When it comes to these regional delicacies, accept no substitutes. Book a trip to taste the real thing—you won’t regret it!
Where you’ll find it: China
Sure, it would be easier to call these steamed buns just that, but what kind of fun would that be? For the record, the word is quite easy to pronounce: shao-long-bao (the first and third syllables rhyme with “cow”). Originating in Shanghai, xiaolongbao are rich and flavorful dumplings that are traditionally filled with broth and meat and steamed in the bamboo basket in which they are served.
2. GARBAGE PLATE
Where you’ll find it: Rochester, NY
The “Anything and Everything Plate” may be a more appropriate name for this made-to-order dish that originated in Rochester in 1918. And if you’re ready to take the culinary plunge, you’d better be prepared for a barrage of questions, because you could order this dish once a week for an entire year and never have the same version twice. First there’s the main protein, which could be one of nearly a dozen different things: red or white hots, burger or Italian sausage, chicken tenders or fried ham, haddock or egg, and/or veggies or a grilled cheese sandwich.
All those choices are served atop a layer of French fries, home fries, beans, and/or macaroni salad, then topped with your choice of condiments (onions, mustard, hot sauce). It’s all accompanied by a side of bread and butter to sop up whatever might be left on the plate, because a doggie bag is the last place a Garbage Plate belongs.
3. CINCINNATI CHILI
Where you’ll find it: Cincinnati, OH
Cincinnati’s favorite comfort food for more than 90 years isn’t the kind of chili you spoon into a bowl. While a heaping helping of chili con carne—which might be seasoned with anything from cinnamon to cloves to chocolate—is certainly part of the equation, a proper plate of Cincinnati-style chili can be ordered in one of three basic versions: 3-Way (a plate of spaghetti topped with chili then topped with shredded cheddar cheese), 4-Way (add onions or beans), or 5-Way (add onions and beans). Oyster crackers and hot sauce finish off the dish.
Where you’ll find it: Belgium
In a country where beer, chocolate, and waffles are culinary staples, Moules-Frites takes the prize for the travel-worthiest dish of them all. And while plenty of restaurants from France to America have attempted to adopt the dish as their own, there’s nothing like stuffing yourself with mussels (cooked in a rich mix of butter, wine, and herbs) and fries the way that Belgian chefs originally intended.
Where you’ll find it: Switzerland
Like an amped up hash brown, the potato-based rösti began its life as a breakfast dish in the Bern area, but eventually caught on throughout Switzerland—and, to some degree, the world. It’s become widely recognized as a national dish that can be eaten on its own (who in his or her right mind would pass up a plate of shredded potato cakes made with cheese and butter?) or as a goes-with-anything side dish.
6. LOCO MOCO
Where you’ll find it: Hawaii
Originally introduced in the 1940s, Loco Moco takes its flavor cues from a variety of sources and can be ordered and eaten in myriad ways. The standard makeup, however, is as follows: white rice topped with a hamburger patty, fried egg, and lots of gravy. But like any prolific menu item, there are plenty of variations and add-ons to be found at restaurants across the state, including bacon, linguica, chili, ham, shrimp, or oysters. Loco Moco also scores some major bonus points for being so much fun to say!
Where you’ll find it: Canada
Originating in Quebec, poutine has been making the journey across the Canadian border and landing on an increasing number of menus in forward-thinking foodie cities in the U.S., most notably New York, as well as in the U.K. But whereas non-Canadian eateries seem to be applying a “more is more” philosophy when it comes to toppings, trying to improve on the original dish—a concoction of French fries topped with gravy and cheese curds—is a somewhat fruitless endeavor.
8. WHOOPIE PIES
Where you’ll find it: Maine/Pennsylvania
Somewhere between a cookie, cake, and pie is a whoopie pie, a dessert sandwich traditionally made with two round pieces of chocolate cake filled with a creamy, marshmallow-like frosting. That these handheld treats are delicious is an indisputable fact (especially when they’re homemade), but exactly where the dish originated is a source of contention, mostly between Pennsylvania (Amish women were fond of cooking them as lunchtime treats) and Maine (where it’s the official state treat)—though New Hampshire and Massachusetts have also staked a claim in this delectable debate.
Where you’ll find it: Brazil
Brazil’s contributions to the world are plentiful, from beautiful beaches to Amazonian rainforests to this legendary black bean stew. Prepared with salted beef and/or pork products and served with rice, collard greens, hot sauce, and a side of orange to ease digestion, feijoada made its way to Brazil via Portugese settlers, but has been adapted to local tastes to become the country’s national dish, served in both take-out joints and high-end eateries.
10. HONG KONG-STYLE FRENCH TOAST
Where you’ll find it: Hong Kong
And you thought the Americanized version of French toast was indulgent! Hong Kong-style French toast makes that battered and syrup-covered Sunday brunch staple look like child’s play with its egg-soaked, deep-fried slices of bread that are stuffed with peanut butter and topped with butter, syrup, and the occasional dollop of honey.
Where you’ll find it: Ireland
Think of Champ as mashed potatoes on steroids. Ireland’s national dish (sometimes referred to as “poundies”) is an addictively creamy potato side dish that is mashed with scallions, butter, salt, and pepper and might just be a pint of stout’s best friend. Colcannon is a similiar delicacy, which uses cabbage or kale in place of the scallions.
12. JUICY LUCY
Where you’ll find it: Minneapolis, MN
Like Philadelphia’s great cheesesteak debate, there’s a culinary rivalry in Minneapolis over who invented the Juicy Lucy, which is best described as an inside out cheeseburger. Two neighboring restaurants both claim to be the original home of the sandwich, though the true originator has yet to be determined. But here’s what we do know: the first Juicy Lucy was served up in the 1950s, they’re distinguished by the piping hot core of cheese that makes up the middle, and, as such, it’s safest to let the sandwich cool down for a minute before biting into that fromage explosion.
13. SPOTTED DICK
Where you’ll find it: England
It may not have the most appetizing of names, but it’s hard to argue with history. And the Spotted Dick—a dried fruit pudding that’s typically made with currants or raisins (hence the “spotted”) and served with custard—has got a long one, dating all the way back to 1849, when a recipe for the dish appeared in Alexis Soyer’s The Modern Housewife or Ménagère.
14. PIE FLOATER
Where you’ll find it: Australia
It’s Australia’s favorite hangover food! Like an upside-down meat pie, the main dish is covered in a generous helping of pea soup and topped with tomato sauce (salt, pepper, malt vinegar, and mint sauce are some other popular additions). Though it got its start in Adelaide, in 2003 the dish was named a South Australian Heritage Icon.
Where you’ll find it: France
When it comes to French pastries, it’s hard to choose a single favorite. But this delicate treat, which translates to “a thousand leaves” because of the many layers of puff pastry that compose it, is as delicious to eat as it is beautiful to behold. Though there are savory versions of it, the sweet kind—filled with pastry cream and topped with anything from whipped cream to cocoa to roasted almonds—will have you aching to book a flight to Paris.