From Paris to Madrid, a trail designed for food trippers who know their pintxos and Iberian jamon
Europe has always been the world’s beloved cultural and historic travel destination. But its beautiful cities can also be hunting grounds for food-loving travellers searching for memorable gastronomic experiences. Here are four European cities, and food-and-drink related things to do while visiting them.
Madrid Mercado de San Miguel
A sprawling century-old iron-and-glass building in the heart of Madrid, near the Plaza Mayor, the Mercado de San Miguel contains a buzzing artisanal food court by night and market by day. Stalls sell everything from stuffed olives to Iberian jamon, spice-roasted nuts, pork crackling and Spanish sausages, and hot and cold pintxos and sushi. There is a champagne and oyster bar, a cervecería for beer, a sangria and mojito bar, and one selling cava by the flute. And desserts from churros to hand-churned ice-cream to delight every sweet tooth. Stop by the sherry stall, pick your preference from the barrels available—from fino to oloroso. Or buy some charcuterie to take home. All for euro 1-10. Crowded and bustling, Mercado San Miguel is the perfect place to taste gourmet food in small portions for a few euro. Yes, it is a tourists’ delight, but you will also find lots of Spaniards stopping by for chorizo and white wine after work or pre-party time. Don’t miss: The delicious Padrón fried green peppers called pimientos, sprinkled with coarse sea salt. For the adventurous: Pintxos of Donostian baby eels, a Basque specialty. Details: mercadodesanmiguel.es
You have heard of Spain’s tapas, but the spike-topped pintxos (pronounced pinchos) of Basque country are really where the story started. San Sebastián, the beautiful seaside town famous for Michelin-star dining and film festivals, is the home of the pintxo. The narrow by-lanes of the Old Town or Parte Vieja are lined with pinxto bars featuring delicacies like stuffed sea urchins and pistachio-encrusted blood sausage. Pick small plates of tapas (euro 2-5 each) from the bar top, eat, drink, and move on to the next. Wash it down with a glass of txakoli, the dry acidic slightly frizzante white wine of the region, or sidra (cider). Wind up at La Viña for their famous creamy Spanish cheesecake.
Bar smart: Visit Borda Berri (Fermín Calbetón 12),La Cuchara de San Telmo (Calle 31 de Agosto, 28), Goiz Argi (Calle Fermin Calbeton 4), Txepetxa (Calle Pescaderia 5), La Viña (Calle Agosto, 31). Or book a pintxo-tasting walkabout in San Sebastián with sansebastianfood.com (euro 95 all-inclusive, for a three-hour bar-hopping spree) or tenedortours.com.
Don’t miss: The popular pintxo called Gilda—skewers with anchovies, olives and green peppers—is named after American actress Rita Hayworth. For the adventurous: The polpo (octopus) at Borda Berri is justifiably famous.
There is so much to do in Paris, food wise. For a change, skip the brasseries, Michelin stars and chic cafés for a classic Parisian pâtisserie trail. Start with Ladurée (laduree.com) on the Champs Élysées, where the famous macarons of Paris are sold in their thousands every day (euro 3-5). Stop for Ispahans (rose-flavoured soft macaron biscuits) at this classic French salon de thé. Move on to Fauchon (fauchon.com), the épicerie and café, for a quick cafe and Megeve, a dark chocolate and meringue concoction (euro 6.50), or foie gras or Paris ham and Périgord black truffle sandwich (euro 12), with champagne. Then, hit the Angelina tearoom (angelina-paris.fr) at Rue de Rivoli to try their famous chestnut cream covered Mont Blanc pastry (euro 8.40).
If grand Belle Epoque pâtisseries are not for you, Paris is full of wonderful smaller ones. Like the legendary Pierre Hermé’s (pierreherme.com), where a range of sweet delights by France’s most decorated pastry chef awaits you at his tiny boutique at Rue Bonaparte. Hermé’s concoctions are often referred to as gastronomic art; visit to discover why.
Don’t miss: The Parisian hot chocolate at the salons de thé. Decadent.
For the adventurous: The Saturday afternoon all-chocolate buffet at Il Palazzo, at Hotel Normandy near the Louvre. For euro 28, gorge on 48 different exquisite chocolate concoctions: cakes, macarons, tarts, madeleines. Details: +33 142609120
Beer, breweries, microbreweries
The Czech are proud of their pivo (beer). They call it ‘liquid bread’ and drink 160 litres of it per head, annually—the highest in the world! In Prague, try a pub and brewery crawl and you will never be bored—or sober. From the microbrewery Pivovarský dum (brewery house), which offers classic popular choices, to brewery-hotel U Medvídk, pub U Provaznice (The Ropemaker’s wife, with an interesting story too), and St Norbert’s monastery-brewery, where limited quantities of dark and amber beer are made at the city’s highest brewery at Prague Castle. Prices from euro 1 – 4.
Incidentally, be aware that the numbers on the beer bottle do not refer to alcohol content, as elsewhere, but degrees representing the malt extract in the beer. The higher the figure, the more full flavoured the beer. Popular commercial brands include Kozel and Pilsner Urquell.
Don’t miss: St Norbert’s dark beer (special lager) at Strahov Monastic Brewery (klasterni-pivovar.cz), euro 4.50.
For the adventurous: Try all 30 beers available at the Prague Beer Museum (Dlouhá 46, Prague 1), including pilsners, Indian pale ales, dark lagers, English pale ales, wheat beer and a range of exotic fruit beer.