If it's true that to truly understand a culture you must first taste it, your next vacation needs to be somewhere they serve great food. With that simple rule in mind, we've scoured the whole of Europe to find seven cities that combine world-class culture with a signature dish you have to taste at least once in your life. Each dish is a window into that nation's history and culture – and a source of local pride. Once tasted, you'll understand why.
Go to Budapest for… Goulash
From cassoulet and tagine to gumbo and beef bourguignon, hearty soupy stews are a staple all over Europe. One of Europe's most storied stews, however, is Hungarian goulash. Taking its name from 'gulyás', the Magyar for 'herdsman', goulash became a national dish in the late 1800s when Hungarians sought a way of further distinguishing themselves from their neighbors in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
A hearty blend of beef, vegetables and spices–most notably the fiery kick of paprika–regional variations exist but the most authentic version is cooked in a kettle, as the gulyás did several centuries ago.
Eat it here: For the best taste of this dish in the capital city, head for Budapest Bisztró, a slick modern restaurant whose goulash is reassuringly old school.
Go to Vienna for… Wiener schnitzel
While the precise origins of the wiener schnitzel remain hotly contested-Italians claim Costoletta Milanese is the original take–the dish has long been one of the culinary icons of Austria's capital city.
A distant cousin of the American chicken-fried steak, and further proof that frying in breadcrumbs improves any cut of meat, the wiener schnitzel is essentially a thin veal cutlet– Michelin-starred Austrian chef Kurt Gutenbrunner suggests a very precise 3mm. Breaded, pan-fried in butter and garnished with lemon and parsley, it is served with a potato salad.
Eat it here: For arguably the most elegant experience of the dish, head to Cafe Dommayer. You'll dine beneath the chandeliers and beside the locals.
Go to Berlin for… Currywurst
One part large German sausage, the other part a thick covering of curry sauce–while a dietician would no doubt disagree, there's much to admire in Germany's modern classic. Since its introduction in either 1947 or 1949, depending on which story you believe, the currywurst has grown in popularity to the point that around 800,000,000 servings are happily devoured annually. The wise traveler would combine currywurst with Munich's annual Oktoberfest, an annual celebration of vast steins of beer and gigantic sausage, where every face carries a smile.
Eat it here: While available on almost every street in the land, Berlin is a particular currywurst hotspot. Of the many options, Curry 36 is worthy of special praise and a late-night visit.
Go to Naples for… Pizza
Sure, it's not the national dish. And sure, you can get world-class wood-fired pizza in Brooklyn, in Texas, Wisconsin and Flagstaff, Arizona. But for the original and best version of the world's favorite food, head back to where it all began.
A chaotic but charming city that enriches all six senses, pizza in Napoli is unlike anywhere else on earth, with pizzaiolo on every street and every corner. And the beauty of Neapolitan pizza is that the puffy, cloud-like dough is far easier to digest than most other styles, so it won't leave you feeling too full. Take advantage by taking a tour of as many pizzerias as your stomach allows.
Eat it here: For the most historic, head to L'Antica Pizzeria da Michele, opened in 1870 and unchanged ever since. For the most celebrated, you need Pizzeria Dal Presidente, its name changed after a visit from a hungry President Clinton. And for the best of the new generation, seek out Sorbillo or 50 Kalò, or preferably both.
Go to Geneva for… Hot, gooey cheese
Few if any nations on earth have been melting cheese for as long or with such obvious love as the Swiss. Fondue–the art of dipping bread and meat into a cauldron of melted cheese–became an international classic in the 1970s and '80s and is still a staple of any visit.
Likewise raclette, a dish served in Switzerland's mountainous regions since the 13th century and derived from the French verb meaning “to scrape". As with fondue, the cheese is the star, but this time a huge wheel of cow's milk cheese is heated over a flame and ceremoniously scraped off, melted and molten, onto hot potatoes, charcuterie and vegetables. Raclette is less celebrated perhaps, but every bit as essential.
Eat it here: While available almost everywhere, Auberge de Saviese has perfected the art of fondue and raclette and benefits from being just moments from beautiful Lake Geneva.
Go to London for… Fish & chips
Throughout the decades, the world has been blessed with a number of memorable double acts. Laurel and Hardy. Abbott and Costello. Aykroyd and Belushi. Impressive as they all were, none can claim to have had the enduring popularity of Britain's greatest twosome: the fried fish and chipped potato. Its origins remain unclear; the fried fish element was brought to England by Western Sephardic Jews in the 17th century, but Britain has made fish and chips its own.
A working class staple, the modern “chippy" has evolved but remained true to its origins, with the fish and the chips forever and always the stars of the piece. They are, as Prime Minister Winston Churchill remarked, “The good companions", and no visit to England is complete without them.
Eat it here: King Fisher Fish and Chips in Devon was named chip shop of the year for 2017–it's a long drive but worth every mile. Within London's confines, and amid very hot competition, Kerbisher and Malt in three locations put a contemporary spin on the classic dish. And no less a connoisseur than Idris Elba stated recently that: “The Rock and Sole Plaice in Covent Garden does proper fish and chips."
Go to Copenhagen for… Smørrebrød
Head to the Danish capital and you could attempt to secure a seat at one of the city's many Michelin-starred establishments–Copenhagen is a gastronomic hotspot right now. But you might be better off just grabbing a sandwich. For the most authentic Danish dining experience, seek out a smørrebrød, the nation's signature, open-faced sandwich.
As the name translates, it's nothing more complicated than butter on bread–thick, dark rye onto which you pile cheese, vegetables, roast pork, pickled herrings, smoked salmon or whatever combination you desire. To the Danes, 'hygge' is the pursuit of happiness. Smørrebrød will take you there.
Eat it here: Head to Restuarant Schonnemann for history and herring–the venerable establishment has been perfecting its smørrebrød since 1877 and is always reassuringly busy.