Dining at Pietro Valentini in Rome
I get a thrill tasting the local produce and cuisine when I travel. To me, this is a major part of the experience when visiting a new place and blending into the culture. Here are a couple memorable food moments during my trips to Europe so far. I hope it encourages you to give different foods and menu items a try so it can enhance your senses and embellish your memories of a place away from home.
Raw herring in Amsterdam
Amsterdam is a cool city. I enjoy the parade of trendy bikers you have to keep an eye out for or you’ll ruin the “vibe;” stairs so steep, you feel like they will lead you up into a tree house and the endless “boutiquey” store fronts you would be willing to work inside for free.
It was a windy evening when Miles and I decided it was now or never to wait in the hour long line to tour the the Anne Frank House. After boredom from our ballpark sized cans of Heineken and our body temperatures dropping from standing in one place, Miles held our spot while I explored the area. I found a small “haringhandel” stand around the Westerkerk church. I had the server prepare raw herring with onions and pickles, “the Dutch way.” At first I was hesitant because the herring looked a little hairy but I gave it a try and really enjoyed it. It tasted like sushi and the onions and pickles gave it a nice tang. It was a fun street food experience to pass the time.
Tip: Make online reservations to the Anne Frank House 6 months before you visit. If the tickets online sell out, which was the case for us, go around 5pm when most tourists are settling in for dinner or getting ready for the night.
Escargot in Paris
Paris continues to enchant me each time I visit. It is a playground of intimate streets, embellished bridges and a festival of lights that give me a youthful and romantic feeling.
On our first visit, Miles and I spent our last evening watching the sunset in the bohemian village of Montmartre, above the city overlooking all of Paris from the steps of the Sacré Cœur. That evening, the basilica was hosting a farmers market, live music and street performers worthy of Europe’s Got Talent. We sat on the steps enjoying the scene and people watched while sipping French wine from a paper cup in complete bliss. At dusk, we wandered the hilly streets navigating our “treasure map” to a restaurant that our waiter from the night before drew out for us on a paper napkin. Completely lost, we found a small table at the most charming bistro sitting shoulder to shoulder with our neighbors lined up outside.
That night, I ordered escargot for the first time. It was fun using the tongs to clasp the shell and then scooping out the snail over a chewy baguette. The taste of butter, garlic and pesto was familiar to me and disguised any foreign taste of snail. A Norwegian couple started a light conversation with us after observing the spectacle. This was a great ice breaker and a unique way to make friends.
Tip: Uber is now available in Paris. It is more convenient than finding a taxi stand and you don’t have to worry about the language gap because the driver will know where you are going from the app. Most fares will be from $5-$8 euros, very cost effective.
Rösti in Mürren, Switzerland
Our trip to Switzerland was an adventure of what seemed liked planes, trains and automobiles..or funiculars, trains and cable cars. I was charmed by the close knit villages nestled on cliffs and valleys, the sounds of clinking cow bells and the friendly yet reserved locals.
From Paris, we took the train to Neuchâtel, a small village in Switzerland, where we waited on a deserted platform hopeful that we got off on the right stop. Finally our train connection arrived to the Berner-Oberlin part of Switzerland. We had one more connection in Bern until we finally arrived in Interlaken, the gateway to the alps and an adventure sportsman’s paradise. We caught an open air “choochoo” train to Lauterbrunnen, the base of the alps. From there we took a cable car up to Winteregg. While the car pulled us up, I was breathless from the view of the town below which was like looking at a backdrop out of Beauty and the Beast with the roaring waterfalls cascading down from great heights. The last connection was a funicular to Mürren, the top of the alps where we planned on staying for a couple nights.
At the top, it was cold, rainy and most hotels and restaurants were closed because it was the off-season. After 8 hours of traveling, we finally settled in for dinner in a cozy chalet right on the edge of a cliff. With the restaurant to ourselves, we ordered a refreshing beer, bratwurst and rosti. Rosti is like breakfast for dinner and is the perfect dish on a cold rainy day in the alps. Rosti consists of hash browns, scallions, cheese and ham cooked in a skillet and then finished off with a runny egg on top. The meal warmed our bodies and lead us back to our hotel where we relaxed under the covers and got a good night’s rest, well fueled for a day of hiking.
