Few cooking techniques can transform ingredients as magically as frying. Fried food is half the reason most of us go to state fairs (let’s be honest — no one goes for livestock contests) and people have waited in line for hours in the U.S. (and even gotten into fistfights) for sublime fried chicken sandwiches. From falafel to karintō, here are 18 of the best fried dishes from around the world.
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The exact origins of the churro are debated, but many consider this centuries-old fried dessert to be a Spanish invention. Both creamy and crunchy, churros are tubes of dough (flour, water, salt) that are deep fried and topped with sugar. In Spain, churros are almost always made by pushing dough through a spiral-shaped funnel before frying, putting a unique spin on the churro’s French-fry-esque shape. Churros are also popular throughout South America, where variations may include toppings or fillings such as chocolate, cheese, and sweetened condensed milk.
Recipe: Cooking Classy
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Although commonly associated with Southern cuisine, food writer Robert F. Moss suggests that fried green tomatoes likely originated in the Midwest and northern states, where gardeners may have had to devise creative ways to cook unripe tomatoes before the first frost. The dish is typically prepared by slicing green tomatoes into quarter-inch slices, seasoning with salt and pepper, coating with cornmeal, and frying in bacon fat. (The Pennsylvania Dutch version is similar, but instead calls for coating the tomatoes in white flour.)
Recipe: Simply Recipes
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Korean fried chicken — sometimes called “candy chicken” or “the other KFC” — is a wildly popular dish in South Korea today, making for a multibillion-dollar market. Fried chicken is actually a relatively new addition to the nation’s culinary scene, introduced by American soldiers during the Korean War. A few decades later, South Koreans began putting their own spin on fried chicken by coating (or dipping) it in a sweet and spicy sauce, usually made with a spicy chili paste called gochujang and serving it with pickled radish.
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Karintō is a traditional Japanese treat made by deep frying strips of dough and coating them with brown sugar, resulting in a sweet and crunchy snack. Although the precise origins of karintō are unclear, its popularity is not: It’s commonly found in Japanese supermarkets and there are speciality shops dedicated to karintō selling uncommon flavors such as tea, bamboo charcoal, and sweet potato.
Recipe: Let’s Cook Japanese
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With (debated) origins in either Latin American or the Caribbean, tostones are green plantains that have been cut into chunks, smashed into discs, and fried twice. This savory snack is sometimes eaten with a sauce, dip, or meat, but tostones are also delicious on their own with a sprinkling of salt. Want to make tostones at home? You’ll need just unripe plantains, oil, and salt.
Recipe: Dominican Cooking
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It’s hard to find a deep-fried food that’s healthier than vegetable pakora, an Indian invention made by coating chopped vegetables in chickpea flour and deep frying until crispy. Cheap and incredibly popular across the Indian subcontinent, vegetable pakora is often served as an appetizer that’s dipped in some form of chutney.
Recipe: Indian Healthy Recipes
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What would housewives in Puglia around the 16th century often do with leftover dough? Make panzerotti: small calzones that are fried rather than baked. Panzerotti (or “panzerotto” in the singular) are typically stuffed with a simple mixture of mozzarella cheese and dried tomatoes, though variations include meat (usually pork), chopped vegetables, and other types of cheeses.
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At the intersection of food and politics, few questions are as controversial as: “Who created falafel?” Multiple nations in the Middle East claim to have created this fried-chickpea dish, but most experts agree it originated in Egypt. You can create your own falafel by soaking dried chickpeas overnight, grinding the legumes with herbs and spices, and frying balls of the mixture until crisp on the outside and fluffy in the middle.
Recipe: Tori Avey
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One night in the 1930s, a Nashville restaurant owner and reputed womanizer named Thornton Prince stayed out late — too late, according to one of his girlfriends. Angry, she sought revenge the next morning by making his fried chicken extra spicy. But it backfired: He loved the dish and soon started offering it at his restaurant. That, at least, is the widely accepted origin story of hot chicken according to Andre Prince Jeffries, Thornton Prince’s great-niece and owner of the award-winning Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack in Nashville. Today, most restaurants have their own signature style of preparing hot chicken, but you can typically expect a mind-melting dose of cayenne pepper in each bite.
