Europe for Foodies with Cameron Hewitt | Rick Steves Travel Talks

Europe for Foodies with Cameron Hewitt | Rick Steves Travel Talks

[ music] [applause] Cameron Hewitt: Hi there. Thank you very much for coming, and
thank you very much for watching. My name is Cameron Hewitt. I love to incorporate food
in my travels around Europe. Let me explain to you
why by way of a story. I’m going to go for a walk
with you through one of my favorite hill towns in Tuscany,
a town called Montepulciano. This is an adorable little hill town where you are on the main square, and walk with me downhill just a
couple of blocks on a cobbled lane. Suddenly, you come across a
perfect little trattoria. You step inside. It’s one of these places
where the second you walk inside, you know this is
a really special place. People are having a great meal. Then in the back a few steps,
you see the owner Julio. He’s hacking giant
chunks of beef that he’s serving out to
people as they order. You take a table. Julio comes to your table. He says, “What do you want?” You say, “We want the steak.” Julio goes to his cleaver, and he
hacks off a big chunk of steak. Then he puts it on a piece of paper, and he brings it to your table. He says, “Is this okay?” You say, “Yes. You bet it’s okay.
Sure.” Julio disappears up into the
kitchen for a few minutes. Then they bring out some of the most delicious pastas that
you’ve ever had. Just when you think you
can’t possibly eat anymore, Julio comes back with this
fantastic chunk of steak. He doesn’t ask you how
you want it done. Julio knows how it’s done. This is Chianina beef,
top quality Tuscan beef that was sourced
just a few miles away. How it’s done is a little
bit of course salt, seven minutes on one side, seven
minutes on the other side. If you don’t like it rare, you can
go to the place down the street. You look at the steak and you think, “There is no way after having all that pasta I can also eat
this enormous steak.” Yet, somehow you manage. You can understand why I think food
is one of the great joys of travel. My name is Cameron Hewitt. I’ve been working with Rick
Steves since the year 2000. I wear a lot of hats
around the office, and I also get to travel about
three months a year. Most of the time when I’m in Europe
I’m researching our guidebooks. I’m the co-author of
a few our guidebooks and a contributor to several others. I’ve done guidebook work in probably 30 or 40 different countries. No matter where I go I’m just
captivated and fascinated by how Europe involves
food in their culture. It’s something that’s fun, it’s something that hedonistic,
but it’s also more than that. It can tell you a lot
about interesting places. I want to talk for one thing
about this word “foodie.” The title of this class
is Europe for Foodies. It’s taken me a while to
embrace this word “foodies.” Foodies is a little
bit of a silly word. It sounds kind of pretentious,
but I’ve decided I’m going to grab this word with gusto
and really make it my own. Being a foodie is simply
somebody who prioritizes food in your life and especially
food in your travels. It’s somebody who sees
the value in food. It’s somebody who doesn’t
just eat to live. You live to eat. That’s the way I live my life. That’s the way that I travel. This talk is a little bit about what that means in practice in Europe. I want to talk about
why food matters. I want to talk about
what you should eat in Europe and where
you should eat those things, and I want to
talk about how you can incorporate food
into your travels. Now, I’ve talked already a little
bit about the sensory experience of having great food in Europe,
the hedonism of delicious food. I think what’s really interesting
to me, what’s truly exciting to me, there are opportunities to use food
to stimulate your brain as well. I’m going to challenge
you to always look at food through the lens of culture. What can the food tell you about
the culture and vice versa. You’ll see all of my examples
throughout this talk. You’ll notice that’s
a running current. There’s delicious food, but there’s always a story behind
the delicious food. For example, let’s start off
with the word association game. Finish this sentence. Swiss cheese. This is a country that
is 100% associated with a very specific food
product, Swiss cheese. Everybody in the world knows
what Swiss cheese is. It’s these giant wheels of mountain
cheese with big bubbles inside. The Swiss people are
very proud of the fact that people know them
for their cheese. There’s a whole culture around Swiss cheese-making and raising cows. If you go to Switzerland,
you’ll find that the government actually
subsidizes cheese-making. Every spring, a bunch of cow
hands and cheese makers parade their cows from the low pastures
up into the high mountains. They camp out all summer long
at the scalps of the Alps. They live in little huts. They hang the ceremonial cow bells from the eaves, and the cow hands have to get up every morning
at five o’clock in the morning, rain or shine. Doesn’t matter how tired you are. Those cows have to be milked. Every single day they have to
make the cheese in the afternoon. After about a hundred days of that,
when the weather starts to change, the cows come back from the high
mountains down into the pastures. You never know when it’s going
to happen, but I’ve actually been in Switzerland fortunately,
a couple of times in late September where suddenly, you’re
in a little village and you hear this clanging chorus of
cowbells coming down the street. That’s the sign that the cows are
coming back down to pasture. You look up and it’s this proud
celebration of Swiss culture. It’s something that’s
really inspiring. Not to put too much of a fine point
onto it, but of course this is an example of how food and culture
are so very much intertwined. All of the Swiss cheese also makes
up some of the greatest Swiss culinary treats: cheese fondue,
raclette, even Swiss chocolate. If you had a Swiss association
word game, the other word you might have
thought of is chocolate. Of course, Swiss chocolate
is distinguished by being very milky, creamy chocolate
from those same cows. Let me give you another
example of the way that culture and cuisine are very much tied together as they are with landscape, as they are with climate. It all is part of the same piece. Let’s talk about Spain. One thing that Spain is famous
for — If you’ve ever been in Spain in the summer, you know that it
has the blazing hot climate. This is not the place where you want to be out at mid-day in the hot sun. In fact, people organize their
entire lives around being out of the hot summer sun
in the middle of the day. Then what happens in the
evening as the sun sinks low and it’s finally cool
enough to go out and wander around, people get
out into the streets, and they wander up and down
these pedestrian streets. It’s this beautiful
Spanish custom called the paseo, that you
might have heard of. It’s a celebration of life. It’s a social event. People bump into their neighbors,
their relatives, their friends. Now, this obviously is an important
part of Spanish culture and Spanish custom, but it ties directly into Spanish cuisine and cooking and food. What, when we think of food, is the thing
that you think of in Spain? Tapas. Tapas culture. Small plates. That ties perfectly in
to this lifestyle that they’ve created around
this blazing hot climate. When Spaniards are out
walking, the last thing they want to do is to go in to a restaurant and sit
at a table for an hour and a half and have a full meal. They’ve been crammed
in their apartments all day long trying
to avoid the heat. No, they want to be able to wander into
a bar, pick up a few little dishes, wander up the street to another
bar, bump into some other friends. Then go to the next bar and
get a few other dishes. That’s why Spain is famous
for its tapas culture. These are just examples of the way that you can think about food beyond just food, but also as culinary
education and cultural education. There’s also fun little customs with all of these food customs as well. For example, in Spain when you’re
finished with your garbage at the tapas bar you just
literally drop it on the floor. That’s considered sanitary because
the last thing you want to do with a dirty napkin is put it on
the counter where the food is. That seems rude to us, but
it actually makes a lot of sense in the Spanish
way of looking at things. I took a cooking class
once in Tuscany with a wonderful chef named Marta. She taught me how to
make the most delicious Italian tomato sauce
that I’ve ever made. She stressed to me how important
it was, how simple this sauce was. It has five ingredients: tomatoes,
olive oil, garlic, salt, and a little bit of red pepper flakes
for a little bit of spice. That’s all it takes. It’s delicious. It makes everything that you put
on it absolutely delicious. Now in contrast to that,
let’s look at France. I took a great cooking class
once in France in Burgundy which is a very food-focused
region of France. It was the exact opposite. It was all about complexity. It was almost how many different ingredients can we put
on this plate. How complicated a technique
can we use to make this work? French chefs are not just slamming a bunch of beautiful produce on a plate and saying, “There’s your dish.” They take pride in
being technicians. They take pride in their technique,
in being innovators, and coming up with creative and
interesting ways to present food. They use the word compose,
composé, a lot in French. Dishes are composed. Chefs think of themselves
almost more as artists than they do as
culinary technicians. The other thing that’s
interesting about France is when you’re really that technically adept, and when you have chefs that like to
rise to a challenge. The French have a knack
for turning inedible things into really delicious foods. Think about escargot, which is maybe the most stereotypical French food. It’s literally snails that are
simmered in butter and garlic. Somebody had to have
the idea, “You see those snails crawling
around over there. I wonder what we could do
to make those delicious?” This applies to a lot of
very famous French dishes. Coq au vin is rooster
in a red wine sauce. Nobody eats a rooster. Rooster is a very tough gamey meat. Chefs in France figured out a way
to make it absolutely delicious. Beef bourguignon is a
very similar concept. Duck confit, this is a duck
that’s been preserved in its own fat and put in a can as long as
you need it be put in a can. Then you open it up, and you
cook it in that same fat. It’s really absolutely delicious. This is a really impressive feat
of engineering for French people. Italians would say, “Why are
you making it so complicated? Just put delicious things on a
plate and people will enjoy it.” I’m just challenging you when you
travel to think about the larger themes in the cuisines of the
places that you’re going to. I want to talk a little bit
about European foodie concepts. What’s really interesting to me is a lot of the things that are trendy in today’s American foodie world are coming directly from
European culture. In a lot of cases they’re very, very old aspects of European culture. There are nothing new to Europeans,
and today they’re very trendy. Here’s an example. Europeans embrace this concept
called terroir. It comes from the French
word “la terre,” the land. It basically means that the qualities of food, the qualities of certain ingredients, are deeply rooted in the very specific place where it’s grown. If you go to Burgundy, the
vineyards of Burgundy in France and you look
at these vineyards. Somebody who’s a purist
in France would say, “The wine that is grown on the
left slopes in this picture will have subtly but
