Eating My Way Though Europe

What and Where Am I Eating?

June 10, 2010 - Traveling to Amsterdam

Traveling to other countries on the weekend is rough. When you're in transport, it's hard to remember to eat, let alone to find good food in a train station or airport. Then, it costs so much money for transportation and sightseeing in the new city that I feel like I have to preserve whatever cash I can. That means being conservative with my food budget. So I didn't eat any grand meals in Amsterdam, but that's alright. Food isn't really what the city is about, anyway. After all, I ended up spending more money on coffee and beer than food.

Thursday was a nightmare of a day, at least as nightmarish as living in Paris can get. I was attempting to coordinate and schedule all the parts of my trip to Amsterdam. This was my first time planning every detail of a trip, beginning to end, on my own. Even in Paris, I didn't have to plan where to stay or what to do with all of my time, since I have schoolwork and other planned activities. But trying to throw together a weekend trip to Amsterdam was more difficult than I would have hoped, especially since I had to wait for both my Eurail pass and my new credit card to arrive by FedEx before I could book a train. But no need to relive it, other than to say I spent both breakfast and lunch in my apartment, waiting for those packages to arrive. By the time I got to the train station to leave for Amsterdam, I was so hungry that I wanted to pass out. But at least I had enough time before my train to grab a baguette sandwich from the cafe for dinner. Something called a Paris Provence sandwich. Nothing fancy, I believe it just had tomatoes, mozzarella, and herbs, but enough food to assuage my hunger.

I had a few beers once I got to Amsterdam - Heineken, of course. One of the tourist attractions there is the original Heineken brewery, which is now a museum, but I wasn't going to spend my money on a beer museum. But Heineken is in every bar, and I think it tastes even better there than it would in the U.S. I'm not sure if that's because it is fresher, being nearer to the source, or just psychological. Everyone stays up until at least midnight in Amsterdam - at least it would appear that way from the crowds in the street - so I had a midnight snack. I had to have the quintessential Amsterdam snack - French fries with mayonnaise instead of ketchup. They're actually called Flemish fries there, since I suppose they are actually Flemish in origin. But I'm afraid I wasn't brave enough to have my fries with mayonnaise only, because I got mayonnaise, ketchup, and onions on my fries. I saw a lot of tourists doing the same mayo/ketchup combo, so I didn't feel too guilty. There's something about dipping fries in pure mayonnaise that just seemed too fattening and indulgent to me. So I added fruit - tomato ketchup and onions. That makes it healthier, right?
The infamous fries with mayonnaise (and ketchup)

June 11, 2010 - Amsterdam, Day 1

The next day, I slept through breakfast, as most tourists in Amsterdam will do. I didn't get to bed until 4, but in my defense, I didn't even arrive at my hostel until midnight and I wanted to go out for a few hours and get a feel for the city. Amsterdam is all about the nightlife, so I wasn't the only person wandering around that late. So for brunch, I had a delicious mocha latte with some fried eggs and toast. The meal was simple, yet heartening. Bonus: this meal was a lot cheaper than anything I could've gotten in Paris, just 7 euros for the latte, toast, and 3 eggs (Oops, I forgot to take a picture of the eggs, but you already know what fried eggs and toast looks like). I noticed lots of restaurants in Amsterdam serve breakfast all day, I suppose because people also have hangovers at all times of day. For a midday snack, I stopped into a grocery store and bought a pair of ham and cheese croissants. Also, I had a few beers throughout the afternoon. Finally, for a late dinner, I had the Turkish specialty, the donor kebab. I had already met a few Turks in Amsterdam, and I remembered enjoying donor kebabs from my last trip through Europe. Plus, they're always a cheap meal. For less than 4 euros, I got a huge pita pocket filled with lettuce, tomato, and plenty of beef shaved off the huge meat cylinders that you see in the window of every donor shop. The smell in the shop, of fire-roasted meat, was mouth-watering, and the donor kebab was a very satisfying cheap meal, though I've had better meat/pita combinations back home (at Milto's, for instance).
Isn't it tempting?
The smell of this roasting donor meat is practically wafting right out of the photo
Donor kebab

