European Cuisine is as varied and fascinating as its cultures, climates and people. Your European voyage of discovery shouldn’t stop for dinner, so here’s my top ten local dishes you should sample on your travels:
Chocolate sponge cake coated with a layer of apricot jam, smothered with a dark chocolate icing and served in the stylish café of the Hotel Sacher where it was invented – this is the closest you’ll get to true decadence until you win the lottery and can afford the 1000 euro base price for the rooms at this historic hotel! Film buffs will recognise the hotel from Carol Reed’s The Third Man. A great place for a suave snack whilst exploring the city’s beautiful centre.
Though there may be countless imitators, nothing beats an enormous vat of paella, properly cooked in the place where it was born. Whilst classic Valencian paella uses chicken and rabbit and is not to be missed, the colourful seafood version might be more familiar to us Brits. Globe-trotting writer Ernest Hemmingway was famously a fan of the paella at ‘La Pepica’ – which is still standing in Valencia today, and as good as ever. We thoroughly recommend you check it out.
This dish pops up so often along the coast of Brittany that you often find excellent fresh mussels served from vans on the road side. Traditionally served in a creamy garlic and parsley sauce with a basket of crusty baguette and plate of frites, this is the ultimate seaside comfort food. It’s quite hard to find bad moules in the region, since they’re so fresh and easy to come by, but if you have to pick somewhere, I can certainly vouch for the restaurant Aux Moules du Bouffay in the centre of Nantes. If you can’t make it that far, try Charles de Bruxelles in Paris for a taste of the oceanic West.
You can’t go to Stockholm without trying this Nordic salmon dish – thin salt-cured salmon with a pinch of sugar, lemon and dill served on toast or rye-bread. In a city famous for its salmon dishes this is the one to get. Scandinavian food is the hero of the moment in Britain, and rightly so. Stockholm is full of great restaurants – for the best gravadlax I’d recommend De Svarta Faren in the Södermalm district.
Now horse-meat was always going to be a hard-sell for the British. But for all you neigh-sayers out there: try it – it’s delicious. The Veronese bolt down horse-meat like no-one else in Europe: pizzas, stews (Pastissasa de Caval is delicious), pasta dishes – they love it. If you manage to rein in your British squeamishness about eating the meat, you’ll discover that it’s not dissimilar to beef – and might even beat it for its tenderness and subtle flavour. I thoroughly recommend you get past-ure quibbles and try the equine delicacy at the rustic Osteria Al Duomo in the town centre.
Although your previous encounters with the humble kebab may be from a neon-lit grease shack just before sunrise, you might be surprised to find that in Berlin they take it far more seriously. Invented in West Berlin by Turkish immigrant Kadir Nurman in 1972, the Doner Kebab has become an institution in the German capital. The humble kebab, perhaps unsurprisingly, goes just as well with German Pilsner as it does a British ale but, through superior cooking technology and ingredients, tastes great when sober too! Berliners swear by the Imren Grill near Hermannplatz – so what better place to rediscover this much-maligned dish.
This hearty stew, spiced with paprika, originating from Hungary is what most people think of when they think of Hungarian cuisine. Whether it’s cold outside or you’re just plain exhausted after carting a backpack around all day, this local comfort food is bound to set you straight. If you’re in Budapest I recommend you try the goulash at Kiado Kocsma in Terézváros quarter.
An alpine classic! A hot stone is brought to your table along with a platter of thinly cut raw meats – usually duck, chicken, veal and beef – ready for you to prepare a carnivore’s banquet to your own taste. This is a great social experience to share with friends after a day in the mountains – such a delicious protein-carb load is best eaten at altitude after coming in from the snow.
Unlike like their tinned cousins, these small fish are fresh from the sea and look (and taste) far more lively as a result. Every June the city has a sardine festival to celebrate the local delicacy but you can get the them fresh off the boat in most restaurants from May to October. Normally the sardines are grilled whole with their skin on to keep them tender and flavoursome and you can smell the sweet aroma all along the seafront. It’s pretty easy to get tasty sardines, but a great place that won’t blow the budget is Sol e Pesca – a former angling shop turned trendy a bar which specialises in seafood snacks.
Why have one local dish when you can try a bit of them all? Our number one lets you do just that. Order three or four of these local dishes per person and share them amongst your friends as you drink a chilled Estrella tucked away on one of the city’s characteristic cobbled streets. Barcelona surely must have the most tapas bars per capita in the world – and this makes it hard to pick the right one. The best thing to do is to avoid larger tapas bars with foreign language advertising – these bars often serve lower quality food and are much more expensive. Instead stray down the smaller streets and see what you can find – traditional tapas bars will be barely big enough to hold 30 people, offering an intimate and unique dining experience. The prices are also much more reasonable. A popular one with Barca’s students is Elisabets but it’s easy to stumble across a little known local tapas bar as you wander through the streets.
We love the variety that European food brings – from minimalist scandinavian bites, to rich French banquets, to the freshest Croatian seafood, there’s something for every taste. It’s the perfect indulgence for your inner foodie…
Words by Iain Reilly
Text box item sample content