10 Iconic European Dishes Every American Foodie Must Try

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Europe’s culinary landscape is as diverse as its cultures, with each country offering dishes deeply rooted in history, tradition, and local ingredients. A foodie journey through Europe is about savoring flavors and understanding the stories behind these dishes and the people who make them. From the hearty stews of Eastern Europe to the refined pastries of France, this guide highlights must-try dishes across the continent and where to find the best local flavors, offering travelers a taste of Europe’s rich gastronomic heritage.

1. Italy: Pizza in Naples

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Image Credit: Shutterstock / V. Matthiesen

Italy is synonymous with pizza, and Naples is its undisputed birthplace. Neapolitan pizza is divine with its simple yet flavorful ingredients—San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella di bufala, fresh basil, salt, and olive oil—on a soft, chewy crust. The art of Neapolitan pizza making, or “pizzaiuolo,” is even recognized by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Authentic pizzerias, like Pizzeria Da Michele or Sorbillo, offer a taste of this traditional dish in its purest form, providing a window into the soul of Italian cuisine.

2. France: Croissant in Paris

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Image Credit: Shutterstock / Anna_Pustynnikova

Though rooted in Austrian cuisine, the croissant has become a quintessential part of French culinary identity, especially in Paris. This buttery, flaky pastry is a staple of French breakfasts, best enjoyed fresh from a boulangerie oven. The art of making a perfect croissant involves a meticulous process of layering dough and butter, then rolling and folding multiple times to achieve its iconic texture. Legendary bakeries like Pierre Hermé and Poilâne in Paris offer some of the finest examples, showcasing the croissant’s delicate balance of crunch and softness.

3. Spain: Paella in Valencia

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Image Credit: Shutterstock / RossHelen

Paella, Spain’s most famous dish, originates from Valencia. This aromatic rice dish is traditionally cooked in a large shallow pan over an open fire, infused with saffron and various ingredients such as rabbit, chicken, snails, beans, and sometimes seafood. The key to an authentic paella Valenciana lies in the use of Bomba rice, which absorbs the flavors of the broth, and the formation of the socarrat, a caramelized crust of rice at the bottom of the pan. Restaurants like La Pepica and Casa Roberto in Valencia offer some of the most authentic paella experiences, where the dish is prepared with time-honored techniques and local ingredients.

4. Greece: Moussaka in Athens

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Image Credit: Pexels / Doze of hope Rafea

Moussaka is a quintessential Greek dish, consisting of layers of sautéed eggplant, minced meat (usually lamb), and a creamy béchamel sauce, baked to perfection. This rich and comforting dish reflects the flavors of the Mediterranean and is a staple in Greek cuisine. In Athens, traditional tavernas like To Kafeneio and Psaras Tavern offer some of the best moussaka, prepared according to traditional recipes passed down through generations. Dining in these establishments provides a taste of authentic Greek moussaka and an immersion into Greek culture and hospitality.

5. Portugal: Bacalhau in Lisbon

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Image Credit: Shutterstock / Paulo Vilela

Bacalhau, or salted cod, is Portugal’s national dish, with the saying that there are 365 ways to cook bacalhau, one for each day of the year. In Lisbon, the dish is prepared in various forms, from bacalhau à brás (shredded cod with onions, straw potatoes, and scrambled eggs) to bacalhau com natas (cod with cream). Time Out Market Lisboa and local eateries like A Casa do Bacalhau offer exceptional versions of these dishes, showcasing bacalhau’s versatility and depth of flavor.

6. Germany: Sauerbraten in Cologne

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Image Credit: Shutterstock / hlphoto

Sauerbraten, often referred to as Germany’s national dish, is a pot roast, usually of beef (but other meats such as lamb, mutton, pork, and traditionally, horse), marinated for several days in a mixture of vinegar or wine, water, and a variety of seasonings before being slow-cooked. The result is a tender, flavorful dish often served with red cabbage, potato dumplings, or boiled potatoes. In Cologne, historic breweries and restaurants like Früh am Dom, and Brauhaus Sion serve some of the best sauerbraten, offering a taste of traditional German cuisine in a rustic, convivial setting.

7. Hungary: Goulash in Budapest

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Image Credit: Shutterstock / Natalia Hanin

Goulash is a hearty stew of meat and vegetables, seasoned with paprika and other spices from Hungary. This iconic dish embodies the warmth and robust flavors of Hungarian cuisine. In Budapest, traditional restaurants and taverns serve authentic goulash, which is more like a soup in Hungary than the thicker stews often found elsewhere. Spots like Gettó Gulyás and Café Kör offer some of the best goulash in the city, prepared with a deep understanding of this centuries-old recipe. These establishments provide a cozy atmosphere where diners can enjoy goulash and various Hungarian dishes.

8. Belgium: Moules-Frites in Brussels

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Image Credit: Shutterstock / margouillat photo

Moules-frites, or mussels served with fries, is a beloved dish in Belgium, combining the country’s love for seafood and its claim to have invented the fried potato. In Brussels, restaurants and brasseries across the city serve this classic dish, often with various sauces for the mussels. Chez Léon and Fritland are just a couple of places where locals and tourists alike can enjoy high-quality moules-frites, showcasing the simplicity and deliciousness of Belgian cuisine.

9. Austria: Wiener Schnitzel in Vienna

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Image Credit: Pexels / Nadin Sh

Wiener Schnitzel, a breaded and fried veal cutlet, is Austria’s national dish and a must-try for visitors to Vienna. This simple yet delicious dish is served in many traditional Viennese restaurants, known as “Wirtshäuser,” with Figlmüller being one of the most famous for serving an oversized version that barely fits on the plate. The key to an authentic Wiener Schnitzel lies in its tender meat, crispy coating, and the use of high-quality ingredients.

10. Turkey: Kebab in Istanbul

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Image Credit: Shutterstock / Prenes

The kebab, with its origins deeply rooted in Middle Eastern and Turkish cuisines, is a staple dish in Istanbul, offering a variety of meats cooked on skewers or as doner kebabs. Istanbul’s culinary scene provides various kebab experiences, from street food vendors to upscale restaurants. Sultanahmet Kebab House and Dürümzade are renowned for their authentic flavors and traditional preparation methods, offering visitors a genuine taste of Turkish kebab culture.

The Bottom Line

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Image Credit: Shutterstock / frantic00

A culinary journey through Europe is an adventure that tantalizes the taste buds and offers insight into the continent’s diverse cultures and traditions. From the hearty stews of Eastern Europe to the refined pastries of France, each dish you encounter tells a story of its region’s history, geography, and people. As you explore Europe’s culinary landscape, remember to seek authentic experiences, whether a local bistro, a street food vendor, or a traditional tavern. 

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The post 10 Iconic European Dishes Every American Foodie Must Try was republished on Passing Thru with permission from The Green Voyage.

Featured Image Credit: Pexels / Andrea Piacquadio.

For transparency, this content was partly developed with AI assistance and carefully curated by an experienced editor to be informative and ensure accuracy.

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