Monday, February 23, 2009

Top Ten Most Memorable Meals in Europe

No doubt about it, the best thing about living in Europe is the food. There is fantastic food nearly everywhere you turn (except, unfortunately, in the city we have called home for the last two years).

Here is a list of the Top Ten Most Memorable Meals we've had while in Europe. Now, these aren't necessarily the best meals, but the most memorable (although they are all pretty damn tasty). I also won't be including any meals that are memorably bad. Just memorable in a good sort of way

Here is the top ten, listed in no particular order:

  • Oysters in Paris
    We visited Paris 3 times in the past two years and enjoyed several Oyster meals each trip. I can't get enough of these slimy little suckers. The taste is like heaven. Some of the Parisians we talked to said that they taste better without lemon. I've tried them that way, but have to say that I prefer them with a little spritz of lemon. That brings us to Nino's Life Rule #1: When anyone asks you if you want lemon with that, always say yes.

  • Oktoberfest Food
    Growing up, I always liked Pretzels as much as the next guy. No more, no less. You put a pretzel in front of me and I would eat it. But I'm not going to go out of my way searching for a pretzel.

    However, bring me to Munich, and all bets are off. I'd kill another man for a pretzel. These things are out of this world. And, the best part, they are served in a variety of ways. You have traditional shaped pretzels, pretzel sticks, pretzel rolls, sandwiches with pretzel buns, etc. All fantastic.

    These pretzels are great when sober but, throw in 10 liters of beer at Oktoberfest, and they turn down right orgasmic. It's not just the pretzels. The sausages, the spaetzle, the bratworst... all amzing. I think I ate 6 feet of wieners in the 3 days I spent in Munich for Oktoberfest.

  • Fruit in Sicily
    When most people think of food in Southern Italy, they naturally think of pasta, pizza, fish, etc. Don't get me wrong. These are all out of this world. Some of the best food on earth. But, it's not the best food in Sicily. The best food in Sicily is, without a doubt, the fruit.

    Let's start off with the tomatoes. The reason the pasta is so good is because of the tomatoes. And the tomatoes in Sicily are just better than anywhere else in the Universe. I haven't been to everywhere in the Universe, but I still feel 100% confident making that statement. Go to America and get one of the best tasting fresh tomatoes right from your garden. It will taste amazing. Then go to Sicily and try a tomato. You'll never look at your shitty little garden the same again.

    And, don't forget about the blood red oranges. These look like oranges from the outside but, when you open them up, the juice is bright red inside. Very unique and very tasty. These are only available a few months a year, but well worth the wait.

    Saving the best for last... the figs. I can honestly say that I've never had a fig before going to Sicily this year. If you asked me last year to name my top 20 favorite fruits, figs wouldn't crack the list. Today, they're at the top of the list. I ate a full tree of figs in my week in Sicily this summer.

  • Traditional Turkish food in Istanbul
    The most fun I had at dinner in Europe was at a restaurant called Al Jamal in Istanbul, Turkey.

    For $100, you get a huge family style serving of traditional Turkish food and all-you-can-drink wine. The all-you-can-drink wine comes pretty handy - because the place isn't just a restaurant, but a full scale nightclub (with belly dancers to boot). So once you are finished eating, you stay at the club until all hours of the night drinking free wine.

    There is no menu at the restaurant. They just start bringing you food. It never ended. A variety of hot and cold appetizers (hummus, baba ganoush, etc.), kebabs, etc. OK, I have to be honest, as I am sitting here trying to remember what we were served, I am failing to do so. So I guess the food itself wasn't too memorable. But, I think that has much more to do with the all-you-can-drink wine than the quality of the food. I remember raving about how great the food was for weeks after... so it makes the list.

  • Authentic Cuisine from Central Asia in my office
    Here's a surprising entry to the list. My company has many people who originally come from Central Asia. Places like Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. And these people like to have a good time and celebrate a success with parties. When it comes time to celebrate a success (like the launch of of the Kazakh or Kyrgyz website) - they do so with food.

    Unfortunately, I have no idea what this food is called. It usually consists of rice with lamb, meat pies and similar food. It's all home cooked and it's all delicious. I can't get enough of this stuff. It's like a much better version of Chinese food. I try to launch new websites at work just to get people to have more parties and bring more of this food to the office.

    The one thing I don't love is Baklava. It's a little too sweet for my taste. But, I'm clearly in the minority here since this stuff is like crack for some people in my office.

  • Portuguese Breakfast
    I recently blogged about how amazing the breakfast in Portugal was. It's good enough to make my top ten list. This includes Pasteis de Nata (custard cream pies), Pao de Qeijo and more meat pies. In case you are sensing a theme here, I like meat pies.

    Another theme I'm realizing is how difficult it is to write about food while avoiding double entendres. Between my love of cream pies, six feet of wieners and Portuguese Breakfast - you can't tell if I'm writing a food blog or am a sexual deviant.

  • Ice Cream in Meda, Italy
    R's parents live in a little suburb outside of Milan called Meda, Italy. The town is marginally famous for its impressive furniture production. However, R and I think it should be more famous for a little, nonchalant gellatto (ice cream) shop on the outskirts of town.

