, seal flippers and whale blubber. Yep, Icelandic cuisine is enough to make even the most intrepid culinary adventurers Björk.
Denmark is famous for its pig farming and the tastiness of its bacon, so it’s no surprise that when they held a national vote to determine their most typical dish – yep, they did that – stegt flæsk med persillesovs came out a clear winner. And what does that delightful collection of words stand for? Crispy pork with parsley sauce, which sounds more Cantonese to us..
Finland is the closest you can get in the EU to Santa Claus, so it makes complete sense that their national dish is poroknkäristys, or reindeer, served with mashed potatoes and a sprinkling of shattered childhood dreams. If reindeer isn’t your thing you could always go for any number of herring dishes, or something called new potatoes – the harvest of which makes the local papers every year, apparently…
When you think of the great culinary destinations of the world, does Estonia spring to mind? Maybe not, but if you’ve got a hankering for some verivorst hapukapsas, or blood sausage with sauerkraut, where else are you going to go?
Good old Latvia, up there on the Baltic Sea, bordered by Estonia, Lithuania, Russia and Belarus, was never going to have the freshness and diversity of cuisine enjoyed by its southern European cousins. But what they lack in agreeable agricultural conditions they make up for in mastery of the potato and the pea, which they employ in the kitchen to devastating effect. Their national dish? Latka, a pancake-shaped potato dish.
The best thing about Lithuanian cuisine is that it is mostly created to accompany beer, with most Lithuanian menus having sections devoted to “food to go with beer”. From pigs’ ears to melted cheese, the traditional cepelinai dumplings, and kepta duono, which is deep-fried cheesy garlic bread. Any nation that develops an entire cuisine around drinking beer is a nation that is a-ok with us.
“They seem to use every bit of the animal, these Europeans, and not only in the countryside. There have been times, multiple times, where I’ve sat down to dine with families in France, Germany, Spain, wherever, and have been fed heaped servings of entrails. Like, guts. And every time my friend/translator at the time will relay a message from the family that to not eat it all would be a grave insult. So you dutifully put it all away, like a good guest, washed down with copious amounts of whatever’s going, just to have the whole table break into raucous laughter on your last mouthful. Great prank, guys, making the foreigner eat something repulsive. I guess, though, you get to try new things. New gross things.” – Adam, 28, kitchen