24 International Donuts You Need to Try
It's a small world. But you don't need a gaggle of animatronic men-children who only communicate in sing-song to tell you that -- all you have to do is look at the world's breakfast pastries. Imagine: in nearly all of the Earth's proverbial corners, humans came to the conclusion that fried dough is not only a worthwhile addition to daily life, but an essential building block to civilization as we know it.
In honor of National Donut Day -- you're eating a free donut right now, right?! -- we decided to go global with a look at the greatest donuts around the world. Maybe it's time for International Donut Day.
Slightly different from the German-centric Berliner (more on that, later), the easily pronounceable Faschingskrapfen is a non-holed, spherical fried ball of dough that differentiates itself from the similar pastries with a jam or custard filling in lieu of the more traditional jelly piping. It's commonly served during the festival of St. Joseph's Day, and translates directly to "little carnival cakes," which sounds both quaint and delicious... like a hot dog wearing overalls.
Argentina: Bolas de fraile con dulce leche
Another rendition of the classic German Berliner -- when ze Germans brought the pastry over to South America, the Argentinians did what they do best (besides finishing second in soccer) and put their own spin on the donut by piping that fried ball of dough with dulce de leche. Don't cry for me, Argentina -- your donuts are filled with dulce de leche. You shouldn't cry at all. Ever.
Out of all the donut variations on this list, this Belgian/Dutch delicacy may have the funniest translations. Oliebollen (Dutch) = oil spheres, while Smoutenbollen (Belgian) = lard balls. At any rate, these oil spheres/lard balls are fried dumplings, often packing currants, raisins, or candied fruit. Your grandma would love them. And you probably would, too.
A take on a cruller, oft-referred to as a "Chinese donut," the youtiao is kind of like a fried, golden-brown breadstick. They usually contain hints of salt, and are designed to be ripped in two (like string cheese). According to Chinese folklore, eating the youtiao is a symbol of protest against the Song Dynasty, as the two twisted pillars represent Song official Qin Hui and his equally treacherous wife. Which you then proceed to rip and eat. Yikes. That's way more breakfast baggage than a simple bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch.
France: Pets de nonnes (Nun's puffs)
"Nun's puffs" sounds like a seminary-based porno from the mid-'90s, but they're actually a lightly dusted French riff on the fritter, that come with or without a cream filling. In case you were wondering, "Nun's Puffs" is actually French slang for "Nun's Farts," probably because nun's farts smell like freshly fried dough. It's one of the perks of saying the Rosary 40 times a day.
Technically called "Berliner Pfannkuchen" (but shortened for obvious reasons), the Berliner is your prototypical jelly donut. This one is fairly straightforward -- it's essentially the same thing as the jelly d-nut you'd get in any diner in America. Nothing to see here. Though in Germany, a popular practical joke is to fill Berliners with spicy mustard, instead of jelly. You have to love that classic German sense of humor!
These Indian snacks are more savory (or as they would call it, savoury) than sweet, and are commonly eaten alongside other meals, or as a quick snack -- not so much a dessert. They have a decidedly different flavor profile than western donuts (cumin seeds, curry leaves, onion, salt, and chilis will do that to a donut), and are designed to be eaten straight out of the oven while piping hot and crunchy. To hell with tongue-burns.
Despite looking like a plate of defective wagon wheel pasta, the Zoolbia may be the closest approximate of donuts in the Middle East. It's a yogurt and starch-based dough, dipped in syrup, fried, and often served with a counterpart, Bāmiyeh, which is essentially the same thing in long, thin strips.
A traditional Hebrew dessert, sufganiyah are pretty much synonymous with Hanukah. In Israel and Jewish-centric neighborhoods, sufganiyah are a big deal, especially around the holidays -- but in the end, they're essentially jelly donuts that can also pack a chocolate, dolce de leche, or custard filling. But hey, if we don't take our donuts seriously, what else do we have to hang onto, right? L'chaim!
You've probably seen these deep fried balls of dough at your local Italian festival... or pretty much any festival, really. Common to the more metropolitan areas of Italy, the consistency and content (custard, ricotta cheese, jelly) of zeppoles vary greatly, like the temperament of Italian grandmothers. But, almost all of them are sugar coated and sweet in the end -- also like Italian grandmothers, actually.
The Japanese analogue of our American donut is the An-doughnut, fried dough with a red bean-paste filling. If you want to snag one while visiting Tokyo, head to country-wide chain Mister Donut. If you want to snag one stateside... um, good luck? This should keep you busy while you save up for a trans-Pacific flight.
Malaysia: Kuih keria
These are are sugar-coated, fried, sweet-potato donuts, laced with granulated sugar and often served in street carts in Malaysia -- basically, they look like the "old fashioned" donuts your Dad would insist on buying when you went to Dunkin' Donuts because he supports "family values." And if it's made of sweet potato, it has to be healthy, right?
