The first part of this two part series blog featured eating and drinking in Poland and can be found here.
From Italy onward, we continued to eat and drink our way through the trip.
For instance, nothing says “On an Italian train” like a bottle of Prosecco
In Verona, we were all looking forward to pasta, coffee, gelato, and (for me) more Aperol Spritz!
We ate supper at a restaurant right next to the Arena. Choosing one from the line of them reminded me of picking a restaurant on Mulberry Street in New York. We figured this one was just as good (and, unfortunately, as tourist-priced) as all the others right there. It was fine, and we did not have time to seek out some harder-to-find alternatives.
Brigid remembered that when there is no Schnitzel on the menu, she prefers pizza.
Once back in Gorizia, the kids and I enjoyed a fabulous lunch at the wine cafe on the large piazza. It was the kind of place I would want to linger at for hours, sampling some of the small plates on the menu and tasting the proprietor’s recommended wines with each one.
I had a gnocchi that was so beautifully cloud-like, in a perfect tomato sauce, harmoniously paired with a red wine that happened to be open.
They were out of pizza, but Myles and Brigid ordered the next best thing, the bruschetta that was so large it was practically a pizza. And in another surprise, Brigid went crazy over the ham.
It was such a beautiful day. I really could have stretched our lunch for hours here.
Also in Gorizia, the kids and I ducked into a vegetable market.
We salivated over the rows and rows of fruits and vegetables, some of which we couldn’t quite identify, or if we did recognize them, they were in shades I didn’t know existed.
I know a lot of people prefer to stay in apartments when they travel, and they enjoy buying local products to cook in the rented kitchen. We often stay in hotels that provide breakfast. Walking through this market almost made me wish we were in an apartment so we could try all these things. Almost.
A few days later we were in San Sebastian. The first night we were there we at a pintxos bar we have been to every other time we have been there. The menu has gone unchanged in the three years we have been there, which is fine. The second night we tried to find a wider variety of meatless pintxos. We walked into Taberna Aralar, which looked so inviting, the bar piled with food.
I wasn’t terribly hopeful when I asked (in Spanish!) if they had any pinxtos sin carne. The bartender asked me if I spoke English (my Spanish gave me away), took a deep breath (which lead me to believe that the answer was going to be, “are you kidding?”), and then proceeded to point out eight or so options, telling me what they were in my language, and then asked if that were enough. Oh, it definitely was.
I picked up one ham sandwich, and the bartender stopped me. “Es para mi hijo,” I explained so he gave me a separate plate.
Brigid surprised us by devouring the mashed potato dumplings.
The next night we sought out a few places one of Randy’s contacts there recommended we try. One was a special bread bakery that he described as not just the best bread he had ever eaten, but one of the best things he had ever eaten. We were completely intrigued, though with reservations. We have spent a lot of time in Germany, a country known for bread. We walked into The Loaf, and the smell of bread was intoxicating. As I practiced in my head how to ask about the bread in Spanish, we joined the queue. After talking (in my halting Spanish, paused when I feel a Chinese word coming out) with the baker, we chose what we believed was the bread that we were intended to get, Pan Extreme. It is a sour-dough bread, but that is almost too simple an explanation.
And yes, it was an amazing experience of food. Seriously. I love bread, and this was something beyond normal bread. I can’t imagine doing something so profane as make a sandwich with it.
Para los que entender español.
We arrived at Kafe Botanika and found it decorated for Halloween.
The menu was nice, vegetarian fare some Spanish twist. I ordered a spring roll, which obviously wasn’t very Spanish, but I really like spring rolls.
At Kafe Botanika an American woman named Kelly was selling Halloween-themed cupcakes. She was from California, married to a man from Barcelona, and now living in San Sebastian. There’s apparently interest in American-style baked goods in San Sebastian.
The kids loved them and wanted to pose with the cakes they chose.
In Aachen we ate lunch at Postwagen under the Rathaus. It was lovely, all dark wood and low light.
I had a dish of peppers and rice. Randy is allergic to green bell peppers, so I don’t often get to eat them. So when I do get the opportunity to have them, I remember that I really do enjoy eating bell peppers.
When we arrived in Leuven, I searched for a restaurant that could satisfy all of us—the vegetarians, the meat-eater, and the somewhat picky one. One menu really stuck out to me, one for a place called Mykene. The items were listed in a way that reminded me of one of my favorite Pittsburgh restaurants, Salt of the Earth. They had Belgian beer beef stew, seitan, and options that could make Brigid happy. We took a cab, and, much to my delight, he let us off at a big sign that asked “Quo Vadis?”
Quo Vadis, as it turns out, is a popular pizzeria in Leuven. It is situated in the middle of a street of restaurants which included our destination, Mykene.
Brigid brought along her Snowy, which she got on our last trip through Belgium at the Hergé Museum. “Snowy wants to see where he came from,” she told us. She would end up eating bread and frites, both of which I counted as local cuisine.
What is a Belgian meal without a Belgian beer? I ordered a Brueder Jacob Formidabel because I had never had it before. My only regret was that it only came in big bottles, thereby limiting my supper to trying only one new beer.
Myles delighted in his beef stew.
Randy had some rice and mushroom dish.
And my plate had an architectural twist, “smoked seitan, carrot structures, savory crumble, shallot.” Regardless, it was very, very good.
Also in Leuven, the kids and I stopped for lunch at a place I selfishly chose because it touted “the largest beer selection in the world.” I saw that The Capital also served food, so it was settled.
I chose a draft beer, a Ter Dolen Armand, if only because I was completely overwhelmed by the possibilities. It was a little hoppier than I usually like, but it was still a decent enough beer.
Had I selected one of the thousands of bottle beers they offered, it would have come from the basement storage, visible through glass blocks in the floor.
They were brought up on this conveyer behind the bar. Myles thought it looked very steam punk, so The Capital met his approval. Empties were returned to the basement by the same system.
The food menu was great for beer drinking—-burgers and Belgian interpretation of tapas. Myles had a chicken burger because he claimed he had had enough beef.
Brigid was happy to see a version of pizzas, and especially mini-pizzas.
I had a mixed plate of vegetarian friendly tapas.
Back at the hotel I had time for one last beer-in-Belgium. The list there was rather limited, but I had never before had a Julius.
In Euskirchen that night, we were lucky to stay in a small hotel over a restaurant. I had an appetizer that made me wonder if savory sorbet as part of an appetizer were a thing. I had eaten one at Salt of the Earth over the summer, a tomato sorbet . At our hotel they served this, which in the dim of evening did not look as bright green as it does in the camera flash. It was Ziegenfrischkäse kit Thymianparfait, Tomatenmarmalade, und Basilikum. So basically, the whipped-cream-looking-part was actually whipped goat cheese and the sorbet was thyme flavored. It was a play on a sundae, but as an appetizer. I liked it.
The last morning was our final German breakfast. The kids loaded up on boiled eggs, bacon, and bread bread bread.
This post first appeared on Jennifer Ambrose’s blog on December 13, 2014.
Jennifer Ambrose hails from Western Pennsylvania and misses it terribly. She still maintains an intense devotion to the Pittsburgh Steelers. She has lived in China since 2006 and is currently an at-home mother. With her husband Randy and children Myles and Brigid, she resides outside the Sixth Ring Road in Changping, northwest of Beijing.
Photos: by Jennifer Ambrose