Every week, I document another dish that impressed and satiated me during my food adventures around New York City
I’m doing something I’ve never done before on this blog. And that’s because I just came back from an adventure that was unlike anything I’ve ever done before in my life. For six weeks of the summer, I was travelling around Europe meeting wonderful locals and eating amazing food. And I got paid for it!!
The real reason I was there was to make videos on some Urban Adventure tours. Stay tuned for 14 new episodes of Locals Know. But until then, to whet your appetite (and for me to re-live my incredible dream-come-true journey), I’ve decided to document the food I ate in each city.
So instead of picking just one dish of the week this week, I’m going to pick 14 – one for each city I visited.
LISBON: PASTEL DE NATA at MANTEIGARIA
I never would have thought I’d be back in Lisbon, but it was the first stop of my trip. And here I was. After a great vacation in this beautiful city last year, it was actually the perfect start to my journey because I felt like I had a good sense of it already. So I was able to get around pretty easily, navigate the metro, and already knew some incredible spots to eat.
Last year, I broke my usual mold of only including New York dishes on my Dish of the Week (that’s still the general idea here) and gushed over the grilled tiger prawns at the seafood mecca Ramiro. I returned to Ramiro this time and had those amazing giant shrimp, along with goose barnacles and a creamy stuffed sapateira recheada.
But you can’t come to Lisbon without being seduced by the pastries. And, of course, the most famous pastry (you can find it at every coffee shop to eat standing up with a quick espresso) is the Pastel de Nata. On my third day in Lisbon, I had three natas in one day (not the best idea when this is still my first stop – I want my pants to last the entire trip!) and the final one was the best. Just off a touristy square at the lowest part of Bairro Alto was Manteigaria where I got the heavenly custard-filled tart with a crisp caramelized exterior.
MADRID: OREJAS A LA PLANCHA at CASA TONI
I knew Spain was going to be an onslaught of incredible food. After visiting four cities in the Iberian country, I think I can safely say it is my favorite gastronomic destination. It’s practically impossible to pick just one dish in the capital of Madrid.
I had decadent (and flawless) churros y chocolate for breakfast at Chocolateria San Gines, ate the magnificent bull’s tail twice at Casa Lucas (featured on the UA tour), and drank vermouth every day but sill didn’t get enough.
However, the one dish I’m choosing was one I only ate a little bit of. When the giant plate of grilled pig’s ears (called orejas a la plancha) arrived in front of me at Casa Toni, I realized one of the few downsides of traveling solo. Nobody to share food with.
There was no way I could finish all of these fatty, succulent bits of ear. Yes, you heard me right: ear. The fat-laced porky nubs were so smoky and crisp, that they reminded me of a meaty marshmallow. I felt horrible leaving over some of them, but I just couldn’t eat the entire plate – even with the tangy aioli taming the richness a bit. (Disclaimer: I had been eating the entire day). But in retrospect, I wish I had just pushed through. I could go for a plate of those right now.
MALLORCA: ENSAÏMADA at CA’N JOAN DE S’AIGO
In Mallorca, most of my meals were spent with my hosts at their home. But what they so generously shared with me was not your usual homecooked meals. We ate tomatoes from their garden, bread and choriço they made from scratch, and snacked on a giant wheel of parmesan left over from their wedding in Tuscany. It was amazing!!
But when they took me out, they shared with me Mallorca’s greatest gift to the world: ensaïmada.
This traditional pastry seems like just a regular doughnut but the secret ingredient (which most Mallorcans don’t share unless you ask) is pork fat. Vegetarians beware, but you can’t taste the meat – it just adds something special and delicious to the yeasty round that you can’t quite put your finger on. The best one I tried was at the historic Ca’n Joan De S’aigo.
BARCELONA: SALMON MONTADITO at QUIMET Y QUIMET
The food in Barcelona blew me away. I didn’t have enough meals to fully satiate my appetite for this fantastic Catalonian food. But what I had was pretty incredible.
I managed to stuff my face in the two days I was there, including on the gutbusting tapas tour I took. It was so difficult to stop ordering food at Quimet & Quimet, a tiny tapas bar that specializes in small sandwiches called montaditos. I think the delicate smoked salmon specimen with truffle honey, yogurt, and balsamic might have been the best bite I had in Spain.
