Ten Iconic European Dishes

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Ten Iconic European Dishes

“Who eats will be strong.” Estonian Proverb

If you have fantasized about eating your way through Europe or at the moment even traveling through Europe, I am with you. Each country has their own delicious food but also has one dish that people think of when they think of this country. These traditional foods are not only delectable, but they also tell the story of the country’s history,  I picked ones that I have eaten in no particular order  because I miss traveling and they remind me of countries I have visited, 

Pretzels, Germany

It takes about two hours by train to get to Schwangau from Munich. We are on our way to Neuschwanstein Castle. It was commissioned by Ludwig the Second and is the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle. I buy a thick, salty, hot pretzel for the journey to add to what we have already taken from the breakfast buffet at the hotel. Train rides make me hungry.  I need carbs. I learned in Germany that pretzel (German word is bretzel) is a shape and laugen is the pretzel bread. Laugen comes in other shapes as well. I call them pretzel rolls.They are available in every bakery as sandwiches.

 Fondue, Switzerland

When I was sixteen, I took my first  European ski trip. The Alps, the majestic mountain chain that spans across France, Italy, Switzerland, Austria and Germany, are a paradise to visit and to  ski. We stayed in Cervinia on the Italian side and one morning we skied to Zermatt, Switzerland. It was very exciting carrying our passports across the mountains. We went to lunch and I ate fondue for the first time. Fondue means melted in French and this one was made with fresh cheese from the mountain cows. i sat with my friends around a hot pot of melted cheese and dipped pieces of bread. The challenge was not to drop the bread in the pot. One of the customs in the Alps is to finish the fondue with an egg. The egg is dropped in the remaining cheese, mixed until cooked, and then you mix in the remaining chunks of bread. The fondue meal is usually served with sides of salad and charcuterie. It’s the perfect rich warm dish to have when you are skiing.

Stroopwaful, Netherlands 

I stopped in Amsterdam on the way to my daughter’s wedding in Africa. Noordemarkt on Saturday is part antiques market and part famers market. i watched as one of the vendors made stroopwafuls. He took a freshly baked, thin waffle, and coated it with a dark, sugary syrup.  Then he took  another thin waffle, and place it on top of the syrup. I had a momentary thought of  not getting one to make sure I fit into my dress. Amsterdam is one giant stair master and it is never just one flight of stairs so I would probably walk it off on the way back to the hotel. Fresh, hot stroopwafuls are delicious.

 Goulash, Hungary

There was something not warm and fuzzy about being in the former Soviet Union in the early 2000’s. The first thing I noticed in Budapest was that people did not smile.  Older people did not speak English so if you needed to ask a question, “ask young” I was told. They were still trying to find their way between the vestiges of communism and the new capitalism. They had missed the sixties, seventies and eighties.  The results were sometimes odd. I’m sure it is much different now.The national Hungarian dish goulash (stew with beef and vegetables)  and the lighter goulash soup were everywhere. My favorite sign was the restaurant that served sushi and goulash. I’m sure it’s not there anymore  Goulash is comfort food- a thick hearty stew. My friend ate it a lot. You have to eat goulash in Hungary at least once but try the other food as well. I personally liked chimney cake, langos (fried flatbread covered with sour cream, cheese and garlic), stuffed cabbage, sausages  and chicken paprikesh better. 

.Pastel De Nata, Portugal

You can have  pastel de nata everywhere in Portugal. Every single pasteleria (pastry shop) offered pastéis de nata (plural). The famous custard tarts made of egg, puff pastry, milk , sugar, lemon and cinnamon are the most popular sweets in the country.  After visiting the the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, in Belem. I went to the famous bakery, Pasteis de Belem. There is always a line.  The person in front of me said that the bakery began making the original Pastéis de Belém, following an ancient recipe from the Mosteiro dos Jerónimo in 1837. The recipe is a secret and so only the ones bought here are called Pasteis de Belem. The rest are Pasteis de Nata. IF you are in Lisbon, I think it’s good to try the one that is unique in the world and nothing could be more Lisbon than that. 

Pirogi, Poland

I’m not a huge fan of Eastern European food.  But I do feel a country’s food is part of the experience so you have to try it. I walked into a restaurant in Krakow where you can see the food and pointed to something and said in English, “I’ll take that.” The older woman who was waiting on me shook her head no. She did not speak English as most older Eastern Europeans do not. I shrugged and mimed that i was hungry. She laughed and gave me a plate of small dumplings called pierogi.They were filled with meat and were surprisingly tasty. You can get pierogi all over Poland with different fillings like cabbage, mushrooms, cheese, fruit and meat. They are the most affordable dish you can eat in Poland. A teenager came over to me and asked how I liked his grandmother’s pierogi. He said no one makes them as good as she does. I finished the plate and gave her a thumbs up and she laughed. 

