European Countries Cuisine
Veselin Peev - 16/01/2020
Travel is all about exploring nature, connecting with history and experiencing new cultures.
Oh, who are we kidding? It's really about the food!
Eating and drinking across Europe is at least as exciting as sightseeing there. But while all European countries offer some fine dishes, not all are created equal.
To make choosing the right European destination for a culinary trip easier, we decided to rank the food in all of the European Union nations. Our list is based on lots of time spent traveling the continent, sampling the local cuisine throughout.
Of course, these results are subjective.
20. Finland, Denmark & Sweden
The Nordic countries of Finland, Denmark and Sweden (plus Norway and Iceland, which are in Europe but not the European Union) blend in together when it comes to cuisine.
These nations combine mostly rural land with long coastlines along the Baltic and North Seas. As a result, menus in Scandinavia consist of many vegetables, game meat and fish, much of it fermented.
This simplicity can be effective, but when compared to the cuisine of other European countries, well...fermented shark just doesn't cut it.
Plus, food in Scandinavia is the priciest in all of Europe, thanks to a super-strong currency and high VAT rates. As we have heard it described, “Scandinavian food is expensive and uninteresting” — a less-than-stellar combo.
Still, Sweden did introduce us to the Smorgasbord and Swedish meatballs, so it’s not all that bad.
19. Lithuania, Estonia & Latvia
When Wiki describes your country’s cuisine as “products suited to the cool and moist northern climate: barley, potatoes, rye, beets, greens, berries and mushrooms,” it’s difficult to get too excited.
Soups (borscht, beet root soup) and rye bread simply have a tough time competing with heartier dishes of game meat in the countries to the south.
Baltic countries are also big on pickling — pickled herring is particularly popular — which is, we'll say, an acquired taste.
Seafood in Croatia's Adriatic coastal cities like Dubrovnik and Split can be amazing. But most of Croatia’s foods are similar to its neighbors, who are better known for their versions. For example, goulash is more famous in Hungary and pasta and sauces are renowned in Italy.
Much of Croatian cuisine is game-based, with turkey, pork and even the “edible dormouse” found abundantly on menus.
Bulgaria is part of the Balkans, and shares some of the same recipes as Greece and Turkey. It's known for its hearty cuisine, as well as dishes rich in dairy and veggies.
With tripe soup (tripe is the muscle wall from a cow's stomach) and a cold yogurt-based soup making the list of the country’s dishes, Bulgaria is not a place to go for fine dining.
That said, as with all the countries in Europe, Bulgaria does have a few dishes that wow. Banitsa, a cheese-filled filo pastry, is a popular snack and breakfast dish that's easy to fall in love with.
In Slovenia, try the struklji, a steamed, boiled or fried dough dish filled with either meats and cheeses or apples.
Sound similar to Austria’s strudel? Not quite, but the Hapsburg Dynasty from Austria did spread across Slovenia, so there's a definite Austrian influence in the cuisine here. In addition to the strudel-esque struklji, the Austrian dish of schnitzel is popular in Slovenia, too.
There's nothing wrong with these dishes in the least — they're sublime. It's just that it's better to try them in Austria, where they're from.
15. Czech Republic & Slovakia
Many dishes found in the Czech Republic are crossovers from its neighbors, Austria and Hungary.
You’ll find goulash, sauerkraut and dumplings, just like you will in its former adjoined country, Slovakia. (The duo once formed Czechoslovakia.)
Traditional cuisine in these countries is otherwise pretty basic, though not without its merits. In the Czech Republic, try Vepro knedlo zelo, roasted pork paired with dumplings and cabbage; in Slovakia, opt for Bryndzové halušky, potato dumplings with sheep cheese and bacon.
These are both beautiful countries, we admit, and the food is far from terrible. But you can enjoy better cuisine elsewhere in Europe.
When you are stuck between France and Germany, you’re bound to have cuisine that reflects both countries. Props to Luxembourg for also having some originality with its menus.
