Best regional foods in Europe?
January 23, 2015 6:40 PM   Subscribe

What are some of the tastiest, most interesting regional foods and food products in Europe?

I've been traveling through Western Europe and the British Isles since last May, and I plan to remain here for the next few months. Over the course of my trip, I've discovered the wealth of interesting regional foods that each country has to offer. There are the simple things, like baguettes in Paris or kloß in Germany; and the incredible artisanal products, like true balsamic vinegar in Modena or jamón in Spain. I used to think that you could find any type of global food in your typical capital city, but I was clearly wrong: many of the best foods in the world are confined to small regions, unable to be reproduced anywhere else.

Out of all the regional foods in Europe, what should I definitely seek out before I leave?

I have no itinerary, so I'm willing to travel to any city or town in Europe for the sake of culinary tourism! High on my list right now is the famous Westvleteren beer. I also recently discovered that Slow Food has an "Ark of Taste" cataloging rare, artisanal products all around the world, but there are just too many entries to get through.
posted by archagon to Food & Drink (35 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
- I was totally blown away by how delicious prosciutto was in central Italy. I've never had a particular affinity for it, but the stuff in Italy was just amazing.

- Smoked salmon in Norway. Yum.
posted by lunasol at 6:57 PM on January 23, 2015

Response by poster: Oh yeah, I've crossed prosciutto off my list in a big way. ;)

(Still finishing the last remaining slices a month later!!)
posted by archagon at 7:05 PM on January 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

Burčák in Czech Republic. Wife and I went to Prague in the fall, took a train out of the city and ended up in a small town that had a fall festival going on. Saw a big vat of a drink called Burčák. Bought a couple of glasses. We both thought it was apple cider. Bought a liter and drank it while walking around. Just delicious. It was definitely not Apple Juice.
posted by sanka at 7:08 PM on January 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

Colcanon in Ireland (I prefer it with cabbage but this is a regional thing even within Ireland.) Guinness in Ireland, because it tastes different when brewed with Irish water. Pork belly, in Ireland or the UK, whenever it is offered on a menu.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:22 PM on January 23, 2015

Frankfurt area: apfelwein (or Speierling)
posted by maggiemaggie at 7:27 PM on January 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

Hungary's food, like its language, is dissimilar to the rest of the region. You may want to travel from Vienna to Budapest and eat through both cities. Hungary is full of dishes both spicy and rich, and detailed, complex pastries and desserts.
posted by littlewater at 7:30 PM on January 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

Honestly, and this isn't fancy food or anything, but step into a Nordsee and get a Matjes baguette if you're walking around and tired and hungry for something quick. Yeah, it's a fish sandwich, but then you realize how fish-phobic the US(especially the midwest) is and how you'll never just be able to pop into a sandwich chain and get something this tasty back home makes it kind of special.
posted by asockpuppet at 7:35 PM on January 23, 2015 [5 favorites]

Bologna (Italy): salame rosa (pink salami), a not-so-easy-to-find local delicacy these days, but worth hunting around. (You should be able to get it at Tamburini or one of the other little shops in the market district of downtown.)

Emilia-Romagna region in general: tigelle (my favorite) and crescentine. The former are pretty confined to the hill/mountain regions of Emilia, while the latter are more traditionally from Romagna but pretty ubiquitous these days. If you're especially adventurous, try tigelle with pesto alla modenese, made with lard and rosemary (my favorite, as awful as that sounds). Or you can stick with the staples of assorted meats and soft cheeses like squacquerone (another regional delicacy that, as far as I've ever been able to tell, is only available locally).

If you want a specific suggestion of where to go to find all of this (except the pink salami, I believe), then I recommend Parco dei Ciliegi. There are numerous other spots, especially as you move closer to Modena and more into the hills, but that's the one I'm most familiar with.
posted by Superplin at 7:36 PM on January 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

This probably fits most people's stereotypes but sausages from a butcher and beer from a local pub on tap in Germany is the best I've had anywhere. P!us bread, ohmygod the bread - brotchen for breakfast from a bakery are heaven!
posted by bluesky43 at 7:49 PM on January 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

Sfogliatelle in Naples and Cannoli in Sicily are unlike either of those sold anywhere else. I don't even try to buy them in other regions of Italy; they're available, but a pale shadow of the real deal.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:12 PM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Cepelinai from Lithuania are just amazing - eat with sourcream and chopped bacon.
posted by Middlemarch at 9:01 PM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've only travelled in summer, but in case your few months extend into spring: I disliked fish until I encountered their Platonic manifestations in Portugal (the Algarve and coastal areas especially). Sardines and bream are popular, but there are lots of yummy fishies to choose from. The preparation is usually simple - sea salt, lemon, olive oil - it's more that you're getting the actual catch of the day.

