This post is the first part of a larger collection of the 50 Things I Learned Abroad after a year spent in Europe. Stay tuned for more.
Food is one of the most important and exciting things for me to learn about when I travel so it should come as a surprise to absolutely no one that my first edition of Things I Learned Abroad is dedicated to eating:
#50 – I love a long and leisurely lunch, sometimes.
One of my favorite things (and actually least favorite but I’ll get to that in a minute) about eating in Europe is the eating style, especially when it comes to lunch. Its not uncommon to sit down for an hour or two, drink wine and have a three course meal in the middle of the day which is the opposite of how things are generally done in the US. Here, we’re usually found scarfing down a PB&J in front of the computer in the time it takes for the next webpage to load. In Spain, Italy and Germany we sat down every day, ate real food and chatted before getting back to work and it helped to make the day, even when when the work was exhausting, much more pleasant. The downside of the luxurious lunch break is when you’re stuck at your workplace across town, just waiting around, because it would take too long to get home and paying to eat out for lunch every day would start to negate the point of working at all.
#49 – The quality of eggs in the United States is a national tragedy.
I’m back the US now and cracked open an egg yesterday to reveal a sad reminder. Something that I never thought of growing up, but have now discovered… egg yolks shouldn’t be pale yellow! Its a symptom of our messed up food system and our out-of-touch-edness with what’s natural but up until living in Spain, I don’t think I ever saw a beautiful bright orange egg yolk, nor did I ever taste an egg at its best. Its not that you can’t find good eggs in the US but you have to be mindful of where they came from and what they ate there (but shouldn’t we always be?). I’ll definitely be buying my eggs from the farmers market until I can raise my own chickens someday.
#48 – The best food isn’t always where you think it is.
We’ve all heard about the amazing food in Spain but I’m here to give you the cold hard truth. The food, in Madrid especially, is usually nothing to write home about. Though I did have some delicious tortillas and a decent paella, nine times out of ten, the tortilla was old and rubbery and the paella, lukewarm and oily. Not the food mecca I’d been promised. Throughout my travels, I found that the best food wasn’t where I expected it to be. In Spain, Salamanca, Mallorca and Sevilla were great spots for food and in Europe in general, Budapest and Krakow were surprisingly delicious. My advice: if you’re a food-obsessed traveler, a) don’t park it in Madrid and b) don’t listen to anyone’s food advice.
#47 – Tapas are a game that only rarely get you satisfactorily fed.
I’ve written about it before and almost a year later, I still stand by my original sentiment: tapas aint all that. Usually, you’ll get stale bread with something on it (pork, cheese, potato) and even if you get something edible, do not show up for tapas starving or you will leave drunk and still starving if you have any food restrictions/preferences at all since you can rarely choose what you want. I can count on my right hand the number of times I’ve been impressed by a free tapa and sometimes I’m downright flabbergasted at how bad it is. I kid you not: at a very trendy, well-regarded restaurant, the tapa was Wonder Bread with plain cream cheese and the crust cut off. #TapaFail
#46 – There will be foods you’ll miss from home.
Coming from Portland, I’m used to a wide variety of amazing food unmatched in many cities though I’ll admit Berlin is definitely an exception to this. Southern brunch in the morning. Korean tacos for lunch. Deep dish cornmeal pizza for dinner. You usually won’t find this kind of selection abroad (unimportant when travelling but sometimes frustrating as an expat when you simply must have some Pad See Ew). Some ingredients are hard/impossible to find too so if you know you will just die without your almond butter (I’m looking at myself here), bring some for when you get desperate. If your cravings are more of the perishable variety, ask around for substitutes (hint: in Spain, requesón can sometimes resemble cottage cheese, though often its more like ricotta).
- Best Meal – Tagine in Marrakesh, Morocco (Perfection on our first night in the country. We could never duplicate that again, even at the same restaurant the following night).
- Worst Meal – [Tie] Smoked “Turkey Ham” Cutlets in Madrid, Spain (inedible) and Chicken Bastilla in Tangier, Morocco (Why someone decided to wrap chicken, nuts and cinnamon in a pastry shell and cover it with powdered sugar, I’ll never know).
- Cheapest Food – Poland (A decent meal in a nice restaurant will set you back less than $5).
- Most Expensive Food – Amsterdam (A crappy snack in a take away shop will set you back about $8).
- Food Moment that Warmed My Icy Heart – When two nice older ladies next to us at a restaurant in Marrakesh asked if we wanted to try their Croque Monsier sandwich when they caught us eyeing it while trying to decide what to order. When we declined they insisted and cut off a huge piece for us. After having been scammed and hustled in the souks, it was wonderful to have a genuine human interaction without an ulterior motive.
- Most Amazing View While Eating the Most Amazing Food – [Tie] Rooftop Brunch listening to prayer calls in Meknes, Morocco and Thai Curry in Italy overlooking the Dolomite mountains.
What are your tips for eating abroad? Have you learned anything that surprised you?