Traditional dishes include Judd mat Gaardebounden (pork neck with beans), träipen (fried blood sausage) and a number of fried-fish dishes, including the Friture de la Moselle, a river fish eaten with your fingers.
Hmm, better yet, we think sticking with French and German food is a better idea.
It will anger the Irish to be compared in any way to the UK (next slide!), but the foods are pretty similar. Sorry!
There are a couple things Ireland does better, though. One is the beer; this is, after all, the birthplace of Guinness.
The other is butter, which truly does melt in the mouth here. With a high-fat concentration that makes it extra creamy — plus the cows get to nosh on Irish green grass all day — Irish butter is fantastic.
Otherwise, Ireland is basically known as the home of potato dishes. So it's safe to say that, on the lengthy list of reasons to visit the Emerald Isle, food isn't near the top.
12. United Kingdom
While the British would argue that deviled kidneys, liver and onions, Pease pudding, and steak and kidney pie are “delish,” most visitors probably wouldn't choose these items unless they were stuck in the English countryside with no other option.
Does this continue the stereotype that British food is bad? Yes, it does. And it's true that this stereotype isn't entirely true; London and Edinburgh’s food scenes are home to some of the best international restaurants in the world. But that just means food from other countries makes their culinary scenes great.
The fact is, not many people travel to the UK expecting a great meal, and there is always a bit of truth behind stereotypes.
11. Hungary & Romania
With two-thirds of Hungary lost mainly to Romania after World War I, and Hungarians now Romania’s largest minority group, we’ll combine the two countries in terms of cuisine because they share many of the same dishes (try cabbage rolls and pork jelly in both). There are some differences, though.
Romania incorporates much of its foods from its neighboring countries, including Hungary and Poland, with minced meat filling its menus.
Hungary is famously home to goulash — a wholly satisfying meat and vegetable stew — and embraces spices like paprika. (Paprikash, meat simmered in paprika, derives its name from the spice.) Thanks to these and other traditional dishes, Hungarians enjoy the better food of the two countries.
A combination of Slavic, German and Yiddish foods, many people think of meat and cheese when they think Polish cuisine. (Pierogi, anyone?)
From chicken noodle soup, rosol, to red beet soup with dumplings, and Fasolka po bretnonsku stewed beans to white borscht soup with hard-boiled eggs and kielbasa, Poland knows how to keep you warm during its cold winters.
This country is about comfort foods, all the way. And there's nothing wrong with that.
Traditional Dutch menus will be filled with herring, including raw herring with chopped onions eaten on bread (Holladnse nieuwe).
But we prefer the sweet cuisine found in the Netherlands: poffertjes, small puffed pancakes topped with powdered sugar (like an American funnel cake) and the stroopwafel, syrup waffle cookies.
We also recommend bitterballen, deep-fried meatballs coated in breadcrumbs and served with mustard. The dish is regularly and best enjoyed with a nice cold beer.
Malta may be small, but its cuisine is mighty.
Of course, with its Mediterranean location, seafood dishes are plentiful on the island. A seasonal approach here applies not just to what’s harvested from the soil, but to what's fished from the sea.
Try hobz biz-zejt — bread stuffed with tuna, capers, tomatoes, onion and garlic — as an appetizer before digging in to your main course of lampuki pie (fish stew).
Even the pasta sauce here is regularly made with squid and octopus!
Belgian waffles may be the first thing that come to mind when you think of Belgium, but this intimate country nestled between France and The Netherlands is actually the creator of the French fry. (Although France tries to lay claim to the honor.)
You may not think it’s worth it to visit a country entirely for its French fries, but Belgium has truly perfected this fabulous comfort food, and we kindly disagree.
Alternatively, you may prefer the moules-frites, mussels in wine and butter served with fries. It’s pretty much a standard of the coastal country, and is simply delicious.
Oh, and need we remind you of Belgian chocolate? If it's good enough to be Godiva, it's good enough to have our hearts.
There are more than 40 types of bratwurst (sausage) in Germany, and more than 5,000 brands of German beer. For these two reasons alone, foodies can find much to love here.