    This is hands down the best ice cream I have ever tasted. Every trip to R's parents house includes more than one stop at this store. The best flavor is something called fior di latte - literally translated to "Flower of Milk". It's taste like vanilla ice cream laced with heroin and some magic fairy dust sprinkled on for good measured. If we're playing the association game: Fior di Latte is to Vanilla what Fillet Mignon is to a McDonald's hamburger patty.

  • Czech Beer
    Finally, an entry from my adopted home town of Prague. Beer's here!

    The Czech beer is world renowned. It's much more flavorful than it's American counterparts and much cheaper. You can get a half liter of local beer for less than $2. Sometimes much less. As such, the Czech's drink more beer per capita than any other country on earth. There is an old wive's tale that says girls should drink beer to get bigger boobs. You have to love a culture like this!!!

    The most popular brands are Pilsner Urquell, Staroparem and Budweiser Budvar. Interestingly enough, the last entry has nothing to do with the American Budwesier. The Czech counterpart started brewing 100 years before Anheuser-Busch started producing their own. There have been several lawsuits between the two companies and they have reached an agreement based on what name can be used in which part of the world.

    My personal favorite is Kozel. It's a dark beer - which I usually don't go for - but this is just too damn tasty. I will certainly miss the beer when I say good bye to Prague.

  • Crepes with Nutella in Paris
    There are many, many great things to eat in Paris. Croissants, seafood (mentioned above), steak frites, foie gras, cheese, wine.... just to name a few. With all of this high class food, it's pretty surprising that my second French entry on the top ten list comes from street vendors.

    Whenever I am in Paris, my breakfast is always the same. Leave the hotel, find the nearest street vendor and get a crepe filled with Nutella and bananas.

    The funny thing is that there is nothing particularly special or French about this meal. Nutella is an Italian based chocolate spread found on grocery shelves all across the world. Bananas are a tropical fruit. And while crepes did originate in France, the recipe isn't exactly rocket science.

    I'm surprised that little crepe stands aren't available in more cities. I think they would work perfect in New York (among other cities). I've seen a crepe stand or two in SoHo - but they certainly aren't wide spread. Maybe this will be my calling in life. If my little IT Executive career path doesn't work out, maybe I should just buy an industrial size vat of Nutella and open up crepe stands on random corners in Manhattan. I'll put on a beret, learn to speak with a French accent and make millions.... $3.50 at a time.

  • Tapas in Spain
    I'm one of the most jealous eaters I know. The worst 20 minutes of my life are between the time I order my food at a restaurant and the time it arrives. I absolutely hate it when someone orders a dish that looks better than mine. It ruins my entire meal.

    That's why I love tapas so much. Especially in a group. You just order a bunch of food for the table and eat whatever looks best. All food should be served this way! Of course, the best tapas experience we had was in Barcelona. Everything was perfect - from the cheese, to the iberico (ham), the vegetables and especially the sangria. There's no better way for a small group to share a meal.

I tried my best to cut this list down to ten items. But it was just impossible. There were so many delicious and memorable meals in the past two years. Here is my honorable mention. These meals are all fantastic in their own right - but not quite good enough to make the Top Ten.

Honorable Mention

  • Pork Knee in Prague
    If you ever come to Prague, you have to try these.

  • Mussels in Dubrovnik
    Great muscles... and cheap.

  • Octopus on a Plate in Sicily
    Very memorable. A full Octopus dropped on my plate. I had a knife in one hand and a fork in the other. I went to town.

  • Plachuta in Vienna
    A shockingly excellent restaurant in Vienna. Who knew boiled beef could taste so good.

  • Anchovies in Monterosso
    I never liked Anchovies - but my friend in Monterosso al Mare made me try and converted me for life

  • Pasha in London
    Like a mini Al Jamal... only much more expensive.

  • Donor Kebab in Turkey
    Best. Drunk Food. Ever.

  • Honey Cake in Prague
    R's favorite.

  • Spaghetti Lobster in Greece Islands
    This meal doesn't make the top ten because we had it on a tiny Greek Island but there is nothing Greek about it. So if we are judging it on being "memorable" it doesn't make the cut. But, the food was absolutely perfect and deserves special mention. The tomatoes and lobster were as fresh as can be.

You may be surprised that - despite our many trips to Italy - there are very few Italian meals on the list above. I think this deserves a side note. I grew up with a very Italian grandmother that made out-of-this-world home cooked Italian meals. I married an Italian bird who cooks amazing home made Italian meals. My very Italian mother-in-law cooks for me whenever I see her... and she may be the best cook of them all.

In short, I have become very spoiled when it comes to Italian cooking. I have yet to find a restaurant in Italy, New York, Cleveland, anywhere.... that makes Italian food as good as the three ladies mentioned above. Had I married a Turk, I'm sure I would remove Al Jamal from the list above and replaced it with one of my meals in Rome, Florence, Milan, or Sicily. But that didn't happen. I married and Italian and you're stuck with my list.

Check back tomorrow for the Top Ten Sites we visited in Europe.


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