Ten Iconic European Dishes


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,


Going To Neuschwanstein

“When I am traveling in a carriage, or walking after a good meal; that is when the ideas flow best and most abundantly.”   Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Going To Neuschwanstein

It is raining again  in Munich.   Lisa and I are going to Neuschwantstein Castle. It was commissioned by Ludwig the Second and is the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle. It is in Hohenschwangau, Germany in southwest Bavaria.

It takes about two hours by train to get to Schwangau from Munich.  I find a day tour on the internet ( Viator.com) and we meet at the train station. 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.

There are no more seats in the car  with the tour guide that are facing  forward . We go in the next car by ourselves. As we are traveling, the scenery flashing by is getting whiter and whiter. It is starting to look alot like the weather reports from the ski slopes in the Bavarian Alps that I watched on TV this morning.  I check to make sure the tour guide is still on the train.   All the pictures I have seen of Neuschwanstein,  show it as   sunny and very green. I thought we had missed  the sunny and green stop.     I didnt know that southwest Bavaria meant the Alps or that November meant winter.   I have lived in California for too long.

We  finally get off the train and we are  in a scene from Dr Zhivago.  It is snowing and there is a white out . We are standing at the train tracks and can see nothing.    The tour guide is very flustered and ushers us into the train station to figure what to do. There are two problems. One is that the restaurant that we are supposed to eat in is closed because of the snowstorm and two,  the bus running up to the castle is not in service due to the steepness of the road and the inclement weather. (funny how she just found this out) It is five kilometers up to the castle and is a 25 -40 minute walk depending on which route you take. You can also go up by horse and carriage. It is interesting that the horses were able to go up the  mountain in this weather but the buses were not.

We find an open restaurant .They are thrilled to have the business in the blizzard  and give the tour guide a free meal. I taste my first weisswurst breakfast ( white sausages and pretzel). It is the perfect meal to climb a mountain in the snow.

Now as I told you, it is raining in Munich.  I am wearing an Ed Hardy leather jacket, Los Angeles faux boots ( Miu Miu and made of canvas –luckily they are almost flat).  I have one of those Peruvian/Estonian winter hats  (I bought them in both places).  They are so in fashion now for anyone under 30.   I’m wearing it for warmth.   Lisa on the hand, is perfectly dressed for shopping on Fifth Avenue or an afternoon in Munich. . She is in head to toe Burberry wearing beautiful knee length slim fitting leather boots with a small thin heel  and a camel coat.  We did not get the memo to wear our ski clothes or hiking boots.

Since the buses are not running, there are too many people waiting for the horse and carriage.  It has stopped snowing so we decide to walk up.  Every time I turn around and see Lisa dressed for an outing in the city, walking up a mountain in the snow, I can’t stop laughing.  My feet are sopping wet when we finally get up to the castle.  Canvas is not good in the snow.  Lisa has made it up the steep, icy road  in heeled boots.  She has not fallen.    Her feet are dry. Bravo Lisa.

Now one of the best things to do at Neuschwantstein is to go across the Marienbruke (Marien Bridge)  a bridge than goes across a river valley. It is a scenic place to take photos of the castle. The bridge was closed because of the snow storm . We couldn’t even see it or the beautiful scenery and views.  We did see a lot of snow.  Schwangau Lake is visible behind the castle . No, we couldn’t see that either.  I was too cold to take my hands out  of my gloves to take many photos anyway.

I usually do these European castles  in the summer where everything is beautiful and easy. But doing them in the winter gives you a much more realistic picture of life at the Palace. It is cold and dark and damp. King Ludwig had one of the first toilets with running water in Europe as well as a hallway cave. He was a big fan of Wagner and scenes from his operas make up the murals throughout the building. (“mad” King Ludwig’s obsession)The only place you are allowed to take pictures in the castle is the kitchen.( and why would I do that?)

King Ludwig was found dead in the lake three days after he was declared legally insane. Did he drown or was it murder? Was he really mad or just “different” or ‘special”? Was he perhaps gay in a world and social strata where that was impossible?  You will find none of these answers at the castle.

Lisa has decided to  wait for the horse and carriage. I chose to walk down. No one else has made this choice and I am alone on this beautiful snowy road. I  fall a few times where it was steep and slippery .  I was trying to get down before it got dark. It was peaceful and quiet and I missed skiing.

