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From the colder northern countries to beaches of the Mediterranean, European food encompasses classic, world-renowned cuisines.

There are also increasing forays into experimental culinary scenes everywhere, from the Scandinavian countries to Britain, Spain, and Greece.

Whether a stew, a sandwich, or a dessert, each country has its own iconic dishes and myriad different variations on them making for rich rewards for the gourmet traveler. Served from the pubs or Ireland to the bistros of France, you’ll find dozens of iconic regional dishes guaranteed to make the mouth water.

Boeuf Bourguignon, France

European food - boeuf bourguignon

Boeuf bourguignon

Rich beef, slow cooked in Burgundy wine alongside fresh vegetables and bacon, until it’s falling off the fork… there are few dishes that bring to mind the petite bistros of France than boeuf Bourguignon.

Served with slices of crusty baguette and a large glass of red, this is rustic French food at its best, with incredible ingredients handled with care and respect. A great alternative for those who aren’t fans of red meat is coq au vin—a remarkably similar dish with chicken or rooster replacing the beef.

Fish ’n’ Chips, England

Plate of Fish ’n’ chips

Fish ’n’ chips

It’s easy to think that fish ’n’ chips is the same meal around England, but there are a number of variations. The major change, of course, is the type of fish used.

Cod is the most popular option with the more flavorsome haddock coming a strong second, while rock salmon (dog fish), skate, pollock and other white flaky fish are also options.

The second biggest change comes from the frying fat used. While vegetable oils were all the rage for a while, the best “chippies” have now reverted to the more traditional beef dripping (fat rendered from roast beef) which again adds a unique flavor.

The dish can be accompanied by “mushy” (mashed) peas or curry sauce depending on preference, with salt and malt vinegar as condiments. And it always tastes better wrapped in paper and served as take out.

Souvlaki, Greece

European food - Souvlaki

Souvlaki

The quintessential street food of Greece is another dish that comes in many forms. The word itself comes from the word souvla, or skewer, and refers to any meat or fish that is cubed, placed on bamboo skewers and grilled on an open fire.

They can be eaten by hand from the stick with a simple piece of bread, or wrapped in a soft pita bread with tomato, onion and tzatziki (yoghurt, cucumber, and garlic sauce). Pork is the most traditional type of meat but chicken, lamb, and even ground beef versions can also be found.

Gyro on a plate

Gyro

Increasingly popular in souvlaki houses is to have the meat cooked gyros style (large slabs of meat cooked on a rotating metal skewer), while other additions to the wrapped pitta can include fries, sliced green peppers, and fresh parsley.

Read: The Ultimate Guide to Food in Athens

Pizza, Italy

European food - Pizza

Pizza

While pizza can now be found the world over, it’s hard to imagine that this iconic European food originated only in the late 19th century when King Umberto I and Queen Margherita paid a visit to Naples.

Each region now has its own variation on the classic topped flatbread, but the best can still be found in the port city where pizza is said to have originated.

Not only is Naples home to the oldest pizzeria in the country, Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba, but it also hosts L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele, supposedly the best pizza in the world. This is a fact attested to by the long lines that form as the restaurant does not accept reservations and tables are allocated on a first-come, first-served basis.

Paella, Spain

European food - Paella

Paella

Originating from Valencia, paella is the quintessential Spanish dish. Taking its name from the wide, shallow pan in which it is cooked on an open fire, the dish consists of short-grain rice, stock, wine or sherry, and vegetables, alongside herbs including saffron which gives the rice its deep yellow color.

Traditionally served with chicken or rabbit, paella de marisco is the seafood version, while diners who can’t decide and want the best of both worlds can opt for paella mixta (mixed paella).

Read: The Ultimate Valencia Food Guide

Escargots, France

Plate of escargots

Escargots

While snails are synonymous with French cuisine, there’s evidence that they were eaten in Greece as long ago as 10,000 BC and are also popular across the entire Mediterranean.

In France, they’re delicately and uniquely braised in butter, garlic and parsley and can be served with shells or without.

