A national dish is a culinary dish that is strongly associated with a particular country. A dish can be considered a national dish for a variety of reasons:
- It is a staple food, made from a selection of locally available foodstuffs that can be prepared in a distinctive way, such as fruits de mer, served along the west coast of France.
- It contains a particular ingredient that is produced locally, such as the South American paprika grown in the European Pyrenees.
- It is served as a festive culinary tradition that forms part of a cultural heritage—for example, barbecues at summer camp or fondue at dinner parties—or as part of a religious practice, such as Korban Pesach or Iftar celebrations.
- It has been promoted as a national dish, by the country itself, such as the promotion of fondue as a national dish of Switzerland by the Swiss Cheese Union (Schweizerische Käseunion) in the 1930s.
National dishes are part of a nation's identity and self-image. During the age of European empire-building, nations would develop a national cuisine to distinguish themselves from their rivals.
According to Zilkia Janer, a lecturer on Latin American culture at Hofstra University, it is impossible to choose a single national dish, even unofficially, for countries such as Mexico, China or India because of their diverse ethnic populations and cultures. The cuisine of such countries simply cannot be represented by any single national dish. Furthermore, because national dishes are so interwoven into a nation's sense of identity, strong emotions and conflicts can arise when trying to choose a country's national dish.