1. Fish and chips
An Englishman once told me that France has fine cuisine but no sense of dining manners, and the United Kingdom has all the stuffy dining manners in the world, but no cuisine to offer. I can’t say I disagree. Ask any other European what they think about British food, be prepared to face at worst, pretentious contempt, at best, complete indifference. But there is one thing we will always have, despite our disdain, every time we visit the UK: fish and chips. The perfect take-out is made of (as you may have guessed) thick French fries and a piece of deep-fried battered white fish with a bit of vinegar. Enjoyed it on a blanket in the grass of Hyde Park or on the seashore, and I swear you’ll lick the oil off your fingers. Also, please send some salt and vinegar Pringles to Europe to go with it. Please. We need them.
Brittany, in the very West of France, has built its whole culinary reputation on crêpes and apple cider. But if you look just a little bit past these two Breton specialties, you will discover an amazing range of butter-based dishes and fatty desserts. Among these is the Kouign-amman. It’s a kind of puff pastry made of bread dough covered with butter and sugar and then folded — essentially everything good in the world, combined in one dish. In the oven, the butter and sugar melt and impregnate the whole cake, making it soft and rich inside and all golden and caramelised on the outside. Perfection — but what else could you expect from a dish whose name literally means “butter cake?”
There is a debate my friends and I have far, far too often: What would be harder — life without chocolate, or life without cheese? In this situation, chocolate is regarded as a homogeneous entity, while giving up on cheese actually means giving up on cheeses. There are the myriad French cheeses, all the Swiss and Italian ones, and a huge amount of cheese-based dishes, most of them coming straight from the mountains to become standard winter food (they are the gastronomic equivalent of wearing a heavy blanket). One of the best such cheese dishes is probably fondue. And though it is arguably unhealthy, it’s the right kind of fat because there is tradition in it. You simply cut bread into cubes that each guest puts on a metal stick and dips in a pan filled with melted cheese and a bit of white wine. Serve with copious, copious amounts of wine — fondue is the ultimate party food. At some point, everybody should be naked or answering embarrassing questions about their sex life.
I swear, I’ve never found a recipe so difficult to believe. When the Portuguese friends I had in Poland invited me to a real Portuguese dinner, and asked me if I knew where to find bread, whisky, good ham, roast beef, sausage, bacon, and hot dogs, I thought it was a joke. Then they told me it was called a Francesinha, which basically means “little French girl” or “little Frenchie” in Portuguese, so I was morally obligated to taste it. All around the world, when you say “kleine Französin,” “ma?a francuzka,” “pequeña francesa,” or “petite Française,” you think about nothing but elegance, exceptionally good taste in fashion, and the thinnest body. Except in Portugal, obviously, where the first thing you think about when you say “little French girl” is an oven-baked sandwich with five different meat types, burger cheese and an egg on top, served with its marvelous homemade ketchup-whisky-and-tabasco sauce. I guess the unexpectedly good taste makes it up for the lack of glamour.
Germans are known for three things: their excellent soccer teams, their more than 5,000 different beers, and their love for compressed meats. Indeed, they have more then 1,500 types sausages, and eat them for breakfast, lunch, tea time, and dinner. One of the best-known ones is the Bratwurst, and you can eat in at any German food cart. It’s like any other hot dog, except the sausage often has the length-to-width ratio of a strand of hair, and is stuffed in an absurdly undersized bun. If a sausage this size isn’t enough to create the most compromising pictures you’ll ever beg your friends not to put on Facebook, you can always add some Kartoffelsalat. Its potatoes, ham, pickles, egg and white mayo-based creamy sauce will add a classy touch to your souvenir pictures.