Sugary fried dough is universal
Though the United States might be known as the land of the free, home of the fried, doughnuts aren’t a strictly American creation. There are dozens of different kinds of doughnuts from around the world, many versions of which predate the now-traditional American glazed variety. In fact, lots of the doughnuts that are most familiar to Americans—like jelly doughnuts, crullers, and even the original glazed—have analogues in other cultures and cuisines. And though the full history and true geographic origin of doughnuts may never be known, there’s no denying that there’s something universally beloved about eating a sugary piece of fried dough with your hands.
For the purposes of this guide to doughnuts around the world, I defined a doughnut as a sweet piece of fried dough, either shaped in a ring or without a whole, that could be eaten with your hands and on-the-go. There are plenty of other varieties of sweet fried dough, like jalebi from India and Pakistan or even North American funnel cake, but those are less portable and more free-form in shape.
Even with those parameters in place, there were still plenty of doughnuts to choose from, so from the East China Sea to sub-Saharan Africa, here are 11 doughnuts from around the world.
Berliners are basically a German jelly doughnut, named after the country’s capital city (though real Berliners call the doughnuts Pfannkuchen). Berliners are traditionally filled with jam or icing and topped with powdered sugar.
The batter for traditional French beignets is a simple mix of butter, water, flour, and eggs—often referred to in French cuisine as a pâte à choux—and then the fried dough doused in powdered sugar.
Sufganiyot are commonly eaten in Israel at Hanukkah, when the fried jelly doughnut is said to represent the miracle of one night of oil lasting for eight.
Another type of filled, fried yeast doughnut, bombolone come from Italy and are often filled with a sweet pastry cream rather than a jam.
Sata Andagi (Japan)
Sata andagi are sweet, deep-fried buns that are native to Okinawa, a Japanese prefecture at the southernmost tip of the island chain.
Oliebol (The Netherlands)
The word oliebol literally translates from Dutch as “oil ball,” which is a pretty perfect summary of doughnuts, especially these round, fried treats made of yeast dough with raisins mixed in.
Koeksister (South Africa)
There are two types of koeksisters in South Africa, though the braided Afrikaner version is arguably more popular. It’s braided dough that’s fried and then drenched in a sweet syrup with ginger and lemon for a bit of a kick.
Churros are popular across Europe and Latin America—They’re even Kim Kardashian’s favorite food. But churros are originally Spanish, made by extruding dough into hot oil and then tossing with cinnamon sugar.
Sel Roti (Nepal)
This Nepalese doughnut is made with a rice flour dough, which is easily made by soaking rice overnight and blending it with butter, sugar, cloves, and cardamom. It’s then fried in a thin ring until light brown.
In Nigeria, these little balls of fried dough are called puff-puffs, but they’re eaten across sub-Saharan Africa.
Sure, Canada might not be exotic to Americans, but it would be impossible to have a guide to doughnuts around the world that didn’t include the place with the most doughnut shops per capita than any other country. And one of the most Canadian of doughnuts is the Timbit, bite-sized doughnuts available at Tim Horton’s in apple fritter, honey dip, and old-fashioned plain.