But I’m not sure because the marinated anchovies at Pinotxo Bar is also calling out from the back of my gastronomic memory. And so are the impeccably fried rings of calamari at Cal Pep. I could have closed my eyes and chosen any of the dishes I tried in Barcelona and they would have all been worthy of being on any best of food list. Seriously – Barcelona was no joke when it came to amazing food.
PARIS: Egg, Ham, and Cheese Crepe at LA CREPERIE DE JOSSELIN
Ah, Paris! When not filming the tour, I was running around the City of Love trying to eat everything – eclairs, steak frites, croissants, moules.
My favorite meal was probably at a true local joint called l’Ami Pierre with impeccable steak tartare, plump mussels, and a great pork tenderloin.
But if I could only pick one dish to take with me forever it would be the ham and cheese buckwheat crepes at the old-fashioned La Créperie de Josselin in the bustling neighborhood of Montparnasse. I paired it with the recommended dry cider which balanced the richness of the overstuffed pancake. Yet I certainly didn’t mind indulging in the salty flavors of the ham and the melted goodness of the gruyere cheese. After all, this is Paris and we know calories don’t count here.
FLORENCE: Lampredotto at IL MERCATO CENTRALE
Before I visited, I thought for sure the ice cream would be the most memorable thing I ate in Florence. And the twice-daily gelato serving I ate from places like Santa Trinita, Perché No, and Carapina (which we visited on the incredible food tour) were some of the best I’ve ever tasted.
But there were two savory sandwiches that have lodged themselves so deeply in my culinary memory, that I have to mention them both.
Of course both sandwiches involved rich meat, like the spectacular panini from ‘ino stuffed to the gills with the best and meatiest finicchiona (fennel salami) and pecorino cheese.
But the other was rather surprising. I knew I had to try the famous lampredetto while in Florence but I didn’t realize how much I would like a sandwich consisting of slow cooked cow’s stomach chopped up and topped with a green salsa verde. But it was absolutely incredible.
The tender tripe tasted like corned beef with hints of garlic and fat. The bread soaked up all the juices and provided the perfect vessel for this classic sandwich. I finally got this on my last evening in town at the impressive Il Mercato Centrale, but I wanted to try it from some other more famouse kiosks that were closed on our visit, but if they are anywhere near this good, I must get back to Florence ASAP. That and the ice cream, of course.
VENICE: BACALAO at OSTERIA ALLA BIFORA
Venice was difficult for us when it came to food because most of the best legit local restaurants were on vacation. We literally went to three separate places that were highly recommended by our tour guide only to find them temporarily shuttered. So most of our meals were at tourist spots that were close to the original restaurant we were hoping to go to.
But I did take the Urban Adventures cicchetti tour twice and that brought me to some historic and hidden spots that are less traversed by the hordes of tourists. We tried some great dishes like sardines soar (sardines pickled in vinegar), the best tiramisu I’ve ever had, and a local sparkling red wine Raboso (still kicking myself I didn’t bring a bottle home).
One night our guide Simona took us to a local tavern called Osteria alla Bifora where I tasted the Venetian bacalou – one mixed with tomatoes and the other resembling tuna salad. They were a nice contrast, one sweet and sour, the other rich and briny. It was paired well with the usual Venetian side dish of polenta. Yum!
ATHENS: RICE PUDDING at STANI
One of the coolest things about our visit to Athens is that we has been here already. And since we had some amazing food the first time around, we knew exactly where to go.
It’s super rare that I go to the same place again on a second trip. But on this return visit to Athens, we re-visited three: To Steki Tou Ilia for their to-die-for piadika (lamb chops), fashionable Brettos Bar (on the Bohemian tour) for their ouzo and mastic liqueur, and Stani for their fresh yogurt and frappes.
It’s Stani that was even better the second time around. The old-time dairy shop was so good we even went twice on our stay. And that never happens. We were temporary regulars.
And it was their homemade rice pudding with a cold, creamy fresh mouthfeel, a solid cream layer on top, and a generous sprinkling of cinnamon that made me want to go back a third time. Unfortunately, we will have to save that for our third trip to Athens.
BUCHAREST: Micci at CARU’ CU BERE
As I started heading further east into Europe, I knew I was entering a world of sausage, potatoes, and beer. And Bucharest proved to be the gateway.
Yet I’m kind of amazed to say the best meal of my three days in Bucharest was at a Syrian restaurant called Tulin. There was something about the spices and preparation of the dishes that was brighter, fresher, and more potent than the hummus and kabobs I’m used to in New York.