The tourist village at the bottom is supposedly very charming.  They were right it looked like a Christmas card covered in snow.  I was  glad to find an open store to warm up in, while I waited for Lisa. She had to  wait a long time in the horse and carriage line.  The horses were walking very slowly down the slippery road.

We get into the train   and we are joined by a group of German Punk Goth drinking, rowdy teenagers.  We wisely decide not to say anything and we move.  We start planning where we will have a late dinner back in Munich.

It is  your mistakes that often make up the adventures. It is the adventures that lead to the stories. It is the stories that you remember.

Also See Things I’ve Learned In Munich


Haben Einen Sicheren Flug


Things I Have Learned In Munich

“You can’t be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline – it helps if you have some kind of football team, or some nuclear weapons but at the very least you need a beer”
- Frank Zappa

Things I Have Learned In Munich

Pedestrian crossings in Munich often have a sign saying “Set an example to children”  Something we should all remember to do.

Seen in German fashion magazine.  “.the new recessionista, crunch chic.”

“Dachau is a lovely town in Munich which happens to have the first concentration camp located there. But this was not an extermination camp and the largest number of people were not killed there. “ (quote from a guide book)

Birds never sang in Dachau even though there are many trees, because birds do not like the smell of death.

Brausebad is the old German word for shower. It was written outside the door of the “shower” in the camps. After WW2 they were not allowed to use that word anymore and it became douche instead.

Nazis are big business in Germany. You can take a third Reich tour in Berlin and Munich. You can visit Dachau outside of Munich or Sachenhausen outside of Berlin. In the tourist bookstores you can buy Hitlers Favorite Places in Munich, Famous Nazi’s of Munich, and Hitler’s Berlin or Hiltler’s Munich..

“The Neo Nazis aren’t the bad Nazis.” (quote heard at Dachau)

The Irish backed the Germans in World WarTwo. (anything to go against the English)

Soccer is a hooligan’s game played by gentlemen. Rugby is a gentlemen’s game played by hooligans.

I was in Munich in November and missed Oktoberfest.  I didnt have to bring my lederhosen and dirndl and missed the overindulgence of beer and pretzels , beer and weisswursts,  beer with sauerbraten , beer with potatoes and beer with beer.

Haidhausen is the place to be in Munich if you are a schiki miki (club going Bavarian Hippie), or Eidel chic or one of the Mueslis (European granola types)

Weisswurst breakfast which consists of boiled white sausages in milk  that you eat by sucking  out of the casing, with a fresh baked pretzel and mustard is surprisingly delicious.

A sign seen in a Munich store window “Wurst Fuchs”.

Pabst Blue Ribbon beer means the Pope’s beer. Every year the Pope comes to Munich to bless the hops

If you want to see hordes of tourist getting ridiculously drunk with huge steins of beer, go to Hofbrau House in Munich (Hitler’s fav)

The German New Wave Goth Punk teenagers are not people you want to share a train car with.

Neuschwanstein castle  in the Bavarian Alps (the sleeping beauty castle) is probably best visited when it isn’t snowing.

After returning from Germany, I was watching a documentary  entitled, The Rape of Europa.  It was about  European art stolen by the Nazis . I  saw a castle that looked familiar.  I was there in a snowstorm so I didn’t recognize it right away.  The first art recovered from the Nazis( that had been  stolen from the French) was stored in Neuschwanstein castle. There were many rooms filled with stolen art  and it was a fact they left out when I took the guided tour of “the Sleeping Beauty Castle. “

On the program at the ballet in the Bavarian State Opera House, they list the minutes of each act and each  intermission and the starting and ending times. German attention to detail put to good use! (and Mia was great! )

Munich being closer to Milan than it is to Berlin has amazing Italian food and great pizza.

Whenever you are in a coed sauna (especially if it says naked area)  in eastern Europe and Germany just know that it will be inhabited by fat, old, naked men.

