Europe’s Food and Drink
European cuisine is as varied as the many countries that make up Europe. While there are many differences between the various cuisines that fall under the term of European cuisine, there are also similarities. European cuisine employs meat as a central or important ingredient of many of its dishes, be it in the form of seafood or land-based protein. Not only is meat more widely used, but portion sizes also tend to be larger.
Also important to European cuisines are sauces, seasonings and ingredients such as wheat and the humble potato, which are the primary sources of starch. Maize is seen less in Europe than in other parts of the world, though it is the basis of the wildly popular Italian polenta dishes.
The countries in Eastern Europe have many similarities between their respective cuisines and many differences. The differences lie mainly in the location and climate of the country. Poland is known for their national dish called bigos and flaki, which is a traditional Polish stew. Kielbasa and pierogies are also popular and are seen throughout other countries as well. Russia is famous for vodka, as well as chicken Kiev, beef stroganoff and blini. In Slovakia you can find bryndzové halušky, a dish of potato dumplings served with sheep cheese and bacon. This dish is often accompanied by Žinèica, a beverage made of sheep’s milk whey.
The Balkan countries are, however, are much more influenced by the bounty of the Mediterranean and the availability of great produce. Even inside the Balkan Peninsula there are as many differences as there are similarities to the cuisine. Moussaka is the national dish of Greece, and in Albania the national dish is made of fried meat, liver, eggs and tomatoes. In Slovenia you can find horse meat on menus, and can even enjoy a horse burger from the Hot Horse restaurant in Ljubljana.
Northern Europe is another melting pot of various cuisines. Here you can find authentic Dutch dishes in the Netherlands, identified by “NEERLANDS DIS” on restaurant signs. In the north you can also find such national specialties such as haggis from Scotland, Irish stew and chicken tika masala which is arguably England’s national dish (or is it fish and chips, or Roast Beef with Yorshire Pudding?). Icelandic, Finnish and Norwegian cuisines rely heavily on the bounty of the sea as do other northern countries bordering the ocean.
Western European cuisine is arguably the most well known, world wide; from Germany’s national dish of sauerbraten to the famous bratwurst. When in Berlin be sure to order a currywurst from an imbiss (snack) kiosk on the street. Belgium is known for superb chocolate, waffles, and mussels with pommes frites. In Ghent, Belgium try the local specialty, Waterzooi, a creamy Flemish stew usually made with chicken, fresh herbs, leeks, potatoes, celery, onion, and carrots. And don’t forget to try some of the best beer in the world while eating in Germany and Belgium. Austria has gifted the world with weiner schnitzel and the tafelspitz from the Plachutta restaurant in Vienna is very popular. Vienna is also the only world capital which produces large quantities of wine, therefore wine bars are very popular. In France, Lyon is considered the food capital of the country. Famous for their cassoulet, Lyonnais sausage and tripe, it is also well known for their breads and pastry creations. Many famous chefs hail from Lyon, including Chef Daniel Boulud.
Southern Europe is home to some of the world’s best loved cuisines, and the best place on earth for pasta. Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region includes the food capital of Bologna, but Modena and Parma are equally loved for their balsamic vinegar and hams, prosciutto and cheeses, respectfully. Sunny Spain is known for their tapas and while most consider paella to be the national dish, locals consider it to be a Valencian dish.
No matter where you travel in Europe, you’re never far from great cuisine, and great beer and wine. The history of Europe can be tasted in the food, as many of these dishes are thousands of years old. The culture of European countries is maintained in their dishes which are loved not only by Europeans but by citizens of the world.