importantly different qualities than the wine on the right
slope of the same valley. They really believe that
food is rooted that specifically to the
place where it’s grown. This sounds kind of familiar
to current American foodies. We use terms like locally
sourced, farm-to-table. European foodies talk
really in a trendy way these days about
the zero-kilometer. It’s the idea that the best
food is food that’s produced within less than a kilometer
of the place where it’s eaten. I went to a farm in Tuscany once and they were very proud
to serve me a zero- kilometer meal where
I had prosciutto and pecorino cheese and
wine and olive oil. Every bit of what was on
the table was produced within less than a
kilometer of that place. What’s interesting to me about some of these concepts that are so trendy these days is they are accidentally
foodie places all over Europe. Some of the most rustic
and remote corners of Europe do these things as a sense of necessity, not necessarily because they’re trying to be
trendy or foodie. I went to a very remote
corner of Romania, where I visited a very,
very humble goat farm. You see these guys hunching
down a couple of times a day, they have to milk
their flock of goats. Then they walk across the field
to a little shed where I watched them literally hand form
cheese right before my eyes. Then we pulled up some
chairs at a table and had some of the cheese
that they had just made. I thought, “Jeez, it doesn’t get more
farm-to-table than that, right?” There’s the farm and
there’s the table. My point is that all
the things that I think American foodies,
American chefs strive for is something that is very much integral to the
European food DNA. This is just something
that they do naturally, and in some cases,
purely out of necessity. Another thing very
important to Europeans is it’s important to
eat with the seasons. If you go to a place that
produces a lot of truffles, for example, Northern Croatia,
and you try to get white truffles outside of the
season, some places will sell them to you, but they’re
going to be preserved. Any truffle purist will say, “If you want to get white
truffles, you have to go starting in late
September, and you can only get them through November. That’s when they’re fresh. That’s when they’re
straight out of the ground. If you don’t get them at
the right time, you’re going to get something
that’s been preserved, and won’t have the same flavor.” This is very important to
Europeans who care about food. You don’t want to go to Paris in the summer looking for French onion soup. Because French onion soup is
a winter dish for Parisians. This is a big bonus in terms
of finding and discovering some great foods that you
wouldn’t have otherwise tried. I was in Tuscany once
in November, and I noticed that the spindly
branches of all of these trees around the
Tuscan countryside were heavy with big
fat ripe persimmons. Then I went to a restaurant
where they served me an amazing dessert of pureed
persimmons with chestnut mousse. All the ingredients that were very
much in season at that moment. This was not necessarily a dessert
that I crave all the time, but it was the perfect dessert for
that place and for that time. Italians brag, “If you show
me a menu by a good chef, I can tell you not only what
part of Italy that menu is from, but what season it’s from.” Because Italians and
a lot of Europeans really focus on seasonality of food. In fact, in Italy, it’s
illegal to have frozen ingredients in your food
unless you say on the menu, “This dish has
frozen ingredients.” That’s how carefully they
take this sort of thing. Another thing I want to encourage you to do is learn about
local specialties, but go beyond the cliches, not
just the basic local specialties. Become a connoisseur in
the local specialties. If you go to Spain, you
might know already that one of the classic
dishes of Spain, I would say it’s sort of the
staple of the Spanish diet is Jamon, which
is an air-cured ham. It’s a little bit like
Italian prosciutto. If I go to the supermarket
in the United States to the deli case, they might have
one kind of prosciutto. If you go to Spain, there is a
whole rainbow of prosciutto. There are so many different kinds of prosciutto or Jamon as they call it. In fact, the Spaniard will say
well there’s , but if you want the really best Jamon, it has
to be Jamon Iberico de Bellota. This is the Jamon made
from black-footed pigs who graze in free-range eating only acorns in the area
between Madrid and Portugal. This Jamon is completely
different from any other Jamon you’re going to have and it’s
worth paying double for. That sounds a little crazy
to us, but become a connoisseur of the foods and
the places that you go. It’s really important and a great
way to connect with those cultures. Look at pastas in Italy. Of course, when we think of
Italy, we think of pasta. Have you ever been to one of those
restaurants where you walk in and there’s a menu and it says,
“You can choose any of the noodles from this half of the menu and
any of the sauces from this half of the menu and we’ll throw them
together and make it for you.” Is this familiar to you? You did not go to that
restaurant in Italy. Italians would never do this. Italians have hundreds
of different kinds of noodles and each
one is specifically engineered to highlight the sauce or the other ingredients
that go with it. It’s really fun to kind of
geek out on this a little bit. Get to know now why is it that they
do spaghetti always with clams. It’s because an Italian chef knows
that the spaghetti is the perfect noodle for conveying the flavors of the clams and the sauce of the clams. I love to go to the Cinque Terre
on the Italian Riviera. There’s two things that
you’ll have there. One is pesto, this
absolutely delicious paste that’s made of
pine nuts and garlic. They always serve it with a very special kind of noodle called trofie. Why trofie is special
is it’s designed to be a really thick,
chewy little twist. It’s got a little spin to it
and it’s designed to pick up all of that pesto on its way
from the plate to your mouth. Italians would think it was crazy
to eat pesto with anything other than trofie, especially Italians
in this part of the country. There’s a whole world of
great pastas in Italy that go beyond spaghetti
and meatballs. It can be really fun to learn about
these and to understand why they exist in that place and what the
pasta is designed to accomplish. There’s a whole similar world of
cheeses in France, for example. If you want to become a
cheese aficionado, France is the place and it’s
the same idea there. I also would encourage you not just
to look at big national or regional specialties, but really drill down
to very specific local specialties. This is a deep-fried artichoke, which is very specifically the dish not of the city of Rome, but of the
Jewish ghetto in the city of Rome. That’s how specific Europeans
get with their specialties. It’s right down to a
neighborhood sometimes, and it’s fun to
discover what that is. I think the only place I’ve ever
had this was in the Jewish ghetto in Rome and it was the perfect
place to have it for that reason. If you’re walking along the beach
in Portugal, you’ll see all of the fisherman’s boats all
pulled up onto the beach and nearby, you start to smell it before you see it, but there are a
bunch of racks of little fish, the day’s catch, that are
all sort of crucified and laid out to dry in the sun. This is a good reminder that
Portugal has a very strong tradition for sardines and
other kinds of preserved fish. This is segueing into my next
topic which is, be adventurous. It’s easy to get excited
about pasta, it’s easy to get excited
about cheese, maybe. It might be a little harder
to get excited about sardines, but I make a point
to be a cultural chameleon. If I’m in Portugal, I am going to become an aficionado
of sardines, even if I would never eat them back home
and I’m really going to enjoy that. That’s part of my trip,
part of my experience. Be willing to try anything, even
if it’s mysterious, or strange. I have an ethic. I’m willing to try anything once. If I don’t like it, that’s fine. I might discover that I love it. If not, that’s okay, too. For example, I was driving
through the mountains of Slovenia with a
Slovenian friend of mine, and he pulled over the
car and he said, “This farmhouse, I think, has
kislo mleko. I want to make sure
you get to try this. It’s so important to me.” We went into the farmhouse
and we sat down to the table and they
brought me a dish of kislo mleko, which
basically looks sort of like a yogurt with
a yellow film on top. I thought, “Jeez, I trust my friend, I’ll give it a try.” I took my spoon and I broke through the film on
top and discovered a creamy yogurt below and I lifted it
to my mouth and I got a taste of a really tart yogurt with
sort of a barnyard aftertaste. Only then did my friend say, “Yes, kislo mleko, it’s the best.” The translation is soured milk. This is a tradition where they put
unpasteurized yogurt basically in the barn for a few days to let it
pick up the flavors of the farm. I’m not saying I get a craving
for soured milk every time I’m in Slovenia, but
it was a great memory. Even if you don’t enjoy the food,
you’re creating a great memory. If you’re in Scotland try
the haggis, give it a try. Here’s a challenge. If you’re in Florence
and you want a quick bite, you could just
go to a pizza window. There’s millions of
those around Florence. Or you could eat what
the Florentines eat. You could have a tripe sandwich. There are several little
kiosks all around Florence, including one
at the Mercato Nuovo which is a beautiful historic market hall right
in the center of town. It’s a little bit
hard to get your head around the fact that
you’re eating tripe, but once you get past it,
they dip it into the delicious sauce and
it’s really fantastic. If that’s not good enough
for you, you can think, “Michelangelo ate the
same tripe sandwich.” I’m not joking. His workshop was right
around the corner. 500 years ago, he came to
probably right about here and ordered basically the
same thing that I just had. My point, don’t be afraid to
try scary or unusual foods. The other thing I wanted to talk
about in terms of Europe is, in addition to all of these sort of
foodie concepts historically, that have come from Europe, a lot
of the most cutting-edge trends in recent culinary thinking
have come from Europe as well. If you really are into food, it’s fun to get to know where some of these things come from, that
are becoming very popular even now with American chefs. For example, deconstructivism
was basically started by a Catalan chef in the region around
Barcelona named Ferran Adria. He had a very famous
restaurant called El Bulli. He figured out ways to
basically use science to bring out a whole new level of
sophistication to food. Sometimes this is called molecular
gastronomy or modernist cooking. Those are related fields. The best example that Ferran Adria
came up with is the liquid olive. I went to one of his restaurants
in Barcelona recently, and they brought this — and it
really looks like an olive. You think, “Oh, it’s just an olive.” When you bite into it, what you
discover is it’s a thin gelatinous layer surrounding an
extremely powerful essence of olive that he’s distilled
from actual olives. This is the thinking
behind deconstructivism. It’s taking the component parts
of food apart, doing different things with them, becoming a little
bit experimental and scientific with how you deal with them and coming up with a food that resembles the original food but is a
completely different experience. A similar restaurant also by Ferran
Adria, I had this delicious cheese cake which was shaped like a little
