Special Report: Eating Our Way Through Europe!

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As you may know our family had the opportunity to go on the trip of a lifetime this summer. For the first time ever we took our daughters beyond the borders of the US, and together we visited England, France, Switzerland, and Italy – and what an experience it was! This was one of those trips where “scope creep” ruled. We initially decided we wanted to visit my cousin and his family who have been living in Paris for a year, and the plans just grew from there. Because once you take the plunge to buy plane tickets to travel all that way – why not? One thing I learned from this trip is that our daughters, at 8- and 6-years old, are at the perfect age to go on an adventure like this. They were total troopers even when we pushed the limits more than intended (dinner at 9:30 anyone?). I was really impressed with how well they dealt with so many new (and foreign) environments, the six hour time change, and the days that sight-seeing honestly wore out all four of us. I was diligent about having them keep a daily journal (that they also taped mementos into – like train tickets and museum passes) so they will hopefully remember this experience for years to come!

Europe Visit

Now, let’s discuss the food! For the very first time since our switch to real food we were honestly in just a “go with the flow” mode while on this trip. At home I am very diligent about packing my own food for trips, asking questions before ordering at restaurants, planning ahead, and the like – but with us being gone for so long, knowing there would be a language barrier, and also visiting places that are known for an overall “fresher” cuisine we had little choice other than to just relax quite a bit. And we survived of course! Although, I will say now that we are home, I am looking forward to getting back on track in the real food department :)

Europe Food

Some of the dishes these countries are most known for…

  • London: Bangers and Mash (Sausage and Mashed Potatoes)
  • France: Pastries, Croissants and Crepes
  • Switzerland: Fondue, Pizza (with a potato pancake crust)
  • Italy: Homemade Pasta, of course!

I was adamant about eating local cuisine whenever we could. While the sushi in Rome was tempting – I did not give in! I will say though that we did eat Indian food in London, because (we were told) London is actually known for their Indian cuisine. And I am so glad we did because it was some of the best I’ve ever had. Other than that though we pretty much stuck to “When in Rome…” well, you know the drill :). One of the reasons I was excited about this trip was to experience some different food cultures and also be inspired by the cuisine. Part of what I do for a living is develop recipes, and I can’t wait to work with the new ideas I came home with.

In the meantime though, and in no particular order, here are some food-related observations I took away from our trip…

  • I found it interesting that every single restaurant we ate at in France (except for one) had a kids menu. The offerings were better than what you would find in the US, although still very much “kid oriented.” In my experience kids menus are much fewer and farther between here at home. I am not sure what to make of it, but it was definitely not something I was expecting.
  • In France they like to eat things RAW. And I am not just talking about veggies and fruit – raw meat and fish was not uncommon. One dish in particular consisted of steak that had been chopped in a way that made it look very similar to ground beef – and it was served in one big red pile, completely raw!
  • Also in France we had the opportunity to shop at a farmers’ market. The butcher vendor had me on my toes…their “whole” chickens still had all the parts you can imagine attached, the kabobs were made with organ meats, and they had some sort of tiny animal brains for sale (no, thank you!).
  • At supermarkets milk and eggs were generally not refrigerated. The milk was ultra high temperature pasteurized, which is also something that is sold here in the US and technically does not need refrigeration. In other news – yogurt is BIG business there…the yogurt aisles go on and on and on and yogurt was part of my breakfast most days. The yogurt was refrigerated in case you are wondering :)
  • Processed foods are not quite as “super-sized” as they are here in the states, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t consumed. There was certainly no shortage of McDonald’s locations or bottles of Coca-Cola’s from what we could see. No one is perfect after all (not even the French)!
  • Speaking of portion sizes, in all honesty we found restaurant portions to not be too far off from the US. Just like we do here at home my husband and I often split meals (usually an appetizer and an entree) – that is when it wasn’t a set menu. They sure do like their set menus (pick one from each category) in France!
  • Artificial food dyes are in fact accompanied by a warning label on packaged food and therefore not used as commonly as they are here.
  • It was interesting to see how true these countries were to their stereotypical cuisines. From buffalo mozzarella and thinly sliced proscuitto found at the gas stations in Italy to croissants on every corner in France – they sure do live up to their reputations!
  • Our least favorite food was honestly in Paris. I am not sure if we were guilty of high expectations or just ran into too many tourist traps, but it just did not compare to the wonderful French cuisine we experienced when we stayed in the countryside south of Paris.
  • In Italy many restaurants didn’t even open for dinner until 7 or 7:30 – quite a different schedule than we are used to here at home. And many of their restaurants notate which menu items are frozen/premade versus made fresh in house  (we were actually told it was required).
  • Apparently the French don’t measure out for recipes much (at least the way we do). The farmhouse we rented (through VRBO.com) had no measuring cups or spoons to be found…and, according to my blog readers who reside in that area of the world, the French either wing it or use kitchen scales instead.
  • Okay, this is not related to food, but it’s related to health. Europeans sure do love to smoke! Yes, they seem to be ahead in so many ways when it comes to eating more wholesome and fresh foods, but we could not get over how many people were smoking cigarettes every place we visited. Even including a waitress as she was waiting on one of her outdoor tables – true story.

