European Foodie Destinations
Hubby and I have started throwing around ideas for a European trip next year; we have some ideas, but I'd like to consider all possibilities.
Food is an important part of our travels, along with great people-watching and cafe-sitting and lots of art and history. Our teen kids will be with us, and they enjoy the same thing; no hesitations about restaurants re the age or pickiness of the kids. So, from the food perspective, where might you suggest?
I'm thinking of regions, not necessarily just cities. We like good regional cuisine, mostly mid-priced places, some high-end, and some hole-in-the-wall places. I love trying the local specialties - like finding a great frite place in Brussels on a recent trip, or having hutspot and apfelgeback in Amsterdam. Our favorite restaurants in Venice are Alle Testiere and Anice Stellato. We don't really like the heavier, meat-based cuisines (mostly), though we enjoy Tuscan food. Thus our trip to the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary, while great for a lot of reasons, was very low on the food(ie) chain.
Here are some places we've liked a lot, food-wise (in no particular order): Paris, Provence, the Dordogne, Barcelona, Bologna, Piedmont, Rome, Tuscany, Umbria.
I've considered and looked into Dijon and that area, and the cuisine just doesn't appeal. Hubby said no to Friuli-Venezia-Giulia. We'd like to not go anywhere too far south, to avoid hot weather (as in, not southern Italy). Brittany is high on our list, as is a return trip to Belgium/Netherlands/Northern Germany, though the food aspect doesn't appeal so much (except for Belgium; we had very good food experiences there).
You will find plenty of excellent restaurants in Berlin (and Hamburg), and probably more variety than in Amsterdam.
You might also consider going the Southern German route, since you're already kinda headed down that way - quite an influence by Alsatian and French cooking.
For me it would be the coffee houses of Vienna. I don't think you could find that quality anywhere else in the world.
I agree with you about Belgium, I find the food in Brussels to be as good as Paris with a lot less attitude (though to be fair, even in Paris this has toned down from what it was years ago). Rome is another favorite of mine - yes, it's southern Italy, but the trick is to go at a relatively cool time of year, like early spring, when the weather is warm and gorgeous.
As linguafood says, Berlin has a LOT to offer and is in general a really fun place to visit. Don't miss the food market at KaDeWe if you do go - it's possibly the most impressive display of food porn in Europe short of Harrod's food halls.
I did a cassoulet tour of southern France a few years ago that was a lot of fun. OK, it was theoretically a trip down the Canal du Midi in a rented riverboat with another couple, but from my perspective it was all about the cassoulet.
Stay out of Eastern Europe - while there are occasional good and even excellent restaurants, on the whole the food is just stodgy. If you do go, your best bet is Budapest.
One place that surprised me was Istanbul - lots of variety, and the cuisine is as much Mediterranean as Middle Eastern.
I'll even put in a good word for London - there's a lot more to be found there than there was a decade or two ago. I'm often there on business and it's not at all difficult to find a good, even a great meal. And of course there are the aforementioned Harrod's food halls. Yes, that's halls, plural. It's a mind-boggling array of exotic edibles from around the world..
Sounds as if the OP already has many of the more obvious bases covered in previous travels (not that repeat visits are a no-no.) But I'll simply second BobB's suggestions both of London and Berlin.
The "culture" part of the OP's interests will be amply fed there. In each case, however, what you'll be looking at in terms of food are very eclectic and cosmopolitan capitals. For me, that's great, but it will not be the same thing as getting to know an "area." I am DYING to get back to Berlin for the Turkish food. And London is kaleidoscopic. One of my more memorable meals there was by a place that specialized in a Vegetarian cuisine originally only offered to Chinese royalty. (Note: I'm not vegetarian myself.)
In general food in the North of France not as much interesting to me as the South, so I do not think that much of Brittany.
Food in Malopolska - Krakow and its region - - is much different than Czech or Slovak. We spent three weeks there and it took us two weeks to find a bad meal. Great region for travel and Krakow is thoroughly fantastic.