Nepal: Sel roti
Another donut eaten extensively during celebrations, Sel Roti is a delicacy, but plentiful during the Hindu holidays of Dashain and Tihar. The ring-shaped 'nuts, made of fried rice dough, have become a symbol of Nepal, Nepalese culture, and proof you can still eat donuts 30,000 feet above sea level.
These probably look the least donut-like of any of the international donuts on this list -- but, the core components of donut-dom are present: these little sticks are made of fried dough and... um actually, that's pretty much all you need to be considered a donut. At any rate, they are only about an inch in length (hehe) and are crispier than our average versions of fried dough. The double "chin" in the title, represents the double chin you'll grow if you eat too many. I mean, probably.
Picarones set themselves apart from the doughy pack by consisting of fried squash and sweet potato (healthy! kinda...) and by being soaked and served in globs and globs and delicious sugary syrup. Which is... not healthy, admittedly. But they do have an interesting history: Colonial-era Peruvians bucked the more traditional South American buñuelos because the dough was so expensive, and resorted to mashing and frying their plentiful squash and sweet potatoes to get their donut fix. So they are educational. Healthy (kind of) and educational.
These are very similar to most other other round, semi-flattened donuts with occasional sweet fillings -- however, in true Polish fashion, a bit of grain alcohol is often added to the dough before cooking (though, it evaporates to prevent the absorption of oil in the dough). The name translates to "little package," which was definitely not my nickname in high school, despite what that jerk Eric Kantor will tell you. And in Polish-heavy American cities, there's even a holiday for them (actually, it's just Fat Tuesday, but whatever).
Stateside donut fans (what do you call donut fans? "Dough-heads?" "'Nutters?") may recognize malasadas from Hawaii -- where they are fairly common, and even have a state-wide Malasada Day. The Portuguese word "mal-assada" translates to "under-cooked;" even though they are deep fried in oil and covered in sugar. Malasadas were traditionally eaten the day before Lent in very-very-very-Catholic Portugal, as many bakers needed to use up their sugar before the limited diets of Lenten punishment began. Fat Tuesday... indeed.
Gogoși are flattened lil' munchkins, commonly filled with jam, chocolate syrup, or even cheese -- and appear to be girthy little pancakes. The gogoși is so adored in it's home country, the Romanian national anthem features the iconic line "We love our girth pancakes!" for a chorus. OK... that was a lie.
South Africa: Koeksister
This delicacy from Africa's southernmost point basically amount to deep frying balls of dough in cinnamon, ginger, dried tangerine, aniseed, and sugar syrup, before letting the sucker cool and dipping it in coconut. They are super saccharine, and very, very sticky to the touch. Kind of like my prom night. There's even a statue of one in Orania, South Africa. Kind of like my prom night.
South America: Buñuelos
It's hard to narrow down the popularity of Buñuelos to one South American country, as this diminutive pastry rules the entire continent. They're thinly rolled balls of yeast dough, often soaked in anis, and filled with sweet or savory filling, and present in almost every country in Central and South America. Most importantly, Buñuelos are known as a sign of good luck and fortune. A rule that should apply to all donuts -- international and domestic.
You may have had a churro in Disney World, or waiting in line at Costco. As it turns out, they are primarily known as a Spanish delicacy, commonly eaten for breakfast in the Iberian peninsula. They were first made by Spanish shepherds who barely had any access to fresh baked goods, so they needed a hearty snack they could easily cook in a pan, over an open fire. Churros, like in most instances, was the answer to these shepherd's problem.
Thailand: Pa Thong Ko
Cunningly referred to "Thai donuts" (how do they come up with these names?!) Pa Thong Ko is another stick-shaped piece of fried dough, oft-enjoyed at morning meals, and also sold on the street in Thailand. Occasionally, you'll see two welded together, in an "X" shape. Pa Thong Ko in any shape, is still Pa Thong Ko. I mean, remember Sisqo's classic 1999 hit "Pa Thong Ko Song?"
Turkey/Greece - Lokma/Loukoumades
These lil' balls of dough are called both Lokma (Turkey) and Loukoumades (Greece) -- but in any language, they can go by "delicious." Yea OK, sorry for that one. But this Mediterranean munchkin, made by frying dough in syrup, honey, or chocolate sauce, is seriously delicious, even occasionally coming decked with sesame. Sounds weird, but tastes good. Kind of like all Greek food -- am I right?
Vietnam: Bánh rán
When your uncle's eyes glaze over, and he starts talking about 'Nam , he's definitely not flashing back to Bánh rán -- the fried rice dough ball that serves as Vietnam's favorite donut. The filling if often scented with Jasmine, and the whole thing is covered in sesame seeds, and stuffed with mung bean paste, which tastes better than it sounds. I promise.
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