The Artful Epicurean: Eating my way around Europe
As a starving art student at SCAD Atlanta, I am grateful to have a significant other that is borderline-obsessed with finding cheap flights. When we stumbled across a ticket to Dublin for $400 (ah yes, the luck o’ the Irish), we acted quickly and booked a flight for the first day of SCAD’s winter break. I worked as much as I could to save, counted my spare change and kept it in a mason jar, and stayed away from Lenox Mall for the next three months to make this dream come true. Drooling over the details of the trip and a list of dream destinations I’d made from my art history classes, we soon learned how cheap it is to travel around Europe while you’re there, so we booked a few more stops — Amsterdam, Geneva and London — and voila! Our adventure was created. But this is not just a story about travel and seeing the world, it is one of tasting the world, one city at a time.
We arrived in Dublin and hit the pavement immediately to go on a walking tour (which I highly recommend doing if you’re new to a city — they’re usually free!). Hungry and jet-lagged, we quickly found the nearest pub soon after the two-hour walking tour ended. We walked into The Boxty House, not knowing what we were in for. Since it was my first day in Ireland, I figured I should start with a traditional plate of corned beef and cabbage and a side of boxty. Now one thing you should know (if you don’t already) is that everything in Ireland is centered around two essential things: Bono and potatoes. Potatoes are included in just about every meal — breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack. Boxty is a specialty though; a pancake made of —you guessed it! — potatoes. It’s fluffy and filling and served with a warm, savory gorgonzola cream sauce. This was the moment my sinfully divine, two-week love affair with European cuisine began. Throughout our time in Dublin, and a short drive on the opposite side of the road to Galway, I became one with the sacred spud: steak and ale pie with potatoes, colcannon potatoes, mashed and boiled potatoes. I would recommend this Colcannon recipe (don’t skimp on the butter and cream) if you’re up for trying the most authentic way of paying respect to the Emerald Isle.
We said an Irish blessing and headed out for our next stop: Switzerland. My first Swiss Air flight was only $40 and they served wine, chocolate and an aromatic cheese quiche free of charge in coach (needless to say, I felt like royalty). Now the thing you must know before going to Geneva is that the food is (g)astronomically expensive. We started our time in “The City of Peace” with yet another free walking tour (#trendsetters), and finished in the old part of town near a quaint-looking café, like something you’d see in an Audrey Hepburn movie. We raced out of the bitter cold and into the cozy warmth of the restaurant, which smelled of mulled wine and gouda. We ordered cheese fondue with bread and a plate of rosti with sausage. Rosti is a traditional Swiss meal made of (surprise!) potatoes, pan-fried in oil with cheese and onions; similar to a hash brown, but grated differently and cooked with more oil. Along with rosti, chocolate and cheese are also the national treasures of Switzerland (of which we definitely had our fill of on this leg of the trip). This lunch was delicious, and I can still taste the savory flavors when I think back on it, but quickly lose my appetite when I remember how much it cost (close to 60 euros, which equates to about $70 USD). If you’re interested in creating your own Swiss meal, grab some sausage and check out this potato rosti recipe (it’s definitely not the wurst thing you could do over the weekend). We barely blinked and our time in Geneva was over, so we filled our suitcases with as much chocolate as possible, and left for our next stop: Amsterdam.
While Amsterdam is associated with many things (and I will let your minds travel), food may not be everyone’s first thought of what this city has to offer. However, I have one word for you: tosti. Tosti is essentially a grilled panini with turkey, white onion, mustard and cheese. It’s straightforward and honest, small but mighty. It’s not slathered on the outside with butter or oil like an American grilled cheese sandwich, and generally Amsterdammers enjoy it with a cup of coffee and a side of fries with mayo or peanut sauce before they head back out to bike around town. Tosti, to me, was a glimpse into the simpler, non-processed culinary life that many Europeans live and Americans yearn for. Here’s a basic tosti recipe (add onion!). A few other Dutch culinary delights we enjoyed were oliebollen, hagelslag and poffertjes. You will enjoy pronouncing them as much as you will enjoy making and eating them!
Our last stop was the royal city of London. I had visions of corgis and ladies wearing fascinators filling the streets, but in reality, well, it felt a little bit like New York City. Piccadilly Circus, the immense tube system, and all the different boroughs were quite a big undertaking for four days, but we made sure to fill our bellies with some of England’s most notable dishes. Now, you can’t travel to the United Kingdom and not have a “fry up,” or a traditional English breakfast. It wasn’t as horrid as everyone had warned me about, but it was an odd combination to start the day with. I was full past lunchtime though, so we often had a late breakfast and then an early dinner. Our dinners explored the obvious meals one would have across the pond — fish and chips, bangers and mash, and gravy on just about everything. A devout fan of BBC’s “Sherlock,” I made sure we went to the Sherlock Holmes Pub in Westminster for a bite of the Benedict Cumberbatch Pulled Pork, too. Later, we stopped by Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese on Fleet Street, the oldest pub in the city of London — dating back to the 1500s! — for a pint and sticky toffee pudding. Our trip soon came to an end, bellies full of tea, biscuits, and mushy peas.
Coming back to the States left my stomach and heart still longing for all the cheese, meat and bread that is now a seven-hour flight away. I now have a stronger appreciation for whole eating and meats and cheese sourced from animals free to roam in fields of green grass and fresh air. I now listen to Irish music when I cook because it makes my cooking feel more alive, as if to honor my ancestors. I’m no longer afraid of oil and bread, because I can eat it in moderation and savor the love that went into making it, and I am eager to taste the rest of the world in the years to come. As SCAD students, we have opportunities to go to Hong Kong and Lacoste, and a lifetime of travel with our creative careers, if we choose. Make sure that you go out and taste the world around you, wherever you go!