Europa!

Andreae Prozesky goes all Euro.

Every now and then, life throws a funny little treat your way. For example, last month I found myself in the weird position of having to fly to Paris, to bring my daughter there so that she could spend Christmas with her father. I’m not the kind of person who gets free trips to Europe on a regular basis. Free rhubarb, yes. Free tickets to Paris, not so much. Now, if I were a somewhat more, um, salaried individual, I would have taken this opportunity to whip out a travel guide and start highlighting restaurants. Budgets would be written, routes would be planned out, reservations would be made. But alas, I am a woman of limited financial means. I did the math and determined that my gustatory tour of Europe and the UK would have to be strictly one of snacks and street food.

Which is no great trial. Street food is something that is done brilliantly in the so-called old world. Munching on a delicious doughy something while window-shopping or people-watching is a great pleasure. Paris, a city that prides itself on not snacking (why would you need to snack when lunch lasts two hours?), is actually a snacker’s dream. There are pastry shops on every corner, with lovely breads and sweets displayed alluringly in the windows. Who could possibly walk by and not grab a bite? Brussels is more laid-back about ambulatory eating; people walk about scarfing down waffles all over the place. It’s lovely. I mean, they’re not at it all the time, they’re not sitting at their desks tapping their fingers and itching for their next waffle break or anything. But the waffles are there and the people eat them. And as for London, well, if there’s something you want encased in pie crust, London’s the city to do it in. It’s a pie kind of town. Pork, steak, pork, mincemeat, pork, bring it on. Did I mention pork? Boy, they sure love pork in England. Like, a lot.
In the spirit of Best-of lists, I offer you the Best Itinerant Food Experiences of My Trip to Europe and the United Kingdom, December 2007. In chronological order:

1. London, England: free samples at Borough Market, mid-way through a wonderful walking tour with my friend Flora, who loves food as much as I do. Hungry from wandering about posing for photos in front of various Things Historical, we picked our way through the market—which was London’s first food market, and which has been at its current site for 250 years—and filled up on little tastes of bread, cheese, weird truffle-oil-laced honey (a very bad idea), hippie spelt Christmas pies, cheese, more cheese, pesto, and perhaps some more cheese. After having sampled all the cheeses, Flora bought a truly delicious smidgen of something Welsh; I can’t remember the name of it and I can’t find it online but believe me, it was amazing.

2. Brussels, Belgium: Smoutebollen, which is a Dutch word meaning “balls of dough fried in lard,” but they are oh so very much more than that. They’re the lightest, puffiest hot golden clouds of deep-fried deliciousness, served straight out of the seething grease into a paper cone and into your hands, but not before being coated in a thick snowfall of icing sugar, which kind of half melts onto them, making a bit of a sweet, sticky crust. Oh. My. God. Smoutebollen are common at outdoor events—we ate them while wandering around the Christmas market off the Grand Place (old city square, absolutely amazing… the streets are all named after the different guilds that used to sell their wares there. There was once a street dedicated to the sale of herring). You’re meant to eat them with these silly, tiny two-pronged plastic forks, but you end up having to use your fingers. Which get slightly burned. But you don’t care.

3. Paris, France: macarons, which bear no resemblance whatsoever to what we call macaroons. Macarons are sandwich cookies made of almond-y meringue that is baked so that there’s a paper-thin layer of crispness on the outside, then it’s all squishy and dense on the inside. The two sides are glued together with rich ganache or buttercream filling, and the effect is extraordinary. I managed to sneak three chocolate and three pistachio macarons home in my suitcase and even half stale they’re ten times more delicious than any pastry I’ll find around here. Which is only kind of depressing, because I still have three left. Heh heh. When I master the technique for baking my own, I’ll let you know. Until then, back away from the cookie tin, ya dirty sleveen!

So there you have it. For the record, I also ate fish and chips with mushy peas while in England, and the traditional mussels with fries and mayonnaise while in Belgium. Both were fantastic. Next time, perhaps I’ll have squirreled away enough cash to have a couple proper nights out. Even if I don’t, I’ll still manage to eat too much of the most delectable street food out there.

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The Best Things to Eat That You Won’t Have to Leave St. John’s For

Lest you start to feel bummed out over the delicious treats that you can’t get here, I offer you this list:

1.   Croissants. Trust me, I consumed many while I was in Paris, and the croissants at the Georgestown Bakery are just as good as any of them.

2.  Wild berries. There are lots of berries used in northern European cooking; over here, we get to pick our fill of them for free every year. Ha ha! Free blueberries for the taking! You can’t get that in Paris (I don’t think…).

3.  Hot turkey sandwiches. I don’t know what this says about me, but for the second week that I was away, I wanted a hot turkey sandwich so badly. I was obsessing over them completely. By the time this goes to press I will finally have had one. Topped off with a precious Parisian macaron au chocolat. Awww yeah.

Send your questions, comments, and euro-style suggestions to dreae@thescope.ca

88 comments

  1. Kim Mackay · July 14, 2006

    I love Food Nerd…to know I am not alone in worshipping rhubarb. Thanks for being you!