I’ve always been a food snob when I travel. If I’ve spent the time and money to go far, far away, the last thing I want to eat is close-to-home American food. Why seek out burgers, pizza or chocolate chip cookies when you’re surrounded by local delicacies, most of which are far better than the poor copies of American food that touristy restaurants serve?
My rule? Eat local wherever I traveled and avoid American dishes. Most of the time it wasn’t hard. France, Spain, Italy, Thailand, Cambodia, Argentina – it wasn’t exactly a sacrifice to eat the delicious local food in these places. Even in Bali and Scotland – two places with my least favorite local foods – I gamely ate up the nasi goreng, haggis, blood pudding and greasy chips in the name of experiencing the culture. I turned my nose up at those Americans queuing at McDonalds for their Royales with Cheese.
So that makes me feel even guiltier about my dirty little food secret: Since we moved to Europe this year, I’ve been eating American food all over the continent.
It didn’t start out that way. When we arrived, I gamely tried the local Swiss foods like rosti potatoes, pork, sausages, raclette and fondue. But pretty quickly, I got sick of the same flavors over and over again. The Swiss are great at many things – timely trains, expensive watches, gourmet chocolate – but culinary variety isn’t one of them.
Soon we started traveling on the weekends, and I got away from Swiss food. I figured that would solve my palate boredom, and for awhile, it did. We ate delicious curries in London, steak and pastries in Paris, fish in Lisbon, It was a blessed relief from pork, potatoes and cheese.
But pretty soon, that wasn’t enough. Both my husband and I were craving flavors we couldn’t easily find. Burgers. Barbeque. Tacos. Green curry. American microbrews. Deli sandwiches. Soft baked cookies.
So when I read about Freddie’s Deli before our April trip to Paris, my mouth watered. Freddie’s – opened last year by Kristin Frederick, the same woman who brought burgers and food trucks to Paris – serves American-style* pastrami, pulled pork and cheese steak sandwiches along with Brooklyn Beer and brownies. I could hardly wait to hop on a train.
On our last day in Paris, we went to Freddie’s for lunch. We were not disappointed. As pastrami juice and pulled pork dripped from our fingers, we sighed with sated relief. It wasn’t French, but it was damn good.
Once we started eating American food in Europe, we couldn’t stop. We still ate mostly local cuisine when we traveled, but we also didn’t feel guilty about the occasional American treat. That led to Shake Shack in Istanbul, Thai food in Paris, froyo in Zurich and burgers and fries in Provence. Soon we took it even further. We ate Mexican and Belgian food in Vilnius and Indian food in Amsterdam.
And you know what? It was all delicious. And because we looked outside the traditional cuisine box, we discovered new culinary corners of the cities we visited. We learned that there was amazing Indian in Amsterdam; that food trucks were becoming a thing in Paris and that some creative chefs in Provence were serving kick ass burgers.
So I’m amending my rule to say, “Eat local wherever I go and eat American-style food if it’s made local.” I still want to avoid the McDonalds and KFCs when I travel (Shake Shack was a delicious exception to the rule), but anything made locally is fair game.
Here are a few of the favorite out-of-context eateries we’ve discovered this year:
BB Bistrot Steak House: Fantastic burgers in the heart of Provence. Not far from where Van Gogh painted Irises, these folks are serving up great burgers, fries and guac for eat in or take away. On TripAdvisor, where it’s the No. 5 restaurant in St.-Remy-de-Provence, it’s called Au Bon Burger, but the name on the sign in BB Bistrot Steak House.
The Bite: Solid burger joint in Zurich that does a new special burger daily. The fries are good, as are the salads and desserts. Best of all? In addition to a decent list of beers, they brew their own iced tea. In a continent that thinks bottled Peach Nestea is the last word in iced tea, this is a minor miracle.
Fork & Bottle: This restaurant on the edge of Zurich is run by American ex-pats. Their menu focuses on fresh and local ingredients, which means it changes weekly. What doesn’t change is that the food is delicious, and they serve it in a gorgeous beer garden. Oh, and they have brunch too!
Freddie’s Deli: American-style deli in Paris. Pastramis, pulled pork and cheese steaks along with Brooklyn Beer and brownies. Friendly service, but beware of bad weather. There’s no space to eat inside.
Jemoli: This Swiss department store in Zurich has a lovely food hall in the basement with lots of yummy things, but my favorite is their frozen yogurt. It’s made from actual tangy yogurt and you can top it with anything from fresh blueberries to crumbled Kagi Fret chocolates (the far superior Swiss version of the Kit Kat).
Koh-i-Noor: Great Indian food and fantastic service in Amsterdam. We had mostly classic dishes and particularly enjoyed all the vegetarian options.
Rene: Belgian food in Vilnius. Wonderful sausages, frite and roasted meats – plus a huge selection of Belgian beers. We had a great time even though we came in on the wrong night for the famous Belgian mussels. Phone ahead to find out when they’ll have them fresh and in stock.
Shake Shack Istanbul: This one is a clear violation of my rule, but it’s still the best milkshake I’ve had in Europe.
Tres Mexicanos: Not the best Mexican food I’ve ever had but definitely the best Mexican food I’ve found in Europe. This restaurant in Vilnius has delicious nachos and burritos with a selection of Mexican beers.
*Anyone who’s eaten a sandwich in Europe knows that “American-style” sandwiches are hard to come by. In Europe, a sandwich is a single piece of meat or cheese between two large pillows of bread. There may be mayo or a lettuce leaf. Maybe. By contrast, American sandwiches are filled with layers of delicious meat, cheese, veggies and condiments. The filling dwarfs the bread. The sandwich is one area where American can confidently claim culinary superiority.