The Tale of My Food Trails
How I slurped, chewed, and devoured my way throughout Europe.
Two winters ago, I took a solo Europe trip. Though the visa-making process truly was a pain in the ass (imagine being an Indonesian exchange student making a Schengen visa in Dublin), but thank God my stubbornness helped me to persevere and eventually got me the almighty paper. The category is: not going to walk away until those tearful bus rides and sleepless nights paid off. Having a weak passport really do be showing your true colour and determination, huh.
The main priority of this adventure was food, be it for the gut or thought. No fancy stays nor shopping sprees, just me walking around enjoying the countries while eating the delicacies I came across on my way to museums, parks, and markets. It’s funny how food is such a solid messenger of love and tradition. It’s so idiosyncratic that every kick of spice or burst of sweetness speaks its own stories and sparks such distinct memories. That’s why oftentimes when you travel and want to immerse yourself into the culture or the scene of the locals, the first thing that comes to mind has got to be to try out the food.
Ready, Set, Warsaw
First impression: lots of Google Translate and hand gesture interactions. The weather was cold, but still bearable. No signs of rain, which is a nice break from the ever gloomy Dubs.
As soon as I settled in on my flat, dinner time was approaching. I decided to walk to a nearby restaurant called Da Aldo that serves the best pierogi which my Airbnb grandma couldn’t recommend enough. Pierogi is basically a polish dumpling, stuffed with a wide selection of fillings from sauerkraut to berries. I ordered the staple potato cheese, sprinkled with bacon bits on top. Right off the first bite, I was taken out of this world. The crispy edges, the greasy dough, the overall texture; obsessed. They were so good that I decided to order another, moreover after realising that a zloty is only €0.20. I could hear my wallet squealed in joy.
The next day I started my morning with a warm caramel pączki from a small cake shop I stumbled upon. Not a huge fan of it due to the overwhelming glaze and filling combo. I would actually prefer eating the two separately so that I could still be able to enjoy how the dough tastes. A couple of meters later after my pączki break, my nose caught a rather familiar smell. That’s right, pierogi! It was coming from a tiny stall with a big glass window that allowed you to see how they make your orders. That portion of pierogi marked my first out of countless that I had that day, which explains how much of a pierogi expert that made me.
After a couple of museum visits, I explored three Christmas markets — very ambitious of me, indeed. I had a big kielbasa late lunch at the first market I went to. Let me tell you, when the smokiness of the kielbasa meets the toasty sourdough, the mildly sour sauerkraut, and the tangy mustard, I was blessed with a balance of a savoury goodness. Right after, I scrolled through the second market while the sun set. Stopped for a moment to enjoy the beautiful, vivid gradation that shifted the day to night while finishing off my slice of karpatka, a Polish custard-filled pie that tasted mindblowingly good. The day was concluded with a tribute show of Chopin not far off from the Old Town. Enough said, that day was heaven on earth.
I happened to spend the next days visiting Krakow and Auschwitz, which is a story for another time, but just know that I ended up not eating much due to the very awakening experience.
Popped in Vienna
Dodged Dubs for the moody weather, yet there I was, gloriously greeted by a sustained heavy rain in Vienna. You know what they say: what goes around, comes back around.
Warmed myself up with a cup of hot white chocolate and some hash browns that dawn at a café near the station, felt comforting but nothing too special, really. I only got several hours in Vienna since I’d be headed to Salzburg by the evening. This might sound cheesy, but the only reason I was in Vienna at all was because I wanted to stroll the city, the Before Sunrise way. However, the locations turned out being so far from each other that I could only visit The Albertina and Teuchtler Record Shop. So then I gave my plan up and wandered around the city to, none other than, eat.
Eventually lent my eyes on the busy würstel stall at the bazaar beside the St. Stephen’s Cathedral. No regret was made as the crunch of the warm buns and würstel took the soul out of my body. The mustard and ketchup also complimented every bite so nicely that I never got tired of nodding in satisfaction to the point where a couple asked me where did I get what I ate. For the dessert, I got kaiserschmarrn, sort of a wordy name for a shredded pancake, methinks. As what’s best known to be the emperor’s favourite, this dish was proven to be royally okay.
Time was running out and I decided to roam around the area of the station to wait for my time to board. Salzburg bound!
The Sound of Salzburg
Guten abend, the city of my dreams. Apparently my excitement was properly welcomed by the crickets and merely blinking traffic lights on dark, empty roads. Was that how unreciprocated love must have felt like? However, none of that mattered knowing that as soon as I got to the hostel, everyone was gathered at the common room for a nightly screening of The Sound of Music. Day? Made.