wheel of cheese but you could actually take that cookie and dip
it right down into the middle of that and when you tasted it, it
tasted like a great cheesecake. This is a really fun
thing that started in that part of Spain
and spread quickly over Europe and now it’s very popular of course stateside among
big-name chefs. Another school of thinking
that started in Europe that’s become popular in a lot of
other places is New Nordic. This was invented by Rene
Redzepi who has a very famous restaurant in
Copenhagen, called Noma. Basically, it’s not
being afraid of modern techniques, some of the
things I just talked about but also being really
careful to root your food very much in the place
where it originates. He wants to evoke
traditional foods even if the presentation
looks very modern. In the case of Rene
Redzepi, he does a lot of his ingredient sourcing
simply by foraging. He’ll go out to the
beaches around Copenhagen and most of what you see on the plate is something that he
was able to source right there in the
city of Copenhagen. This is something again that’s
catching on stateside as well. Now, talking about all of
these big-name chefs you might think jeez, this
sounds way out of my budget, but one of the things I
really want to emphasize is that foodie doesn’t
have to mean expensive. I am somebody who really
appreciates being on a budget. I’m a really thrifty person
and some of my favorite food experiences in Europe have come
with a very small price tag. For example, this street
corner in Naples, Naples, of course, is the
birthplace of pizza. It’s this grubby little
corner of the city and there’s traffic pushing
by you and it’s actually hard to get to it but you
might see right here there’s a little window where
they’re selling pizza. If you go up to that
window you can get the most delicious pizza that you’ve ever had for $5 in the birthplace of pizza, in the place
where it came from. One day I went there
and the line was too long for the pizza
and I thought I just need to grab a quick
bite, so I ordered an arancino for less than a dollar. This is basically a deep fried
ball of rice and mozzarella cheese and ragu and peas and
they dip it in the deep fryer. It’s one of the most
delicious things I ever had and it costs me
less than a dollar. Don’t think that you can’t be a
foodie if you’re on a tight budget. In fact, it’s kind of a
fun challenge and I’ll have some more ideas
about that later on. One of my favorite restaurants
in Poland, a country that I’ve been to a lot, is a little
no-name hole in the wall. You have to literally walk past a big glitzy pizzeria down
an alley to find it. You step inside and I’ve had the best Polish food I’ve had anywhere in this little out-of-the-way restaurant for less than $5 for the complete meal. Just because you are
on a tight budget doesn’t mean you can’t be a foodie. Let’s talk about some
practical skills for how to find great restaurants
when you’re in Europe. There’s a few things that you want
to look for and I would say it is really worth going to a little
effort to find a good restaurant. I see every meal in
Europe as an opportunity to have a great dining experience. Now that’s a really high bar
and sometimes I’m willing to lower my bar and settle
for just some basic food because I need a
functional meal on-the-go but I sort of consider
it a fun scavenger hunt. Every meal should have a
memory attached to it. You know what? It doesn’t take a lot
of effort to make sure that you find a great memorable
restaurant like this one. If you don’t put any
effort into it you’ll wind up at a place that’s just okay. Here are a few tips I would have for finding great restaurants in Europe. One of them is get away
from the main tourist zones, especially the
restaurant row. A lot of popular cities in
Europe have one street where all the restaurants
are located. In Brussels they have their
Ruutu Buffet which is lined with lots of
interchangeable restaurants and there is a salesperson
out front each one trying to get you
in to have a table. Every place serves identical buckets of mussels and beer and so forth. If you walk just a few steps
off the main drag you’re going to find something a
little more interesting. In Dubrovnik in Croatia,
a city I go to a lot, they have a restaurant
row that’s very similar to the one in Brussels —
people waiting out front trying to lure you in
with flashy menus. In Croatia in Dubrovnik, you can walk along this restaurant
row on the right or you can climb the
staircase on the left and literally less than a five-minute walk away you can find a beautiful secluded little corner restaurant or cafe with half the prices, twice as good food, and much friendlier people. This sounds almost
so obvious it isn’t worth saying but it really strikes me after spending years
and years looking for good restaurants
for our guidebooks, it’s so easy to find
a good restaurant that’s very close to a
very bad restaurant. One of my tips for
finding good restaurants in addition to just going off to the little back corners —
figure out what the trendy neighborhood is in that city. In the city of Athens for
example, all the tourists are concentrated in the
neighborhood called the Plaka. This is the kind of old
town of Athens at the base of the Acropolis
and there are some good restaurants in the
Plaka but they tend to be very expensive
and quite touristy. Literally, across the
street from the Plaka, a five-minute walk away is a
neighborhood called Sidi. Now Sidi was kind of a rundown
deserted slum as recently as 10 or 15 years ago but now
Sidi is coming back to life. The government has undertaken
policies to make it very attractive for hotels and
restaurants to open up there. Sidi is the neighborhood
in Athens where all of the young Athenians go to eat. If you go to Sidi you’re
going to find a really a more creative array of
choices than in the Plaka. Often much cheaper, better
quality food, friendlier service and it’ll feel like
a more local experience. Every city in Europe has a trendy
foodie hipster neighborhood and I make it a challenge, when I’m going
to a new city I’m going to look around a little bit and figure out
what that neighborhood is because I think that’s where I’m going
to find some good restaurants. Another tip for finding a good
restaurant generally, a good sign is if a place is a small kind of
family-run mom and pop restaurant. We love mom and pop restaurants
in our guidebooks. They often are pretty traditional
but they offer great quality, they offer a real loving care and interest in the food that they’re cooking. This is one of our favorite
restaurants in Croatia. We take our Croatia
tourists here in fact. Ulma does all the cooking over an
open fire and her husband Anton does the front of house management
and sort of waits tables. They have a bare-bones staff,
it’s really just the two of them and a couple of helpers that keeps
their costs low which means that my costs are low and it means
that the people making the food have been doing this for years
and they really care about it. They have a passion for it,
they’re not just somebody who’s got a minimum wage job that
they’re coming and going from. Another thing to look for that’s
a mark of a good restaurant is a menu that is short,
handwritten, and in one language. Now, why is that important — short, handwritten, and one language? It’s short because the
restauranteur wants to do a few things and
do them very well. I am very suspicious
of a very long menu. If a menu is more than two pages long I assume it’s a terrible restaurant. Now that seems harsh but think about it, how many frozen ingredients you have to have to have a 10-page
long menu? Short is a virtue. Handwritten because it’s
based on what is in season. It’s based on what’s fresh. It’s based on what they
found in the market today. It’s in one language because
it’s catering to local people. It’s not catering to
one-time tourists who are just passing through, it’s catering to people who they want to
develop into a returning clientele. Those are the three magic
features of a great restaurant — a menu that is short,
handwritten, and in one language. Now, all of that said I
really prioritize the quality of the food and
the quality experience in my restaurant hunting
but I am at times willing to compromise to have
a beautiful setting. Don’t rule that out, if you want the best food all the time sometimes you’re going to have to settle for places that are a
little less memorable. If you’re really interested
in a great experience in a beautiful setting it can be
worth paying a little too much. This is the city of Dubrovnik in Croatia. I spend a lot of time there. Every morning for
breakfast you’re going to find me at these tables right here on the main drag where
they have decent coffee and mediocre ham and eggs. I’m not here for the food
but this is my favorite place to start my day
in Dubrovnik and I’m willing to sacrifice on
quality and pay a bit more because I get to
watch the city waking up. I get to see the delivery
people coming through on their little carts before
all the tourists arrive. You see the first of the
cruise ship passengers walking in at the gate
at the far end of town. I’m willing to trade a little
bit on quality and price if I can have a memorable setting
and a memorable location. Here’s a good tip for
that by the way. You don’t necessarily have to have your whole meal, it’s a big investment maybe to have your whole meal in
a place with a beautiful setting. I think a good strategy is to
have overpriced drinks but really memorable drinks before or after
dinner in a really beautiful setting and then you can find
something a little less more affordable or a little less touristy maybe for your actual meal. In Prague for example,
there’s a beautiful hotel right on the main square and it has this gorgeous
terrace with views overlooking the Old Town Square. In Florence, there’s a hotel
that I really like that has a top floor cafe and you can
go here right after work. For about €18 you can buy
a cocktail that’s a lot for a cocktail but it’s
a cocktail with this gorgeous view looking out
over the Ponte Vecchio in the hills of Florence
and the Arno River. By the way, that cocktail comes with a little mini buffet of snacks. If you’re discreet about it
you can almost assemble a light dinner and a cocktail,
and beautiful views for €18. Like I said, you don’t have
to be spending a lot of money to be a foodie, there are
ways to get around that. These days rooftop bars are
popular all over Europe. Budapest for example, one of
my favorite cities in Hungary, has a gorgeous rooftop bar
culture with great views and it’s where all the young
urbanites go to hang out after work before they go find and
affordable dinner somewhere. I want to emphasize if you
really want to get great restaurants it’s really
worth doing your homework. There are lots of pubs in
Britain that serve pretty forgettable pub grub but you
know what, if you do a little bit of homework and you think
carefully about it and do some research you’re
going to find a gastropub. This is a pub that serves a
little bit higher quality food. It puts more emphasis
on its food and less emphasis on its beer
maybe, or equal measures. Do your homework and you’re
going to find a better meal. How do you do your homework? Well, obviously as a guidebook author I think guidebooks
are a great place to start. I spend a lot of my time
working on a Rick Steves guidebook specifically
looking for great restaurants that fit all
of these descriptions that I’ve just been
laying out for you here. That said, different people have
different philosophies about food. I think the key thing isn’t
to use the Rick Steves guidebook, it’s to find a