That being said, the most exciting Romanian dish I tried was their famous mici. This is, of course, what else, but sausage (and it paired perfectly with beer)!! This sausage, which I tasted at the trauditional beer hall and restaurant called Caru’ Cu Bere is skinless and studded with garlic and spices. In addition to the beer, it paired perfectly with the accompanying mustard.
PRAGUE: Svíčková at U KROKA
I can’t believe how much beer I drank in Prague. I mean I knew there was going to be a lot of beer but this was a lot a lot.
Thankfully to soak up all the beer, I ate lots of hearty food. Like a stack of giant blueberry and sour cream topped pancakes in the middle of the day at Café Sladkovsky on the end of the UA tour. And a massive pork kunckle at Mincovna amazingly in the touristy Old Town district. And a block of breaded and fried cheese at Lokal. That was lunch, by the way!!
The best meal we had though was at an off-the-beaten path spot called U Kroka. It was here that we tasted delicate garlic soup and amazing Czech ham. I also got to experience perhaps the best version (apologies to any Czech grandmothers) of a classic beef stew called Svíčková which is extra tender sirloin cooked down with spices and boiled in cream. For good measure, they serve it with traditional bread dumplings (knedliky) and, of course, beer.
BRATISLAVA: Ribs at BRATISLAVSKY MESTIANSKY PIVOVAR
The beer certainly didn’t stop over the border in Slovakia. We went from beer hall to beer hall and even tasted some slightly more experimental craft beer. It wasn’t all pilsners all the time.
I was surprisingly taken by some of the store bought snacks that the UA guides featured on their tour. I even went so far as to buy a bag of the unusual peanut-flavored puffs called Chrumky. I also went for a second serving before my early morning bus ride of a poppy-filled Bratislava Roll.
But it was a rack of pork ribs at one of the aforementioned breweries that takes the prize for me in Bratislava. The tour guides from UA told me they would be the best ribs in the world. I’m not sure they’ve been to Kansas City but these sweet-slicked baby backs were pretty darn close.
BUDAPEST: Chicken Paprikash at BORS GASZTROBAR
Oh Budapest!! Three days was just not enough time. Not only were there plenty more neighborhoods, religious sites, and greenery to explore. But there was a whole lot more food to eat.
More than any other city I visited, Budapest was rife with iconic dishes. Yet it was the hardest place to find traditional local food. I learned from my tour guide that when Hungarians want Hungarian food, they go visit grandma.
Somehow I still managed to have a really great strudel, plenty of sweet cakes, and a goulash or two.
The best dish I tasted came from a young and super popular café where some serious chefs are turning out soups and sandwiches modeled after classic recipes. I had a chicken paprikash that was just spectacular. It managed to end up all over my shirt but the portion that got into my mouth was spicy and rich with tender chicken chunks and dumplings that came alive with flavors. The entire thing was tamed by creamy piquant sour cream.
VILNIUS: Cold Pink Soup at RESTAURANT LOKYS
I’m not sure if it’s because it was one of the last places I visited (so the flavors are still fresh in my mind) but if you asked me my favorite dish of the entire trip, I’d be tempted to say the cold pink soup in the capital of Lithuania. My tour guides introduced me to it and I am forever grateful.
It’s sort of a play on borscht with sweet beets mixed with kefir yogurt (or soured milk), cucumbers, eggs, and plenty of dill. It was so cooling and refreshing that I even made it at home upon my return.
The cold pink soup wasn’t the only thing I loved in Vilnius. I became unreasonably addicted to the fried rye bread that is served with beer. It’s also rubbed with garlic and liberally sprinkled with salt. And I could have continued to drink the gira (or kvass) not only because it’s very low in alcohol but the mild and sweet rye bread liquid is seasoned with spices and goes down a little too easy.
AMSTERDAM: Herring at HARING & ZO
And then we come to Amsterdam. While most people don’t consider Dutch food the height of culinary ecstasy like Italian or French cuisine, they do have incredible cookies, fresh fish, and fried food that is just too hard to resist.
Of all the things I tried, most people would have chosen the stroopwafels from Lanskroon or the ginger and cheese pancakes from Pannenkoeskenhuis Upstairs as the dishes of note. And those were both extraordinary. But I’m not most people.
I couldn’t resist the buttery, fatty flesh of raw salted herring from the many food stalls around the city. My favorite was at Haring & Zo, which was introduced to me by the local tour guide. The fishmonger sliced up the herring and provided us with pickles and onions to pair with the juicy bites of the sea.