A large part of what I enjoy about travelling is – surprise, surprise – eating. That is, introducing my senses to new smells and tastes.
I find it best to be open-minded about food (and drinks!) – as long as it isn’t against my morals to eat a certain dish, or find it too disgusting, I would usually give it a try, especially if it is a local specialty. After all, there must be a reason why the dish is a favorite, or at least recommended.
I find this not so much a problem in Europe, my base for the past 23 months. Each region, country, locale and village always has something new to offer – a new experience that heightens the senses and lingers in my memory long after the taste have left my buds. I tell myself that eating is a good way to know my host place’s culture, but really it is just sheer delight and utter pleasure to consume, gorge, devour!
Sometimes, discovering a new food favorite is akin to discovering a new love, ergo parting could be a bittersweet affair – if the place of origin of the dish in question is quite far from your place of origin, then the probability of having it again soon may be slim. And on the chance that it may be available, it could be that the taste just isn’t the same. But better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all, right?
Feeling nostalgic, I made a list of 16 “loves” I’ve encountered during my travels around Europe.
1. Germany: White asparagus with hollandaise sauce and ham
Springtime in Germany is sometimes called “Spargelzeit” or “asparagus time”, because it’s the season when their famous white asparagus becomes available, like, practically everywhere! These veggies grow buried in soil to prevent sunlight from reaching their stalks, explaining the color (or lack thereof).
They do not come cheap, though — a 500gram bundle cost around 3-4 Euros on an average, earning them the moniker “white gold”. Germans are crazy about them, and so am I! They have a crisp, delicate and fresh taste and are best paired with Hollandaise sauce and thin slices of ham, like the one pictured above.
Special mention: Hanuta
My friend Ashley introduced this to me, and I have not looked back since. Made by Ferrero, this German treat consists of hazelnut/chocolate cream (tastes similar to Nutella, but grittier with hazelnut bits) sandwiched between two crisp wafers. A word of warning: they are sinfully delicious and possibly addictive. My family absolutely loves them (I brought a few packages with me to Manila when I was there in 2012), and often asks me to send them a few boxes from time to time. Only available in Germany, Hanuta is one of the reasons I’ll be sad when I finally have to leave Deutschland.
2. Poland: Pierogi Ruskie
Poland and I seem to be fated. Our affair started when I was refused to board a plane to Krakow. This was back in January 2013, and the reason for this was my missing passport. I mistakenly believed that my German residence card would suffice for travel and didn’t bring my passport with me then; however, under the airline’s regulations, I needed my passport to travel outside Germany. I was heartbroken and vowed to make it to Poland someday. Later that year, I met a girl during a conference I attended in the US, who became a very close friend. Said friend was my reason for visiting Poland subsequently: I made it to Poland not once but 5 times, visiting most of its major cities. I also moved to Berlin, close to the Polish border, which made travelling to Poland convenient.
But I digress. Let’s talk about the food: Polish food is rich, hearty and truly tantalizing. I spent Christmas time in the mountain village of Zakopane last year, feasting on sumptuous Polish food three times a day, for 10 glorious days, and was exposed to myriad Polish dishes. How did I like it? To put it mildly, a whole lot. There were so many standout dishes. But what stood out the most for me was a simple dish called Pierogi Ruskie. Pierogies are Polish dumplings, and Pierogie Ruskie means “Russian dumplings”. They are basically dumplings filled with potatoes and cottage cheese, topped with bacon bits and lard. Simple but deserve repeats. You can buy them frozen at some supermarkets, but the handmade ones are far more superior tasting.
Special mention: Soplica Malinowa
This sweet cherry-flavored Polish vodka (pronounced: So-pli-tsa Ma-li-no-va) is my drink of choice to combat cold Polish winters. It goes down smooth and tastes oh-so good — vodka without the bitter aftertaste but with all the perks *wink*. It costs roughly 5 Euros per bottle.
3. Norway: Staburret’s Makarell i Tomat
I loved this so much I decided to take some with me to Berlin. So during my flight back from Oslo to Berlin last winter, I put the tins I have purchased at a supermarket in my hand carry luggage – only to be later confiscated by airport security for containing liquid and being more than 100ml. So they were confiscated, and I was sad; I later found them being sold at a duty-free store inside the airport (after passing security, of course). So I bought replacements and that was that. They were cheaper at the airport, too.
Anyway, why do I love thee, Makarell I Tomat by Starburret? Perhaps because it has a mild taste, with no strong fishy aftertaste, and goes well with warm Norweigian buns. My Norweigian friend Marianne introduced them to me, and I look forward to the next chance I can devour them. Nomnomnom.
Special mention: Cloudberries
I must admit I’ve never heard of them ‘til I came to Norway. They are arctic fruits and need sup-zero temps in the winter and mild summers to grow. Known as “highland’s gold” because of how difficult it is to get them and how expensive they could be (they cannot be grown commercially, you must go up the mountains and pick them up yourself). They taste a little tart to me, good with sugar.
4. Montenegro: Sheep cheese
I wish I had an interesting story to tell you about how I have come to discover Montenegran sheep cheese, but the truth is I don’t. It’s nothing special, really: I was taking a day trip to the tiny new country of Montenegro (from Dubrovnik, where I attended school last May), and stumbled upon their wet market. The market was located in Kotor. I entered the market and saw stall after stall selling the same kind of cheese, and thought, well, it would be silly not to try. So try I did – I bought 200 grams. I took a bite after we have left the Kotor, immediately regretted not buying at least a kilo. it was simply divine: it has a firm texture, a very mild taste, and a distinct, almost sweet, aroma.
Special mention: Pršut
Pršut is another thing they sold at the wet markets in Kotor, and it tastes yummy, too. The Balkan version of prosciutto is better than its Italian counterpart, in my opinion.
(To be continued…)