guidebook that matches your culinary philosophy,
that seems to have the kind of restaurants
that you like to go to. Once you find that, it
can be a great tool for finding the right
restaurants for your trip. Crowd sourcing sites are
very popular these days. TripAdvisor is very powerful in
terms of the world of tourism. I don’t want to necessarily throw
TripAdvisor under the bus, but I have a lot of skepticism
about these crowd source sites. I use them for hotels, I think
they can be very helpful for that. Maybe for sightseeing
experiences or tours. For restaurants, maybe not so much. Let me give you some examples
of why I’m a little bit skeptical about TripAdvisor
for restaurant hunting. Budapest, Hungary, I just
mentioned, is one of my favorite cities anywhere, and I think
Hungarian cuisine is fantastic. Actually, I think after French
and Italian, personally, I think Hungarian is the
next best cuisine in Europe. I think it’s tragically
underrated, and I know for a fact that there are lots of fantastic
restaurants in Budapest. The number one rated restaurant
in Budapest on TripAdvisor is a French restaurant, not
a Hungarian restaurant. The reason for that is
simply that the people who are leaving reviews
on TripAdvisor are tourists, so their interests
and their preferences skew to a touristy
end of the spectrum. Let me give you an example from
the city I live in — Seattle. I love going out to
restaurants here in Seattle. Recently, I was just curious,
try this in your hometown. I was curious, so I
went to TripAdvisor and I said, “What are the top
10 restaurants in Seattle?” I looked at this list,
and I said, “I can’t remember the last time I
went to any of these.” You know what else
they have in common? The top five restaurants are all
right at Pike Place Market, the most touristy part of Seattle and all 10 of them are
within about a mile of downtown, they’re within about a mile of where the
cruise ships come in. I’m not saying don’t use crowd
sourcing sites, I’m saying, use a crowd sourcing site that
agrees with your philosophy. For example, I use Yelp. For me, that tends to be
reviews that are left by local people, rather
than by tourists. When I look at the Yelp
top 10, I see a lot of restaurants that
I like to frequent. I trust the results I get from
Yelp a little bit better. The other thing that I wanted
to point out about Yelp is it’s not as active in a
lot of parts of Europe. You might find it in some big
European cities, but it’s not as universally well
represented in all of Europe. However, different
countries have their own kind of crowd
sourcing review sites. If you do a little research,
you might find that, for example, there’s a
French version of Yelp that does a really
good job with French restaurants, so there’s an
Italian version of Yelp. Other places that I look for good
restaurant recommendations when I’m trying to find restaurants, for
example, to add to my guidebook. A lot of newspapers have really
good food and travel writing. I think the New York Times has
really excellent food writing. They have a wonderful
series called 36 Hours in a City, where they give you
a rundown of different restaurants, bars, cafes,
and activities that you might do if you were
there for a weekend. I really enjoy that. The Guardian, which is a London
based newspaper, has really excellent food writing as
well, and travel writing. If I’m going to a city and I want
to find some new restaurants for my guidebook, I’ll actually
check these sources myself. The other thing I would recommend
is looking for local food blogs. It’s one thing to have an
international journalist come and check things
out, but it’s another thing for somebody who
really cares about food in their own community to
tell you about that food. I would just search
the name of the place you’re going and “food
blog,” so you might search for “Rome food
blog” and you might come up with Katie Parla’s food blog. She’s an American expat who
lives in Rome, and does really excellent food writing in Rome and
has some great recommendations. I also have a lot of information on
my blog, by the way, if you want to go to and look for “Cameron blog,” you
just search for that. A lot of the topics I’m talking about today are covered in my blog as well. Another great place
to find restaurant recommendations is
to ask your friends. Of course, these days,
every time someone goes to a meal, they’re going to take a picture on their
phone, they’re going to post it to Instagram or Facebook. I’m joking, but actually,
this is a good tip. You could make a post on Facebook saying, “Hey, I’m going to Barcelona. Has anyone been there? Do you have any tips
for good restaurants?” You’ll be surprised how
many people are going to come back with their
personal favorites. If you want to go a little more high end, restaurant hunting can become very fun and very interesting, and
you can look at really top end resources, for example, the classic
Michelin system, a restaurant that is Michelin starred is almost
guaranteed to be a very high quality. The San Pellegrino World’s
50 Best Restaurants list is another resource that I really
enjoyed over the years. Finding out not just which
restaurants are really good, but what is the cutting edge of
cuisine these days in Europe. A lot of these famous
chefs that I mentioned earlier, really made their
name with these lists. There’s a lot of great food
TV out there now as well. Netflix has an
outstanding documentary series, called The Chef’s Table. And each episode is the profile
of another chef all around the world, and I found some really
interesting chefs that way. Speaking of these high-end
restaurant meals, I want to talk a little
bit about this idea. Obviously, it’s very expensive to go to a Michelin-rated restaurant, and for years I debated, “Is it
worth it, even as a foodie, someone who cares about food, to spend
that kind of money on a meal.” I’ve actually made a
point to try a couple of these over the last few years. I have to say, what
you have to realize when you’re going to a
really top end world rated restaurant, it’s not just about the food, although
the food is amazing. They try to create a whole
experience for you. I went to a great
restaurant in the Baque Country in Northern
Spain called Azurmendi, I think at
the time it was the 13th top rated
restaurant in the world. I thought, “Is this going to be worth basically the $200 a
person that we were going to spend for a
really nice lunch here? That sounds a little bit crazy. We walked in the door, and the first course of amuse-bouche
was this beautiful little picnic basket in their atrium, which had a lot of beautiful plants. Then they took us into
their greenhouse, and we had another amuse-bouche, and we saw some of the plants
that they actually used to get herbs for their cooking. Then they walked us into the kitchen, and we got to see the chef at work, and all of his sous chef scurrying around and making
these dishes happen. We sat down at our table, and
we chose which menu we wanted. I have to say, the food
was really remarkable, and it gave me a whole new
appreciation for some of the trends and some
of the really current thinking in terms of cooking
and food in Europe. I would say, obviously, if
you’re on a tight budget, you might not want to invest that
much in a meal, but if you think about it, $200 a person,
that’s the cost of maybe a really fun day tour, for
example, in a lot of cities. You hire a guide for
the day for $200. $200 for a meal, for a
very memorable meal, maybe it’s worth it for some people. Let’s talk a little bit about the
practical side of eating in Europe. Here are some tips for how Europeans do things a little bit
differently than we do, sort of the practicalities of
European food experience. The first thing that a
lot of Americans get a little confused by
is the word “menu.” You may know that in a lot
of countries in Europe, if you go into a
restaurant and you ask for a menu they’re not
going to give you the list of what you
can order, they’re going to assume you
want the fixed price meal because in most countries in Europe that’s what a menu refers to. If you want the bill
of fare, if you want a list of what you can
order, that’s usually some word similar
to “cart,” so it’s la carta in Spain,
it’s la carte in France, it’s Speisekarte
in German. So don’t walk into
a restaurant and be confused if you ask for a menu and they’re not quite sure
what to make of it. Speaking of those menus, however,
these fixed price meals, those can be a great way to get
a nice survey of the local cuisine, and often a good
restaurant will have several levels of their menu, so you can get
a basic menu for one price. If you want to get a little bit more interesting, and have a little higher quality ingredients, you can actually go up a little bit in quality. The other thing to be aware of in
different European countries, is that the way that Europeans organize their meals can be different. The way that they lay out the order
of courses can be different. As an example, let me talk
about an Italian meal. A traditional big Italian
meal actually involves four different courses, you have the
antipasti or the appetizers. That would be something
like marinated vegetables. Then you have the primi, the
primi piatto, the first course that’s usually
a pasta or a soup, then you have the secondi, or the
secondo, that’s a main course, usually, meat or fish, and
the final course is dessert. This sounds like a pretty
rigid structure, but honestly, most Italians
don’t eat every course. You look at this and say, “Jeez, do
I have to order all four courses?” Not necessarily. I had an Italian friend, I said, “How
many courses is it polite to order? I don’t want to feel
like I’m cheaping out.” And they said, “Well, really, as long as you order two courses per person, that’s fine, and sharing
is usually okay.” If I’m in an Italian restaurant with my wife, we might
order two pastas and a main course and a dessert, so that’s two courses per person, four courses total, and that’s just fine. By the way, Italian chefs are
fanatic about your digestion. This is something else that’s a
little different than the way we think about food, but European
chefs, especially in Italy, really lose sleep over your
digestion and making sure that there’s a proper progression for
the different courses of food. Here’s an example. Very traditionally, if you order a
big meal, including a salad, the salad is going to come after the
pasta at a traditional restaurant. At a touristy restaurant, they know
you’re an American, so they’ll probably bring it out at the
beginning, or they’ll ask you. If you go to a very traditional
restaurant, they assume you want the pasta first,
then the salad because it creates a nice little buffer
in your stomach, between the pasta and the meat
that you’re about to eat. I once went to a very
traditional restaurant in Florence and I ordered a salad and a pasta and the pasta came and I thought, “Well, I guess they
forgot about the salad.” Then after the pasta, here comes
the salad, and I didn’t have another course coming, but that was just the order that
they did things in. Be aware, it’s not
because they’re being stubborn, it’s not
because they’re trying to confuse you, it’s
simply that they believe that’s the proper way to ingest food. There is a proper order
to these things. There’s a proper water to drink
with different kinds of food. You don’t want mineral
water for every food, or you don’t want
bubbles for every food. Just be aware of that. In general, European chefs
frown on substitutions. This is I think, a big cultural
difference with the United States. I think in a lot of
cases, Americans go to a restaurant and we assume the
customer is always right. “I know what food I want.