Pretty sure I kicked off before the sun did the next morning. The crisp air and chilly weather clearly matched my ear-to-ear smile. First thing first, checking out Mirabell Palace that is located just a stone away from where I was staying. When I tell you I cried when I spotted the legendary stairs, trust me, I bawled. It’s so surreal how I used to watch this movie literally everyday as a kid and now I’m standing right where they sang the freaking Do-Re-Mi. Sorry, correction, not movie; masterpiece.
When Julie Andrews’ favourite things include crisp apple strudels, you mustn’t do anything but to get what she’s having. Finally found it on a Christmas market at the Residenz Palace and the first bite shocked me. With a generous powdered sugar topping and a side of whipped cream, the warm apple strudel was served to perfection. The hint of cinnamon in the juicy filling brought such a homey touch and essentially elevate the overall flavour. Julie was right, this is now on the top of my favourite things too.
Following more of Julie’s faves, schnitzel with noodles. Unfortunately, the place I had in mind was closed since it’s the day before Christmas. That being the case, I u-turned to Nordsee instead. The whole time I was there I couldn’t help but wonder why did Indonesia, a country that is well-known for its marine lavishness, couldn’t make a national chain of seafood-based fast food restaurant like this. Not only that it could empower communities of fishermen, but a sense of pride towards local products would also be ignited, don’t you think? Anyways, that was just a random thought I had when I feasted on their fish soup and shrimp-filled baguette. The seafood was so meaty and fresh that you could actually hear the crunch on every bite of the shrimp. Also, the hot soup really was the warm embrace that I longed for in that cold, drizzly afternoon. Divine, it was.
I continued my Sound of Music quest for the rest of the day and got blessed with a free bus ride as the driver said it was his Christmas present for me. There and then, my faith in humanity was restored.
My visit came to a close as I caught my train to Rome. This small city will always have a special place in my heart and I would be beyond happy to come back to experience the silver white winters that melt into springs.
Honey, I’m Rome
Arriving in Rome with the worst urge to pee. Before you ask why didn’t I do it on the train, the reason is because there’s no one I could ask for help to look out for my stuff and I’m paranoid like that. So, after half an hour searching for a place that opened on a silent Christmas morning, I finally stumbled upon a little Indian grocery which owner let me use their sketchy, beyond tiny, basement toilet. It was like me reliving Mary Kate’s restroom scene in New York Minute.
After freshening up, I remembered that I vowed to myself to get a scoop of pistachio gelato from every gelato shop I come across. Hence before everything, I got one from the shop near my hostel to power my way through a long walk to a place called Taverna del Seminario that I found on Yelp by searching for “cheap pasta place in Rome”. I mean, four stars and one dollar sign? Sounds good to me. Got there at last and boy wasn’t the place so packed. The waitress said I had to be on the waiting list but when she knew I was on my own on a Christmas night, she spared me some pities and got me a table for one in a snap. The fact that she managed to slip me in despite the place being so crowded — albeit it was literally deep in the corner behind a separating wall — only made her a true angel. I ordered a classic Caccio E Pepe and it was as delish as I expected it to be. Not to mention, adding an extra mountain of parm on my plate was probably the best decision I made. My walk back wasn’t less cheesier than my dinner as I accidentally found some couples kissing on the alleys I strolled on while I devoured my second cup of pistachio gelato and listened to some Norah Jones — which to my defence, both are equally romantic. When in Rome, am I right?
My morning commenced with a warm bolognese arancini that I found on my way to the Colosseum. Arancini is a rice ball with various fillings that is covered with bread crumbs and deep fried, pretty much like the Italian version of croquette. Not only that, I also got myself another pistachio gelato for breakfast. After visiting the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, and some majestic basilicas which architectures are jaw dropping, I walked to Vatican to see the Big P and experience Christmas in the legendary St. Peter’s Basilica. Though the place was swarmed, but there was no single annoying bump. Everyone was happy, singing, hugging — love truly was in the air and my heart was so full by the togetherness. To say it was beautiful would be an absolute understatement.
Life simply is a roller coaster because after that, I visited the Sistine Chapel only to find out that it’s still closed due to the big day. Pretty bummed out but it’s nothing that some pastries couldn’t fix. As soon as I smelled butter, I gravitated towards the shop and got myself a cornetto, which is apparently what sweet croissants are called in Italy. Long story short, I ended up demolishing those sugary layered crisps by dipping them into a hot cappuccino and it was squisito. Even more squisito, I spotted a gelato shop from afar and you know that only mean one thing: pistachio gelato, per favore!
Fast forward to my seventh scoop of pistachio gelato, I decided to enjoy it the Eat, Pray, Love way, which is by sitting in front of the Sant’Agnese in Agone. By this point I felt like it’s wise enough for me to arrive at a conclusion that the most delicious pistachio gelato in Rome goes to Gelicious. They really keep up with their name, aren’t they?
Honestly, I was too busy exploring gelato that I forgot not to even get a slice of pizza. So, Rome better catch me having pizza as my principal mission next time.