Critics say all the flavor comes from the braising liquor rather than the snails themselves, but they’re still one of the most popular items on French menus, especially during times of celebration such as Christmas and New Year.

Yorkshire Puddings, England

Yorkshire puddings on a plate

Yorkshire puddings

In another example of English being perhaps the most widespread but most confusing language in the world, Yorkshire puddings are not a dessert. Rather, they’re a savory accompaniment to the UK’s classic Sunday lunch of roast beef cooked on the bone with vegetables.

Made from a batter of whisked flour, eggs, and milk and cooked in a super-hot oven so they rise until light and fluffy, Yorkshire puddings make a perfect vessel for holding the gravy that accompanies the meal.

Arancini, Italy

Platter of arancini

Arancini

Arancini are a type of rice ball, coated with breadcrumbs and deep fried, and often stuffed with tasty fillings from delicate mozzarella to rich beef ragu.

Originating from Sicily but now found all over Italy, the original and best ones can still be found from the street vendors in Palermo, the Sicilian capital, which is also renowned for its fabulous architecture.

In some cafés, this popular Sicilian food can be conical in shape, a nod to Mount Etna, the active volcano that towers over Sicily’s east coast. Arancini are irresistible; many would say some of the best food in Europe, especially with an aperitivo.

Tapas & Pintxos, Spain

European food - Tapas and pintxos

Tapas and pintxos

Spain is known for its tapas, which are small plates of hot or cold food served in many Spanish bars, cafés, and restaurants. Originally an appetizer or a snack served with alcohol, the new tradition is now to make a meal by combining several different tapas dishes together.

Popular options include patatas bravas (potatoes in hot tomato sauce), albondigas (smoky meatballs), boquerones (pickled anchovies) and pimientos de Padrón (fried and salted green peppers). A close relative of tapas are pintxos, small snacks with a piece of bread at the base, all skewered on a toothpick for ease of eating.

Currywurst, Germany

Currywurst on a grill

Currywurst

Germany is sausage-obsessed, with countless different types on offer, of which the most popular is bratwurst. Originating from the 14th century, these barbecued or fried sausages are made of coarsely chopped pork and spices with some 40 different variations. The most popular is currywurst.

Now Germany’s most popular sausage, the dish was created in 1949 when a Berlin woman managed to source ketchup and curry powder from British soldiers stationed in the city after World War II and combined them as a topping. It’s now thought more than 800 million currywurst are sold annually across the country.

Belgian Waffles, Belgium

Belgian waffles on a plate

Belgian waffles

Compared to their American counterparts, Belgian waffles are made with a lighter batter and have larger squares and deeper holes. This means they can hold even more toppings.

Often eaten for breakfast or sometimes as a dessert, they can come with whipped cream, chocolate spread, syrup, confectioner’s sugar, or any kind of fruit or ice cream.

There are two main variants available. Brussels waffles are lighter still with even deeper pockets, while Liège waffles are sweeter and chewier.

Poffertjes, Netherlands

Poffertjes on a plate

Poffertjes

Originating from when Catholic priests were experimenting to find a more palatable version of Communion bread, poffertjes are now the number one sweet in the Netherlands.

A small pancake-like batter treat, they are made from buckwheat and yeast and fried or cooked in special poffertjes irons, not dissimilar to those used to make waffles. The pancakes can be topped with powdered sugar, butter, syrup, or the Dutch liqueur advocaat, while savory versions are served with Gouda cheese.

Pastel de Nata, Portugal

European food - pastel de nata

Pastel de nata

Also known as pastel de Belém, pastel de nata is a sweet custard tart that also has religious origins. It’s thought they were first created by monks at a time when egg whites were used to starch clothes and a use had to be found for the yolks so they wouldn’t go to waste.

The tarts can be found around the country and are usually eaten at breakfast with a strong coffee. Those looking for the most authentic version can visit the Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém, said to be the custodian of the original recipe. It’s located just a short walk from Jerónimos Monastery in Lisbon.

Köttbullar, Sweden

Köttbullar on a plate with mashed potatoes

Köttbullar

Famously sold by the check-outs in Sweden’s global flat-pack home furnishings store, the country’s meatballs are a legendary dish in the country.

