Tuesday, 28 October 2008

More food in Europe

Observations and recollections by Jan Morris after half a century of European eating.
[...continued from HERE]

A Lithuanian national dish is called a capelinas, a "Zeppelin", because it looks like an airship: it is made of tightly packed potato dough soaked in bacon fat, with mushrooms or a sausage in the middle, and is the most repulsive-looking food I have ever set eyes on.

My guidebook to Helsinki in 1995 promised me thirteen cuisines to sample in the city—Finnish, German, Greek, Hungarian, Irish, Italian, Japanese, Russian, Mexican, Spanish, Swiss, Tex-Mex and McDonald's. My guidebook to Paris in the same year said that Arpège, a restaurant famous for its carpaccio of langoustines with caviare and its lobster with turnips "is not the place for a casual tourist, but for people who really understand about food, such as the sophisticated and often most influential Parisians who fill the dining-room twice a day". Ugh!

I spent a week once in a pension in Haute-Savoie, eating gargantuan breakfasts, ample picnic lunches and stout dinners every day; on the way back to the airport at Geneva I stopped at the Auberge du Père Bise, than one of the most celebrated restaurants in France, for a lakeside lunch of of little fishes with white wine. It was exquisite. The bill came to more than the bill for all those breakfasts, all those packed lunches, all those dinners and a week's accommodation at the pension, and I did not regret a franc of it.

The most puffed-up restaurant in Europe seems to me the Wierzynek in Kraków, Poland, which claims to have started its career with a dinner party in 1364 attended by King Casimir the Great of Poland. the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV, King Louis of Hungary, King Waldemar of Denmark, King Peter of Cyprus, princes from Austria and Pomerania and the Margrave of Brandenburg. It has been entertaining kings, emperors, shahs, presidents and prime ministers ever since, and is hung all about with courtly trophies.

"In numerical order," said a taxi-driver to me in Stockholm. "what are the chief attractions of Wales, first, second, third?" "I don't know," said I, "but I know what's forty-eighth." "The food," he instantly and perceptively replied.


Froog said...

I rarely stick up for the Welsh, but I have to say that I rather like leeks.

And Morris's sniping seems a little hypocritical here, given that The Walnut Tree is deemed "the best restaurant in Europe".

Tony said...

Yes, I noticed the inconsistency, but I suppose you can have one excellent restaurant amid a sea of culinary dross.
There's really no need to stick up for the Welsh: Morris has been doing it for half a century ad nauseam but without much effect. Flanders captured them nicely, though the coalmine reference is out of date:
The Welshman is crooked, he cheats when he can/ He's little and dark, more like monkey than man/ He works underground with a lamp in his hat/And he sings far too often, too loud and too flat...