June 12, 2010 - Amsterdam, Day 2

The next morning, I had a friklanden for breakfast, which I read is a local specialty. A friklanden, according to my guidebook, is a log-shaped roll of meat and vegetables (well, actually, friklanden specifically means sausage, there are other words for the other varieties) that is breaded and deep-fried. The sausage very much resembled a fat turd, but it was delicious. Not that different from eating a big sausage link. Plus, it was a fun experience to buy one. They have several hot food vending machine stores around Amsterdam, where you put your coins in and receive hot food in return. I could see the cook standing behind the vending machine putting more hot food into empty slots. I'd read about these vending machines when I visited New York City, but I've never had the chance to actually try one until now. They're an excellent deal (1.40 euro for a friklander), have a good variety of offerings, are convenient and quick, and it's simply a neat idea too. I wish we had some of these in Austin.

I made lunch out of a few snacks: a cappuccino, more fries with mayonnaise/ketchup/onions, and another local specialty called poffertjes, which are small hole-less donuts (actually, more like the donut hole itself), covered in butter and powdered sugar. These are meant to be street food or carnival food (I bought mine at a carnival), just like you would see funnel cake served back home. They were so tasty that I couldn't help stuffing them in my mouth regardless of their hot temperature. I ate them so fast that I almost choked on the powdered sugar. I'm actually surprised I held out long enough to take a picture.

Today was all about the local specialty foods, so I had one last treat before I left Amsterdam. I ordered pannenkoeken (pancakes) with bacon and cheese. I feel like a fool for thinking I was going to get pancakes. I think the English "Pancakes" sign in the window of the restaurant threw me off. I learned from my last trip to Europe, with pleasant surprise, that pancakes almost always mean crepes here in Europe. So how I forgot that, I don't know, but needless to say, I was surprised when a giant crepe arrived at my table. But it was a good surprise! The crepe was the hugest crepe I've ever seen, at least a foot i diameter! I wish I knew how they made it without breaking it. Plus it was completely covered in melted Swiss cheese and bacon. Boy, was it good! The perfect meal to end my Amsterdam trip.
Hot food vending machine, what an idea!
Friklanden - tastes much better than it looks
A special grill made just for poffertjes
Looks more like a pizza than a crepe, doesn't it?

June 13, 2010 - Coming back from Amsterdam

What a day. I don't want to relive it but this should tell you all you need to know: 4 trains, 1 bus, 10 hours. I was actually hoping to go back to the hot food vending machine in the train station for a late breakfast, but when they weren't open, I only had enough time for the next quickest meal: another donor kebab. This one wasn't as good as the first, but it sustained me through many hours of travelling. I never had much of a chance for lunch on the train, unless you count the suikerwafel I bought from a Dutch vending machine in between trains. A suikerwafel is a Belgian waffle topped with crunchy sugar. I enjoyed it a lot, and since it must have been made with plenty of preservatives to make it last in a vending machine, I'm betting the fresh version is about a million times yummier. Maybe I'll get the chance to have one before I leave Europe, I've noticed a few waffle stands in Paris I could try. Finally, I had just enough time (20 minutes) between my second to last train and my last train to run outside of the train station and grab something to go for dinner. I had two options: pizza or Subway, and since I was desperately craving spicy food, I went to Subway so I could have some jalapenos on my sandwich again. But I'm still wishing they would invent the 5 euro foot-long, my foot-long meatball sub was 7 euro. :(
I got this coffee at a 'coffeeshop', how ironic
The wrapper says it for me

June 14, 2010

I was so exhausted from travelling yesterday that I was more than happy to sleep through breakfast. We had a field trip to a Loreal plant immediately after class today, so the school provided us with lunch on the bus ride. They gave us a ham and Swiss cheese baguette sandwich. I liked that they slathered the sandwich with plenty of butter, but the bread was harder than I would have liked. They also gave us an apple and a huge brownie which tasted like fudgy chocolate heaven in the perfectly under-baked center.