Have eaten all out great food in Copenhagen and Vienna. Distinct cuisines, great food, second to none.
You must've had much better luck than I - spent a couple days in Krakow and thought the food was mediocre at best. Of course, this was 10 years ago, so surely, they've improved since then.
I will never forget a 'borscht' I had at a small kosher café, which was a clear beet broth. This sounds much better written down than what it looked like on the plate, and how it tasted: like a bowl of blood.
I also find the food in Eastern Europe in general to be uninteresting, perhaps I've had my share of meat, potatoes, and cabbage growing up in Germany... I would never suggest Poland, the Czech Republic or Slovakia as a 'foodie destination'.
Kosher, really? Nothing like strict rabbinical supervision to put the damper on a meal. The borscht I had was beef or mushroom, or sour broth with grated beets in it as well as meat, and some other vegetables. So a 'bowl of blood' sounds very different than what I experienced.
In France I adore the Auvergne, but it is very meat-centric.
I think you could put together a very interesting Northern Europe package that will very much hit the mark food-wise as well the other interests you mention. Steer clear of the capital cities (such as Brussels & London) and enjoy the types of area where most of us live. So, within a couple of hours of each other, you would have the French regions of the Pas de Calais and Picardy, together with the Flemish-speaking part of Belgium (Brussels is an odd city - French speaking yet in the middle of Flanders). And, a short hop on the ferry brings you to south east England and, in particular, one of our finest foodie counties - Kent.
I think you would find interesting differences between how the three countries each deal with the same climate and pretty much the same food, particularly, of course, with seafood.
I've got to admit, part of the fun of this question is seeing all the answers. And I've not really thought about Germany as a foodie country, partly because I view it as a "heavier" cuisine that we just don't like as much. But now I'll look into Berlin and environs. As examples, what are some of the local/regional dishes that we'd enjoy?
As I mentioned, central Europe, including Hungary, is not (to us) a foodie place. We loved Eges (eastern Hungary), and I had a fantastic foie gras dish, and the langos were fun (they're the Hungarian cousin of the Indian fry bread found in my part of the world). But we didn't like the local dishes. Can't like everything!
Yes, we've been to a lot of the obvious places, but not ruling out returning. And any time we visit any where in France, we decide that we need to include Paris.
Any more details about Brittany? After reading up about the area, I was interested (partly because of non-food aspects). Again, any information about local foods? What I have in mind is an area similar to, let's say, the Piedmont or the Dordogne, where there seems to be a more-than-usual interest in good local dishes, prepared well, and a surfeit of restaurants that do that.
Now I want to go everywhere!
I guess the regional specialties depend on which time of year you are planning your trip. While Germany may be known for heavy, meat & potato centered dishes, it's a fairly simplistic idea. German cuisine has lightened up much in the last couple decades.
If you have an idea of which season you'll be visiting Berlin & surroundings, I can answer your question.
I'd like to point out a couple which I haven't seen listed here yet.
The first is the Istrian peninsula in Croatia. I know it's technically Eastern Europe, but the food is actually more mediterranean. Heck, it's right on the border with Italy. In fact, the region is very similar to Italy, but without the obscene prices and tourist throngs. They also have amazing wine!
I also think that the Alsace wine road in France (between Colmar & Strasbourg) has both amazing food and wine. Though, it can probably be appreciated in a 3 or 4 day weekend.
I second the Istria suggestion. We own a home there and love to forage for all sorts of mushrooms, wild asparagus, wild herbs, fruits, nuts, etc. The olive oils are delicious. And don't forget the white truffles which I much prefer over truffles from Perigord. The pastas can be very good. Don't forget about the many local dishes such as peka (protein cooked under a lid piled high with hot coals - lamb and octopus are my favourites). Sea urchin is fun to try, although an acquired taste. Having been to Germany and Czech Republic and so on the food in Istria is not nearly as heavy (with some exceptions - there is a very special Istrian beef that is fabulous) and far more flavourful. Lots and lots of spit grilling.
And as an extra bonus you will be stunned by the beauty and history and climate. Call me biased but still!