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!
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 :)
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 :)
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!