Most people go to Europe to take in the scenery of its incredible cities, like Paris, London, and Rome. But once you get to Europe, you’ll realize that tasting the best European foods is one of the most memorable parts of a trip to the Old World.
This list of the best European dishes will have your mouth watering for a ticket to Europe. And if you can’t try out the best foods in Europe, do a quick search of your local restaurant scene to find out where you can get some good continental cuisine. Here are our top picks for the best European dishes, by country:
England: Fish and Chips
Beer-battered cod and potato fries (chips) are a staple fast food in United Kingdom and Ireland. The tradition of deep-fried fish started with 16th-century Spanish immigrants, but fried fish really took off with the development of North Sea trawl fishing and the construction of railroads that made fish accessible to the urban masses. Charles Dickens mentions fried fish in his 1838 novel Oliver Twist, and french fries (chippys) may have come around at the same time. Today, there are tens of thousands of fish and chips shops around England, a few dozen of which are the fish-and-chips chain Harry Ramsden’s.
This heavily marinated meat roast is the national dish of Germany. Though beef is the usual meat of choice, venison, lamb, mutton, pork, and even horse are used. The meat is first marinated for three days in a mixture of wine or vinegar accompanied by various seasonings. The exact marinade recipe varies by region; in regions closer to France, red wine is used, while a white wine like Riesling might form the base in others. The marinating process helps soften the typically tougher cuts of meat. Sauerbraten is usually served in hearty gravy and accompanied by potato pancakes or dumplings.
This dish of seasoned rice and meat originated from the sun-washed region of Valencia. Paella means pan in the regional dialect, referring to the shallow pan in which Paella is cooked. Paella Valenciana is the original dish, consisting of round-grain rice, green beans, lima beans, rabbit and chicken, and occasionally duck. Travelers might be more familiar with Paella de Marisco, a variation that omits beans and replaces the meat with seafood like calamari, shrimp, and mussels—those last two left in their shells. Paella is best cooked over an open fire of orange branches and pinecones, which provide a unique aroma.
France: Beef Burgundy
Beef Bourguignon is a stew of braised beef that is then stewed in a mixture of red wine, beef stock, carrots, onions, garlic, and bundled herbs, otherwise known as a bouquet garni. The finished dish is garnished with pearl onions, mushrooms, and sometimes bacon. Similar recipes a la Bourguignon (with red wine) are made with leg of lamb and rabbit. The mouth-watering stew has become a popular staple of French cuisine, especially in the bistros of Paris, where it might be served with potatoes or pasta. Despite the name, it does not originate from Burgundy, but may have ancient roots.
These filled dumplings are great for an appetizer, a main course, or dessert—depending on whether they’re stuffed with sweet or savory fillings. Some say that pierogis came with Marco Polo from China. Others say they were brought to Poland by Saint Hyacinth after a visit to Kiev, who fed them to the people during a famine. Whatever their origin, they were already popular in Poland by the 13th century. Mashed potatoes, onions, cheese, sauerkraut, and ground meat are just a few popular filling choices, as are fresh fruit fillings for dessert; once they’re stuffed, pierogies can be boiled or fried.
Italy: Bolognese Sauce
This meat-based sauced, known in Italian as Ragù alla Bolognese, is a sauce from the Northern Italian city of Bologna. The slow-cooked sauce involves several steps such as braising the meat and sauteing vegetables. Ingredients might include a vegetable soffritto of diced onions, celery, and carrots, along with chopped meat, fatty pork, milk, wine, and tomato concentrate (interestingly, tomatoes did not become a staple ingredient in Italian cooking until the discovery of America). This ragu is best served over the long, flat, ribbon-like Tagliatelle, wide Lasagna, or Pappardelle or Fettuccine. Outside of Italy, Bolognese Sauce is often served with spaghetti.
Hungary sits at a crossroads between Europe and the Orient, and its cooking is a unique fusion that often incorporates spicy tones. Goulash goes back to Medieval times, when shepherds would pack dried meat into sheep stomachs and add water to make it a stew-on-the-go. In the 16th century, paprika was introduced from the New World via Spain, and it became a key seasoning in Goulash. The thickness of goulash comes not from flour, but from the gelatin that comes from the particular cuts of meat that are used: shank, shoulder, and shin. Goulash is often served with egg noodles.
Russia: Beef Stroganoff
This Russian dish of sauteed beef is named after one of the most powerful merchant families in the Russian Empire. The original recipe calls for cubes of meat lightly floured and sauteed with mustard, broth, and sour cream. Onions, mushrooms, and alcohol were later additions as Beef Stroganoff made its way around the world, first through China and then to America with US service members returning home after WWII. In most locations, the meat is cut into strips and served over rice or egg noodles, depending on the location. In Russia, Beef Stroganoff is traditionally served with crispy potato straws.
Romania: Stuffed Cabbage
Stuffed cabbage or cabbage rolls are called Sarmale in Romania and served on special occasions like Christmas, New Year’s Eve, weddings, baptisms, and other large parties. The cabbage leaves (most often sour) are stuffed with ground pork, caramelized onions, and rice. Grape leaves or pickled sauerkraut leaves can be used instead of cabbage, reflecting the culinary tradition in former Ottoman Empire countries of eating sarma, such as popular the dolma. Though the cabbage rolls will cook in a dill or tomato base, traditional Romanian cabbage rolls are light on the sauce, and often accompanied by layers of sweet shredded cabbage.
Fondue is a dish of melted cheese served family style over an open flame, which helps it stay creamy. Long stemmed forks are used to dip bread and sometimes potatoes into the blend of cheeses, which are also mixed with white wine, cornstarch, and kirsch (a type of strong brandy). Fondue became popular in America in the 1960s, and it has since become a term applied to other varieties of a communal melting pot, such as chocolate fondue (for dipping fruits like strawberries or pastries) and fondue bourguignonne— hot oil or broth in which pieces of raw meat are cooked.