In the places we have visited so far in Europe, we have sampled the local food wherever possible. What follows are the highlights of our food experiences during the first part of our time in Europe from Latvia, through Scandinavia, and on to Slovenia.
Riga, Latvia’s capital city, was our first stop in Europe. Latvia’s dishes typically feature roasted meat, accompanied by potatoes, pickles, cabbage and onions. Being so close to the Baltic Sea, it is not surprising that fish is also found in many Latvian dishes. At a cafe located adjacent to Riga’s historic center and just a short distance from St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, I enjoyed a pork cutlet with horseradish, cooked cabbage and black beans while Darren feasted on a simple but delicious black bean and bacon salad (also containing a healthy portion of onions).
Another day,we enjoyed walking through the immense Central Market, located beneath four giant zeppelin hangers. There we saw a wide variety of fish, fruit and vegetables being sold. Especially appetizing were the berries which were in season during our visit.
The first night we were In Tallinn we walked around the old town looking for a place for dinner. We came across a restaurant that was much more crowded than the rest and went to look inside. Olde Hansa is an old town highlight and is decorated in a medieval fashion. Even the waiters and waitresses wear period clothing. The food was served on stone crockery and the drinks in heavy ceramic mugs.
Here, Darren enjoyed salmon in a rich cream sauce that is so often found in dishes in this region of the world. Again, the black beans were featured but, this time, it was accompanied by barley. I ordered the smoked ham hock that also came with a side of barley. Pickles are often added to dishes, but not just as a garnish, but instead mixed in with the food to add another layer of flavor.
Given the country’s location, it is not surprising that Finland would feature fish, both fresh from their many lakes, and also from the icy Baltic Sea. Game, such as moose, reindeer and deer, also are meal options. Berries can be picked throughout the country and raspberries, strawberries, lingonberries and bilberries are popular in desserts or as an accompaniment to a meal.
After searching the Internet and consulting our guidebook, we selected what seemed to be the most traditional and well-reviewed restaurants that were close to our hotel. The sun was just setting as we walked along the waterfront, admiring the historic buildings around the marina area. After choosing a restaurant, we enjoyed reindeer stroganoff, served atop mashed potatoes, which were accompanied by delicious lingonberries. For dessert, we had a piece of cheesecake served with locally-grown raspberries.
In Europe, many locals escape to the mountains for their holiday and trek from hut to hut. We took part in this time-honored tradition when we hiked through Triglav National Park in Slovenia. While seated on tables outside the huts each night, we enjoyed simple soups and stews as we watched the sunset behind the nearby mountain peaks.
One night we ate a hearty meat and potato soup. However, the best dish on our four-day trek was a sausage and bean soup, which was accompanied by salted bread. For dessert we enjoyed a homemade dish called Struklji, which consists of a ricotta cheese-like roll, warmed up and topped with warm buttered bread crumbs and preserves.
As we continue to travel in Europe we will highlight the food that we try. Look for another Europe food summary, covering the second half of our journey, in a few weeks.