Food and drink define many European cities and regions as much as they are by local sites. Whether you’re planning your first visit to Europe or returning for more, immerse yourself in local cuisines. Resist the temptation to have a meal or coffee in McDonald’s! You’ll make more memories, eat better food and get more enjoyment eating at bakeries and cafes and from street vendors.
Go Dutch: Eat Herring, Drink Vodka
There are two kinds of Dutch cuisine: traditional Dutch and Indonesian.
The Dutch like their herring and baked goods. If you want to be a real Dutchman, Thrillist recommends a restaurant called Vishandel Theo v/d Geest for raw herring. You can gobble it up whole or ask for it on a bun. Wash it down with vodka. Make your hosts happy and ask for Ketel One, which is brewed about 45 miles south in Schiedem, near Rotterdam. You can tour the 325-year old Nolet Distillary where Ketel is brewed the old way: in copper stills and from 100 percent non-GMO winter wheat. TravelAge West says members of the Nolet family remain active in distillery operations and even act as tour guides. Buy a couple of commemorative copper-colored bottles Nolet is selling to mark its 325th anniversary. When you aren’t swallowing fish, treat yourself to a sweeter Dutch treat: stroopwafels at Lanskroon, where they serve the thin, creme-filled waffle cookies atop a mug of coffee or tea to keep it warm.
Indonesian cuisine is the other major culinary influence in The Netherlands. If you haven’t tried Indonesian food, Amsterdam puts you in the best possible spot. Hop a tram or ride a bike to Blauw, a New York Times recommendation that is seconded by Lonely Planet.
Buy a museum card to walk off your dessert. The van Gogh and Rijksmuseum are world-class visual feasts. If the weather’s nice, stroll along the city’s 42 miles of canals. Amsterdam is home to Europe’s best bar, according to Time Out. Hiding in Plain Sight is known for creating unusual cocktails and setting them on fire before serving them up.
Belgium: The Jewel in Europe’s Crown
If you can drag yourself out of The Netherlands, head south for Belgium.
Belgium is a little jewel of a nation. Its capital, Brussels, blends medieval architecture with modern buildings that hosts various European agencies. Where there’s lots of Europeans, there’s lots of excellent restaurants. Food Republic’s list of places to “eat and drink incredibly well” and cheaper than in Paris include:
- Le Pigeon Noir, a French restaurant that seats only 20. Its main feature is pigeon, roasted and in a pate.
- Vismet, a Flemish seafood establishment featuring the local delicacy: Belgian brown shrimp.
- Caffe al Dente, an Italian cafe that serves two daily specials (meat and fish) and where most staff speak only Italian.
Be sure to try Belgian fries, which are twice-fried.
Chocolate is a major industry in Belgium. Godiva is headquartered in Brussels. Most chocolate is produced by smaller chocolatiers, each with a secret approach. Chocolate tours are popular attractions. If time permits, a trip to Brugge takes you to a medieval city out of a fairy tale. Confess your lust for chocolate at Church of Our Lady (which features Michelangelo’s “Madonna and Child”) because Brugge is all about chocolate. The streets off Grote Market are packed with shops selling chocolate and lace.
If you love beer, chocolate and eating in general, but are concerned about overdoing it, a bike and barge trips can balance this out. You bike along flat routes, and the barge holds your luggage and provides sleeping space.
About the Author: Ruth Ann Monti is the founder of TimeStorm Communications, which provides original content, copywriting, social media and marketing services for entrepreneurs and small business. She lives with her son and two dogs in sunny Scottsdale, AZ.