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By the early 19th century, someone in London had created a signature dish from two non-English foods: fried fish and fried potatoes. It soon became one of the nation’s most popular dishes, with more than 35,000 “chippies” (fish-and-chips shop) by the 1930s. A working-class favorite, ministers during World War II made it a point never to ration fish and potatoes. (Prime Minister Winston Churchhill called fish and chips “the good companions.”) To replicate this dish at home, fry thickly sliced potatoes and cod or haddock, and serve with salt and vinegar.
Recipe: The Daring Gourmet
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Multiple restaurants on the Hill — St. Louis’ historic Italian neighborhood — claim to have invented toasted (fried) ravioli. The stories differ, but some accounts suggest the dish was created when a cook accidentally knocked an uncooked ravioli into the fryer. In any case, “T-ravs” remain popular in St. Louis, though the dish never really caught on outside the Midwest. You can make them at home by breading ravioli, frying them in a couple inches of oil, and serving with parmesan cheese and marinara sauce.
Recipe: Garnish and Glaze
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Believed to have originated on the Swahili Coast, mandazi are triangular-shaped pillows of fried dough prepared with grated coconut, cardamom, and sugar. Mandazi are sometimes called “African doughnuts,” but they’re generally less sweet than Western-style doughnuts. These subtly spiced pastries are commonly served at breakfast or with tea, but they’re also great for sopping up saucy dishes such as curries.
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Meaning “little chicken thigh” in Portuguese, it’s believed coxinha was invented by a chef who worked for a Brazilian princess whose son would reportedly eat only the thigh of the chicken. One day, the kitchen was short on thighs, so the chef decided to save the day by creating what’s essentially a teardrop-shaped croquette stuffed with a chicken salad-esque mixture. Today coxinha is a popular street food throughout Brazil, with newer variations incorporating ingredients such as tomato sauce, potato, yucca, and other cuts of chicken.
Recipe: The Spruce Eats
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Ubiquitous across the Indian subcontinent, this sweet treat is made by deep frying balls of dough (made from milk solids) and submerging them in a sugary syrup, sometimes infused with rosewater. The culinary historian Michael Krondl reports that an early version of gulab jamun was likely brought to the Mughal Empire centuries ago by Persian invaders. Today gulab jamun is one of the most popular desserts in India, with some parts of the country offering variations. One with coconut and banana is found in Kerala in southern India.
Recipe: Indian Healthy Recipes
This wildly popular Canadian snack consists of french fries topped with cheese curds and brown gravy. But poutine is probably best described by its Québécois slang translation: “a mess.” Although there are multiple origin stories, it’s generally agreed that chef Fernand Lachance first served poutine after a trucker asked him to add cheese curds to his fries; years later, gravy was reportedly added to the dish to help keep the fries warm.
Recipe: Seasons and Suppers
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Although this dish is named after the Qing dynasty military leader Zuo Zongtang, General Tso’s Chicken was not only invented outside of China, but also never really caught on there. The dish was invented in Taiwan by the chef Peng Chang-kuei, who brought it to New York City in the 1970s. Since, General Tso’s Chicken has become a staple on most Chinese takeout menus in the U.S. and beyond. It’s unique for balancing sweet, sour, spicy, and salty flavors, which typically come from mixing ginger, garlic, chili peppers, soy sauce, Shaoxing wine, and sugar, to name a few ingredients.
Recipe: Natasha’s Kitchen
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Arguably one of the prettier fried foods, rosettes are fried cookies traditionally served around Christmas throughout Scandinavia. What makes rosettes unique is not the ingredients — sugar, salt, milk, vanilla, eggs, and flour — but the fact that they’re fried using intricately shaped rosette irons, making them a bit more time consuming to make than the average Christmas cookie. Other countries, from Mexico to Iran, also make rosettes, though they often incorporate ingredients such as cinnamon, powdered sugar (added after frying), and rose water.
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This pocket-sized Russian comfort dish consists of a yeast dough bun stuffed with a wide range of rich and savory ingredients including stewed fruits, cottage cheese, mashed potato, wild mushrooms, fish, and (perhaps most commonly) cabbage, to name a few. Where pirozhki was invented remains unclear, but variations of this street food are popular today in many Central and East Asian nations.
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