“The best routes are the ones you haven’t ridden. … Turn down lanes you’ve long seen but never traveled. Get lost once or twice, then double back to where you started and try again. Live like this and you come to see unknown territory not as threatening, but as intriguing.”
The above quote is our philosophy when it comes to travel, especially when it has to do with food; Peter, as we’re exiting a patisserie; ‘oh wait, I think I see another patisserie up the street’, Margaret; ‘where? where?’.
It’s this philosophy that took us to Schnitzelwirt, a Vienna restaurant frequented mostly by locals. Their specialty is, obviously, Wiener Schnitzel (a very thin, breaded and pan fried cutlet made from veal). Not being much of a meat eater meant Margaret would be the one to try this traditional dish, and it was quite a dish. Served on a large plate that barely contained its girth, this was one big schnitzel! Add to this a side of sauerkraut and creamy beets, you’ve got a recipe for a slow walk back to our hotel.
In Krakow we found another restaurant, and although a bit touristy, it served an equally giant and delicious Wiener Schnitzel. But this restaurant also offered other giant items on its menu, in this case beer. Everywhere we visited in Eastern Europe had excellent beer and this Krakow restaurant didn’t disappoint. The beer was light in color but with a full bodied taste. We ordered two, the small one for me. Now it may look small compared to the beer on the right, but mine was about 16 ounces. The big one was a full liter of beer, that’s over 32 ounces…..and yes, she finished the whole thing (took a while). Talk about a slow walk back to our hotel!
One of our great pleasures while traveling in Europe are the plentiful casual cafes that seem to be on every block of every city we visit. The great feature of these cafes is popping in for a quick coffee or drink any time of the day. You can stand at the bar or take one of the small cafe tables. One of the best characteristics of these establishments is the laid back atmosphere; sit and enjoy as long as you like. And unlike most restaurants in the states the noise level is low allowing for real conversation to happen. We’d pop into a cafe at least a couple times a day, and considering the cold temperatures we sampled many cups of rich, creamy hot chocolate, usually along with a shared pastry or slice of cake. The photo on the right is from the Kafka Cafe off the Old Town Square in Prague. Crazy expensive prices due to the location, but that didn’t really matter; the hot chocolate with a shot of Bailey’s was just what the weatherman ordered. And there were other hot chocolates on this trip, so many that it became a quest to find the best in town. On our first full day in Prague (New Year’s day) we were walking toward the Prague Palace where we spotted a tiny cafe on the ground floor of a large building. Sign out front just said ‘Hot Chocolate With Rum’. The place was tiny; no tables, just enough room for about four people. But the owner prepared a mean hot chocolate made with steamed milk from one of those huge espresso/cappuccino machines found at every cafe, bar, restaurant and gas station in Europe. Even though this hot chocolate was served in a paper cup it was still one of the best we sampled in three weeks. And whipped cream? always real, never canned!
I could go on and on about our meals in the Czech Republic, Austria, Hungary, Poland (where generous dinners including a bottle of wine totaled only thirty-five to forty US dollars….easily $125 in Atlanta); the traditional Polish sour soup that helped Margaret relieve the symptoms of her cold; the cheese platter while listening to a jazz quartet on Prague’s Jazz Boat cruise; the lunch in Budapest at a restaurant that’s been serving coffee, hot chocolate and amazing desserts for generations (we walked out of there buzzed on a sugar high….it was awesome!); the fantastic pierogi’s stuffed with a variety of delicious fillings we indulged in all over Poland (I loved the goose meat stuffing….ate a giant plate of them); the roast duck in Prague and Warsaw was lean and tender; in several countries the beet root side dish consisting of tender shredded beets cooked to a creamy consistency (if you like beets you’ll love beet root); Mediterranean delights such as humus, marinated salads, baba ghanoush (eggplant dip) and pita at Hamsa Cafe in Krakow’s Jewish Quarter; the Sacher Tort at the cafe in the famous Sacher Hotel in Vienna; where does it end?!?
Well it finally did end the day we returned home, got on the bathroom scale and went on a diet. Was it worth the 4-5 pounds gained; absolutely! Would I do it again; no doubt! Will Margaret once again tackle a giant schnitzel; I think so!
In conclusion I can say that indulging in great food is a pleasure, but only in comparison to the wonderful people you meet while traveling. Food and travel is the great equalizer; we met and conversed with some of the finest people while dining; it’s something all cultures have in common, a love of food. As the great chef Julia Child said;
“People who love to eat are always the best people”.