First appearing in a 1755 cookbook by the legendary chef Cajsa Warg, the recipe calls for a mix of ground beef and pork, breadcrumbs, eggs and seasonings. The popular Scandinavian food, smaller than those seen in Italian cuisine, are then pan-fried and served with a white cream sauce.

Hákarl, Iceland

Hákarl in Iceland

Hákarl

There are some quite off-the-wall dishes in Icelandic cuisine, but perhaps none more so than hákarl—“rotten” shark. The shark is buried in the ground, fermented and then hung to dry before being cut into cubes and served as a delicacy at major events.

It’s an acquired taste for sure—and thanks to the large amounts of ammonia present it smells much, much worse than it tastes. This is why newbies are invited to pinch their nose on the first bite.

It’s traditionally washed down with a shot of the local firewater Brennivín, a clear spirit also known as “black death”, for extra culinary kudos.

Fårikål, Norway

Plate of fårikål

Fårikål

Fårikål is one of those dishes that tastes much better than it looks or sounds. This traditional stew, the national dish of Norway, consists of mutton on the bone, cabbage and whole black peppers. This ensemble is braised in a clear liquor that is sometimes thickened with wheat flour.

The dish is served alongside skin-on boiled potatoes. It’s said that 70% of the Norwegian population will eat fårikål at least once a year.

Read: Norwegian Food: Iconic Dishes to Try

Smørrebrød, Denmark

Platter of smørrebrød

Smørrebrød

Alongside Tivoli funfair and the Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen, smørrebrød are one of Denmark’s icons. In their simplest form they could be described as an open sandwich, but they’re much more than that.

Key to smørrebrød is the bread, a thin layer of rich, dense rye sourdough on which toppings are piled with the skill of a sculptor creating a work of art. These can range from thin slices of cured meat, through pickled herring, cheeses, thinly sliced pickles and much more.

Smørrebrød is often served as an array of small sandwiches on one plate. There’s a strict eating order etiquette that goes herring, other fish, meat and, finally, cheese.

Read: The Ultimate Copenhagen Food Guide

Karjalanpiirakka, Finland

Servings of karjalanpiirakka

Karjalanpiirakka

Karjalanpiirakka (Karelian pies) are another Scandi dish based on a rye dough—this time baked as a pie. First detailed in the 17th century in the Karelia region that spans Finland and Russia, the pies are filled with a savory rice porridge or, more traditionally, a porridge of barley, rye, oats and pea flour.

Today though, inventive chefs have devised many different versions. These consist of different shaped pastries and fillings stuffed variously with mixtures that contain carrots, eggs, mashed potatoes and semolina, while sweet versions are also increasingly popular.

Irish Stew, Ireland

Bowl of Irish stew

Irish stew

Not unlike Norwegian Fårikål, Irish stew is a dish usually made with mutton and vegetables, stemming from less prosperous times when sheep had to have outlived their usefulness for wool before being slaughtered for food. Traditionalists would argue that the dish should only include mutton, potatoes, onions, and water.

As with all traditional dishes, a number of variations exist, adding other vegetables such as carrots and peas, as well as grains including pearl barley.

Served in almost every pub in Ireland, Irish stew should be accompanied by one of the island’s famed dark stout beers and a chunk of soda bread.

Lokum, Turkey

Bowl of Lokum

Lokum

Also known as Turkish delight, lokum is a soft jelly sweet made of starch and sugar, cut into cubes and dusted with fine confectioners’ sugar.

Sold around the country, the jelly is often flavored with rose water, lemon, orange, or the distinctive taste of mastic gum that is so popular in Turkey and Greece.

Premium versions can see the jelly contain nuts or dates, while chocolate coverings are also increasingly on-trend.

The best places to buy in Istanbul are around the Sirkeci and Eminonu districts. Ali Muhittin Hacibekir is said to be the oldest purveyor with its branch (there are three in the city) near the Istanbul Mercantile Exchange in the Old Town dating from 1777.

Read: What to Eat in Istanbul

Couple eating pizza in Naples

Naples

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