In the 1960’s and 70’s the next generation of Germans were horrified when they learned what their parents have done.  I had this feeling in Munich and Berlin. Dachau, the Resistance Museum , the Jewish memorials and the Jewish museum were filled with  school children on class trips.

gute reise and fly safe


Things I Have Learned In Berlin

Many small people, who in many small places, can alter the face of the world.”    A quote from the  Berlin Wall

Things I Have Learned In Berlin

Checkpoint Charlie is the Cold War Security point between East and West Berlin. This is not the original one  in Berlin. The original one is fourty kilometers away. This is the one they set up for the tourists because it is closer to the wall.  There doesn’t seem to be anyone who knows who  the American soldier is, in the very large photograph in front of Checkpoint Charlie.


In 1996 Berlin became  the center of Germany’s commercial and underground art movement. The galleries quickly moved from West to East Berlin forming the East Berlin Art Mile on Auguststrasse in Mitte.

If you are a fan of “form follows function” (as I am)  visit the Neue Nationalgalerie designed by Mies Van Der Rohe (twentieth century paintings)  and the Bauhaus museum designed by Water Gropius ( they used his building plans) The Bauhaus school  was closed in 1933 because the new National Socialist government was afraid of their “subversive ideas and degenerative art.”

Kandinsky had a problem with the color green when teaching at the Bauhaus.

The German born artist Joseph Beuys had a big exhibit at the Hamburger Bahnhof –(old train station) Museum of Contemporary Art.  I love contemporary art but I have never gotten him or his fascination with fat and felt.

Fredrik the Great of Prussia ordered that potatoes and cucumbers  be the staple of the German diet because it was cheap.The portions are usually large and filling. Berlin has the largest immigrant population of any German city so there are may types of food –most common are Russian, Turkish, Vietnamese and Dutch.

“Berlin has a bit of a bad reputation when it comes to the treatment of its Jews but anti-Semitism was around long before Germany” (from the Scottish tour guide)

The Holocaust Memorial in Berlin occupies a large outdoor space near Hitler’s bunker and the Brandenburger Gate. It is made up of 2,711 gray stone slabs of different heights and shapes. They have no markings such as names or dates.


The Adlon Kempinski Hotel in Berlin has had Presidents, royalty and most recently Obama staying there, but it is most famous for being the place where Michael Jackson put his baby out the window.

Bebelplatz (where they burned the books in 1933) in East Berlin, is now the location of one of the most beautiful hotels I have ever stayed in (Hotel de Rome  was originally the Dresdner bank building. They kept a lot of the building intact.  ).

There is a parking lot over Hitler’s bunker because they don’t want it to become a neo Nazi shrine.

The Reichstag, the seat of the German Parliament, is one of Berlin’s most historic landmarks. It is close to  the Brandenburger gate and was located right next  to the Berlin wall. You have seen it in many movies.


I should explain the Brandenburger Gate since I keep mentioning it. It is the only remaining gate to the city, rebuilt in the eighteenth century and again after World War 2.  It is one of the landmarks of  Germany. It is the entry to Unter den Linden –the boulevard of Linden Trees . King Frederick of Prussia had the trees planted as a sign of peace leading up to his palace. It was on the East Berlin side of the wall and inaccessible to the west until the wall fell.


World War Two has had more books and papers written about it than any other period in history.

Kaiser Wilhelm the Second said, “More enemies, more honor”.

There is as much security at the Jewish Museum in Berlin as there is at the airport (except for the pictures of Terrorists of the week at Passport control)  The new section designed by David Leibskind is based on an exploding Star Of David. The spaces disappear into angles. It  is more about space  than what is in it.

The Resistance museum is housed in the building where the attempt was made on Hitler’s life by his generals.

It is illegal to have a swastika out in the open in Germany (except for historical purposes)

The Berlin Wall was built after WW2 to keep the East Germans from escaping to the west. It was a symbol of the “cold war.”  Most of the wall has been taken down in 1989 but some places still  stand. The East Side gallery which has 106 graffiti paintings painted in 1990 as a memorial to freedom is the most interesting.


East Berlin is now the trendy part of Berlin – first the artists, then the galleries,then the gays, followed by trendy restaurants, bars, boutiques and hotels, and then the yuppies.

In 1870, Rosa Strauss left Germany with her young son Levi.  He teamed up with a tailor to make a kind of  material that would be good for the men going to the gold rush.

Berlin has no famous industry except culture.(and now its history – sorry, I loved Berlin but  between the Nazis and the Communists it was hard to make jokes. )


Also see Things I’ve Learned In Munich


Going To Neuschwenstein


Haben Einen Sicheren Flug