A Succinct Paris Rendezvous
When it comes to this city, there are two types of people: the ones who over-romanticise it and the ones who don’t — and in this trip, I came to be included in the latter. Now, before you bash me in disbelief, there are some things that may precipitate this notion. First, I stayed in the city for less than 24 hours; second, I’m on a budget, so; third, I got to stay in a ghetto neighbourhood, in which fortunately the place I stayed at has a nice hospitality, but unfortunately a loud ass techno music-playing bar downstairs.
Started my Parisian afternoon with croissant and crêpe — that were most likely overpriced only because I asked for them in French with an Emily in Paris accent — which eventually be pretty much burnt into the energy I needed to go around The Louvre anyway. When you got a limited time to comb through this giant maze of a museum, your initial thought channeled your longing to see the Mona Lisa with your own pair of eyes, despite being surrounded by the genius works of Vermeer, Michelangelo, or Rembrandt. As a baroque gal myself, I feel like Ms. Mona was… okay. Especially with a crowd that overwhelming, the enchantment of the art had failed to grow on me. I then decided to fled the scene and stared at other paintings and sculptures with a much quieter audience. Not until a couple of minutes later, a friend of my mom’s who I promised to meet had texted me to join him at a restaurant in Champs Elysées for dinner.
I ended up ordering the signature mussels that my mom’s friend suggested and it deserved a thousand’s chef’s kisses. Truly. The mussels were fresh and were drizzled with a buttery sauce that is fragrant and opulent in flavour. For the sides, even if it’s just a classic plateful of frites, but having the French version of french fries in France just felt more satisfying in a way. After being indulged with such a luscious main, came the heavenly crème brûlée. Cracking that first layer of the caramelised sugar and diving into the velvety custard never cease to excite me that I’m most certainly be forever indebted to the creator of this dessert. The night was concluded by admiring the Eiffel’s scintillate from a bridge over the Seine. The weather was cold but the sparkle of the tower repose it, making the 5 whole minute of staying out worth it.
First thing the next morning, I checked out, ate croustilles as my breakfast, and ordered an Uber to catch my bus to Amsterdam. A little tip, always do Uber when you’re in Paris because it would give you reasonable nett prices. Most taxis, on the other hand, once they realised you’re a tourist who couldn’t speak French other than bonjour, merci, and s’il vous plaît, they would do a price-up no one asked for.
Winding Up in Amsterdam
Last but not least, I finally arrived at the city which felt so close to home as there were droves of Indonesian tourists and cuisines in almost every corner — that even my native Uber driver said he loves rendang.
My hostel happened to be not that far away from the Anne Frank House, hence after I put my stuff, I practically sprinted there. As someone who has read The Diary of a Young Girl a gazillion times front to back and still cries every single time, it’s inevitable for me not to visit the museum. Sadly, the registrant said that the tickets for the museums could only be bought online and the daily limit had been fulfilled. It was a shame but, again, as a wise woman a.k.a me once said, it’s nothing that some pastries couldn’t fix. So, I went on buying a sesame bagel off some market to boost my walk to a mall my friend and I decided to meet at.
My prompt visit to the city was to meet a friend and, most importantly, reunite with the food that I’ve terribly missed: raw herring. Apparently, this fish has become a European delicacy since the Middle Ages and is being enjoyed in various recipes throughout the region. My love at first sight towards this fish dated back to a couple of years ago when I ate a potato salad pickled herring in Bremen. At that instant, if only I was a judge on The Voice and this fish is the blind audition contestant, I’d turn my chair right away. Though some people prefer to eat it with sour cream or pickles, but I came to enjoy it the straightforward way, with a sprinkle of diced onions on top which is believed to neutralise the saltiness of the fish itself. Despite the fact that your breath would likely to smell funky afterwards, this dish is a must try, moreover knowing that it is easily found all over the city during Christmas and New Year.
Next up, we went to one of the hippest boba place in town. Of course I had to taste their staple milk tea because if they hit the right spot with their simplest option, guarantee that the rest of the menu would be history. Look, all I gotta say after the first sip was, these people are welcomed to take a field trip to Indonesia’s bobascape anytime, but preferably soon. As if our sugar intake hadn’t surpassed the daily average, we ended up snatching some poffertjes and oliebol in a stall just down the street from the boba place. When I say there is nothing better than eating some warm sugary dishes in a chilly winter night, I was dead serious. We were supposed to go to New King for some roasted ducks to even out all the sweets buzz, but the line was crazy so we skipped it and wander around the city instead.
The next day I woke up much earlier than my flight because I was too excited to end this solo trip and meet my boyfriend in Berlin, as well as be able to drown myself in countless of currywursts. After my t-2 hours alarm rang, I ordered an Uber and checked out as I thought to myself, I’ll return to this eclectic city, for sure.
Or better yet, have another solo Europe trip, Autumn edition.