Better yet, Germans know how to combine excellent food with inspired revelry, as at the country's famous annual Oktoberfest that draws more than 6 million attendees.
And don't even get us started on the simple joys of a great pretzel or hearty helping of spätzle egg noodles.
Spätzle is one of many dishes Germany shares with Austria, coming up on this list.
The national dish of Austria is its breaded and fried schnitzel, or veal cutlet. Vienna’s Figlmuller Willzeile is known as the birthplace of the dish, and has been serving it for more than 100 years.
Vienna is also home to the semi-sweet chocolate torte with thick layers of apricot jam known as the sacher torte.
And then, there is the flaky delicacy known as the Apfelstrudel, or apple strudel. Although it's long been popular across Eastern Europe, the sweet treat was created for the Hapsburg family, who reigned from Vienna.
Are these three distinct dishes enough to warrant a visit to Austria for food? Combine them with the wonderful Grüner Veltliner wines created in Austria’s Wachau Valley along the Danube River, and the answer is a resounding “yes.”
4. Greece and Republic of Cyprus
We will first be clear that Cyprus is not part of Greece and not near Greece — it’s actually closer to Turkey (not in the EU). The Turks and Greeks have a generations-old feud between them, and both wanted Cyprus for themselves. And although we know this will cause some anger, this trio of nations, despite any ill will between them, share a lot of common dishes, albeit with different names.
Consider this: Souvlaki, kebabs and sheftalia? All kebabs of meat.
Stuffed grape leaves (you say dolma, I say dolmathes)? The same.
Gyros and shawarma? Both involve marinated meat, typically served on flatbread.
Thick yogurts most-often called Greek yogurt? Same.
Let them battle out who does it better; these dishes are fantastic no matter what version you try.
3. Spain & Portugal
Thank you, Spain and Portugal, for adding so much spice to so many of your dishes.
We are sorry to group you together, for you are each a beautiful country that stands alone, but with your shared location on the Iberian Peninsula, your cuisine is quite similar. (And similarly fantastic.)
Traditional Iberian Peninsula food is renowned for paella/arroz de pato (rice, spices, meat or veggies) and tapas/petiscos (small dishes starring seafood, ham and cheese).
Both Spanish and Portuguese dishes were considered peasant food. But tossing in the freshest ingredients and spices to create one-pot dishes is so much better than whatever fancy foods royalty was eating decades ago.
Food isn't just food in France; it's “cuisine.” Even Julia Child admitted that it wasn’t until her time in France that she became a cook: “I was 32 when I started cooking; up until then, I just ate.”
French cooking is so inspirational that it has led to the training of many much-revered chefs at Le Cordon Bleu. Michelin ratings, the hard-to-come-by stars awarded to the world’s best restaurants, come from France. The country is the queen of rich, decadent sauces, and no other country in the world can compare when it comes to indulgent pastries and breads, most famously the melt-in-your-mouth croissant.
And we haven’t even mentioned the cheese yet! There are 1,600 distinct types of French cheese — brie, bleu, chevre and munster among them — and we'd happily eat them all.
Pair this cheese with bread, and you have the perfect item — so good, you could eat just that in France and be happy.
But don't forget to try the country's amazing wines as well. France is the birthplace of Champagne, Cabernet Franc and Bordeaux, among many others.
Is it possible to travel through Italy and not rave about the food? We’d like to see you try.
The Italians have perfected pasta and sauces, have invested and continue to create the world’s best pizza, and offer the better-than-ice-cream sweet treat of gelato.
There is the Florentine steak, the thin-sliced prosciutto from Parma, the larger-than-your-head Amalfi lemons that create limoncello liquor, and, of course, the best wines from locally harvested grapes to wash everything down with.
Italians know how to take the fewest ingredients of the freshest variety and make a dish shine, unlike the French who drench their cuisine in sauces.
Said Chef Wolfgang Puck of Italian food, it’s “all about ingredients and it’s not fussy and it’s not fancy.”
Italy may be an obvious choice for the No. 1 pick. But really, was there any other option?