When it comes to culinary travel in Europe and culinary travel, in general, our contributors have a lot to say. What was originally to be a single post boiled over into a delicious three-part series, Dishes That Linger on Our Tastebuds. Asked to share a favorite culinary memory from their travels, they dished about experiences from rustic fare to gourmet meals.
We learned that when it comes to culinary travel in Europe (or elsewhere), it’s not just the taste that flavors the experience, but often the setting and story behind the food. Take a seat at our table and join us for this second in a three-part series covering experiences in the Americas, Europe, and Africa & Asia.
Culinary Travel in Europe
This is the second post in Dishes That Linger on Our Tastebuds. Our memories of culinary travel in Europe include dishes from France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Albania and Slovenia.
Also be sure to read:
Breakfast Platter of Local Cheeses at Hiša Franko in Kobarid, Slovenia
We rerouted our entire road trip itinerary last year through Austria, Slovenia, and Italy just to eat at a small restaurant in Kobarid, a remote town in western Slovenia. I was that inspired to find Hiša Franko after watching Chef Ana Roš on Chef’s Table, a favorite show of mine on Netflix.
As luck would have it, we scored a table on my birthday, and the experience was one I’ll never forget. We didn’t try just one dish, instead opting for their Late Summer Tasting Menu with 20 small bites to try. It was culinary perfection, with the Soča Valley reflected in each and every bite and amuse bouche. Guests are asked to stay the night in its B&B, which is charming and reasonably priced — plus, walking a few steps to your room feels good after a generous evening of food and wine.
Charantais Melon at Maison Prévôt in Provence, France
Melons arrived in southern Europe two thousand years ago, and have symbolized fertility, abundance, and luxury ever since. In Cavaillon, France, Charantais melons, heavy and sweet at harvest, ripen under a fierce Luberon sun. Every summer, Chef Jean-Jacques Prévôt showcases the fruit at his Michelin-starred restaurant. When Chef Prévôt invited us into his kitchen, we experienced firsthand, his missionary zeal for local produce. By the time we settled in for a luscious four-course meal, we were primed for naturally sweet, cooling, and potent flavor combinations.
Our starter paired the tutti-frutti of Charantais with the tang of citrus, the sweetness of seafood, and the umami of foie gras. We savored the melon’s fine-textured flesh at its perfumed best, dressed with vinaigrette and in a wild bass ceviche. Melon pan-fried with prawns heightened their flavor and candied melon complemented a tiny round of foie gras. A mini burger of salmon with a slice of melon provided heft.
The entire meal was a revelation, but our starter—bursting with nectar—was a rapture, transporting me to childhood summers in Mississippi, surrounded by the aroma of honeysuckle. Maison Prévôt re-opens this month after a two-month coronavirus closure, welcoming the return of summer in Provence with a melon menu.
Seafood Paella in Tenerife, Canary Islands
“Scientists suspect that taste and memory are inextricably bound. That taste, like smell, bypasses the part of the mind that is logical and educable and travels directly to the primitive brain, seat of instinct and memory.” (Source: New York Times Magazine, 1996, Food: Taste Memories by Molly O’Neill)
A seafood paella (Marisqueria y Pescado Fresco) enjoyed with several other international travel bloggers in 2012 is among my favorite culinary memories. I had arrived the previous afternoon to explore Tenerife, largest of the Canary Islands, a Spanish archipelago off the coast of Morocco. The location of this memorable lunch was Restaurante La Masia del Mar, which translates to The Farmhouse of the Sea. It overlooks the Atlantic Ocean in the small fishing village of La Caleta, in the Costa Adeje region on the southern end of Tenerife.
This classic Spanish dish is certainly a feast for the eyes, as well as the taste buds. I can still recall savoring each morsel, fresh from the sea—giant prawns, mussels, and squid, along with the saffron-infused rice, roasted red peppers and other vegetables. Although I’ve had paella a couple of times since then, this one remains the standard-bearer, as a taste memory I can conjure up, somewhat, through my photos.
Limpets at Faja dos Padres in Madeira, Portugal
One of my favorite culinary memories involves eating a regional dish of limpets on the friendly and beautiful island of Madeira, Portugal.
