Bonjour and Hallo!
Last week I returned from my 8th trip to Europe, and I wondered... Why do I keep going back to that part of the world? Well, it is awesome, but one of the main reasons is I’ve always had amazing experiences and discoveries centering around the food.
While I think my next trip may be to some new place, it’s always a treat to be in Europe, where the food is so fresh and less processed that it simply tastes better than food I experience day-to-day here.
So here is a list of some of the cool food we recently ate in Europe. If something is available in the U.S. I’ll mention it, otherwise you’ll just have to book a flight soon!
The List (with matching photos!):
1. Haggis – Pork parts, potatoes and spices finely mashed up like corned beef hash. Tastier than expected, my brain still couldn’t fully release the reality of my consumption, so I ate only a little. Or maybe I wasn't feeling too bad about it until the LAX customs guys forced me to a read the ingredients from a souvenir can of haggis brought back for a friend. That I could definitely have done without. Yes, ignorance is bliss!
2. Kouign Amann – The reputation of this Breton butter cake entered my consciousness before I even tasted it. How could a cake made with mainly sugar, butter and pastry baked into a caramelized crunchy buttery mass not have that effect on the human brain? Now I’ve had the pleasure of eating this twice. Once at BLD in Los Angeles, where it’s offered at brunch (I got it to go and ate it cold, not smart) and then in Paris again last week (hallelujah!). I found it peering out from behind more aggressive treats in a bake shop window and whirled in with my Euros. It took me three days to eat it due to its sultry artery-hardening richness. Yes, it was worth the wait. If you buy one at BLD, make sure to eat it there and ask for it warmed.
3. A non-continental complimentary hotel breakfast – That’s right, the breakfast that is included has serious meats and cheeses, soft-boiled eggs, country breads and apricot juice to go with the standard orange and grapefruit. This is what I want for my country! Real food in this scenario, with less crappy carbs and more protein deliciousness. Thank you.
4. Classic, simple French crepes – Made to order from a street vendor and handed over soft and steamy, the minimal additions of butter and sugar are the way to go here. Forget the Nutella or ham and cheese options (or save that for your second one). As a first taste, the most true to form is having it this way. It's all you need in the crepe department.
5. Eggs Benedict sandwich – Imagine an English muffin of sorts with herbed hollandaise-infused scrambled eggs and an unprocessed, fantastic slab of country ham. This was only $4 and didn't contain a tower of eggs to over-fill me before a flight. Original in flavor with great ingredients, this was a big fat yes.
6. Fun-flavored potato chips! – The people from Great Britain have always had it right. Instead of the typical BBQ, cheddar, and sour cream and chive, flavors include lamb with mint sauce, roast beef with mustard, smoked ham and pickle, prawn cocktail and the hysterical haggis.
7. Amazing chocolate – Beyond the Swiss brands of Cailler, Lindt and Frey selling specialty bars at the supermarket, the fresh chocolate from Läderach is saturated with whole caramelized almonds or hazelnuts. The Zurich-bought stash hidden in my desk is almost gone and I may have to wear black tomorrow to mourn it.
8. Interesting foods at the market – At M&S Market in Edinburgh, they had pretty ingenious fresh meals to go. They also had some frozen items I’d never seen, specifically international take out dinner kits. You could pick Chinese Favourites or Indian Takeaway, all filled with six different items from appetizers to mains, for about $15. Talk about a dinner time saver! Why didn’t we think of that?
9. Better tasting, more natural yogurt – Oh my in Switzerland and France you cannot imagine how much good yogurt is available. There are tons of flavors to choose from, with less processed sugar and more purposeful probiotics. At the Basel train station I picked up a cup of Nestle passion fruit yogurt, which was so tasty when finished I had no choice but to get every bit off the lid (see top photo). Christy said the vanilla yogurt made by Emmi tasted like custard. Emmi yogurt is for sale in Los Angeles at The Cheese Store of Silverlake at Sunset Junction.