I know how I want it.” Europeans go to a restaurant and say, “No, I’m putting myself
in the hands of an expert. The chef knows the right
way to make the food.” If you go to an American
restaurant and say, “Can I have the side from this meal
with the main from this meal?” They’ll say, “Sure, I’ll ask
the chef, I’m sure it’s fine.” Europeans, they might actually kick
you out for asking that question. The chef designed everything
together for a reason. That’s the way it’s supposed to
be, so it requires an attitude adjustment sometimes to understand
where they’re coming from. I mentioned earlier about sharing
courses in an Italian restaurant. Rick Steves, personally
and all of us here, we’re big fans of sharing
courses family style. Sharing food is a
great way to get lots of different samples
of different dishes. There are cultures where
it works really well. For example, in Greece
and Turkey, they have a mezedes way of eating
where the assumption is that you’re going to go
and order a bunch of little dishes and
everyone’s going to share. Even in countries
where that’s a little less common, usually they’re very forgiving of Americans
who say, “Can we order a couple of
dishes and split them?” In Italy, if you know a magic
word that might actually give you two different pastas on one plate,
the magic word is bis, B-I-S. A lot of restaurants will
let you order pasta bis, meaning, “I want half a plate
of this pasta and half a plate of this pasta,” and
they understand that you want to mix and match and
try some different things. Don’t be intimidated
by European menus. Honestly, some of the better
places have menus that are only in one language,
which can be intimidating, but oftentimes the server
speaks a little English and they’re happy to help you
sort through your choices. It’s worth investing
in a menu decoder. We have a series of Rick Steves
guidebooks for several different languages and the biggest part of
our phrasebook is the menu decoder. I actually, literally, did the
research for this where I went over to Europe and I walked from
restaurant to restaurant for several days and I wrote down everything
I saw in menus to make sure that we had all the words that are
actually appearing on European menus. That can really help avoid some of
the confusion that you might have. There’s also a lot of great
online translating apps. I have the Google Translate
app, which works great. It’s a little less focused
on menu decoding, but it can certainly help you figure out
what the basic ingredients are. My last tip though about a
menu decoding and languages, the language barrier when
it comes to eating, is don’t let yourself be
intimidated just because you don’t know every single
thing that’s in that dish. Usually, my goal is to figure out
what the main ingredient is. There’s maybe one or
two things that I want to get a sense, is this
a fish, is it a meat? What am I roughly expecting? At a certain point, you
should take a leap of faith. I would say don’t go into
restaurants expecting to understand every
aspect of every dish. I want to talk a little bit about
service in European restaurants. If you’ve been to Europe, you know
that the way that Europeans expect to be served in restaurants is a
little different than it is here. For one thing, a European
service is very relaxed. It’s slow to an American’s
standard and the reason for that is, again, it’s a
philosophical adjustment. When Europeans go to a
restaurant, dinner for a lot of people is the
evening’s entertainment. They’re not trying to
get a quick meal in before they go to the
movies or go out dancing. They’re there to really
enjoy that restaurant. Actually, rushed service is
rude service to Europeans. If you’re ever in a
restaurant and you have to basically stand up
and wave your hand to get your waiter to
come over to you, you might think, “Boy, this guy is
ignoring me. I don’t understand why.” Well, the understanding why
is that, for Europeans, it would be rude if
he kept coming over to you because you might feel rushed. As you probably know, if
you’ve been to Europe, you will never get the bill until
you asked for the bill. I have to say this is
really hard for Americans because you’re done,
you’re ready to go, you’ve got places to be,
and now you have to flag down the person to
bring you your bill. Honestly, after I’d been in
Europe for a few weeks and I come home and I’m in an
American restaurant and I’m finishing the last bite
of my food and I see the bill land on the table, I’m
a little bit offended. “Are you trying to get rid of me?” [laughter] That’s how Europeans
think about this, so just be relaxed,
be ready to spend a little extra time at
restaurants, and don’t think that slow service
is bad service. The other thing I want to
talk about is tipping. Europeans, in general, are
less generous tippers than Americans are,
and it’s really okay. I know that I’m not going to
convince you all to start tipping 10%, but I’m here to tell you,
Europeans usually tip 10% or less. It really is the case. I think in America we
have this understanding that people usually get a minimum wage or lower for
their base salary and most of their salary comes from tips. In European culture, it’s
a little bit different. Tipping is considered
really optional. The person that’s waiting
on you actually receives a very healthy salary and the
tip is really just a bonus. Most Europeans would round
up the bill 5% or 10%. It’s really just a convenience
so that the server doesn’t have to fish
around for loose change. That’s philosophically
what tipping is. Honestly, a lot of countries, a lot
of Europeans don’t tip at all. I know that’s hard for Americans. I usually tip somewhere
between 5% and 10%. I figure out what would 10% be
and then I maybe round it down a little bit to the nearest
round number and that’s plenty. It’s just a very different
philosophy than it is here. I’ve already mentioned that you don’t have to be rich to be a foodie. Being a foodie doesn’t have to be expensive so I want
to talk a little bit about some of your
cheap eating options when you’re traveling around Europe. The most basic cheap eats you can
get it in Europe are street food. If you’re on a budget, just become
a connoisseur of street food. That’s a great way to get
through Europe and have some really truly local
dishes at a very low price. For example, if you’re in the
Netherlands, you can have herring. If you’re in Germany, you can
try a whole world of sausages. Now, when we think about
German sausages, we just think there’s bratwurst and
then there’s bratwurst. [laughter] For Germans, they know
there is a whole world of different regional
varieties of sausages. If you go to Nuremberg in Germany,
you’ll see that it’s these little skinny spicy sausages that they
serve lined up three to a bun. That’s a very typical
Nuremberger sausage. If you go to Berlin, you’ll
see that they slather their bratwurst with delicious
sort of curry ketchup sauce. It’s called currywurst. Again, become an afficionado
of the local specialties where you go, even if
it’s just street food. If you want to go to the Netherlands or Belgium, you’re going
to want to try some French fries, or as they
call them, Flemish fries. Not only do the fries taste a little
different, they brag that they actually fry them twice so they have
a little bit more bite to them. If you go to a little Belgian
fry shop, they have a whole interesting variety of sauces
that you can put on top. You can ask for some help
from the clerk and find a really nice sauce that
goes well with your fries. When I’m in Great
Britain, my favorite thing to grab on the go when I’m at a train station and
I just need a lunch on the train is a Cornish pasty. These are this beautiful
savory pastry from Cornwall, which is at the Southwestern
tip of England. This was actually invented
for tin miners in Cornwall. This is where you can
start thinking about the history of these foods
that you see everywhere. Why would this be for the tin miners? Well, they worked all day down in the
dark mines of Cornwall and their hands would be filthy with
soots and tin deposits that would be really dangerous
if they were to eat them. That’s why a pasty has a
really thick outer crust. This allowed the miners to grab
onto the crust and to eat the filling on the inside and when they
were finished, they could just drop their crust into the mine
shaft for the Tommyknockers, the little mystical beings who lived
down in the mine shafts to eat. [laughter] I love learning about the
histories of these little foods and at every train
station in England, it seems like you’re going
to find us a place to grab a Cornish pasty before
you get on the train. If you really want to find a
world of really interesting street food options, look
for a street food market. A lot of, especially big cities, that
have a foodie scene, you’re going to find a place where a lot of
interesting vendors all set up shop. This is my favorite market in London. It’s called The
Ropewalks [sic] market. It’s buried under a railroad trestle on the South Bank of
the River Thames. I went here once with my wife. I think it’s probably the best
lunch I’ve ever had in London. We just wandered from stall to stall. You could have a little bit
of Scottish salmon and then there was a stand that was
serving up grilled cheese with English cheddar cheese, of
course, all different variety of scotch eggs with interesting
creative fillings, brownies. These are all kind of foods
that you’ll see everywhere in Britain, but it was
fun to go to a street food market where they
were being done at a very elevated, very foodie,
forward kind of way. In fact, a lot of cities in
Europe increasingly have a food truck culture, like we have
in a lot of American cities. Of course, this can
change from year to year. It’s a parking lot one year and
it’s got five or six really interesting food trucks the
next year, so be sure to ask around if you’re going
to some of these cities, are there any food trucks? Where can I go check
out the local scene? Another good way to eat affordably
is to eat what you might call ethnic food or international
food or immigrant food. For example, a doner kebab is
what this is, and all over Europe, from Spain to France
to Germany to Italy to Norway, this is what local people go
if they want to just grab a quick nourishing, flavorful
meal on the go, and very cheap. It’s like going to a taco truck
if you’re in the United States. What’s interesting about
immigrant food or international food is that,
like the United States, a lot of countries have a
large immigrant population that have really
influenced their cuisine. In the United States,
if we want a break from American food, we might go