Also in Sicily: spaghetti with squid ink sauce (pasta al nìvuro di sìccia). You could shoot over to Malta on a ferry (again, not until March) for rabbit stew. (Or take a different ferry to Croatia, where you might get more Italian-influenced dishes on the coast, and pork, veal, game, and delicious cured meats more inland.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:07 PM on January 23, 2015

Kohl und Pinkel in Bremen. (I mean, this is a trick question, right? Obviously Kohl und Pinkel!)
posted by Namlit at 11:19 PM on January 23, 2015

+1 for Frankfurter apfelwein (sparkling hard cider) but also wiener schnitzel with spätzle and aged (10+ years) riesling spätlese wine. Foie gras in Normandy or Alsace. Rosé wine in the south of France (Provence, Côte d'Azur). Those are the foods I still dream about.
posted by wnissen at 11:56 PM on January 23, 2015

Cheese. Seriously, everywhere you go eat the local cheese. If possible find an actual cheese shop or stall at the local market and ask the proprietor for whatever is made in the surrounding region or whatever is the local specialty. Even just going to the supermarket and buying whatever is named in the local language from the 'fancier' cheese display works. It will be different everywhere and it will be amazing everywhere and cheese.

Start with Carrigaline Farmhouse Cheese from Cork in Ireland if you need ideas, but this has never failed me all over Europe.
posted by shelleycat at 1:07 AM on January 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have a big soft spot for the Leipziger Lerche.
posted by the_blizz at 1:11 AM on January 24, 2015

In Düsseldorf, Altbier, and in Plzeň, pilsner. In western Germany/eastern Netherlands, Reibekuchen/Riefkuukskes with applesauce.
posted by neushoorn at 1:56 AM on January 24, 2015

If you aren't doing a Scandiavian leg you could still get easily from Poland so Karlskrona in Sweden and try bodycakes (kroppkakor) which are a giant potato dumpling filled with spiced pork and served with cream and butter, as well as have a coastal treat in the form of a sillamacka fried herring sandwich. If you are in Stockholm you should get that burger style as a Strömmingburgare outside the Slussen subway station.
posted by Iteki at 3:51 AM on January 24, 2015

In Modica, Sicily: a unique kind of chocolate
posted by Elsie at 3:57 AM on January 24, 2015

Oh yeah, I've crossed prosciutto off my list in a big way. ;)

Have you? The prosciutto of San Daniele is much better than Parma. And the best prosciutto of all is D'Osvaldo made in The region of Friuli. We once traveled up there just to taste this magnificent thing. And prosciutto is best tasted right after it is carved or it starts to lose its juiciness.
posted by vacapinta at 5:38 AM on January 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

A true bavarian Brezel is worth its weight in gold! And you can only really get them in Bavaria, anywhere else they taste off, imo.

This isn't Europe-specific, but I didn't know mangos were tasty until I ate one that was perfectly ripe in the Spanish summer. Eating fruit in the right regions is like rediscovering it.

Nürnberger Elisenlebkuchen, of any brand, you can get all year long, although it is a traditional Christmas food.

Bamberger Hörnla is a delicious variety of potatoes you only get in Franconia.

Also: Kellerbier.
posted by ipsative at 5:39 AM on January 24, 2015

Dijon, France has amazing food and wine. I was staying in a youth hostel and a group of us went out for pizza. It was one of my top 10 meals ever. Freaking artichoke pizza and the most delicious salad. The mustard and vinegar based dressing was so good the girl I shared the salad with and I were tossing a coin to see who got to lick the plate.

In Monte Carlo, I had Eggs Portuguese. For years I've been trying to find a recipe for them. They were basically eggs and tomatoes scrambled together. But a rich red and thoroughly tomato infused. Like the best stewed tomatoes you've ever had with the lightest fluffiest eggs. Served with a light tossed salad and French freaking good. Seriously, if there's a recipe out there, hook me up!

I can also recommend Dijon for the museum at the palace there. GREAT musuem, sweet little town and the youth hostel in the suburbs was very comfortable. (Who doesn't love French breakfast? Yogurt, bread and a bowl of cafe au lait?)
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:03 AM on January 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

I highly recommend going to Pienza Italy. They have the BEST roast pork sandwich (AKA porchetta). Then for dessert, stop by the cheese shop for some of the best pecorino you've ever tasted.
posted by SteveInMaine at 6:10 AM on January 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'd go to Catalunya if I were you. Not that you need to go to all the amazing Michelin star restaurants but there is a good reason there are so many there: amazing fresh produce, a traditionally flavourful cuisine and not being really spanish nor french but combining the best of the two countries with a huge dose of Mediterranean-ness. You can always lift up your itinerary from here.
posted by Marauding Ennui at 7:19 AM on January 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: > Have you? The prosciutto of San Daniele is much better than Parma. And the best prosciutto of all is D'Osvaldo made in The region of Friuli. We once traveled up there just to taste this magnificent thing. And prosciutto is best tasted right after it is carved or it starts to lose its juiciness.

Oh yeah! Pictured on that plate is Parma, San Daniele, Piero Montali, Culatello di Zibello "Antiche Razze", and hand-cut smoked prosciutto, among other meats. Went into Volpetti on my last day in Rome and got them to cut almost a kilo of meat for me.

