My favorite part of traveling, without question, is eating. I love trying local foods and eating at restaurants that take a local spin on traditional food. In our years of traveling, I love that there are certain foods that should (or can) only be eaten in their native country. Which means, when we arrive, food is on the list along with tour sites!
After talking with my family, we came up with a list of our favorite foods to eat when traveling to European countries, cities or regions. You may be able to find them other places, but they likely will not taste the same. Of course, this is only based on our experience. I assume this list will grow as we travel.
Haggis | Scotland
Sometimes it’s better to not know what foods are and just eat them. As with the haggis. Minced heart, liver and lungs are bulked out with oatmeal, onions, suet, seasoning and spices before cooking. Sounds gross, I know. Haggis tastes like crumbly sausage with tons of flavor. It’s almost impossible to find it outside of Scotland so my advice is try it. During our trip to Scotland, sometimes we found it as a layer on a hamburger or as the ground meat in scotch eggs, but it’s traditionally served with ‘neeps’ and ‘tatties’ (turnips and potatoes). But if you land yourself in a nice restaurant, and it’s on the menu, be brave and order it. It’s one of those foods I must have when in Scotland.
Semla | Sweden
The Swedes aren’t known for their fine cuisine, and when in Sweden salmon is definitely my go to. It’s fresh, delicious, and Swedish. [Note: Scotland also has great salmon.] However, for a very short time during Lent in Sweden (and other Scandinavian countries), Semla is available at all the bakeries. It’s a sweet roll with a hint of cardamom baked in, almond gooey filling, the most delicious cream, and then topped off with powdered sugar. The quality can vary from bakery to bakery so it’s important to try many to find the perfect one.
Apfelstrudel | Austria
Certainly, one of my favorite things, like the Sound of Music song says. Crisp apple strudel is a delight and an artistic creation, as the dough should be thin enough to read through it right before the apples are added. I learned this from our Austrian au pair many years ago. While in Vienna, we found apple strudel available at most Viennese bakeries and restaurants, and I’m sure everyone has their favorite place. We really enjoyed seeing them make the apple strudel at the Apple Strudel Show at Schoenbrunn Palace.
Dry Riesling | Germany
I first discovered German wine right out of college when my parents lived in Mainz. My mom loved visiting wine fests where she would proudly drink one glass of Halbtrocken Riesling. I’m convinced the Germans are purposely hoarding all the German wine for themselves and export the crappy sweet stuff everywhere else. You cannot get wine like this outside of Germany. Wine comes mostly from the Rheingau, Mosel, or Phalz. And Riesling isn’t all there is, but in my opinion, it’s really the best.
Schweinshaxe | Germany
This directly translates to pork knuckle, and it’s one of the most impressive dishes I’ve had. I have no idea how they make it only that the meat falls right off the bone. It’s usually a big enough portion (see above) to share and tends to be served with some kind of potato side dish and a knife stuck right in the middle of the meat. I have never seen this served outside of Germany so if it’s on the menu, I recommend it.
Xuixo | Barcelona
As I take you through our favorite foods, I’m starting to see they fall into three main categories: sweet things, meat, and drinks. Another sweet favorite we recently discovered on our trip to Barcelona is a sweet pastry resembling a croissant, filled with creamy filing, fried, and then dusted with more sugar. To be honest, I didn’t even know the name until we came home and looked it up. We enjoyed one of these at Pinotxo in the Mercat de la Boqueria after lured in by a customer who promised it would be the best thing we would ever eat. It was pretty amazing!
Churros | Spain
We went to Madrid when my kids were tweens, and this was the number one thing we wanted to try. Churros in Spain should not be confused with churros at the local county fair. They are long strips of freshly fried dough to be dipped in warm, gooey chocolate. You can’t drink the chocolate so when you’re done with the churros, you’ll likely need to buy more for dipping.
Kriek | Belgium
I’m not a big beer drinker, but when in Belgium, it’s important to embrace local treasures. Saying you don’t like beer in Belgium is like saying you don’t like fruit. There are over 800 varieties of beer in Belgium so with just a few days, or a week in our case, we barely scratched the surface. Kriek is a very different kind of beer made with sour cherries. It’s one of the most unique combinations, and its very refreshing and low alcohol. Served in its own special glass, like Belgian beer always is, it’s worth getting a glass on a hot afternoon.
Lamb | Iceland
Icelandic lamb is so awesome these sheep have their own website. Lamb is good, but in Iceland lamb is part of the landscape, the culture, and the dinner table. Every year the sheep, all tagged with identifiers, roam freely on the grassy plains of Iceland. I’m sure the elves are playing some music while they graze. Then in the fall herding the sheep is an event as they are corralled by owners in kind of a party atmosphere. When dining in Iceland, it’s important to keep in mind its very secluded location. While they import food, making it very expensive, culturally Icelanders understand the cycle of life. Eat (and eat all parts) of what you can raise, hunt, or catch. The lamb is said to be some of the best in the world because the sheep are free to roam. I won’t lie, it’s some pretty amazing meat.
Hot Dog | Iceland
I know this sounds really funny, but I swear the best hot dog I ever had was in Iceland at Bæjarins Beztu. Our tour guide pointed it out during our walking tour. Apparently, this place was made famous by people like Bill Clinton. He said it was good, really good, but the lines get long. I went back later in the day for a “snack,” and by then the queue was gone. The hot dogs are made from lamb and have some delicious sauce and crispy onions. I’m not sure why this combo is just right, but it was indeed the trifecta.
Smørrebrød | Denmark
These open-faced sandwiches called Smørrebrød are everywhere and piled high with what seems to be way too many ingredients, they are a fun mix of hearty bread, some kind of creamy goodness, and veggies, egg, shrimp or salmon. I have tried making these at home, but the right combination seems to be key. The most important thing: do not eat these with your hands. You must use a fork and knife.
Croissants | France
This seems like a no brainer, but when visiting France, this is the first thing I want to eat. Pastries and breads from almost any patisserie are delicious and amazing, but the simplicity of a croissant made correctly is perfection. I love the crispy, flaky outside and inside is like a cloud puff. No other country seems to get this simple breakfast item quite right, except Belgium and maybe Iceland which come a close second and third.
Related: The Sweetness of Paris: Macaron Tour
Escargot | France
I will do a separate post on food in France so this list isn’t by any means complete, but escargot is highly under-rated. My oldest ordered these at a local restaurant in St. Germain during our last visit, and I had forgotten how delicious they are. We’re a pretty food adventurous family and slimy things don’t bother us much—mussel, oysters, raw fish—so snails seemed the next step. Similar to mussels, the slimy little guys take on the flavor of the sauce so it’s important to get delicious sauce, and who better to create the best sauce? Voilà, the French.
Semla Photo by Frugan on Flickr
Smørrebrød Photo by Caroline Hadamitzky Lonely Planet