When it comes to sightseeing in different countries throughout Europe, the whole experience isn’t complete without at least trying the local cuisine. Although I’m personally a very budget-conscious traveler, I’m willing to splurge a bit and treat myself to at least one nice meal while visiting the country.
Then again, not all great meals have to be fancy: sometimes, it can be as simple as Dutch fries, crispy and piping hot with onions and curry sauce for that extra kick to the taste buds (I’m drooling as I’m typing this). Whatever you choose to try out, food is one way to really know a culture, e.g. staple ingredients, how locals eat, etc. Really, it’ something that museums and landmarks can’t really show you otherwise: you’ll have to discover it for yourself.
Similar to what I wrote about my favorite French foods, I’ll be sharing some of the best meals I’ve had while traveling throughout the rest of Europe. From the savory to the sweet, these dishes really made my travels all the more enriching, and I hope to offer you some recommendations on things to eat, should you find yourself in those countries sometime soon!
1. Beef goulash with bread dumplings (Prague, Czech Republic).
Made with 50% meat and 50% love, Czech goulash isn’t necessarily known for its presentation, but rather its taste– it’s one of those dishes that are so hearty, so rich that they’re “stick to your ribs” good. The meat’s tender, not dry at all, and the stew is thick and substantial, able to keep you full for the rest of the day. Personally, I prefer bread dumplings over potato dumplings on the side, since they can better mop up the lovely sauces at the very end of the meal!
2. Dutch fries (Amsterdam, the Netherlands).
Now, I’ve also had Belgian fries (also amazing, but in a different category). The ones I had in Amsterdam, however, were what I remembered the most vividly– piping hot to the point that you could burn your mouth, these Dutch fries were thick, crispy, and the perfect snack while walking along the canals. I highly recommend the ones at Vlaams Friteshuis Vleminckx, which is literally a hole-in-a-wall fry joint, for the best fries in Amsterdam (or ever!).
3. Chocolate con churros (Madrid, Spain).
On the sweet side, Spanish hot chocolate is nothing like you’ve ever had before– if you’ve only ever had instant-package hot chocolate, you’ve been sorely missing out on life. Unbelievably thick, it’s as if you’re drinking ganache! The churros, on the other hand, are thin and crispy (unlike the bready sweet Mexican version), and perfect for dipping into the chocolate. The Chocolatería San Ginés is the place to be for the best chocolate con churros: despite the line, it’s worth every minute waited for a taste of heaven.
4. Pork loin with paprika sauce and cabbage dumplings (Budapest, Hungary).
At first, I didn’t intend on ordering this dish when having lunch in Budapest– however, after taking the waitress’ recommendation, I’m so glad that I tried it. Usually, I’m skeptical when it comes to pork (or any red meat), since it can be easily overcooked, but this one was just right: tender and juicy, it paired very well with the paprika sauce and sour cream. The cabbage dumplings were something new, too: they had the consistency of pasta, and I found myself digging into them each time, even after I was long full!
5. Tapas (Barcelona, Spain).
I also had some delicious tapas in Seville, but the ones I had in Barcelona started it off. I highly recommend the ones at Quimet y Quimet, which is famous for its well-crafted tapas that succeed in both taste and presentation. The Brie cheese with artichokes and caviar was to die for– normally, I wouldn’t imagine them as a combination, but it worked! Also really enjoyed their pork cheek, which just about melted in my mouth. People start lining up even before the doors open at 19:00, so get there early!
6. Napolitana de chocolate (Spain, in general).
Considered the Spanish pain au chocolat, this sweet pastry is the perfect pick-me-up for breakfast or snack, as it’s absolutely loaded with chocolate– on the inside and outside! In my opinion, this is a much better deal than the French version, as I find the latter to skimp on chocolate (two to three pieces?? Really, now?!). I pretty much had napolitana de chocolate every day while visiting Spain for a week last December, and I never got tired of it!
7. Spätzle (Bavaria region, Germany).
I’m not a big fan of American mac n’ cheese, but when it comes to spätzle, I’m completely on-board with it! Basically, it’s just short noodles that are absolutely bathed in cheese and cream, sometimes garnished with fried onions for that extra, aromatic punch. I’ve had it near the Neuschwanstein castle, as well as in Cologne during the Christmas markets, and it’s the ideal meal to feast on during the cold, winter months. The more, the cheesier!
8. Paella (Barcelona, Spain).
I love paella: it’s that saffron-infused, seafood plate of goodness that I’m especially attracted to, and it makes for a robust tasting experience, should it be your first time ever trying it. I admit, the paella I had while in Barcelona was overly salty, but for some strange reason, the saltiness worked in really bringing out the seafood’s briny taste, along with the small, chewy texture of the blackened rice. It was something I hadn’t been accustomed to, but all the same fully embraced it.
9. Belgian waffles (Bruges, Belgium).
Another sweet dish, Belgian waffles are thick and bready, with an unnecessarily huge amount of sugar within and on top of their exteriors– really, it amazes me that the waffle itself doesn’t collapse from all the condiments added to it! Besides the strawberry one I had in Bruges, I had a Speculoos one in Brussels, which just about bowled me over with sugary goodness. I’m not kidding: the Belgians certainly know how to do justice to their sweets!
10. Stuffed cabbage rolls (Krakow, Poland).
My recent trip to Poland in April introduced me to pierogies, along with golabki, aka “stuffed cabbage rolls.” Presentation-wise, it looks sloppy and unappetizing, but it tastes really good. Upon cutting into the thick cabbage wrap, the seasoned meat spills out, grounded and tender like meatloaf. With this dish, you get your daily dose of meat and vegetables, which makes for a balanced (not to forget delicious) meal. Wished that I’d discovered it sooner, as well as ordered it more often while in the country!
What’s the best meal you’ve ever had on your travels? Let me know! Bon appétit.