One of the best aspects of traveling in Europe is the food. From the best pastries in the world to savory dishes created with care and perfection. There are a lot of great foods from which to choose, but these are my favorite go-to foods for whenever I’m in Europe.
1. Chocolate Croissant – I’ve always had a special place in my heart for the classic chocolate croissant. I’m not sure why, but it’s become a must have snack on every trip to Europe. Universally found at cafes and pastry shops for breakfast, it can also make for a fantastic afternoon snack. The pain au chocolat, which is pure Franglais, is a cube-shaped piece of dough similar to puff pastry with one or two pieces of chocolate in the center. This delicious snack food isn’t limited to France, you can find it all around the world, but the best are almost always found in Paris. I don’t have a preferred location for my favorite breakfast food, but what I love most about it is how easy it is to find in the city. They’re everywhere, from train station cafes to the best bakeries in the city. For the ultimate in European experiences, grab a fresh croissant and a coffee and watch the world walk by from a quiet café as you enjoy your perfect snack.
2. Doner kebab – I’m not sure where I first discovered these savory concoctions of meat and bread, it may have been Turkey or it could just as easily have been New York. Yes, you can find doner kebabs in the US but it can be a challenge and in comparison it seems like they’re on every street corner throughout Europe. I’m sure many of you have seen them cooking, doner kebabs are the meat mixtures that spin around upright on a spit and from which the purveyor of the meaty goodness shaves off some succulent slices for all to enjoy. At one time this was a regional dish but immigration has spread it throughout the Middle East, Europe and beyond. The meat is sliced off into a pita and then topped with any number of items, from lettuce to olives and tomatoes. It makes for a great quick bite on the go and is something I look forward to enjoying whenever I travel.
3. Anything with Nutella – I may once or twice have espoused my love of Nutella. I may have even written and recorded a song about it. But I’m not alone in my love for this chocolate hazelnut spread and one of the things I love most about it is its versatility. For many of us Nutella IS Europe. It was our earliest culinary memory of the continent and even though it has made inroads into overseas markets, it will always remind me of great visits to Europe. One of the most common preparations is a Nutella crepe, especially in France. This large snack or dessert is best made fresh, on the spot and only when lathered with copious amounts of the chocolate spread. The result is a hot, dripping mess of dough and chocolate that seems to make everyone smile. In Belgium I discovered a new use for Nutella on those famous Belgian waffles. A hot waffle out of the press covered with Nutella is similar to the crepe preparation, but with the special taste of a Belgian waffle. Around the continent you’ll see Nutella in everything, from gelato to breakfast condiments but nothing beats the classic crepe preparation for me personally.
4. Gelato – Ice cream and gelato are not the same thing, that fact must first be made clear. Gelato has more sugar, is creamier, softer and contains less air. It’s also absofreakinglutely delicious. Like most, the first time I had ‘real’ gelato was in Italy, which is appropriate enough since they invented it. I remember standing outside a hugely popular gelateria not far from our hotel next to the Pantheon and just thinking how great the experience was. The food, the Roman streets, the people – it all coalesced into an evening that defines food in Europe for me. But, you have to be careful. As Jessica described in a guest post for me not all gelato is made the same and it is important to avoid at all costs mass produced gelato. As she describes, it is important to look at color and texture. The color should be natural, not neon or too brightly colored. The texture shouldn’t be over-fluffy either; if there are piles of fluffy gelato laying about then it’s not made fresh every day. But once you do identify the real thing, there’s no way you’ll be able to go back to hard, icy ice cream.
5. Anything from a market – It took me a while to really understand the value of this one and I think other people, my fellow Americans especially, may have over looked it as well. Earlier this year I spent a couple of weeks traveling through France and Spain. As one is likely to do in these areas, I enjoyed a lot of good food and I enjoyed it often. I worried that I would return home requiring a Medevac due to the extra weight gained, but in actuality I lost weight and never felt better. Sure, I walked, hiked and biked a lot, but I don’t think that’s the only reason for the odd health benefits. I am certain it’s because almost all of the food I enjoyed was fresh. By fresh I don’t mean picked up at the local Piggly Wiggly, I mean fresh. Most people in Europe use food they buy from markets and as such there aren’t unnatural ingredients like preservatives and the like. That combined with moderate wine consumption truly does equate to a healthier way of living. Some call it the French effect, but it really is true for most of Western Europe. So when you’re there, stop by the many markets and see for yourself what deliciously fresh foods you’re enjoying. Better yet, make a meal of it and buy all the ingredients you need for the best picnic lunch you’ll ever have.
These are just some of the many European foods I love – what are yours?