Tip: Stay in Lauterbrunnen at the base of the alps. There is more going on and it is close to the Trummelbach Falls, a must see series of ten glacier-waterfalls inside a mountain. Also, there is a train that takes you to Wengen and Grindelwald, a popular gateway for the Jungfrau region.
Spaghetti ai Tartufi Neri (Spaghetti with black truffles) in Rome
Rome, the eternal city. The night resurrects tourists and locals from the long, hot, humid day of sightseeing and working to come out to play. The evening kicks off around 6pm for aperitivo time, Italy’s happiest hour.
On our visit, Miles and I sat outside on Piazza Navona, enjoying a couple drinks, small snacks of olives, chips and cheese. We watched friends and family laughing, relaxing and delighting in their company. Afterwards, we made our way to Ristorante Pietro Valentini, a trattoria our friends recommended from their visit to Rome. There was a sense of excitement weaving our way through the old, narrow streets and alleys until we found the small restaurant on an unassuming street. Samona, the owner, was happy to greet us as if she was welcoming us to her own living room. She suggested the spaghetti ai tartufi neri, a simple dish to highlight the fresh truffles that were on display. She lovingly shaved a mountain of truffles all over the cheesy, buttery, garlicky, peppery spaghetti. It was heaven on a plate. After dinner, and the best pistachio souffle ever, she kissed us goodbye and had us write our address in a diary she had for sending Christmas cards. This was the most enjoyable dining experience I had in Europe so far.
Tip: In the evening, wander across the Tiber River to Trastavere, a neighborhood where locals go to hang out. Stroll among the labyrinthine alleys and drop into a busy restaurant. Look up and observe a rainbow of sun warmed clothes hanging out to dry and balconies spilling over with flowers and greenery.
Pork knuckle in Munich
Visiting Munich for Christmas was magical. Miles and I took part in the holiday festivities at the Chriskindlmarkts, a Christmas tradition since the mid 1500s. We sipped gluwein, shopped for hand made Christmas gifts and tried gingerbread of all sorts.
On Christmas day, we walked past a cute restaurant where we saw the chef preparing pork knuckle and dumplings the size of a baseball. We soon realized that this is a popular Bavarian dish available at most restaurants. I decided to give it a try that night for our Christmas dinner. The dumplings and gravy were delicious. The meat was very tender, flavorful, and aromatic. To me it tasted a lot like corned beef. Strolling back to our hotel, we ducked into St. Michael’s Church where we heard the angelic voices of a choir echoing through the ancient walls and pillars of the kirche.
Tip: Download the Rick Steves Audio Europe App and take the free walking tour. He will guide you through the history and sites of Munich to get a better understanding of Germany’s most-livable city.
Flemish fries with garlic mayonnaise in Bruges, Belgium
I am head over heals in love with Bruges. It is my European shangri-la, blending all the best aspects of Europe in a perfectly preserved medieval town. As you are probably aware, Belgium is known for it’s waffles, beer, chocolates, mussels…and fries.
This year, Miles and I rang in the new year in Bruges. After a world class dinner, we headed into the town park to join in with the locals. We enjoyed live music, fireworks and were showered in confetti when the clock struck midnight. We then followed the entire town through the cobbled streets into the main square, everyone with a bottle of champagne in tow. Someone set up a DJ booth and everyone hopped over the temporary ice rink to dance the night away, gliding over the ice in our boots, heals and shined shoes.
The next day, we had to catch a train to Paris. Before we left and with a delightful hangover to cure, we grabbed our last taste of Belgium. The authentic antidote was fries at a ‘friterie’ on the markt with garlic mayonnaise and andalouse, a tangy pepper sauce for dipping. It was a great treat to cap off our time in Bruges.
Tip: Find time to go to Bruges. It is a convenient trip from Paris, Amsterdam or London. Spend 3 nights there if you can. There is so much to see and do. Visit museums, churches, eat at Michelin starred restaurants, bike around the old town wall, explore wind mills, climb the belfry, take a canal tour, feed the swans, shop for lace and Belgium chocolates and try the local Trappist beers. You will fall in love like I did.
Other great bites:
Wild highland venison steak burger with Gouda cheese, caramelized onions and bacon jam at the Borough Market in London
Goulash at Spatenhaus in Munich
Rijsttafel at Kanjil & de Tijger in Amsterdam
Have fun exploring!