Culture

The Basics Of Eating Your Way Around Europe

Avoid the tourist traps and get the good stuff.

This piece is brought to you in partnership with Rail Plus.

There are so many reasons Europe is the ultimate travel destination: iconic landmarks, vibrant parties and, of course, the chance to overindulge in delicious cuisine everyday. Europe is an eater’s dream, but there’s a common misconception that it’ll cost you to eat well in the major destinations. While there’s always a risk of getting ripped off when dining in tourist hotspots, there are plenty of clever ways to enjoy Europe’s culinary offerings. Here are four top food havens for authentic European fare, and how to negotiate them like a local.


Spain

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Patatas Bravas (Photo: Raelene Gutierrez/Flickr)

Spain is an amazingly diverse country – each of its regions have their own distinct culture and it’s virtually impossible to run out of things to do and see. Spain is an especially great destination for foodie types – you’ll be spoilt for choice with regional cuisines and impressed by how easy it is to get great quality food. When we think of the Australian incarnation of tapas, tiny plates of pretentious, bland finger-food comes to mind, but in Spain it’s a totally different story.

Go to an authentic tapas bar in Spain and you’ll almost always receive a free (that’s the best price!) tapa with every drink. Common Spanish tapas include Gambas al ajillo (shrimp or prawns flash cooked in garlic, chili and olive oil), Tortilla Española (Spanish omelette/frittata filled with potato) and Patatas Bravas (spicy potatoes smothered in smoky tabasco mayo). The best cities for these tasty bite-sized morsels are Grenada, Seville and Madrid, where you can enjoy traditional Spanish drinks like sangria and kalimotxo at the local tapas bar and be fed for free. You can also find tapas in Barcelona and pintxos (the fancier Basque equivalent) in San Sebastian, however the tapas are rarely free in these areas.

If you’re after a more substantial meal (or don’t want to order a new drink every time the hunger pangs creep up), Menu del Dia can be incredibly good value. Translating to menu of the day, they usually consist of a two or three course set meal with a drink. Menu del Dia is available on weekdays from select restaurants between 1pm and 4pm.


Italy

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Pizza: the perfect food.

Italy is celebrated for its cuisine, and it would be blasphemous to visit this vibrant country without indulging in the classics like pizza and pasta. But if you’re after authenticity, stay away from the touristy areas, especially where famous buildings or attractions are close by. Instead look for cafes down back alleys and side streets, where you can dine with the locals on rich pasta and succulent seafood.

If you’re in the mood to graze, Italy’s answer to tapas, aperitivo, is the perfect choice. Aperitivo is like happy hour but even better. In bars that offer l’aperitivo, pre-dinner drinks such as Campari, Vermouth, Negroni, Aperol Spritz and Prosecco are accompanied by small complimentary plates of food, and sometimes even a buffet. The ritual of aperitivo is mainly observed in Italy’s northern cities, such as Milan, Turin, Florence and select places in Rome. It usually takes place between 7pm and 9pm and is seen as a way to rejuvenate the palate before dinner. While drinks are usually a bit more expensive during aperitivo, it’s well worth it for the food on offer. Depending on the venue, offerings may include snacks like bruschetta, fresh mozzarella, salumi (cured meats) or tramezzini (assorted sandwiches).


France

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You had me at bonjour.

France, especially Paris, has a reputation for decadence and high fashion, but eating in this picturesque country doesn’t have to be expensive. Paris is jam-packed with affordable creperies where you can get tasty French crepes with an embarrassingly large range of fillings: sweet options include traditional lemon and sugar, strawberries and cream or Nutella and banana, or go for savoury flavours like ham, cheese and egg or mushroom and spinach. If you want to eat local, be sure to go to the takeaway crepe stands where you can order these delicious French pancakes straight through the window.

Another fantastic way to find a wholesome French meal is by paying a visit to the local boulangerie. These traditional French bakeries usually sell tasty lunch options like quiche, croque monsieur (the original – and best – ham and cheese toastie) and simple premade baguette sandwiches. Alternatively, buy a whole baguette, stock up on French cheese and picnic in the park with a bottle of fine local wine for a truly French experience. Magnifique.


Germany

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Germany has the best of the wurst (Photo: Jessica Spengler)

Venture north into Germany and you’ll be met with heavy, hearty meals, full of chunky meat and potatoes. While it may not seem as exciting as the more Mediterranean cuisines, German food is still celebrated in its own right and goes down incredibly well with a stein of German beer. A traditional German meal of schnitzel or pork knuckle can enjoyed in beer halls across the country, while a currywurst is the perfect, filling snack for travellers on the go. The currywurst is a spicy take on the traditional bratwurst sausage, and was invented in in Berlin after World War II. You’ll find this much loved snack (it even has its own dedicated museum in Berlin) in all major cities across Germany.

One of the easiest and most affordable ways to travel across Europe’s famed food destinations is by train. A convenient way to visit all of the above countries is with a Four Country Eurail Select Pass from Rail Plus. You can select four bordering countries out of 26 participating European countries and indulge your tastebuds on your rail journey through Europe.