for a Mexican restaurant. In Britain, there’s a lot
of Indian restaurants because India and Bangladesh
were former colonies overseas from the United
Kingdom, and so you find that there’s a lot of great
Indian food in Britain. This applies to a lot of
countries in Germany. People eat Turkish food that’s
their immigrant cuisine. Even in Russia, which has
a very old-fashioned, starchy, less flavorful cuisine, when people want a break
from their traditional cuisine, they go to a
Georgian restaurant. This is from one of
the former socialist republics of the Soviet Union. In the Caucasus, where they
have warmer climates, they have a more flavorful ingredients,
they have lots of herbs. When the Russian is ready
for a break from their traditional food, they’ll
go to a Georgian restaurant and they’ll
get these dumplings that you dip in a
delicious plum sauce. They have a dish called
Khachapuri, which is a cheesy frybread
that you can get. I really think Georgian food is
the great undiscovered cuisine. Mark my words, it’s
like Poke, for example. [laughter] Five years from now
there’s going to be Georgian food everywhere
in the United States. It’s really delicious. Always look for these, if you want
a break from the local traditional cuisine, be sure to look at the
local immigrant cuisine as well. Another good tip for budget eating is to check out Europe’s market halls. There’s lots of great
traditional market halls like the great market
hall here in Budapest. Some of them are very famous. In Spain, in Barcelona, they’ve
got the Bokeria, which is right on the Ramblas, the
main drag of Barcelona. There’s an interesting trend recently in Europe where old market halls are being renovated and
upgraded and being given a more contemporary
foodie focus. For example, there’s the
Mathallen in Oslo, which was the traditional old
brick building that’s now been turned into, basically,
a food court of top-end foodie restaurants with
beautiful outdoor seating. This is a trend I’ve
seen all over Europe. In London, they have the
Borough Market, where you can go and get delicious
fresh breads and cheeses. In Florence, their central
market hall, they recently, kept the traditional fruit and produce
and meat and fish vendors downstairs, but the upstairs
attic, which was always abandoned, they’ve converted into a
top-end Tuscan food showcase. They’ve invited top-end Tuscan chefs to come and open food stands here. One of my favorites is in Lisbon,
the La Ribera Markets, which again, half of it is still a
very traditional old school food hall of Portuguese classics, the
other half has been converted into a contemporary food court
with some really top-end chefs. By the way, this is a great
opportunity sometimes to try, affordably, the food
of really big name chefs. Here in Lisbon, if you
went to the restaurants of some of the chefs who have little food stands here, you’d
be paying a pretty penny, but they
intentionally designed the menu that’s more
affordable and more accessible for the food
hall, so make sure you check out if there
are any of these contemporary food halls
in your travels. In some cultures, the market is
part of their local culture. It’s part of their everyday life. All over France, communities have a designated market day,
jes du marché, where all of the different
vendors come and they set up shop right in the city center. My favorite market day in France is
in Sarlat, in the Dordogne region. Every Saturday and Wednesday they
close down the town center and it’s just filled with all sorts of vendors serving all sorts of things. This is where people stock up
on sausages and big wheels of mountain cheese and bushels
of spices and olives. This is also a social ritual. This isn’t just about
shopping for food. This is about connecting
with your neighbors. It’s about connecting
with your friends. It’s about forming a relationship
over the years with the producer that you know is your favorite
producer for buying this or that. One of my favorite aspects
of the French, market day culture, once it’s all
finished and they’re closing up shop, the second that
all the stalls start to close up, all of the outdoor
cafes just fill up. All the people who came out
to shop, go and grab a table with the people that they
want to reconnect with, their long lost friend that
they haven’t seen in a few months to settle in and catch
up on the day’s events. It’s a really beautiful part
of the culture in France. If you’re going to France, make sure you find out when the market day is. Another way to forage for
really good food is just to stop and do lots of
little specialty shops. Especially if you want a little
higher end food, you can go to a cheese shop, you can go to a cold
cut shop, a salumeria in Italy. You can supplement
that with what you buy at the grocery, and now
we are picnicking. By the way, let me define
the word picnicking. You might think that a picnic
is a very romantic situation with a wicker basket and a red
and white checkered tablecloth. Actually, for me, a picnic is just
any kind of practical functional meal that I can eat on the go that
I shop for in a grocery store. A quick lunch on a
train that I bought at the supermarket and the train station before I get on a long
train trip, that’s a great picnic. That said, if you’re really
a foodie and you really want to make a memorable
picnic, it is worth seeking out a nice romantic spot,
memorable spot, and really nice scenic opportunity
to have a great picnic. Sometimes these are
actually designated. You’ll look for signs in
France, for example, and they’ll say, “A great picnic
spot is over this way.” For a lot of people,
part of the cuisine scene in Europe is
actually about drinking. I want to talk a little bit about
wine, beer, spirits, and also, of course, that great cafe culture that you’re going to find in Europe. Wine is a European staple
and there’s an expectation that everyone should have
access to cheap table wine. There are literally filling
stations like this one all over Italy where you can
go and just fill up jugs of good but basic table
wine so that you can always have a little wine on the
table with your family. There’s sort of a half-joke
that you’ll hear in Europe that it’s
cheaper to buy wine sometimes than it is
to buy water and that really is the case in
a lot of restaurants. It’s just a very important aspect. If you really want to go high-end,
of course, you can do that as well. There are some really
refined wineries. There are some great opportunities
to taste what the local vintners are doing and what they’re
sometimes experimenting with. There’s a whole breed
of super Tuscan wines, which has to do with Tuscan vintners, who were mixing wines
in an interesting way and creating really
exciting blends. If you want to taste
some wines in Europe, there’s a few good opportunities. You can go to a wine bar. This is one of my favorite wine bars in the city of Dubrovnik in Croatia. You can learn a little
bit about local wines. Often you’ll have a bartender who
understands that you’re a visitor and you’re just curious to learn
about the wines and they’re happy to walk you through some of your
options and very often they serve some really nice food that’s paired
to go perfectly with that wine. There are also great
wine shops where, again, somebody can help
you, maybe give you different samples to
help you narrow in on exactly what kind of
wine you’re looking for. A few bottles of wine for picnics,
while you’re in Europe or even shipping some bottles home, is a good investment if you’re a wine lover. Of course, the ultimate
experience if you’re a wine lover in Europe, is to go to a winery where you can actually see the facility where the wine
is grown and created. Oftentimes, you can just go
and take a tour where they’ll actually walk you through the
vineyards and they’ll walk you through their cellars and
their operation and you’ll come to understand exactly
where that wine came from. By the way, Europe
doesn’t really quite have the Napa Valley
experience that we expect in the US, where
you can just drive around and drop into
wineries as you like. For the most part, they really
like you to call ahead. If you’re a wine lover, it’s
worth doing a little bit of homework, figuring out
which wineries interest you. It’s really, just a day
or two ahead, give them a call and say, “Could
I stop by sometime tomorrow for a tour?” and
very often, for a small price, they’ll be happy
to do that for you. One of my favorite things about going for wine tastings and
touring vineyards in Europe is you get to meet the
people who actually make the wines. This was a wonderful gentleman named Adamo who lives in Montepulciano, that beautiful Tuscan hilltown,
and he is evangelical about wine. I’ve never seen somebody speak
so poetically about wine. It’s his whole life. In fact, the last time I
went to a Montepulciano, I walked into Adamo’s shop
and I saw him there in his apron and I say, “Adamo,
how are you doing?” He said, “Oh, Cameron.” He says, “It’s wonderful. I retired, but they still let
me come to work every day.” [laughter] Wine is his whole life, Adamo. It’s fun to meet those people. Another tip for wine lovers, of
course, we know that French, and Italian, and Spanish wines are really top quality, but there are some really excellent wines in other
parts of Europe that you might not think of immediately with wines, but it is worth getting to know them. For example, in a lot of the
former Eastern Europe, places like Croatia, Slovenia,
Hungary, they didn’t have very good wine a generation ago
because under communism a lot of the wine production was
consolidated and centralized. These days really talented
vintners are going back to the traditional
methods in these places and you can get
some really excellent wines in countries that
you wouldn’t expect to. Of course, another great
aspect of European drinking culture is the beer culture. There’s a lot of
countries that are more known for their beer
than for their wine. Of course, Germany is one of them. Again, it’s fun to
enjoy German beer, but beer in Germany is a
whole social custom. It’s not just about drinking the
beer, it’s about the experience of sharing it with friends and how
you organize your life around it. In Germany, for example,
especially down in Bavaria in Southern Germany, you
have lots of beautiful beer gardens, which are basically
big picnic tables under chestnut trees and it’s
a self-service system. You have to walk
around and each little kiosk sells something different. This is where you get the
Steckerlfisch, which is a mackerel grilled on a
spit over a rotisserie. If you want to get sausage,
there’s a little sausage kiosk. If you want to get a pretzel, there’s a pretzel kiosk and so forth. A beer is served by