I hadn't gone grocery shopping in Paris yet, and I was feeling pretty poor after spending heavily over the weekend, so I decided to pick up a few days worth of groceries from the supermarket. I got a baguette (only half a euro!), a shrimp and vegetable cous cous (is that one word or two?) side dish, a fresh tomato to put in the cous cous, and two skillet-ready crepes. I'm bummed that I don't have an oven, a microwave, or any counter room for making a proper meal in my apartment, but at least the room has a tiny electric stove and a skillet. I also intended to pick up one bottle of wine, but when I couldn't decide between white, rose, or red, I got one of each instead. And so for only 16 euros, I have enough food and wine to last for at least four meals. I ate half of the cous cous dish and half of the baguette for dinner. I wish I had thought to buy salt, because the cous cous really needed it. Darn! Such a simple detail could have made this boring side dish much more appealing. But I was too lazy to walk back across the street and buy salt once I had already sat down to eat, so I suppose I can only blame myself.  I drank the bottle of white wine, but of course I had lent my wine opener to another girl who wasn't in her room when I knocked. So I actually chose the white wine after unsuccessfully trying to open the rose wine with the same technique as last time. It wasn't as easy this time, but it worked eventually and I made much less of a mess, so I felt awfully proud of myself pouring that first glass of wine.
When in doubt, get more wine!
My supermarket haul

June 15, 2010

I had a croissant for breakfast, and croissants in Paris are always delicious. I wasn't disappointed. For lunch, they had croque monsieur, which is a ham and cheese sandwich that is dipped in egg and fried, like French toast. I've wanted to have one ever since I got here, because it's a classic French dish. This one was pretty good, but not great. About as good as you'd expect a cafeteria to make, but at least the cheese in the center was warm and gooey. They served that with boring cous cous. I also had a satisfying potato salad and an eclair for dessert, another French classic. Eclairs have never been my favorite dessert, since I'm not usually a fan of cream-filled things, like jelly donuts or cream puffs. But when in France, do as the French do. And it certainly wasn't un-tasty, but it wasn't my favorite dessert either.

Some girls from my group wanted to go to a bar tonight, so to save money for drinks, I ate in my apartment again. I ate one of the skillet-ready crepes. What a frustrating process heating it up was though. My stove is very slow and low, no matter how high you set it. It's pretty much a glorified hot plate. To top it off, the bottom of the skillet was warped, so the pan could never heat evenly. But 25 minutes later, I had a hot dinner. The crepe was made with buckwheat flour, so it was extra hearty, and it was filled with ham, Swiss cheese, and goat cheese. Very tasty, definitely worth 2 euros. However, it was nowhere near as fun as watching them make it at the stand and eating it fresh off the burner.
Croque monsieur, cous cous, potato salad, and an eclair

June 16, 2010

I'm feeling like a boring blogger. This is the fourth day in a row that I haven't eaten anything worth writing home about. But they just changed around our schedule and gave us Monday off as a result, so that means I have a four day weekend, and I'm staying in Paris (with the exception of going to Versailles on Friday). So I'm going to plan some fantastic lunches from my guidebook, so hopefully I'll make up for my culinary stagnation then.

At least I had a good breakfast. I got an apricot danish, which was amazing. The apricots were so juicy, and the dough was golden brown and delicious (GBD in culinary slang), and the whole thing was topped with crunchy sugar. I'm licking my lips just thinking about it.

Lunch started out badly. The plat du jour line had ravioli, and I was really excited since I hadn't had pasta since the airplane ride, and it's one of my favorite dishes. But then the person in front of me in line got the last helping! So I went with the fish (of unknown variety) with tomato sauce instead. The fish was so full of bones that I gave up trying to eat it about halfway through. Plus it was undercooked. The mashed potatoes I got as a side were the best part of my lunch, so that should tell you how mediocre today's lunch was. For an appetizer, I thought I had chosen a chicken dish, but it turned out to be a larger version of a sardine with onions, tomatoes, and dressing. This wasn't terrible, but it was an awful lot of very fishy tasting fish for one meal. And for the rest of the day, I had sardine-flavored burps, which was pretty gross. For dessert, I chose a small bowl of yogurt with chopped pineapple topping, which was boring. Hopefully tomorrow's lunch will be better. I would have still been hungry afterwards if a girl hadn't offered me some of her cheese pizza that she couldn't eat. The pizza was topped with a generous portion of bleu cheese, which she didn't know when she chose it, and didn't like. I thought it was great, I've never had anything with such a strong bleu cheese taste (other than straight bleu cheese, of course). What a delicious, bold-flavored pizza!

I walked past the only vineyard left in Paris. It's gorgeous, but so tiny that I can't imagine they can make very much wine from the grapes. I read that all the profits from selling the (over-priced) wine go to charity, so that's nice. I would have liked to take a tour, but it was closed to the public for the time being.

