About Food

5 January 2000

To be honest with all of you, i don't know if i will ever be able to catch up with my travelogues. So i have decided to tell you about the food we experienced in the various places we have been. I will try to catch up on the other stuff as i go along, and most importantly, i will try to keep updates as we go along. I won't, however, make any promises!

Well, since i last wrote about food we have been through much of eastern europe and down the boot of italy to sicily. Needless to say, we have experienced many different foods and types. I have been able to eat mostly vegetarian, no meat other than occational fish, chicken, and turkey. This was hard sometimes in most eastern euopean countries but usually not a huge problem.

I have learned how much i truely enjoy german bread. They have bakeries all over the place that all have many kids of whole grain breads and other baked goods. I miss this when we are away. I don't know what i am going to do when we go back to the states!

We also love the organic dairy products that are so readily available and affordable in germany. more people there are definitely more concerned about eating healthy food than in the u.s. this has been true elsewhere in europe too, though we haven't found as good bread and dairy products as in germany.

Another cool thing about food in germany is that they have truely seasonal foods. When we arrived plumcakes were the traditional food of the season. When we went back in early autumn onioncakes were the popular food item. They also have a lot of federweiser, slightly fermented grape juice, at that time of year. Passing through this last month we saw potato pancakes all through the christmas market, as well as hot wine. I like the strong tradions that are associated with this.

Outside of the food listed above, i will go in order of the countries we experienced...

We spent almost two weeks in hungary and, unfortunately, ate almost no traditionally hungarian food. we shied away from most things because of the meat content, but also we had a kitchen so we cooked our own dinners and breakfasts anyway. Our most commonly eaten food on the street was falafel. As a vegetarian traveller, falafel has often been like heaven. it has no meat, usually a high vegetable content, and is very cheap. Since we went to hungary early in our travels, i was less adventurous foodwise than i would be now. So we will just have to go back!

Romania was hard for finding food, but that was largely just not knowing the system. We got little pizzas (not very good--too little cheese, canned veggies, and the sauce is basically ketchup.) we bought a little food at grocery stores and bread on the streets. We usually ate dinner at pizzaria/pasta bars. Dinner usually cost around $6 for both of us. then we stayed with a family in the carpathian mountains where we were fed to burst. We have lovely soups with creamy, tomato base. They fed us chicken because they couldn't not give us meat, but it was chicken from their yard. I didn't mind. We had rolled pancakes and lots of breads. We ate sooooo well. I don't know how much they fed us was tradional foods, though, since they have had international tourists in their home for a decade almost.

From romania we headed the long way to dresden. We went through hungary to austria. The food there was quite under exciting, but that is because we are cheap. Austria was so shocking to our wallets that it was hard to enjoy anything. We went from vienna to dresden, where we stayed with a family in the boonies outside of the city. We didn't see much of our usual favorites in the household, but when the grandmother would cook we ate very happily. She made pumpkin soup, pumpkin-potato pancakes, and pumpkin schnitzel. She made other soups and foods, but we liked the pumpkin stuff the best!

We spent about a week in praha, czeska. They have a largely meat-oriented diet, but there are so many options in everything there now, that we had little problem eating. Our hostel had a kitchen so we did a lot of grocery shopping for dinner and snacks. Unlike other places we had cooked for ourselves in, it wasn't really much cheaper to prepare our own food than it was to go out, but there was alway the vegetarian issue. One food we saw there alot was a meat patty cooked inside of a hashbrown patty. It looked pretty good. I think it is traditional food. we ate at a religious restaurant that was all vegetarian. The food was really good. We ate there a couple of times.

We went from praha to bratislava, where we stayed in a private apartment for a couple of days. We didn't venture out much for food there, either. We cooked dinners and ate lunch at the christmas market where there were potato pancakes, pancakes with grease, sweets and many other foods. We also went to a couple of regular markets and picked up snacks. We were told later that the food in bratislava is cheap and good, so we were a little sorry to have missed out. However, we did stay in another city in slovakia, where we ate at a really cool restaurant with musicians (fiddle and accordian.) they had some foods that looked similar to what we saw in praha, with many non meat dishes available. We ate well, in a pleasant environment for about $9 all told. It was a wonderful experience. The meal we had the next night at a less interesting restaurant was less interesting, but also quite affordable.

