Eating in Europe
Rick shares his top tips on eating, including seeking out regional specialties, atmospheric places, good street food, and people-friendly eateries like pubs — great for meeting locals. Slow service (not rushed) is good service; savor the experience. To save money, picnic.
Complete Video Script
One of the great joys of travel is eating. Each country in Europe has its own distinct cuisine. Leave the tourist zones. Find places filled with locals enjoying seasonal and regional specialties. The variety of food is endless and if you know how to choose a good place you don’t need to spend a fortune. A few basic rules for eating your way through Europe: go for the local specialties — you’ll get better quality and price. Eat seasonally…don’t miss truffles on your pasta in the Fall or fresh berries in Norway in Summer.
The location can make the meal. Bosnia may not be famous for its food, but dining under the bridge in Mostar makes a lifelong memory. Most of all eat fearlessly try things you’ve never had in places you’ve never been. There are eateries to fit every budget. And while I recommend an occasional gourmet splurge especially in countries famous for their high-end cuisine like France and Italy, you’ll save money and improve your experience with Europe’s countless budget options.
Some of the most affordable and enjoyable food in Europe can be found, not while seated at a table but while standing in the street or the market. Every country has its own beloved street food. It’s fast, cheap, and delicious. In Greece try the corner souvlaki stand, and in Istanbul on the Golden Horn grab a fish sandwich fresh from the guys who caught it at one of the venerable and very tipsy fish boats. For a step up and a seat, there are lots of casual bars and bistros; home town hangouts where you can enjoy local cuisine in comfort without going broke.
One of the best examples of this is in Spain. Every town tempts you with tapas bars where you belly up to the bar and just point at things you’d like to try. In Denmark, I love the open-faced sandwiches which manage to be both simple and elegant at the same time. You can munch the best pizza ever, for the price of a fast-food hamburger in Naples where pizza was invented. The rustic simplicity of sausages and fondue feels just perfect high in the Swiss Alps.
And these days, pubs are more than friends just gathering for a beer — they can come with tasty meals too. By the way, interiors in Europe — from restaurants to hotels to pubs — are now essentially smoke free.
Especially in France, consider the cuisine sightseeing for your palate. And when you know the budget options, eating at the corner cafe or bistro costs only a little more than lunch at a fast food joint.
Most countries have a plate of the day — that's a plat du jour here. A hand-written menu — in the local language only, with a small selection indicates a good value. And the house salad makes a quick and healthy meal. In France, bread is free. [svp]. Just hold up your basket to ask.
In France, a free carafe of tap water is either on the table or will be quickly if you ask. When it comes to drinking — I go local: in Bavaria, it’s a liter of lager; Tuscany — a robust red wine; Provence — a nice rose; Ireland — a hearty Guinness; Spain — a rich Rioja; in Denmark — a fiery acquavite. And in Greece — it’s ouzo with a sunset.
Adapt to the culture you’re visting. Over here, dining is not rushed. Slow service is often good service. In a nice restaurant, the table is yours for the entire evening. To get the bill you need to ask for it. As service is often included and waiters are generally paid a living wage, tipping is less expected and often unnecessary. This varies from country to country. Get advice from locals.
Picnics are fast and fun — and give you a purpose in Europe’s colorful markets and shops. When picnicking, you can buy whatever looks good regardless of price.
Choose an atmospheric place to make your picnic memorable. We've put together a cheap and healthy meal for two; delightful cheese, a tiny quiche, strawberries, grapes, wine… a little something for dessert… and…a reasonable view.
Traditionally, on the Continent, breakfast is small. In France, locals just grab a croissant and coffee on the way to work. But these days, most hotels are offering hearty breakfasts buffets — complete with cheese, meat, yogurt, and fruit.