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National Cuisines

One cannot possibly get a full idea of a country’s culture and traditions without tasting the dishes of its national cuisine. Food and music are probably the most distinct identification of any world culture. That is why most medical tourists, if their state of health and doctors allow it, strive to grasp their chance and try something “national” even during a very short trip.

European cuisine, which is expanding globally, is undeniably the richest and most popular today. It has been forming for many centuries, continually becoming enriched through borrowing culinary traditions from scores of other countries. It boasts a wide range of ancient recipes   reverently preserved and handed over from generation to generation like sacred relics. A good example is famous pastries of the Lisbon area of Belem (Pastel de Nata or Pastel de Belém), baked basing on an ancient recipe, which local bakers will not sell for all the money in the world over a number of centuries.

Italians have gifted the world with pasta, with tomatoes and sea products, spaghetti, and widely beloved pizza. The Czechs — with knedliks, roast pork knee (pechene veprove koleno), and Becherovka. The Spanish — with paella, jamón, and gazpacho. The French — with fondue, frog legs, foie gras, and egg-pachot.

The whole world knows about Vienna coffee houses and  confectionary shops serving the famed Sachertorte cake, strudel with ice-cream, and about 50 kinds of coffee. Local restaurants prepare a well-known Vienna schnitzel — a delicatessen dish made from fresh expensive veal, and kaiserschmarrn — an omelette cooked to a special recipe and served for dessert.

It is typically thought that the two landmarks of English cuisine are oatmeal and 5-o’clock tea. However, the UK will give you a pleasant surprise with even more unexpected dishes — the most tender roast beef, Christmas pudding, the national fish-and-chips dish, Irish whiskey, and hot drinks that warm you up finely in rainy weather. Many English dishes are cooked based on special techniques and recipes, which are strictly guarded. For example, Bath buns are cooked to the recipe dated 1763 and in Bath bakery only.

The distinguishing feature of the Hungarian national cuisine is dishes that may be served both for the first and second course, and also sweet paprika, which is added to fish, meat, and vegetables in vast amounts. The Hungarians cook food with an abundance of fat and lard, which makes the dishes very rich and savoury, but also very heavy.

On the contrary, Bulgarian and Greek meals are very tasty, rich, and light, because they are cooked primarily using large quantities of fresh vegetables, greenery, and herbs, on a grill or in clay pots. Fresh and fragrant brynza puts a finishing stroke to each dish.

The national cuisine of Belgium stands out for being very refined, delicate, and light. Most dishes are based on meat, sea products, vegetables, which, by the medieval traditions, are seasoned with mustard, spices, and herbs creating unique sweet and sour combinations. By the way, Belgium is considered the motherland of French fries, and other vegetables are cooked in a deep-frying machine here. For afters you will be served traditional Walloon dessert — pastry wrapped apples, Brussels and Liege Waffles, and of course the famous Belgian chocolate.

The Netherlands and Norway, countries with severe climate, are renowned for simple, home-style, sometimes village-style dishes based on meat, fish, and sea products. In the Netherlands, famous Holland cheeses are especially favoured and added to all salads and almost all main dishes. And in Norway, you have a surplus of hundreds of dishes made from the freshest fish caught by local fishermen and instantly served to the table. Moreover, here you can try the well-known “Norwegian soup” which, by the way, has nothing to do with the first course. This drink is prepared from various kinds of beer, milk, wheat flour, sugar or honey; sometimes adding egg yolk, salt and lemon peels. During the winter frosts, there is no better drink to warm you up, give strength and vigour.

The Germans do not imagine their life without Sauerkraut (sour cabbage) and meat of all kinds: be it Hackepeter (raw minced meat with salt, pepper, egg, and spices, which may be spread over bread) or Weißwurst (famous German white sausage made from veal, pork lard, and spices wrapped in a natural skin). German desserts are world-renowned: Christ-stollen Dresden Christmas cake, Schwarzwald cake with cherry fruit and cream, Baumkuchen (a kind of layered cake).

Europe brews excellent beer, and each country claims that its drink is the best. In Austria you can try Stiegelbreu — locals say it was the favourite drink of Mozart; in the UK — black ale and porter; in Poland —Zywiec. In Belgium, Czech Republic, and Germany you will be offered several kinds of this foamy drink.

Hungarian national cuisine is distinguished by dishes that may be served both for the first and second course, as well as sweet paprika, which is added to fish, meat, and vegetables in vast amounts. The Hungarians cook food with an abundance of fat and lard, which makes the dishes substantial and tasty but very heavy.

Ukrainian national cuisine has been taking shape for many centuries and today offers some of the most abundant choices among the Slavic countries. Borsch is at the top of the list of popular Ukrainian dishes. This is a rich red-beat soup prepared with a meat bouillon base, cabbage, red beat, carrot, onions, tomatoes, greens, and a number of other ingredients. Another relatively ‘young’ Ukrainian dish has earned no less renown in the world — Chicken Kiev cutlets (chopped chicken fillet wrapped around a piece of cold butter).

The cuisine of the Balkan Peninsula (Bulgaria, Greece, Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro, etc.) is extremely diverse and exotic. Although, the term “Balkan cuisine” is rather a collective notion than a distinctive cuisine, because it includes various elements of culinary traditions from not just Balkan countries but the neighbouring cultures also. This cuisine is primarily composed of rich and substantial meat dishes with spicy vegetable side dishes. One meal may include several starch-containing dishes at once: for example, boiled potatoes and noodles may be served together as a side to the main dish, with bread or buns to top it all. Bulgarian and Greek dishes are lighter, being cooked on a grill or in clay pots primarily from an abundance of fresh vegetables, greens and herbs. Flavourful brynza adds a finishing touch to any dish.