the mass, ein mass, or as we call it in
English, ein pitcher. [laughter] You can try to order a half
mass if you’d like to. This is a really memorable meal. Some white sausages from Munich,
a big pretzel, some spiral cut radishes, and a big mass of beer is
a really memorable German thing. It is a cultural thing as well. Again, it’s a whole
social custom, not just an opportunity to eat and drink. Another country that’s really
known for its beer is Belgium. Belgium has a very different
approach to beer. It’s less about quantity
and more about quality. Belgian beers tend to be
really a high alcohol content. They, also, have a more artisanal
approach to their beers. Every beer is designed
in a very careful way. They bring the French
attention to crafting food and they import it to
the way of making beer. In fact, every Belgian
beer has a very specific glass in which it is
meant to be served. If you go to a Belgian
bar and they have a beer that you want, but they
don’t have the glass for that beer, they will not
serve you the beer because that beer can only be
drunk from the glass it’s designed to be drunk from,
it’s really fun as you travel around Europe, not
just to enjoy the beer, but to come to appreciate
these little aspects and details and nuances of the
culture around the food. There are also some
beautiful beer halls in Belgium, really fun
places to try the beer. Great Britain, of course, is
also a great country for beer. One thing I love about,
not just the beer, but again, the social custom
around the beer is, it’s this spontaneous
cocktail party that erupts after work in a
big city every evening. Everyone who’s on their
way home from work will stop off at the
neighborhood pub. They don’t have the laws that we do where you have to
stay within the ropes because British people love to just
spill out all over the sidewalk. One thing I love to do
in Britain is wander around if I’m in London
just as work is getting out and float from pub
to pub and you’ll see little pockets of
people at each one. It’s a very social experience. By the way, if you’re a
fan of craft beer here in the United States,
you’ll find it in Europe. That’s becoming very
popular there as well. Italy of all places, which we think of as a wine country has an excellent craft beer culture that’s very
similar to our craft beer culture. You can get a little flight
of different kinds of beer and taste a variety of what
the people there are doing. Another aspect of European drinking culture is spirits and
Europeans, I would say, have a more
sophisticated, nuanced approach to spirits than we do. A lot of Europeans will begin a meal with an apéritif, a pre-dinner drink. A lot of them will finish their meal with a digestif, a post-dinner drink. Again, it’s really fun
to really dig into the culture of the different
spirits of Europe. If you’re in Scotland, you obviously have to try a dram of whiskey. You want to stop by a whiskey shop where they can do a
little tasting and help you figure out whether you like your whiskey peaty or
not, smoky or not. You can also go tour a whiskey
distillery and see the place where all of this
beautiful stuff is made. You could even go to
a cooperage where they make the barrels
to age the whiskey. Every country has its own firewater. Every country has its
own hard drinks. In Poland, of course, it’s vodka. In Southern Italy, it’s limoncello, that delicious
lemon-flavored liqueur. In Turkey, in Greece, they have
ouzo, which is an anise-flavored drink that turns cloudy
when you add water to it. The Czech Republic has Becherovka, which is almost like a Jägermeister. It’s a really strong herbal blend. Hungary has their own version
of that called Unicum. It’s fun to see how
popular and important these are to the local cultures. In Hungary, for example, this Unicum liqueur is the subject of some very whimsical, nostalgic kind of Guinness style ads that people really love. If you’re a teetotaler,
there’s also a world of interesting soft
drinks to try in Europe. For example, in Switzerland,
they have a unique soft drink, that I’ve
never had anywhere else, called Rivella, and this
is literally made with milk serum and it tastes
like chewable vitamins. [laughter] It sounds odd, but it’s a very
distinctive flavor and I don’t feel like I’ve been in Switzerland until
I’ve had a bottle of Rivella. I actually like it. I’ve developed a taste for it. Scotland, they have a bright orange, sugary soda called Irn-Bru. It’s fun to go beyond just
the hard drinks and realize there are some interesting
soft drinks as well. The last aspect of drinking
culture I’d like to talk about is this great cafe
culture that Europe enjoys. In the United States,
we’ve only recently sort of discovered the
cafe culture of Europe through Starbucks and
now through a variety of second and third
wave coffee shops. If you want to go back to the
mothership, you’re going to find that in Europe, especially Italy and
France, have a great cafe culture. It’s fun to go there and stow your
preconceptions and your Starbucks menu order and really learn
about the local coffee customs. The different drinks you can
get in an Italian cafe, for example, it all has to do
with how much espresso and how much milk they mix
together and the way they mix it together, and they really
think a lot about this. The other thing is,
remember I talked earlier about how important
digestion is to Italians. Italians, for example, believe
that you should not have milk after about midday because it’s
really bad for your digestion. If you go to a local Italian cafe in the mid-afternoon and asked for a
cafe latte, they’re going to say, “No, we can’t serve you a cafe latte. You don’t want that much milk.” They’re worried about you. They’re worried about your health. You’ll notice that Italians
don’t drink a lot of milk. Now, I’m joking. They will serve it to you, but you
actually might get kind of a funny look when you order it, because of
that, if you don’t want to just take a straight espresso shot,
Italians have an art of mixing in just a little dollop of cream, which they called un caffè macchiato. It’s a coffee that’s
marked with cream. By the way, a latte
macchiato is the opposite. It’s a big glass of milk that’s
marked with a little bit of espresso. This is where when Starbucks
popularized this form of drinking coffee, they’ve played
fast and loose with some of the terminology, so you might
want to study up if you’re a coffee lover to make sure
you get the right drink. A caffè macchiato in
Italy is a little different than you’d
get at Starbucks. If you go into an Italian
cafe and you say, “I’d like a latte,” they’re going to give
you a glass of steamed milk. If you want a latte,
we think of a latte as a cafe latte, it’s
coffee with milk. The other thing that you
should be aware of, especially in Mediterranean
countries and France and Spain and Italy, you
might pay different prices depending on where
you have your coffee. You’ll pay the most if
you sit outside on the terrace, you’ll pay a
little bit less if you sit inside, but if you really
want to save money, you can get your coffee
standing at a counter. In fact, there’s a law in Italy that says that every cafe
in Italy can only charge about a euro for a basic espresso shot standing
at the counter. This is a sort of Egalitarian
Law that makes sure that the average people aren’t
priced out of their coffee. I’ve actually tried this. I’ve gone to the
fanciest cafe in Venice where it’s €15 for a
coffee out on the square and I walk up
to the counter and for €1 they give me the
exact same coffee. Beyond the France, Italy,
Starbucks style coffee scene, other parts of Europe have also
really great coffee scenes. Budapest, and Hungary,
and Vienna and Austria have some really exciting,
beautiful grand cafes. Portugal has a great kiosk culture, where in these beautiful
shady squares all over Lisbon, you’ll see little kiosks that serve drinks and coffees. One of my favorite coffee
scenes is actually in Bosnia. This is where they have, what
some people call, Turkish coffee. Bosnians call it Bosnian coffee. [laughter] It’s the unfiltered
coffee that is very time consuming and
exacting to prepare. Actually, Bosnians explained to me, “We’re not trying to
caffeinate quickly. We do not like the Italian coffee
culture, where you walk up to a counter and you slam down a
espresso and you get out the door. If we’re having coffee, it’s because
we really want to slow down and connect with the people
we’re having coffee with.” They liked the fact that it takes
longer to make Bosnian coffee because it gives an opportunity
to connect with their friends. It’s interesting to get these
insights as you travel around. What talk about European
food would be complete without a quick tour through
the sweets of Europe. There’s lots of great opportunities
to finish your meal in Europe. Many countries are known for their candies, especially their chocolates. Belgium, of course, has
its delicate pralines. Swiss chocolate is very famous
for its creamy milky qualities. There are lots of other interesting candies you can seek
out on your travels. Again, be adventurous. If you’re in Scandinavian countries, go ahead, give salted licorice a try. If you don’t like licorice,
don’t try it, but if you like licorice, you’re going
to love salted licorice. It’s one of my favorite treats
when I’m in Scandinavia. If you like salted caramel, why
wouldn’t you like salted licorice, right? [laughter] Be adventurous. Seek out these interesting flavors
and be willing to give them a try. Of course, there’s a whole world of traditional pastries and
croissants and this sort of thing, but I
like to figure out what the local pastry
is in each place. In Portugal, for example,
they have really a beautiful cream custard tart
called pastel de nata. There are some shops in Lisbon where you can actually go and watch them
making this custard tart and it’s a really delicious way
to learn about this. In Hungary and lots
of parts of Eastern Europe, they have a dessert called a Kürtőskalács, which
is literally a chimney cake where they wrap dough around this little spindle and they slowly
run it over a rotisserie on hot coals and it picks up some really delicious
flavors and it caramelizes the sugar. It’s really delicious. In Spain, of course, you have to
get some churros con chocolate served with a thick pudding-like
hot chocolate and so forth. As you travel around Europe,
you’ll realize there’s actually sort of a cultural divide as you
go towards Southeastern Europe. Most of Europe sweetens
its desserts with sugar, but as you get
into Southeastern Europe, the Balkans,