10. French macarons from the source – When I first tasted a chocolate-passion fruit macaron by Pierre Hermé in 2005 (check out his new book, Macaron), I had no idea that every macaron-maker in the world would be copying his flavor combos and selling them off as their own. French macarons have become known in the U.S., but you have to be careful of bakers over here who use too much sugar. Plus, the flavors are often the same: chocolate, lemon, raspberry, pistachio, vanilla, coffee, strawberry. In fact, macarons have become so ubiquitous here that I even noticed my local Starbucks selling a pack of them for $10. Well, at Pierre Hermé this year they sadly didn’t have my favorites from 2005: the apricot or the olive oil. But they did have the rose and the chocolate-passion fruit, AND they had weird new flavors which boggled the mind: wasabi and balsamic vinegar. I feared these macarons, but I shouldn’t have. Where was all that Pierre Hermé trust? The new macaron flavors were phenomenal. The wasabi was subtle and had a dab of a mysterious red in the middle (see photo). It was divine. And the balsamic vinegar was just as subdued. This man is the master and I hope more area bakers will start mixing up the flavors to be a little more exotic, too.
11. Rösti with fried egg – This Swiss specialty is basically just shredded potatoes sautéed into a cake, and in this version topped with two fried eggs. We ate it as an appetizer to cheese fondue and it is always a simple, delicious treat.
12. Ham and cheese sandwich (on baguette or pretzel roll) – This is tasty simplicity at its finest. Why? Because here is what’s on the bread: butter, ham and cheese. That’s it! Who needs tomato, lettuce, mayo, onions, peppers and some sort of globby dressing. You don’t need all that on a European sandwich. Why? Because the main ingredients are of such high quality and taste so good, that’s why! And don’t you forget it!
13. Fondue – Yes you can get this in LA (Morels @ the Grove), though the perfect fusing of cheeses along with the right kirsch vs. white wine ratio is too important to ignore. Fondue in Switzerland tastes amazing, with a smooth (not gummy), somewhat gritty consistency. It’s solely served with day old rustic bread. And it was worth the cholesterol, trust me, which is probably why I inadvertently ate this twice and have dreamed of it ever since. Enjoy it with some hoppy beer, or with a local Swiss white wine like a Fendant.
14. Raclette – You can buy this cheese at Trader Joe’s, or be invited to a Swiss person’s house for a Raclette party (this has happened to me). It’s sort of like fondue but more straight-up: there are no ingredients except CHEESE. It’s tasty. You eat it with something sturdy like potatoes or cornichons.
15. Spätzle - Literally translated from German as "little sparrow," this is a dish of tiny dumplings forced through a sieve and boiled before being tossed with butter and sometimes sautéed. (Appears in the background of Raclette photo.)
16. International McDonald's – Whenever I’m overseas, I always stop into a local McDonald’s. Some things are the same, and almost always some things are different. Years ago in Vienna I remember a McPork sandwich, which was like a grilled chicken sandwich made with pork. Why do we have the need to cover up our pork in the U.S. with fried breading or McRib sauce? Over there you get the real deal. Now a few years ago in France I noticed more international flavors and breads brought in, with for instance an Italian burger on a ciabatta roll, and an Indian burger on a naan-like roll. Speaking of which, in Edinburgh I found an Indian twist on the snack wrap: the chicken tikka snack wrap. And in Zurich I had the pleasure of buying 6 whole, large fried “shrimps” with a mayo-based cocktail sauce and it was a nice addition.
17. Tattie scones – I’ve been dreaming of this a.m. wonder since first trying it in Belfast in 2000. As part of any respectable Irish/Scottish full breakfast, the tattie scone is a potato scone, looks like a pita but is heartier (at 12:00 on the plate), and is sautéed in the pan. I have no idea where to get this in Los Angeles, so I guess I’ll just have to make some myself. It sure won’t be the same as enjoying it as part of a full Scottish breakfast in a sleepy pub on a chilly Edinburgh morning.
Until we eat again,