Whether you’re wandering through the market in downtown Funchal or eating an incredible meal you soon realize that food is an essential part of life there. My introduction to limpets came at a remote beachside restaurant, Faja dos Padres. I remember my dining companions letting out a sigh of delight upon seeing the giant platter full of small mollusks in shallow shells, doused in garlic and melted butter. They came with a typical side of addictive sweet potato flatbread called bolo do caco. The combination of flavors and scents is heavenly.
People often compare limpets to mussels or clams but I would argue they are unique. Slightly chewy yet tender with a delicate flavor, each so small you’ll look at the giant platter wondering who is going to eat all of them. Soon enough you’ll discover you’ve finished every last one.
Enjoying a glass of crisp Portuguese white wine and listening to the sound of the waves while eating my limpets made for a luncheon I’ll never forget.
Escargots And Mushrooms at Hotel Logis in Burgundy, France
Casserole with escargots and mushrooms
Many years ago I took a bike tour through Burgundy, France, covering 40-60 kilometres each day. By the end of the day you can imagine how hungry we all were. One of our stops was in Nuits-St-Georges, where we stayed at a Logis hotel. The chain usually has restaurants attached serving more local, traditional dishes. It was at this hotel that I had the most memorable dish ever.
Our stay was at Logis Hostellerie Saint-Vincent. Its cellar restaurant was supposedly built from the stones of the nearby Beaune prison, so our dinner certainly had a lot of atmosphere.
For my starter, I had a much richer variation of the usual Escargots à la Bourguignonne (snails in garlic–herb butter). This dish was a Cocotte lutée aux escargots de Bourgogne et champignons — Burgundy snails with mushrooms, garlic, bacon, onions, creme fraiche and other ingredients topped with puff pastry.
This appetizer was gigantic. Typically the recipe serves four people. In this case, I had my own cocotte. I ate the whole thing.
Apple Tart at La Bonne Excuse in Paris, France
Tarte fine aux pommes et son caramel au beurre salé. Crispy apple tart with salted butter caramel sauce.
I savored the description of the apple tart on the menu at La Bonne Excuse in Paris, France, almost as eagerly as I devoured the confection itself.
Apple tart, a traditional finish to any fine meal in this capital city, is the signature dessert at La Bonne Excuse. The restaurant, intimate and family-owned, is at 48 rue de Verneuil, a quiet street in the seventh arrondissement behind Musée d’Orsay.
Chef José Cabados’ apple tart is sublime. He requires 20 minutes between ordering and presentation at table to prepare each serving individually, in the moment. I welcomed the wait. It only heightened my anticipation.
Simply plated was a just-for-me flaky disk of golden pastry topped with thinly sliced apples, artfully fanned pinwheel-style and shimmering beneath a light glaze…at once elegant and rustic, refined and humble. A ramekin cradled warmed, salted-butter caramel. A spoon, nestled inside, ensured I could drizzle every drop of the richly bronzed sauce on my tart.
La Bonne Excuse means the good excuse. And I have a good excuse—rather, an exceptionally compelling reason—to return again and again.
Grilled White Pork Sausage at Kunsthalle Brasserie in Basel, Switzerland
The Kunsthalle Brasserie is an incredibly elegant old world space, featuring rich decor and colorful wall murals. It’s housed in Switzerland’s oldest contemporary art institution, founded in 1872 and dedicated to innovative contemporary art. This historic venue oozes warmth and provides an artistic ambiance, where visitors may enjoy lunch or dinner before or after an exhibition or concert.
The menu features Mediterranean, European and traditional Swiss dishes. My signature lunch plate of grilled white pork with veal sausage and traditional potatoes prepared with both Swiss and Gruyere cheese was a welcome comfort food experience on a very gloomy day in Basil.
The Swiss originally owned the name Champagne (a village located in the Vaud Canton) and are known for their love of bubbly. Brasserie menu items included Bollinger, Laurent-Perrier, Moet & Chandon, Dom Perignon, and a Cannonball Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Sonoma County, which made this California lady smile.
Rosette di Pasta at La Baita in Bologna, Italy
Most Italians consider Bologna the culinary capital of Italy; high praise in this food-obsessed country. When my husband and I visit, our first stop is always at a casual but exceptional eatery in the Quadrilateral area, the ancient part of the city where stalls and food markets line the cobblestone streets. Each evening, tables and chairs spill into the lively streets filled with locals chatting over aperitivos.
