Because of its large diversity, it’s cuisines are very diverse. Food preparations and their dishes have been handed down through the centuries from the Greeks, Etruscans, Romans and other ancient civilizations. In many areas they can still be used today in one form or another. While some of these foods originated in European cultures others have evolved and changed due to several factors. Invading and occupying peoples brought with them new cuisines. Trade with other countries brought back foods like tea, pasta and spices from Asia. Europe’s colonization throughout the globe brought tomatoes, corn, peppers and cocoa from the Americas. So prior to that, what was Italian cooking like? Even today the influx of immigration continues to contribute to the offerings of foods in Europe. Turkish food is prevalent throughout Germany, Indonesian cuisine in Amsterdam and Indian in London.
Many restaurants cook with fresh foods so depending on the time off year you may find certain foods available and others not. This holds very true for regional areas that are known for certain vegetables and fruits as well as, wild game.
Here is an overview on what you can expect in offerings…
In most countries breakfast is coffee, juice, pastries and fruit with some also including cheeses, salads & cold cuts. Some places will make eggs available for English and American tourists. International hotel chains and those that cater to travelers in tourists areas will also provide a fuller breakfast menu. While in England you can expect a full breakfast offering with eggs, bacon and the famous Heinz pork ‘n beans at each restaurant.
In addition to restaurants and cafes you will find many deli shops where you can have a sandwich or salad for a light lunch. Pizza is very readily available in most countries. Street markets are common everywhere, there you can find breads, meats, fruits, cheeses and beverages for a picnic lunch.
Even though most restaurants are open, they do not serve food between lunch and dinner. Most start serving dinner at 7:00 pm or later. You’ll be able to enjoy a beverage in the afternoon but, no food. You can go to bars, especially in Spain and enjoy tapas. Tapas are usually bite size appetizers that are served with toothpick in them. When your done count the toothpicks to determine your bill.
For the average European, dinner is the biggest meal. Many restaurants offer complete meals for one price (prix fix) with appetizers, soups or salad, main entrée and dessert. These are normally specials for the day and no substitutions. In Italy the second is usually pasta then followed by an entree. If you are not hungry make sure you can order ala carte.
Popular Food and Drinks…
Cheese: Europe is great for the cheese lover as almost all countries have fine cheeses and use them in various cooking dishes. There are literally hundreds of cheese types, from crumbly to gooey and mild to stinky.
Breads: They are widely used everywhere with types varying from the famous baguettes to hearty rye breads in eastern and northern countries.
Soups: There are many soups offered, especially in the central, eastern & northern countries. Stews are also popular like Goulash and a good variety that are made with no meat.
Pastas: While we think pasta as just Italian, pastas, gnocchi & risotto are used in other ethnic cuisines. Sauces used with pastas vary region to region, even in Italy.
Meats: Pork & Veal can dominate the meat plates in many countries where in the US beef and chicken are used more. Lamb and rabbit are also on many menus. Sausages are a part of almost every cuisine but, especially in central, northern and eastern countries. As you head away from the seas to land locked countries wild game like, deer and wild boar appear on menus.
Slow Food Movement…
In the 1980’s American Fast Food restaurants started to establish themselves in some European countries in an effort to capture the American tourists. When McDonalds opened a location next to the Spanish Steps in Rome an Italian activists Carlo Petrini protested. Wanting to preserver European cuisine falling victim to fast food chains he created the Slow Food movement as an alternative. Focusing on promoting local foods and centuries-old traditions of gastronomy and food production.
The Slow Food movement incorporates a series of objectives within its mission, including:
- Identifying endangered foods for each ecoregion, where local culinary traditions and foods are celebrated
- Creating grassroots organizations to promote slow foods to the public
- Forming and sustaining seed banks to preserve heirloom varieties in cooperation with local food systems
- Preserving and promoting local and traditional food products, along with their lore and preparation
- Organizing small-scale processing (including facilities for slaughtering and short run products)
- Organizing celebrations of local cuisine within regions
- Promoting taste education
- Educating consumers about the risks of fast food
- Educating citizens about the drawbacks of commercial agribusiness and factory farms
- Educating citizens about the risks of monoculture and reliance on too few genomes or varieties
- Developing various political programs to preserve family farms
- Lobbying for the inclusion of organic farming concerns within agricultural policy
- Lobbying against government funding of genetic engineering
- Lobbying against the use of pesticides
- Teaching gardening skills to students and prisoners
- Encouraging ethical buying in local marketplaces
The Slow Food movement has become global expanding into 150 countries.
Seafood: Because Europe is surrounded on 3 sides by water and has major peninsulas, seafood is a much more prevalent than in the US. Muscles, herring, salmon, cod and other fish appear on many menus in western and northern countries. Anchovies, sardines, octopus, squid, shrimp and other fish are seafood staples in a lot in the Mediterranean countries.
Poultry: Chicken is available widely but, duck is also very popular in some cuisines. Goose is used in easter country dishes and wild game like pheasant and partridge is also served.
Desserts: Pastries are a big thing with most european meals. Famous chocolate desserts like mousse, layer cakes and other pastries with chocolate drizzled over them are heaven. Tortes reign throughout most areas with strudels everywhere is central Europe. Then are the specials like Creme Brûlée, Tiramisù and soufflés.
Beverages: For non-alcoholic it’s coffees in one form or another like espresso, cappuccino, Viennese and others. Tea is more dominant in England, Russia and Turkey. Hot chocolates are a treat in central and northern countries. Each country also has their own version of a soft drink but, you will find Coca Cola in most areas.
For alcoholic beverages, each country has it’s local wines and the noted Chianti, Burgundy, Riesling, Port, Sangria and of course Champagne. Beers are big everywhere and not just in Germany. Belgium lagers, Czech pilsners, English ales and more. Many are regional so if you have one somewhere you may never see it again somewhere else.
Spirits are consumed just about everywhere and Vodka is the most popular with regional spirits like Gin, Scotch, Whiskeys, Brandy, Cognac and other liquors.
Local Foods by Country…
If you’re of European ancestry, you probably know what some of the dishes below are as your family probably made these dishes to eat. Here is are some suggestions on the different dishes that are popular with locals from the countries listed.
* Indicates countries where the category word has no translation to their official language and the word listed is primarily used in it’s interpretation. Some languages use the same word for Appetizers and Entreés as well as the same word for Drinks and Beverages.