Every country has serious debates on what constitutes the national dish that makes it unique. This debate is often fruitless (pun intended) because foods tend to ignore artificial political borders, as the case of baklava, and represents different groups in that society, such as grits in the United States. Perhaps, a simpler definition of a national food, a soul food in a certain sense of the word, is the dish you have to eat after spending a year away from your homeland. It does not have to be fancy, but has to have the unique “national” taste that you can only find at home. Having a schizophrenic identity, American, French, and Israeli, and a love of tasty food, I can offer my perspective of what each of those countries offers in terms of unique taste.
When I visit the States, I insist on at least one meal of barbeque baby back ribs. I also thoroughly enjoy a good steak (although I hear that Argentina has better meat). Two other items I like are good pancakes and a thoroughly American Taco-Bell taco (any connection to Mexico is completely accidental).
France for me has to include some paté de champagne on a good baguette as well as some moules marinieres at the Côte Azur. My sweettooth (a wonderful word, in common with bookkeeper, having three consecutive sets of double letters), is satisfied by a petit pain au chocolat, the quality of which has unfortunately significantly declined in the last decade, and a crêpe au Grand Marnier, my only childhood special dessert still as tasty now as it was then.
Israel, my home, greets me with a plate of good humus with tehina and olive oil, eaten by dipping with fresh pita , accompanied by a good sehug, a spicy accoutrement made from hot green or red peppers. For something slightly more elegant, I enjoy a grilled musht, Saint Peter’s Fish, served with salad and some fries, enhanced by the view of the Kinneret, the Sea of Galilee, at least in the spring and fall. A more recent acquired taste is grilled eggplant with tahina, a simple but perfectly balanced pleasure. For desert, the ideal light Israel desert in the summer is sweet watermelon accompanied by pieces of salty Zefat cheese, a wonderful combination.
For me, these are my national foods. It makes no difference what their country of origin is. The essential is that they represent the taste of home. I don’t expect total agreement with my opinions, but am interested in hearing other thoughts on the subject.