 Apfel Strudel, Austria

I think the Viennese coffee house defines Vienna. You can sit for hours with one cup of coffee. In the old city you will find architecturally beautiful coffee houses many originally owned by pre WWll Jews. It is completely normal to sit for hours alone reading the complimentary newspapers or chatting with friends. The word is gemutlichkeit. (coziness, comfortable unhurried).  We went to Café Central home to great philosophers, poets and leaders (such as Leo Trotzky, and Sigmund Freud). We wanted to try the apfel strudel. This is one of Austria’s most popular and traditional desserts. It is thin layers of dough (philo dough-like Baklava), filled with a flavorful apple filling, served warm and accompanied by a scoop of vanilla ice cream. It’s the perfect dessert in the perfect place to linger for one more coffee and one more story before continuing your city touring.

Paella, Spain

One of my first assignments in my high school Spanish class, was to go to a Spanish restaurant and eat something. My friends and I went to a restaurant in Greenwich Village and ate paella. We learned that traditional paella is rice, beans, rabbit, chicken, sometimes duck, and seasonal green vegetables. Seafood Paella is just seafood and rice. Paella Mixta (mixed paella) combines meat from livestock, seafood, vegetables, and sometimes beans, with the traditional rice. it was a dish meant for sharing. Every family in Spain has its own paella recipe and because of the time it takes to make, it is served on Sundays but for some some unknown reason, you can always find paella in restaurants  on Thursday.  Paella originated in Valencia but since i was not going there on my first trip to Spain, I ate paella as soon as I arrived in Barcelona. It is a good dish to eat for lunch.  Don’t eat paella near the Sagrada Familia, or where they have a photo of paella outside or where a man is standing outside telling you they have paella. They know it is the only Spanish food Americans have heard of. I was lucky enough to find a family owned restaurant in Barceloneta to try this delicious iconic dish and then I walked on the beach back to my hotel.

Baklava, Greece

The first time I ate baklava, I was in my teens in Greece. I knew then that I could eat baklava every day. I have spent a few summers in Greece and sometimes I did.  It is the best known dessert in Greece, Turkey and rest of the Middle East. It is just as delicious and a bit different in all these countries.  The ingredients in Greece are phylo pastry, walnuts and sugar syrup or honey.  I like to have it with a cup of Greek coffee.  Afterwards a friend, a friend of a friend, the waiter or a relative will tell your fortune from the coffee grounds. Once the coffee is drunk, you turn the cup a few times around, while you’re making a wish. Then cover the cup with a saucer, and turn it upside down. It takes about 10 minutes to settle on the cup walls and form shapes, essential for the coffee reading revealing events of the near future but also secrets of the past.

 Pizza, Italy

My dream is to go to Sicily and eat pizza. I have not been lucky enough to do that but I have eaten pizza in other Italian cities. My daughter was doing a two week ballet program in Florence. It was a few months after 9/11 and  my first time entertaining myself in a foreign city. There was a bomb threat at the Duomo set for Easter Sunday. (There are no holidays for dancers.)  I decided to avoid the main streets and headed to Dante’s house which is a museum. Florence with its medieval buildings doesn’t look very different  from the time of Dante. Police were everywhere. To calm my nerves, I needed pizza. I walked into a pizza restaurant and heard a lot of Italian which is always a good sign in a tourist area. The availability of good pizza in Italy is impressive. I always feel that to try a pizza you need to order the Margherita. Florence doesn’t disappoint. The pizza was really good and no one set off a bomb that day. 

Fly safe,

JAZ

Things That I Have Learned In Eastern Europe (or the former Soviet Union)

Things That I Have Learned In Eastern Europe (or the former Soviet Union)

“The salvation of this human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart, in the human power to reflect, in human meekness and human responsibility.” Vaclav Havel

I  have traveled around Eastern Europe a few times before I was a blogger or ‘photographer’. This was not one trip.  It was  earlier in the tourism stage of these countries and I’m sure things are a lot different now.   This is what I remember.