I'll have to try D'Osvaldo next time I'm in Italy!
posted by archagon at 7:20 AM on January 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

In addition to jamon, don't miss out on anchovies from the Basque country, and canned food in general, which Spain does better than anywhere else by far. If you're ever in Barcelona, a great place to find preserved, pickled and salt cured delicacies is quimet y quimet, one of the best places I've ever eaten, which also sells all the preserved ingredients they use to make their tapas.
posted by dis_integration at 7:27 AM on January 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Cassoulet gives you a good excuse to travel to Carcassonne. It's a rustic dish but very filling and perfect in winter. Purists claim nearby Castelnaudry is the true home of cassoulet but it's not nearly as interesting a place to be a tourist, so go to Carcassonne. If you have the means stay at the Hotel de la Cité. Two nights is plenty to see the tourist stuff, really half of one day will cover the highlights.
posted by Nelson at 8:24 AM on January 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

In the Netherlands, don't miss out on some traditional baked goods. Oliebollen are a lovely winter treat, now available from street stalls all over the country; stroopwafels can be bought in any supermarket, but if you can get FRESH HOT ones from a street stall, I guarantee an instant foodgasm. Poffertjes are a traditional fairground treat and they are delicious.

Oh, and we do good cheese.
posted by Too-Ticky at 8:36 AM on January 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Wild boar sandwiches in Orvieto, Italy. Have it with a bottle of Orvieto Classico wine.
posted by nightrecordings at 9:01 AM on January 24, 2015

Haggis in Scotland. You can't buy real haggis in the States because one of the ingredients is sheep lungs, which isn't considered fit for human consumption in the USA. So your only chance will be while you're in Europe.
posted by essexjan at 9:35 AM on January 24, 2015

Bouillabaisse in southern France ie Marseille. You must order it a few days ahead and make sure you find an accredited bouillabaisse restaurant to get authentic bouillabaisse (ah, the French). €50 easy.

I'm also a huge fan of French macarons.

If you're adventurous try a gastropub in Lyon France (cuisine lyonnaise) but be prepared to eat chicken liver pate and other highly acquired tastes.

Finally pasteis de Belem in Belem (outside of Lisbon, also called pastel de nada or Portuguese egg tarts) were pretty good!
posted by St. Peepsburg at 5:20 PM on January 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Sardines in Portugal - grilled whole. They're amazing and I'm not any kind of "fish person." Also bacalhao - cod, often with garlic. Sooooo good.

Chicken Piri-piri is like the European equivalent of fried chicken/buffalo wings, only better. See also "frango da Guia." I've had it in Guia and it's worth the trip.

Basically everything in Portugal. I had no idea what to expect from Portuguese food and was amazed to find out how delicious it is. I eat myself silly every time I'm there - my pants are always a bit tighter on the flight home.
posted by sonika at 5:59 PM on January 24, 2015

There are a couple of foods which you can find pretty much anywhere the world, but which only taste truly right in one place - pesto and focaccia. Yep, looks like you'll be spending a lot more time in Italy! For these you need to go to Liguria. Genoa is a great city. And try some farinata too - again the only place you'll get it done right. You must also pop to Recco, a little town down the coast for focaccia col formaggio.
posted by brighton at 6:02 PM on January 24, 2015

I definitely recommend Westvleteren, it's very good. I had some for the first time last year, I got it as a gift from my grandmother who lives in the area. If you don't want to drive all the way to the monastery, Sint-Bernardus Abt 12 is also excellent and really similar (apparently the recipe is identical), but is much easier to obtain.

If you are into greasy/fried food, I also strongly recommend the Mitraillette sandwich, which can be obtained in any decent fry shop in Belgium. It's a sandwich with fries and fried meat.

I also agree with poster above, Burčák is very nice. However, it is dangerous to drink it in Prague: a lot of burčák in Prague is actually non-authentic unripe wine imported from Hungary or maybe Slovakia. Several people from Prague have warned me not to try burčák there. Your best bet is to try it in a major city in Moravia, in the eastern side of the Czech Republic. If it is burčák season (end of september - mid-october iirc) you can basically go into any vinotéka and buy it in 1.5 L plastic bottles. I had some amazing burčák together with friends in the city of Olomouc. The stuff spoils really fast so you can only drink it around that time.
posted by Deece BJ Pancake at 6:03 PM on January 24, 2015

Generally, Italian local foods is the best answer to your question. There are great local foods in every single European country. But in Italy, it is with the food as with the cultural heritage sites. They just have 10 times as much as anyone else, or more. And most Italians are engaged in this - they go to places to eat and buy products. If you go to a food destination, or a vineyard, or a renowned restaurant, some of the customers will be international, but most will be Italian. I wish I had the time and money to visit every region in Italy and sample the local produce. Just for the fun of it, you can study this - again, all European countries work to preserve heritage foods. Some just have a better point of departure than others.

Apart from Italy, the other Mediterranean countries are the easiest to access in terms of food. When you get further north, a lot of the food moves "indoors" - it is produced and eaten by families, and is not easily available commercially. There are tons and tons of good sausages, cured meats, cheeses, preserved fish, beers, ciders, wines, pickles etc. But they are all extremely local.

Another thing is, while a town might have a spectacular beer, worth traveling for, that beer might be the only thing of value within 100 km. People eat well, but they do it within their homes.
posted by mumimor at 2:40 PM on January 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

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