‘In love, as in gluttony, pleasure is a matter of the utmost precision.’ (Italo Calvino)
Never were truer words spoken in history with regards to my relationship with food. Although, what I lack in precision I make up for in permissiveness.
With a few more countries crossed off the bucket list my culinary expertise (as well as my healthy paunch) has expanded. And I invite you, reader, to join me once again in sampling some of Europe’s food delights.
Whether Brexit left you diving into your favourite gelato in disbelief, or breaking out the vol au vents and Bollinger, one undeniable fact is the Europe’s gastronomic diversity is still an experience to enjoy and of which we should be proud.
As I lick the melted chocolate residue from my fingers and vacuum the biscuit crumbs from my keypad I think back on all the fattening but tasty morsels I’ve been fortunate enough to try. Here is a continuation of my on-going culinary quest.
Scottish Haggis – After an enthusiastic stomp around the sights of Edinburgh’s atmospheric alleys and scenic streets what more clichéd way to fill your gurgling stomach than to tuck into a pub-favourite – haggis, a dish which does not appeal to every palate due to its off-putting ingredients of offal, oats, and suet which gives it its distinctive flavour. I myself likened the taste to liver and onions in that, although not wholly unpleasant, haggis does lie rather heavy in the stomach and in itself is an acquired taste.
I’ve found that those who do not like the idea of haggis are often similar to the nay-sayers of black pudding, with the gruesome thought of “dried blood” akin to eating heart and lungs like some grisly barbarian. Well, serve mine on a pile of animal bones with an extra helping ‘GRRRR!’ I quite enjoyed the Scottish delight. Served with a side of neeps and tatties – collectively known as the Holy Trinity of Haggis – it is a dish of which William Wallace himself would be proud!
The Holy Trinity; Haggis, neeps, and tatties (circa 2015). Photo by Steph.
Sicilian Arancino – Italy’s passionate pride of food transcends into practically every aspect of its being, whether in preparing a seven-course gourmet meal for a special occasion, or in swiftly conjuring up a filling take-away from the street-food vendor. Either way, you’re guaranteed to be stuffed to bursting after each dish. If there is one thing I did when visiting friends on the island of Sicily, it’s eat, and EAT! To the point where I had to politely decline any more offerings of sumptuous Sicilian cuisine, much to my chagrin.
Luckily, before the bellyaches began, I was introduced to something called an arancino. A breaded ball filled with a risotto-like stuffing of rice, mozzarella, peas, and ragu sauce then deep fried to perfection. It is so densely packed that the fist-sized mini heavyweight could cause considerable damage to any shop window or small pet if thrown. Needless to say that this is not the healthiest food I have eaten, but it certainly filled a void after a boozy night on the sauce! I challenge any one to eat two aracini!
Irish Stew – The Emerald Isle – so called for its luscious green fields, rolling countryside, and breath-taking scenery with majestic milk cows and bouncing new-born lambs. And where better to enjoy the beauty of farm-life than in an Irish lamb stew?
Whether you’re escaping the bustle of Dublin or taking a break from sight-seeing in Kilkenny a favourite culinary treat is a bowl of stew served with two slices of Irish soda bread and butter, accompanied with a pint of the region’s favourite ale. In my case it was a pint of Kilkenny’s own Smithwick’s.
As hearty as you could hope for, with huge chunks of lamb and potato to tear into, Irish stew is definitely a winter-warmer, although these days it is enjoyed all year round. Garnished with a puff-pastry shamrock to entertain the tourists Irish stew may not seem the most exotic of foodstuffs but it does at least provide a warm, even mouth-scolding, welcome on a cold day.
Irish stew with lamb and potato, served with a pint of Kilkenny’s famous Smithwick’s ale. Note the lucky pastry shamrock! (circa 2016). Photo by Steph.
English Fish & Chips – A dish after my own heart, fish and chips can either be the best thing you’ve ever tasted or, heaven forbid, nothing special. This is duly dependent on your mood, your hunger-level, and which chip shop you decide to try out. When done right it will go down a treat!
Everyone has their own preference when it comes to chip shop delicacies ranging from a battered saveloy, to chips and gravy, or even a simple chip butty (or chip cob if you’re from my neck of the woods). For me, however, make mine a cod and chips covered in mushy peas and drowning in vinegar! The very thought is making my mouth water.
Best enjoyed outside – by the sea if you’re so lucky – and with a splinterous, wooden two-pronged fork.
Czech Svíčková with Knedliky (sirloin steak and dumplings) – Underneath the eternal gaze of the astronomical clock face in the Old Town Square of Prague, the chimes rang out the evening hour – dinner time! Not likely to be the cheapest place to eat in Prague the Old Town Square does offer ambience and romance where the food lacks in quantity.
A miniature steak served in an admittedly delectable marinade, with slices of bread-like dumplings. Now, don’t get me wrong, Czech food does offer some very filling and plentiful courses. Sadly none were to be found at the square-side restaurants.
But the amount of food aside, what about the dish itself? The tender steak was deliciously prepared in creamy, peppered sauce and served with a dollop of cranberry sauce and cream. A strange combination one might think but one which complements the meat and sauce surprisingly well. The real tricky business comes with the dumplings. Their sweet blandness almost nullifies the whole experience and, although being good at mopping up every molecule of moisture on your plate, don’t seem to offer much more than a bread roll does at the side of a bowl of soup. The dish itself was pleasant enough, but I’ll certainly be looking to try something new on my next visit to The Czech Republic.
Czech comfort food; meat and sweet (circa 2015). Photo by Steph.
German Bratwurst – Never has a German Christmas market gone by where I haven’t enjoyed a hot sausage! If I’m not in the Christmas tavern guzzling from a tankard and awkwardly singing along to German ‘oompah’ music then you’ll probably find me outside sipping on glühwein and tearing into a steaming bratwurst.
Bratwurst and beer seem to go hand-in-hand with every merry occasion in Germany, from the festive family cheer of the Dusseldorf Christmas market to the world-famous drink-binge of Oktoberfest in Munich. Needless to say, much was consumed by yours truly on both occasions.
Usually sold by barbeque-smoking vendors with a slice of rye bread or in the bedding of a hotdog roll, the wurst is always something I get excited about during every festive season. As the grilled encasing bursts open with greasy, smoked flavour it truly marks the beginning of a jolly time of year.
As is true with most things, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and taste is on the palate of the taster. Therefore, I encourage you all to NOT take my word for it! Try it for yourself. Whether you agree or not with my gastronomic experiences and opinions, I am no expert. Keep an open mind, and an open gullet! Buon appetito, for now!
Featured image (circa 2016). Photo by Steph.