During our latest fall trip to Europe this year, I became much more a carnivore and red wine sipper. I had meat and red wine nearly every dinner for over two weeks. Oh yes, we didn’t forget the pastries, especially in France and Germany.
Normally, I only eat meat 3-4 times per month at home. Wine for dinner is about once month. I had no idea I could change my palate temporarily across the Atlantic.
Burgundy Wine Region, France
After landing in Paris, we sped by train with our bikes to start our adventure in
the city of Dijon, nestled in the Burgundy wine region. There, we supped on local regional specialties of duck breast with deep cassis or black current sauce, escargots redolent with garlicky basil pesto and ouefs des (eggs) murette. Eggs murette were poached eggs in a deep meaty, red wine sauce — a satisfying dinner entrée that stands on its own.
In this French region, poached and boil-your-own eggs, were simply more common. Even at the Ibis hotel chain, the breakfast buffet had an electric water cooker with lovely, tiny wire baskets to dip your brown egg into the hot water bath to boil your egg. Such civilized care for do-it-yourself hot boiled eggs would not be available in North American hotels.
Though we were in the mustard-producing region of France, we didn’t find dishes with distinct mustard sauce on the menus. Instead some mustard was shyily folded into a white sauce with barely noticeable taste.
I snapped up a bottle of cassis wine and Maille truffle mustard. Sadly, I didn’t repack my luggage. My mustard pot was confiscated by Canadian border security authorities since it exceeded the fluid limits.
It was surreal to be cycling among Burgundy vineyards, with road signs declaring Grand Crus Wine route. We were spinning by the grand dames of wineries which produced the world’s most prestigious, expensive red wines in the world. More about this in another blog post. Suffice to say, we could not ignore opportunities for a glass of quality red wine at dinners, for far lower prices than we expected.
Our short bike trip in this region, included an overnight old guesthouse near the village of Nuits-Saint-Georges. Unexpectedly, a fulsome buffet breakfast was served in a guest room with stone walls and outfitted with castle-like ambience.
Like many hotel European breakfasts, often there was pate choices in addition to cold cut meats and bolder flavourful cheeses at several places where we stayed.
Onward to Alsatian Cuisine- French Food Touched by German Influence
Later, north of Burgundy, we returned to Alsatian cuisine in Strausborg, France near the German border. Centuries of changing country borders led to French food with definite German stamp. In Strausborg we feasted on a local appetizer — an eye-popping, huge flammekuechle, a very crepe-thin flatbread with cheese, onions, tomatoes, basil or a dessert version of thinly sliced apples. All washed down by red wine.
Kicking Up with Paella, Grilled Seafood in Barcelona, Spain
For the past three decades, I shop and visit markets locally and whenever we travel overseas. Meat is king in Catalonian cuisine. At the Boqueria, a large bustling market near the Gothic Quarter in Barcelona, there were many vendors offering various cured Iberian meat cuts. There were little appetizer paper pouches of sliced Spanish prosciutto, sometimes with fingers of cheese.
As a seafood lover, I did have paella twice at 2 different places. The first paella dinner was at the Boqueria Market, where we also bought a bottle of the restaurant’s house brand red wine for 10 euros. Our Spanish version of panna cotta was served in a small flat paella pan.
The second restaurant was in the Gothic Quarter of medieval buildings. Thankfully the paella was less salty and had more seafood cooked into the large paella pan.
Most memorable, was sitting at a seafood tapas bar and watching 10 employees prepare, serve and cleanup from seafood dishes for watching bar patrons. Here, our freshly grilled seafood platter includes 2 different types of prawns, razor clams, periwinkles, just flash sautéed soft squid, octopus and mussels.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany
This preserved medieval and Renaissance town is know internationally best for its large traditional German outdoor Christmas market. Here, Franconian cuisine is a bit heavier than southwestern Germany where Jack was born, near the French border. Here, we saw people cutting into huge pork hocks that had been slowly braised for hours, sausages and more.
Of course, we tried local interpretations of spaetzel, a German pasta cooked by dropping batter through a kitchen grater-like device in hot boiling water. Some spaetzel were a bit tough while other spaetzel was just soft to soak up sauces.
Culinary Observations for Stomach and Wallet
In French towns of Dijon and Beaune and in Rothenburg, there was a stunning array of bakeries with fresh bread and many different pastries. It’s a wonder
how these businesses can survive with other competitors just down the cobblestone street. Most pastries ranged from 1-4 euros each, at a quality in big Canadian cities, rarely found at much higher prices.
I watched a French food cooking tv show, where contestants shaped their cake creations with multi-layered torte techniques, cremes and fondant with aplomb, not seen on North American foodie shows.
Often in hotels, inns and street cafes in France, Spain and Germany, freshly squeezed orange juice was made before your eyes.
Tourists in European better hotels have the perk of a multi-purpose café machine at breakfast buffets: you pressed button of your choice for single or double shot espressos, cappacuinos or café au lait.
For Canadians to enjoy Europe, it’s best to think like the locals who have never experienced cost conversion of euros to Canadian dollars.
In France, Spain and Germany where we ate, we only felt ripped off at high prices twice and only because we didn’t spend an extra fifteen minutes to go off the tourist-stampeded track. An entree of duck breast with cassis sauce was 17 euros. A huge pan of seafood paella was usually 10-15 euros for 1 person. A glass of quality red wine (pinot noir, shiraz, merlot) was 3-5 euros.
Surprisingly after all that food, Jack had very little weight gain. My additional 4 lbs. dropped a week after returning to Canada. Admittedly, I felt slightly constipated with a lot of meat eating but not enough diverse veggies. Maybe weight control, was walking in cities, some light cycling and for Jack, the physical effort of hauling 2 folding bikes up and down staircases at European train stations.
It was an unexpected foodie adventure we never planned at all!