Turkish cuisine is one of the most plentiful in the world and is well suited for both a vegetarian and an enthusiast of rich meat dishes. The traditional Turkish menu always includes an abundance of vegetables, greens, meat, and fish. Pine and pistachio nuts, walnuts or raisins frequently added to both vegetable and meat dishes create a unique flavour. In addition, to be sure, no meal goes without the famous Oriental sweeties: baklava, lokum, etc. 

Whereas culinary traditions in European countries are characterized by conservatism and relatively neutral flavours, the cuisine of the Caribbean countries and Latin America is extremely diverse, exotic, and savoury. The locals favour vegetables, meat, and beans. This all is seasoned with savoury, spicy sauces, local herbs and spices, as well as cocoa milk. Here bananas, which are eaten only as a dessert in Europe, are fried, stewed, and baked with meat.

Latin America is the very place to try such exotic dishes as, for example, “hormigas culonas” — fried ants of a particular species cooked in Colombia, or tortoise eggs — a Cuban delicacy. Besides, Latin American countries offer a unique possibility to try exotic fruit and vegetables, which are simply not exported to other countries: black pineapple in Antigua and Barbuda, mamones, annona, maranon — in Costa Rica, zapote (Quararibea cordata), mamoncillo (Melicoccus bijugatus), curuba (Passiflora tarminiana),  lulo (Solanum quitoense), borojó (Borojoa patinoi), guava, uchuva (Physalis peruviana), tree tomato,  pomarossa, guayyabamanzana, chontaduro — in Colombia.

The cuisine of Asian and Pacific countries is a pampering treat for gourmets and lovers of unexpected culinary combinations. Moreover, many traditional Chinese and Japanese national fishes have now become international as well and may be tasted in any country — take sushi for example.

Local cuisine of China and Hong Kong is rich in meat and seafood dishes, most of which are savoury and spicy, seasoned with various sauces (soy, wine, and oyster). Fish dishes are cooked from the freshest products — either steamed or fried over strong fire in the famous Wok pans. Meat is marinated in special sauces, soaked in hot chilli pepper, stewed in sweet and spicy sauces, and served with rice noodles.  

Vietnamese cuisine is less spicy than in the neighbouring Asian countries. Major seasonings here include fish sauce “nuoc mam” and lemon grass. Try the sour soup “pho bo” cooked observing a complicated technology, and La Vong fish cutlets, which are considered a delicacy for being cooked from a specific species of large catfish living only in the Red River.

Indonesian cuisine is so savoury and exotic that not every tourist will dare to try some of the national dishes, such as fried locust, real swallow’s nests boiled in chicken broth, or vegetable salad seasoned with tortoise blood. However, despite such offbeat dishes, you will definitely not starve after arriving in Indonesia. Each isle will offer you exquisite dishes from rice, vegetables, meat, sea products, and fish, necessarily seasoned with spicy sauces (curry, ginger, soy) and spices (nutmeg, cinnamon, clove, red, white, and black pepper, tamarind, hot pod pepper, ginger, garlic). Following the tradition, the food is served on the table on a banana leaf and eaten only with a right hand. Before and after meals, you need to wash the hands in a phial with water and a piece of lemon. Tourists are offered a spoon and a fork for convenience, but no knives!

The cuisine of the Middle Eastern, African countries and India is distinguished by extreme conservatism. The locals venerate their traditions and treat the process of cooking and taking meals with great attention. For example, the dishes of Egyptian cuisine are cooked in large containers, in the oven, adding various spices and herbs. It is important to remember that local restaurants often use palm tree oil, which is very hard to digest, especially for people with stomach disorders. Fish, on the contrary, may be eaten without any fear. It is always fresh and most often baked in the oven or on coals.

The traditional cuisine of Israel has been strongly influenced by religion. Here you will not find any dishes with pork or sea products, except for scaled fish. Dishes with meat and dairy products are cooked and served separately. However, even with such restrictions, the list of kosher dishes of Israel is boundless, and they all are extremely tasty and unusual.

Indian cuisine is characterised with vegetarian dishes from vegetables and beans seasoned with an abundance of spices and herbs. Curry spice mix is especially popular. Meat is also cooked in India, except for beef, because the cow is a sacred animal in this country. Most Indian dishes are very spicy and hot and washed down with sour milk and eaten together with chapatti flatbreads or rice.

The dishes of Moroccan cuisine are distinguished by the combination of sweet, salty, and spicy tastes. Pastille can serve as a vivid example. This is a traditional Moroccan sweet and salty meat pie from a young pigeon with spices and layered crispy dough, and which can be attributed neither to desserts nor to salty dishes. Meat dishes are served with fresh and dried fruit. Most Moroccan dishes are cooked slowly and for a long time, literally simmering on low fire. In Morocco, the lengthy process of cooking fries with tender meat, fragrant vegetables and sauce is called “tagine” (the name deriving from a clay pot, in which spicy marinated meat with spices is slowly simmering for a long time). According to the tradition, there is no cutlery on the table so you have to eat with the help of the thumb, index and middle finger of your right hand. For this reason, a phial with hot rose-scented water is put on the table before the meal. 

The cuisine of the United States of America is worth separate notice. There has been a long discussion on whether it should be recognized as national or not. American cuisine is rather a mix combining the culinary traditions of the English, American Indians, Italians, Germans, Spanish, French, Mexican, and other immigrant cultures. However, many dishes are named today as truly American. These include sandwiches and hamburgers, roast turkey served on Thanksgiving, and apple tart. It is believed that the USA has gifted the world with the famous pastry with lumps of chocolate and a widely known and favoured Caesar salad, which was first cooked on the Independence Day of the USA on 4 July 1924.

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