especially into Turkey and Greece, they sweeten
things with honey. There’s kind of a cultural
fault line that you discover in your
crossing as you go over. If you want some completely
different beautiful, sweet flavors, you can go
to Southeastern Europe. Of course, we have to
talk about ice cream, which exists in every
culture in Europe. Of course, for a lot
of people, Italian gelato is the ultimate
ice cream experience. I actually walked through
Florence with a very good friend of mine once, who
has a friend who opened a gelato shop and I asked her
to teach me how to find the best gelato, so let me
give you some of her tips. She said, first of all,
keywords are things like artigianale, which
means artisanal. You want to look for homemade. You don’t want somebody
who’s just pouring packaged powders into their machines. You want somebody who’s actually
making it fresh every day. It’s a really bad sign
when you see big colorful mountains of gelato that are
piled above the containers. These are literally designed
to mesmerize little kids so they go over and say,
“I want that one because it’s got the flashiest colors.” She said the best thing to look for
are natural, muted, subdued colors. My last tip from her
that I thought was really interesting, if you want to be able to judge the quality of a gelato place, you try their
pistachio flavor. The reason is every gelato
costs the same, but some of the gelatos
cost more to produce, and pistachio, if
it’s real pistachio, is the most expensive
gelato to produce. If someone runs a gelateria
and they’re trying to do it on the cheap, they’re
going to use basically an almond-flavored gelato and add
in a little bit of pistachio and some green food coloring
and call it pistachio. If you lick that pistachio flavor and you can really taste real pistachios, you know that this
gelato place is not going to cheap out on their flavors. Finally, I want to talk a
little bit about experiences. We’ve talked a lot about
the different foods you can eat, but I
want to talk about the activities that you can
do to bring a greater appreciation for food into
your travels in Europe. One of the most popular
ways to do that, especially these days,
are cooking classes. Again, these are so popular, they’re popping up all over Europe and it’s a really fun way to learn about the culture and also to
take home a skill. You can go home and actually make
some of these dishes at home. I want to tell you about a
really beautiful cooking class experience I had,
the ultimate in what you can accomplish in one
of these classes with a Michelin star chef in a
small hill town in Tuscany. His name was chef Roberto. I was staying in an
agriturismo when they set up this experience
where me and some of my friends could
shadow chef Roberto in his kitchen, and
it was an education. He was very proud of
the local cuisine. He took out two eggs,
he said, “This egg is a farm-fresh egg from
across the street. This egg is one that I
bought at a supermarket. I’m going to crack
them both and you tell me which one is the farm-fresh egg.” Pretty obvious that the bright orange one on the left is
the farm-fresh egg. Then he swept that egg
into a container of flour and he added a
few ingredients, and he kneaded, and kneaded,
and kneaded and created this perfect
classic dough for pasta. He invited us all to touch it so
we knew how our dough should feel under our fingers when it was ready
if we were making this at home. Then he took that dough and
he rolled it out and put it through his roller and
created these little bundles where he rolled it up and
then he pulled out his knife and he started slicing off
noodles at different widths. As he went, he described
which noodle he was making. This is pappardelle. It’s wide. This is tagliatelle. It’s a little bit less wide. This is angel hair
pasta, and with one very talented chef
and a knife in about 10 minutes, he had
an array of about 10 different kinds of pasta before him. It was so inspiring
to be in the presence of somebody with that kind of talent. Then, when we went home and
we made our own pasta, we actually had a little more
insight into how that worked. Of course, we got to
taste it as well. Another really popular trend these
days in Europe is food tours. There’s cooking classes,
but then there’s food tours, which are designed
to take you around the city and introduce
you to some of the really interesting
producers in that place. I did a really excellent food
tour in Spain, in the city of San Sebastian, which is
known for its tapas scene. I’ve been to a lot
tapas bars over the years, but finally
with this food tour, having a great guide, I
understood in a more nuanced way the tapas
culture of Spain. When we walked in the door
at one place, she walked us past all of the dishes lined
up on the bar in front. In the back, you saw another line
up of tapas that were all raw. She said, “If you want
really fresh tapas, you skip the stuff up front, and you come in the back and
you tell them which they want, and they’ll
grill it up fresh. That way, you know you’re
getting the freshest food.” From that array of
things in the back, she ordered a plate of
pimientos de padrón. They’re a little bit like shishito
peppers in the United States. She explained the custom behind this. They deep fry them, flash fry them
with a little bit of coarse salt. If you didn’t have her with
you, you wouldn’t know that because of the different
amounts of sunlight, the different parts of the plant
get, some of these peppers are normal peppers and some
are really hot peppers. It’s kind of a Russian roulette
sort of fun game for people. [laughter] Everyone takes a pepper,
and you wait to bite to see which one
you might have gotten. These are these great
kind of cultural nuances that you can
learn on your own. Of course, we tried
to put these in our guidebooks, but having
a local person walk you by the hand and
show you all of this stuff, it can really be an education. I took another great food tour
in Poland, for example, where I learned more about Poland than I
ever thought that I would know. I learned a lot about
Polish history and Polish culture, not
just Polish cooking. The really best food tours are
a good worthwhile investment. The last type of food
experience that I want to talk about is learning about
where your food comes from. This is really interesting. If you’re really into food, you
can actually go visit farms. You can actually go stay on a farm. There’s a whole culture for this. In Italy, it’s called agriturismo. Okay, agriturismo. It’s a place where you’re
actually staying on a working farm, and if it’s
done really well, they’re going to create some activities
and some experiences that will help you understand
what they’re doing. My favorite agriturismo is a place
in Tuscany called Cletagliolle. This is Isabella and Carlo. They run this place. I stayed there once, for
a week with my family. It was a real education in all
different aspects of Tuscan food. First, we walked around their
actual farmhouse, we met Luciano, the father of the family and
the farmer who owns this farm. One time, I was hanging out
with Luciano, and he was watching tourists try to
harvest olives from his trees. He kind of nudged me
and he said, “This is the problem with agriturismo. There’s a lot of turismo,
but not as much agri.”. [laughter] We made sure to have all different
kinds of culinary experience. They set up a tour for us at
a Pecorino cheese factory. Pecorino cheese comes from
this part of Tuscany. We got to learn how Pecorino cheese is made, the history of that cheese, and we got to sample several
different types of Pecorino cheese. Then, we went on a truffle
hunt through the woods. We followed this adorable dog
named Milly and her owner as she led us on this kind of wild goose
chase through a wooden forest. Finally, she got excited
and she started digging, and her owner
pulled her aside. He pulled out his little shovel and
started digging very, very carefully. Sure enough, he pulled out
this delicious little nugget of truffle, and
he gave us all a whiff. The grand finale of our week at this
agriturismo was pasta-making night. We all gathered in the common
room, and Isabella, the owner of the place, first she made
this giant wad of pasta dough. Then, she broke off little chunks,
and she distributed to each of us. Each family had an opportunity
to try hand rolling the local pasta, the local
noodle called pici. We didn’t all succeed, but we all had a really good meal at the end of it. It is possible to have these kinds
of experiences all over Europe. If you’re in Eastern Europe,
you’ll understand that there is a culture for people
making their own plum brandy. You can go to a little
farm in the middle of nowhere, and someone will take you into their barn and say, “Let me show you the plums that I harvested. Then, let me show you
the still, where I make my own homemade brandy.” One of my favorite countries
is Slovenia, where they have a very proud
beekeeping culture. It’s a really important
part of Slovenian culture. Near Lake Bled, which
is a famous destination there, there’s a guy who opens up his beehive and lets people
see and learn about this traditional Slovenian technique of beekeeping and learn all about how that’s part of their
food culture, but it’s also a very, very
important part of their national culture and
their folk culture. Folks, I hope that this has
provided you with some inspiration and also some
practical tips for how to incorporate food into your
travels, and maybe after this, you, like me, will
consider yourself a foodie. I wish you very happy travels
and very happy eating. Thank you very much. [music playing]


6 thoughts on “Europe for Foodies with Cameron Hewitt | Rick Steves Travel Talks”

  • that's why vegans will loose so much (flavorwise) if they only eat vegan food in europe….all those dishes are sooo good with the authentic recipe especially

  • He forgot to tell people not to ever use the word "préservatif" in French restaurants ! It's a common error, the word préservatif in French means condom, not preservatives….

  • its a pitty you only mention herring and french fries from The Netherlands there are more things to talk about like cheese (the gouda, edam and leerdam are from the netherlands , beer and jenever (from which the gin culture started) and for sweet stuff the dutch pancakes, the poffertjes (mini pancakes) and stroopwavels (syrupwaffels) and our vending machine with deep fried goodies that will fill you up for a few euros
    you missed out on most of the North European countries and i know that knowledge is available for Rick made several videos about The Netherlands

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