Anyone who knows me, knows how much I love to eat! I really think that food is one of the basic things that distinguishes one culture from another. It can be so distinctive -- and eating is such an experience! I have made a point of trying to eat food distinctive to each country that I have been in while I am there. And it has been wonderful! I would like to say I have been eating my way across Europe, but that wouldn't be exactly accurate. More correctly, I have been SNACKING my way across Europe! And oh how delicious it has been.....
This is my culinary journey so far:
In France, I filled up on crepes -- both chocolate and sugar and lemon. So yummy! Plus I loved having a breakfast of chocolate croissants and cafe-au-lait! My perfect idea of breakfast! The bakeries in Paris were amazing. I had a great sandwich on the best baguette bread for lunch one day. I enjoyed eating it in a small neighborhood garden in the Marais, watching children kick around the "football."
In Normandy, I tasted a distinctive cookie of the region. It is basically two pieces of meringue filled with cream and rolled in cookie crumbs. Mmm, mmm, good.
In Spain, I had a lot of fun going on a tapas crawl. The green olives were delicious - as well as the small plates of grilled shrimp. In Barcelona, there is a distinctive tapas roughly translated as tomato bread. It is bread spread very thinly with a tomato paste. So yummy! I loved the sangria in Madrid as well. A distinctive Spanish dessert is churros con chocolate. I have eaten churros before in the states, so I knew I liked those, but I wasn't prepared for how good this dessert was! The chocolate is basically a thick chocolate pudding (it tastes exactly like the chocolate pudding cake my mom used to make) and you dip the churros into the chocolate. Delicious!
In southern France, I snacked on Calissons de Provence -- small almond paste cookies with frosting that were delicious. At the market in Nice, I tried a local specialty -- glazed fruit candies. I also really liked all the dried fruits -- especially the kiwi and pear.
The food in Italy was beyond delicious! While in the Cinque Terre, I loved the Genovese pesto -- a special recipe of pesto known in that region. I also shared a great dinner with Jamie, a girl a met who is from Chicago. We had the best dinner -- tomato bruschetta, pesto foccacia, and a pastry stuffed with spinach and cheese. The foccacia in this area was amazing -- thick and oily, topped with cheese or other toppings and served warm. This was also the first place I tasted limoncello -- tasty but strong! I also had an amazing lemon gelato -- complete with a few lemon seeds!
The first night I arrived in Naples, of course we had to have Neapolitan pizza! Delicious margherita pizza. On the Amalfi coast, we were spoiled with a traditional breakfast, complete with special Easter cake, thanks to our hostess Tina at the B & B. We also had a great dinner at one of Mel & Jamy's favorite places -- Mariella's. We didn't even make it to a main course -- the appetizers and pasta were so good!
In Rome, Tuscany, Lake Como and Venice -- Wendy, Steven and I enjoyed lots of great pasta, pizza, gnocchi, and of course gelato. We had fun sampling lots of different wines -- including the wine made by the farm house we stayed at outside Montepulciano. The prosecco (sparkling wine -- or prosecuto as Steven called it) was delicious. We also sampled Lambrusco straight from the region most famous for making this wine. This is a sweet red wine, often looked down upon by true wine lovers. But Wendy and I have always loved it, so it was fun to try it (even if the waiter did kind of look at us funny). In Venice, we had a great time at Harry's Bar -- the birthplace of the Bellini (a combo of prosecco and peach nectar). Very yummy Bellinis, and very expensive too, but totally worth it for the experience. We also had fun sampling different cookies from a Venetian bakery. I really liked the pistachio cookies. We also found out that Italian potato chips are delicious!
In Slovenia, I really didn't know what was considered local cuisine. And the majority of restaurants in Ljubljana are ethnic restaurants from all over the world. This was the first place I didn't eat locally, but instead followed my craving for chinese food and a big salad.
The food in Vienna surprised me. I wasn't looking forward to meat-and-potatoes cuisine, but it was really delicious! My first night in Vienna I walked past a Doner Kebab stand and the smell made my mouth water. The Kebab sandwich was the best I ever had! I also loved the bratwurst with a side of mustard. And weinerschnitzel was so good! Although I do have to admit that I cheated a little and had chicken weinerschnitzel, rather than the traditional veal. I had lunch at a famous Vienna restaurant -- Buffet Trzesniewski -- which serves one euro finger sandwiches. There were so good. I had egg salad, cucumber and egg, tomato -- such a good idea, why doesn't someone do this in America? In Vienna, I also went to the Cafe Sacher, the cafe that created Sacher Torte -- delicious, dense chocolate cake. Yum! And of course I had to sample the Apple Streudel and the Topfenstreudel (basically a cream cheese version). In the naschmarket, I loved the cheese stuffed peppers and olives, and the turkish delight was the best I had ever tasted!
In Prague, I was surprised by how much I loved the Czech cuisine. The beef goulash was amazing, as were the dumplings and potato pancakes served with it. I had a great little pastry called Trdl from a stand on the street. It was basically a round hollow vanilla-flavored cookie rolled in cinnamon and sugar. Delicious! The traditional honey cake was also really good. Layers of cake and honey cream, with a fine crumb on cookies on the outside. And of course the Czech beer was awesome -- Budvar, Krusovice, Pilsner Urquel.
In Salzburg, I ate at a traditional sausage stand and it was great. This stand actually wrapped the sausage in a very thin, almost crust-like bread, added onions, parsley and mustard, and topped it all off with curry powder. Different, but very, very good. I also had a version of Austrian goulash -- tasty, but not as good as the Czeck version. And of course, more beer! At the Augustiner beer hall, I loved the local brew and sampled the weinerschnitzel. And of course the bread in Salzburg was amazing! Beer and Bavarian pretzels -- need I say more?
All thoughout Europe, I have really enjoyed the different incarnations of bakeries. Pastries in each place have been a little different, but all of them have been delicious! I have tried all different versions of sweets and breads and will keep sampling on my travels! I have also really loved the coffee here. Again, each place it is a little different, but it puts our American coffee to shame! I can't imagine why anyone would go to a Starbucks here -- all of the bakeries have espresso machines and quickly (and cheaply) make a delicious cup of coffee. In some places, I have seen American coffee on the menu -- which Europeans consider a weak, watered down version of coffee.
One of my favorite things about Europe are the markets. I have been to several open-air produce markets in different cities. There is something so great about shopping for produce and other groceries on a daily basis at a local market. The produce available is only what is seasonal, and it may not look perfect but it tastes better than what we get in a supermarket. So here are my favorite markets to far:
Barcelona -- In Barcelona on the Ramblas, the Mercato was amazing. It is a huge semi-open air market (with a roof covering but no walls). There were rows after rows of produce, breads, fish, cheese, etc. It was great to just wander around and see all the offerings. A lot of the produce stands sell fresh squeezed juice. I had a tasty kiwi juice and a mixed fruit salad.
Nice -- In Nice, the Cours Saleya holds the local market. This was a great market -- much smaller than the one in Barcelona, but it felt more local. Lots of produce and olive vendors, as well as dried fruit, sweets, and flowers. There was even a honey vendor. Other vendors were selling lavender or herbs de provence. I ate here both days I was in Nice.
Slovenia -- In Ljubljana, the main town square holds a huge market. This is a place where locals buy not only their produce, but also clothes and daily supplies. There was an indoor section containing meats and cheeses, and a bakery section. I had some delicious bread and apples from this market.
Austria -- My favorite market so far was probably the naschmarkt in Vienna. This market had everything -- produce, spices, bread, fish, etc. It was so much fun to walk around and piece together lunch from the various vendors. And the flower market section was beautiful.