At La Baita Vecchia Malga, every glass counter and all the walls of the salumeria (deli) are filled with aromatic cheeses, meats and other regional products; whole legs of Prosciutto di Parma hang from the ceiling. But if you head up the staircase at the rear of the store, you’re in for a treat. A dozen or so tables and chairs with waiter service are set up on the atrium overlooking the shop where the fragrance from below wafts through the air.
Here, we settle in and order a bottle of sparkling Lambrusco with two orders of Rosette di Pasta, a specialty dish of the Emilia Romagna region. Formed of handmade egg pasta, ham and cheese (that’s shaped like a rose), it comes out of the kitchen bubbly warm, smothered with Parmigiano Reggiano.
Strawberry and Pistachio Gelato at Bar Gelateria in Sicily, Italy
When it comes to great food, my thoughts and appetite immediately turn to Italy. One of my favorite culinary moments is the gelato I ate in Sicily last summer. It was at the end of a food tour in the famous markets of Palermo. I had paced myself during our stops at the different stalls, knowing that some of the best gelato was to come.
A James Bond dinner in Mallorca, Spain
Our dining experience began with glasses of Veuve-Clicquot champagne, and we toasted the miraculous setting. The meal continued with delicious, artfully designed dishes, including buttery lobster salad, wild rice and garden peas, steamed seafood en papillote and creamy beet mousse, and grilled bites of asparagus. The glorious setting elevated an already enjoyable meal into our favorite dinner, ever.
I kept looking for James Bond because this is where he would be dining.
Can a meal bathed in the golden rays of sunset, alongside a luxurious beach in Mallorca make the food taste even better? Yes, I think it can!
Pasteis de Belem Custard Tart in Lisbon, Portugal
“It’s like a warm hug,” my friend said about the custard tarts we were devouring. I paused briefly from my slow, ecstatic savoring of the creamy goodness of my third tart to acknowledge that he was right on target. Eating these tarts not only made you feel warm inside and out, but also made the world seem like a better place.
Although these tarts are made throughout Lisbon, a secret trademarked recipe handed down from monks draws lines to Pasteis de Belem, a charming shop where they sell up to 50,000 tarts in a weekend as Lisboans and visitors wind their way through its labyrinth of colorfully tiled rooms.
These tasty morsels were just one of the many delights I found in the capital city of Portugal — a perfect introduction to what has been called the last affordable European city.
I love Rome, London, Paris and Amsterdam, but they can be a bit overwhelming and sometimes exhausting. I felt charmed and relaxed with the simpler accessibility of Lisbon. It was like, well, having just one perfect tart to select and enjoy, rather than the full array of a Parisian boulangerie.
And sometimes, one perfect tart is just what you need.
Seafood at Korali Restaurant and Beach Club in Ksamil, Albania
Albania—particularly the Albanian Riviera—is probably the most underrated destination I’ve ever visited. The coastline, where the Adriatic and Ionian seas meet, is idyllic and enchanting, easily rivaling the beaches in the Caribbean or Mediterranean.
And, surprisingly, it’s where I ate the BEST seafood of my life! During our stay in the small seaside village of Ksamil, we stumbled upon Korali Restaurant and Beach Club. Perched on a small cliff overlooking the turquoise water and white sand beach below, we dined al fresco on a shaded terrace with the cooling sea breeze and sweet, briny aroma of the ocean enhancing our experience.
After appetizers of cheeses, dips, and salads, we were served platter after platter of the most succulent and diverse variety of locally-caught fresh seafood you could imagine: perfectly seasoned octopus, buttery mussels, gigantic shrimp, and grilled fish. Savory, colorful vegetable side dishes accompanied our meal. And with flaky baklava dripping with fresh, sweet honey and nuts for dessert, a meal just doesn’t get any better than that.
Our feast was also affordable beyond what we imagined possible. Our little group of seven also consumed two bottles of wine and my margarita, and with all of that, our entire dinner for seven people cost just US $78 total! In fact, we loved our experience at Ksamil so much that I did something I have never done before while traveling: We ate every lunch and dinner there.
All photo credits by the respective authors unless otherwise noted.