After that disappointing lunch, I treated myself to a crepe snack later in the afternoon. What a bummer that the stand was out of cheese though. So I ended up with a plain egg crepe, and it was fun to watch the guy pour the batter on the hot plate and use his stick to push it around (they make it look so easy, it's clearly it's own art form). But it wasn't anywhere as good as it would have been with cheese. Oh well, it was still a decent snack, especially for 3 euros.

I had dinner in my apartment again, since I wanted to finish the shrimp and tomato cous cous before it went bad. They're not kidding when they say those baguettes are made without preservatives - I checked the state of it today, two days after I bought it, and it was as hard as a rock. Darn, I was hoping it would still be soft enough to eat with dinner, but I ended up throwing the rock bread out with the garbage.
Only 1 euro, what a steal!
Worst lunch yet :(
The French version of a quesadilla, they even look similar

June 17, 2010

I overslept, missing the first half hour of class and breakfast, but lunch may have been the best cafeteria meal yet. The plat du jour was chicken cordon bleu, which I felt I had to choose since I attended Le Cordon Bleu culinary academy. For those who don't know, that's a chicken breast rolled around ham and cheese, then breaded and deep-fried. It's a French dish even Americans can get behind (being deep-fried and cheesy). They served that with sliced potatoes and zucchini in a curry sauce that I liked alot, but didn't think was very French. I got an avocado salad for an appetizer, and you can almost never go wrong with fresh produce in Paris. Finally, the dessert was creme brulee, my favorite! However, this was cafeteria-style, mass-produced creme brulee, where they put the sugar under a broiler instead of melting each brulee individually with a blowtorch. The sugar doesn't form the same crackly crust when you use the broiler method, but it was still delicious, and huge to boot.

Last week, I had a spectacular dinner on the last night of the school week (last Wednesday), so I decided to continue the trend this week, and today was the last day of the school week. That way, dinner is a celebration of the beginning of the weekend. I went looking for a place near Champs-Elysees, where my guidebook recommended a worthy restaurant for a good value. I called ahead and got no answer. I looked all around the supposed address, and found nothing resembling the particular restaurant. So I gave up and ate across the street from where the restaurant would have been, but at least the restaurant was the same number of courses for the same price - 20 euros (which included a glass of wine, an added bonus). Le Chateaubriand also offered plenty of choices on their prix fixe menu. I had a big debate with myself over ordering the foie gras appetizer vs. the escargot appetizer, but I opted for the foie gras appetizer, since I believe it's worth more money, and I could say I got more value out of my meal. I ate foie gras in France! I didn't ever think I would be able to afford it, but it must be cheaper here than in America. It was very tasty. When people ask me what it tastes like, I usually say that it tastes like meat-flavored butter. Plus, this sampling featured an array of pretty colors: pink, green, gray, and white. For the main course, I had no trouble at all deciding on the canard (duck) a l'orange, another classic French dish. When the plate came out, I was afraid they had served me the wrong dish - the duck looked more like beef and the sauce was such a dark brown that I didn't think it could be an orange sauce. I should have reserved my judgment, because the duck tasted like duck and the sauce was plenty orange-y. Honestly, I had better duck a l'orange when I made it in culinary school, but I've yet to have a duck I didn't like. The taste is always much more interesting than chicken, which can be so bland by itself. The orange sauce is the perfect complement for duck, and the side salad and fried potatoes made the dish more than enough good food on one plate. I chose chocolate mousse for dessert, since I already had creme brulee for lunch. The generous helping of dark chocolate mousse was luscious and light. It seemed like I couldn't get the spoon from the bowl to my mouth fast enough. The wine included in my meal was the house wine, and I had a choice of red, rose, or white. Red seemed like the choice for duck and chocolate, so that's what I ordered. It was nothing special, but welcome. Although the entire meal was both satisfying and a great value, the experience didn't hold a candle to the first fancy dinner I had. The restaurant didn't have the same romantic, low-lit ambience as the first, the wine wasn't as good and there wasn't as much of it, and the food wasn't quite up to the standard set by that first great meal. Still, it was a blog-worthy meal.
Best cafeteria lunch yet!
Foie gras
This duck looks like beef to me
I love the bowl with the fake chocolate drips