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

Vienna, Austria

Vienna, Austria.

“See how beautiful Vienna is. Listen to Mozart. Have some cake at one of the lovely old world cafes and try our famous Sachertorte. Go to Schonnbrunn and the Spanish Riding School. Walk past the Belvedere and Albertina museums and see a grand city resplendent in Imperial history and culture. Forget about that unpleasantness. Look how pretty Vienna is.” Vienna Tourist Board

The Austrians do not to want to talk about WWII. They believe that they were victims. Hitler promised them hope for a better future and a release from the Great Depression. He didn’t say he would kill all the Jews and bomb their cities. He made beautiful promises and people believed him. No one wants to talk about that now. Some of my family is from Vienna and other parts of Austria. There is no one left there now but I was curious to see it.

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I liked Vienna. It has an urban cool cultural vibe with old world charm. I liked every other dessert I had there better than sachertorte (which to me translates into very dry chocolate cake in English). I much preferred the apfel strudel with mélange coffee. Coffee in Vienna is almost always served with a small glass of water for hydration. Austrian attention to detail put to good use. (sachertorte)

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Naschmarkt is the oldest market area in Vienna . It is the place to be on a Saturday morning. There is a big flea market, cool restaurants and organic everything.

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My favorite area is Museumplatz with the Modern Art Museum (MOMEK) and Leopold Museum of Austrian Artists (my fav I love Egon Schiele). In the summer people cool off in the pools and hang out on the enzis ( design lounges) in the square. Gustav Klimt’s the Kiss is at the Albertina Museum. The passageways of the MuseumsQuartier are home to changing art installations.

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I enjoyed strolling around Vienna’s six and seventh districts on either side of the Mariahilferstrasse. Mariahilferstrasse has the usual European fashion stores but on the sidestreets are the uber trendy design boutiques with young Austrian designers. I’m always a fan of finding these streets when I travel. I love to see what the young designers and artists in a country are doing.

Never buy anything from a person in a period costume ever – particularly in Vienna when they are selling the best classical music concert. I know this because I did it early in my traveling. You get ripped off and you learn.

Vienna is a city of music. It is the city of Beethoven and Mozart. It is where young Adolf Hitler came to study music at 18 years old. If he had been talented, there might have been another story. St. Stephens Church has concerts in the summer and there are websites to check for authentic good music. The best thing to do is go to the Vienna Opera House (Staatsoper) and see any performance there. It is a great way to experience the beautiful architecture and acoustics. They also have tours of the opera house if you can’t get to a performance. There are Sunday morning performances at Augustiner Church with professional opera singers and a full orchestra. Talented young musicians come from all over the world to study at the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna, which runs an enormous array of concerts and performances around the city to showcase their talents. Consult www.mdw.ac.at for the packed schedule of events, some of which are free.

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I would probably pass on Mozart’s house. If you are true fan, you can take the underground for about a half hour and visit his grave. Go to a heuriger and hoist a glass or a mug of fresh young wine (heurig = this year’s) just like Mozart used to do.

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Spend some time at St. Stephens Church where mourners came to pay their respects to him in 1791, In 1805, Napoleon used St. Stephen’s doors to post his farewell edict. And it weathered attacks from both German and Russian armies during World War II. Today, this stunning cathedral remains an active house of worship, a national icon and a top tourist attraction.

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Schoenbrunn was the official Hapsburg summer residence. Under the supervision of Maria Theresa (the only female Hapsburg ruler), Schoenbrunn evolved into these ornate rooms and vast elaborate gardens. It was not my favorite palace ( I had just come from Russia) But, the world’s oldest zoo the Tiergarten is located on the beautiful grounds.

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The Hofburg Imperial Palace serves as the official residence of the President of Austria. It was the Hapsburg’s principal winter residence. From 1438 it was the seat of the kings and emperors of the Holy Roman Empire and after the seat of the Emperor of Austria until 1918.

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Würstelstand (sausage stands) are a usual sight on Vienna’s streets, dispensing piping-hot sausages and hot dogs. Among the best stands are the Würstelstand in Hohen Markt and the impressively sleek Bitzinger outpost on Albertinaplatz.

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The Sigmund Freud museum is set in the apartment where Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, lived and worked from 1898 until 1938, when he was forced into exile by the Nazis. Freud’s collections, photos and letters are displayed in glass cases.

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The Jewish Museum in Vienna (Judisches Museum der Stadt Wien) has two buildings. The main building has exhibits and artifacts from the Jews who lived there before WWll.There has been criticism in the past that not enough has been done to try and find the families of these artifacts. The building in Judenplatz near the Shoah memorial shows the remnants of a fifteenth century temple after the exile of the Jews. This seems to be a pattern. It is odd to see the story of Vienna’s Jews during WWll without any mention of Austria’s part in it. If you have been to other Jewish museums, you can pass on it.

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The Third Man Museum is the place to go for all those interested in post war Vienna or film fans. The Third Man”, starring Joseph Cotton and Orson Welles was a British-American production that was filmed in post-war Vienna. It opened in London in 1949 and became a huge box-office success all over the (Western) world and one of the best examples of film noir. It made the simple musician Anton Karas a world star. There is a lot of film and post war memoriablia and the place to learn about post war Vienna.

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) (Cafe Central)

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We went to Café Central home to great philosophers, poets and leaders (such as Leo Trotzky, and Sigmund Freud) It’s the perfect place to linger for one more coffee and one more story before continuing your city touring.

Haben Einen Sicheren Flug,

JAZ