For those of you that have also traveled to (and eaten your way through) Europe I’d love to hear your thoughts and impressions in the comments below! And with that I’ll leave you with some more pics of the good eats we were able to experience on our trip :)

good eats

On one last note, the French sure do know how to celebrate birthdays! My husband turned 37 while we were there and just check out the birthday dessert plate they brought out (much to my surprise!). Forget the candle – it’s a full blown firework! What a memory!


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85 comments to Special Report: Eating Our Way Through Europe!

  • Emily T.

    I was lucky enough to spent some time in Spain this summer. Most of the time I lived with a local family, so I was able to experience what the locals eat every day. I found it interesting how often foods were repeated. We ate the same soup two or three times a week–the three weeks I was there we only ate three different types of soup (and soup was served every day as our first course at lunch). Also I found it interesting that the concept of diet food did not exist. My Spanish “mom” was trying to lose a few pounds, so she was eating what she called sad food. It was the same food we ate, but minus the ingredients she thought were fattening. Learning about different food cultures is one of the big reasons I travel–how people think and choose to experience food is a great way to learn about people and their culture.

  • As a native Texan with 4 kids living in Austria for the last 13 years, I can relate to your experience. I blog about and help people with the Autism and ADHD diet, which we also follow, so food for us must be restricted to no gluten, dairy, soy and artificials.

    All measurements are done by weight, which I’ve grown to like much more than volume of cups and spoons. It’s much more accurate.

    Though still not perfect, I love the fact that the food here is healthier thanks to the laws being stricter than in the US. Yes, many of the exact same junk foods from the US food companies are available here now, but they use natural ingredients like real sugar instead of HFCS and natural food colorings because the laws are different. If they can do it here, they can do it there… sadly, they just don’t have to.

    My first culture shock about Austrian culture is that they take 2-3 hour lunch breaks from store hours. They literally close up the whole store for that time. It has changed a lot so that the major store chains don’t do it, but the smaller locations still do. Everything closes around 6-7pm daily, between noon and 6 on Saturdays, and everything is closed Sundays. No late night or weekend runs to the store!

    For the food, they are very particular about good quality, organic, and no gmos. It’s not always prepared the best way, like deep fried schnitzel and fatty sausages of all kinds, but I like knowing the quality is good and I can prepare it how I want!

    Sorry for such a long comment, but I’m a passionate foodie myself and you hit a topic of interest! :) Love your blog – thanks for sharing!

  • Pippa

    Its true that the French don’t use measuring cups or spoons, no Europeans do, its very much an American thing, which is why you would never find a set in a rental house. I live in Ireland, and don’t know anyone who uses cups!!

  • We’re planning a trip to Europe next autumn, can’t wait! Very interesting observations too. Although I blog about food recipes, I rarely measure anything with cups or spoons unless I’m baking. I like the best guess and taste test method. :)

  • Sandi Sparkles

    Please study your meat…where it comes from, what happens to it,
    and what is in it!

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  • Grace

    Thanks for the post! In one of your pictures it looks like you had Creme Brûlée? If so, was it thin or thick (like pudding)? Did you have boeuf bourguignon? Also, what was the birthday dessert served for your husband? I am very interested in French cooking and healthy eating, and would love to know as much as I can. I make these items from the Julia Child cookbook and am wondering how close mine is to the real thing. Thanks again for your inspiring blog!

  • Kate

    My husband has never been able to eat fried food here, even as a kid. When we went to Switzerland this past summer, we had Wiener Schnitzel, another popular dish, several times (with fries…). Interestingly, none of that ever bothered his stomach, even though it was all fried food! I would love to know how they prepare it and what ingredients they use, since it’s obviously very different from how they prepare it here.

    • Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hi Kate. I think traditionally it is cooked in lard or clarified butter. We fry most things (in this country) in cheap, chemically processed, refined oils. That might be the difference. ;)

      • I just came back from living in Germany for 3.5 years, and I notice such a difference in the food here in America vs. in Germany (and other parts of Europe I traveled to). I laughed at the image of the waitress smoking while serving tables. I know I saw a lot of smokers in Germany.

        I felt great, physically, eating foods in Europe. I do puzzle over what the difference is in America, but like you said, it must be the weird food additives/processing that happens to our food. Interestingly, Germans do use oils like canola (called rapsol in German).

        I really enjoy this blog, and I really agree that eating real foods is the key to health (not to mention taste).

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