The best country for eating cheaply and vegetarian is, a little surprisingly, poland. This is because of bar mleczny, milk bars. in communist times these were run by the govenment and largely vegetarian due to price and availability of meat items. They are now private, i believe, but still most have mostly non-meat dishes. Every milk bar was different. We learned quickly a couple of dishes that had no meat: pierogi ruski (potato filled dumplings) and placky ziemniankami (potato pancakes.) in some places the pierogi ruski came with bacon on top and not in others. It was just one of those things. We discovered many other cool foods: fruit filled pancakes; many kinds of soups; rice with apple; beet, carrot, and cabbage salads; mashed potato with sauces; kasha; good hot chocolates (morning only); and something we didn't get around to trying that looked like a couple of big fried bread balls with various sauces. Each time we ventured to a new type of food it was very exciting. Since we were in poland over a week, and were eating at such untouristy places, we bought a pocket dictionary to help us figure out what foods to try (as well as for other communications!) it still seemed like such a triumph when we discovered something we really liked! Also, each meal we ate averaged $2-3 for the both of us. It was unbelievable. Also in poland we found really good dark chocolate! what more could we ask for? We ate so well in poland! It was hard to leave and have to pay more for less desirable, smaller portioned food!

And the food and price difference was big since we travelled directly from poland to italy, with only a one day stop in bonn!

As with everything else, the italians are very arrogant about their food. I think there is some truth to the quality of food here. For me, food in sicily has consisted largely of pasta, bread and cheese, and tangerines. Pasta in italy is NOT a main course. It is the first course, before the meat and bread course. They often have pasta soup. We haven't had a minestrone soup yet, but hot veggies and pasta in broth is pretty common. The bread seems to vary regionally. In western sicily the bread is quite good. The bread we had in florence and rome was all crust with a little fluffy whiteness. I have been told that the bread in eastern sicily is yet different, but i haven't had an opportunity to try it. Of course the cheese in italy is better than most places we have been. There are always multiple varieties of good quality. My favorite has been the parmesan. The local specialty is ricotta, which is not cheese. cheese is the curds in 'curds and whey'. Ricotta is made from the whey of sheep's milk cheeses. The whey is heated and this eventually becomes ricotta. Many of the desserts are made with ricotta. Ever heard of cannoli? That is basically a sicilian specialty. carmela made something similar that is a round sandwich instead of the sweetend, flavored ricotta being stuffed in a tube of a crispy cannoli pastry shell. For christmas they also had sweet, light, fried bready rolls with sweet, orange flavored ricotta on top. Yum. The oranges, tangerines, and lemons are picked off of the trees in people's back yards!

of course the olive oil here deserves a paragraph of its own. Before coming here i had no idea olive oil could have so many different characters. The best olive oil i have ever had at home is almost flavorless compared to some of the stuff the have here. I never knew olive oil (or olives for that matter) could be spicy! Young, green olives have a bite! The oil made from these olives has that same spicy aftertaste. It can be QUITE spicy too. I didn't expect the flavor, even after someone had told me about it. The oil we have been having in sicily is home grown and pressed. It is an opaque green color. It is really good. The stuff we have had at the table the last week is a little spicy, enough that you can't pour it on really thick or your throat closes up after you swallow due to the spice. It isn't so spicy, though, that you can't taste the yummy olive taste associated with olive oil at home. Some oils are though. It has been really fascinating. I think the best thing about the italians and their olive oil is that they know the stuff is healthy and they pile it on thick!

As far as food we have bought on the street, it has been almost all pizza. You can get little, round cheese pizzas at most bakeries, or you can get it by weight (in roma) in big (or small, your choice) rectangular chunks. It is much better than the pizza in easter europe, but not anything overly exciting in my opinion. The variety is unlike anything at home though! Our favorite thing to buy is gelato. In every other country we have been in, when we got gelato it was more like sherber than ice cream. Here in italy, it isn't quite the ice cream we are used to at home, but it is pretty nice. We usually just get a cone, though we got a huge banana split once that was awesome. Also i had seen a bunch of locals get their gelato in a breadbun (a real ice cream sandwich!) so i tried it. It was pretty good, just different than what i am used to. I'll have to try it again before i leave so i can say for sure what my opinion is. =)

So that is it for now. We are heading to france next, then hopefully spain and portugal before heading back to germany.

© Copyright Cheryln Crowl 2000



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