In my other life, I’m like a troubadour, or travelling musician, bringing my sounds to foreign lands and making a cultural exchange with the new faces and places that I come across. This involves being in a different city every night, and encountering different languages and customs; new experiences; and, of course, a myriad of tastes, scents, and flavors. It’s a great way to see the world–taking back treasured experiences and leaving something of yourself behind. No matter which way you slice it, music and food to me are a most natural pairing, and ask most musicians why they love to travel, a good number will tell you it’s because they love to eat.
Although I’ve been going all over Europe for several years now, there are always new places to see. This time I had the pleasure of visiting a lot of towns and countries in which I have never stepped foot including The Hague, Netherlands; Ljubljliana, Slovenia; Belgrade, Serbia; Budapest, Hungary, and Dublin, Ireland. After years of subsisting on sausages, cheese, and bread, it’s good to see that Europe’s menu has also diversified for the better thanks to an influx of immigrants from Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Now that Indian curry is England’s official dish you can bypass the boiled potatoes and brussel sprouts in favor of more flavorful fare. You can also get a decent kebab or falafel, late night, in most European capitals. And who would have thought that the first time I ate french fries with a spicy peanut-butter satay sauce, would be in Amsterdam, where Indonesian food has made serious incursions into the mainstream. Of course, the spectre of the Golden Arches pops up even amidst the quiet countryside, but you have to take the bad with the good. When I look at food, I see the world, and then I come to the realization that its all about fusion.
One of the first lunches on my trip came from an organic eatery in The Hague. Unfortunately, I lost the restaurant’s business card, but it’s on Troonstraat, if I recall. Simple, wholesome, and good, this is fast food done correctly.
In Amsterdam, where there is a wealth of culinary choices, I recommend the Indonesian food. Due to the former colonial ties there are plenty of Indonesians in Holland, so much so that sambal is a staple condiment here (not to mention the peanut-butter satay sauce with which the Dutch dowse their French fries). Unfortunately at 4 in the afternoon, we were in that akward space between lunch and dinner and not too many places were open, but we did find a Chinese restaurant that did a decent kung pao chicken (though it could have been a lot spicier!).
Germany is always a tough one. Breakfast uniformly consists of a variety of cold cuts, cheeses and of course, bread rolls, but thankfully the Germans also find their own food boring, and tend to patronize a whole host of new Thai, Vietnamese, Turkish, and Indian restaurants. Sometimes, though, it’s best not to offer any resistance, and just indulge in that greasy bratwurst with–what else–a bread roll and a dab of Senf (mustard).
Berlin, however, is a different story. This is probably the cheapest city in Western Europe to eat, and they do have pretty much everything. Since Vietnamese is a favorite of mine, we found a really nice spot in Kreuzberg called To Loc (Wiener Strasse 61, 10999 Berlin). Unfortunately I was too busy enjoying my crispy Cantonese style duck that I forgot to take a picture!
For someone who has never been there, Eastern Europe makes for an exotic getaway. It’s somewhere between Le Grand Europe of yesteryear with its majestic architecture and stunning vistas and a “third world” country in need of some serious renewal and renovation. But there’s a certain charm in all the disrepair, and I sometimes wish that we could return to New York of the ’80s. Food wise, the meat and potatoes diet rules, but you can tell that these people benefitted from their proximity to eastern spice routes. In Budapest, I had a deep fried potato bread topped with garlic, sour cream and chives for breakfast. Yum. You can also get a version topped with a bolonaise style meat sauce. For dinner, I had to make a special request for goulash, the only Hungarian dish I know. Slow cooked in wine, pepper, and paprika, the local spice of choice, the dish was the ultimate comfort food. Now if my friend Balazs would only send me the recipe!
I think it’s very important to eat the local specialities, where ever you go. Chances are this food will be the freshest and the best. I remember once having langostinos at a festival in Salzburg, Austria. Bad move. We were nowhere near water, so those langostinos were obviously brought in from elsewhere. Everyone who ate them, including myself, ended up with food poisoning. This time when we played in Linz, Austria, I went for the trout, right out of the river Donau.
When we reached Dublin, I was more interested in getting a REAL pint of Guinness than food, but eventually my appetite got the best of me. My friend Ralph took us to a Korean place, Hop House (160 Parnell St., Dublin 1) for our first meal there, and I’ve got to say, this was the first meal on the whole trip that made me sweat. I asked for it extra spicy and that’s exactly what I got. In fact, I had to go for the kimchi to cool off a little.
Of course, you can’t leave Dublin without having a proper Irish breakfast, and after a whole tour of lunch meat and cheese on a roll for breakfast, I was ready for some eggs. Not only that, but you also get a rasher of thick, ham-like bacon (as opposed to our kind of thin bacon, which the Irish call streaky bacon); some amazing sausages, which practically melt in your mouth; fried tomatoes and mushrooms, toast, and blood pudding, which is basically coagulated blood made into a sausage patty. The hearty meal did not disappoint, but because I ate it at 1 in the afternoon, they had actually finished up all their blood pudding on the breakfast crowd. I had to drown my disappointment in some liquid Irish brown bread (or Guinness to you!).
These are just some of the highlights of food on the road: Europe. Did I mention I also had some great brick oven pizza in Slovenia, and probably the best Turkish food I’ve ever had in Hamburg at 4 in the morning (The place was called Gazi Antep Adana Urfa Kebap Salonu, Clemens-Schulz Str. 26, 20359 Hamburg). The eating and travelling is far from over. Join me next week as I journey to one of the preeminent eating destinations on the planet. Land of th Rising Sun–Japan.