There is something not warm and fuzzy about being in countries of the former Soviet Union.  Especially countries that sent so many innocent people to concentration camps before that. The vestiges of communism are still there. The first thing you notice in  Budapest and Prague is that people don’t smile. (a train in Budapest)

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“If you need directions, ask young.” Most of the older generation do not speak any English. The young are trying to be modern.  But they have missed the sixties, seventies and eighties. The music went from folksongs and communist anthems  to rock and roll. The results are sometimes odd. Same with the clothes.

Shopping streets were emerging like Vaci street in Budapest with chain clothing stores  where once there was State Grocery no.19.  Things cost more and consumerism has definitely hit these countries. Keeping up with their neighbors is harder these days. There is still a lot of black market profiteering. But slowly a middle class is appearing.  (tagging in Budapest)

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After the fall of Communism,  Eastern Europe was faced with the problem of what to do with all those  Lenin, Marx and Engels statues. Several of the finest minds of the time got together in St Petersburg in 1991 to thrash out the quandary and it was decided that every city would display them in their very own tacky sculpture park. There is Fallen Monument Park in Moscow, Memento Park in Budapest and Grutas Park (known as Stalin’s World) 130km south of Vilnius. There are Museums of Terror in many of these eastern European cities showing their treatment in the time of the Soviets.  (Statue Park in Budapest )

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Lithuania was my first Baltic Country..  During the Holocaust around 95 per cent of the Lithuanian Jews were murdered, the highest percentage in Europe, many by local collaborator-killers. There is a Genocide Museum in Vilnius  in the old KGB headquarters. It was occupied by the Gestapo during World War Two for the deportations and later the Lithuanians suffered there under Stalin. In Eastern Europe I found the Lithuanians the most friendly and most open to talk about stuff. I wasn’t prepared for that. It is hard to understand. ( a street in Vilnius Lithuania)

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Trakai castle surrounded by Lake Galve is about an hour out of Vilnius.  All the brides come on the weekends to take photos. There were many because if you don’t get married on a Saturday, the neighbors start counting the months.

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Palanga is the busiest summer resort in Lithuania and the traffic on a Sunday proved that point.

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Riga, Latvia has the largest collection of Art Nouveau buildings in Europe. This is designed by Max Eisenstein (father of filmmaker Sergei.)

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Rumbala,  which is 10 kilometers  outside of  Riga, is where 25,000 Jews were murdered during WW2. Rumbala and Babi Yar (in Kiev, Ukraine) were the two biggest  massacre killings in Eastern Europe until the death camps. This was the only Jewish  Holocaust memorial in the original Soviet Union.

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Parnu, Estonia is an elegant beach town with depressing Soviet architecture.

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Estonia is between Latvia and a ferry ride to Finland. ( 43 miles away, yes I was there)  The influence of their Nordic neighbors is very noticeable, in the spelling, the food, and the design.  Talinn, the capital of Estonia is a blend of a historical Baltic city and cool Nordic  food and fashion trends. The former KGB headquarters are now the Hotel Viru. I did major shopping and eating here. The Wall Of Sweaters is fun for everything wool and located on the old city wall by the Viru Gate. The leather stores from Italy have  better prices here. (Talinn, Estonia, cathedral of Alexander Nevsky, sweater wall)

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Prague is considered to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I have been there twice. It  is called the Paris of the East.  There is culture, history, five-star restaurants and hotels. The Charles Bridge connects the old town with  the Mala Strana and is one of the most iconic structures in Prague. (Art Museum and Charles Bridge)

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The Jewish Quarter dates back to the thirteenth century. The Old New Synagogue is the oldest synagogue in Europe in Gothic thirteenth century style.  It is in use today. The Old Jewish Cemetery was established in the first half of the 15th century.  it is one of the most important historic sites in Prague´s Jewish Town. The oldest tombstone, which marks the grave of the poet and scholar Avigdor Karo, dates from the year 1439. Burials took place in the cemetery until 1787. Today it contains some 12,000 tombstones, al though the number of persons buried here is much greater. It is assumed that the cemetery contains several burial layers placed on top of each other. (Prague Cemetery)

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Leadership in these countries has not been great. Decades of totalitarian rule damaged the way people in power think and behave; and the harm has not been repaired.

The mindset of the younger generation is everything  anti Communist or anti the time of the Soviets as they say. Under Communist rule, the State was responsible for everything – even for little things. Today people must make decisions and take responsibility for them – not an easy task for those who have been raised to follow, not to lead.

Fly safe,

JAZ