Food and music being two of the great joys of life, and having just returned from another music tour of Europe, storming through 14 cities in 16 days, I’m compelled to share some of the culinary highlights of my trip. Life on the road can be hectic, but since it’s customary for the local promoter to take us out for a magnificent feed before the show, this provides a major incentive for touring itself.
Though I’m usually looking for Asian food, which is not hard to find around Europe these days (like the ubiquitous kebab stands), this time I stayed close to the local specialties. After all, when in Rome…why not enjoy a good pasta, right? So breaking out of my usual mode, I ate nothing outrageously hot and spicy, but rather simple, basic cooking with good, fresh ingredients grown, farmed, or fished locally.
As a lover of all of the fruits of the sea, it was a blessing to kick off the tour in Spain and Portugal, which share a reputation for fine seafood. Vigo, a rustic harbor town in the northwest corner of Spain, is known for its sardines, but when I visited a local restaurant and caught site of the chubby langoustines, I had to order a plateful. Simply grilled with a little salt and finished with a squeeze of lemon, and served with their spiny heads intact, my first bite released all those tasty juices in the cranial cavity. Believe me, I didn’t even waste the crunchy shell and tail. While the swordfish I ordered for my main course was good, too, it arrived at the table swimming in an unfortunate mayonnaise sauce.
Next stop, Porto, Portugal, a city famed as the birthplace of port wine. Supposedly the British are really responsible for this drink because they would add sugar to wine coming from Portugal so it would travel better. I skipped it altogether and went straight for the bacalão, the salted codfish which maintained Portuguese sailors and explorers on their worldwide conquests. After soaking the salted cod in water to get rid of all that excess salt, it tastes like a fresh catch. Here I had some huge fried cubes of bacalão served with potatoes, red bell peppers and a salad.
My next great meal was the following night in Lisboa, a city of amazing architecture and vibe, which I am sure to revisit. This time I definitely took note of the restaurant we were eating at—Toma Lá Dá Cá –because we had to wait about an hour for a table. But the promoter was so adamant about how good the food was here, and I was so taken up by the winding, cobblestone alleys of Bairro Alto, that we stayed, and of course it was well worth it. The Vino Verde, a Portuguese green (but really white) wine complemented my perfectly grilled sea bass so well that I attained the heights of food nirvana.
I was excited to return to Madrid after such a long time, and rediscover its diverse tapas. Last time I was there during college, my Spanish girlfriend took me to these bars called caves, each of which specialized in a unique snack to have with your beer. Unfortunately, due to the volcanic activity in Iceland, I could only grab a quick kebab after the show and figure out how we were going to get to our next gig in Milano (which we eventually missed). With planes grounded and French trains on strike, we ended up taking a 15-hour van ride to Paris to catch a train to the next gig in Lille. We stopped once, at a typical French rest stop, and although we were too late for a hot meal, we ate at the buffet, which is nothing like your typical fast food highway stop in the US.
Though not happy about missing Milano, which would have been my first visit to this fine city, I did make up for it in Brussels, where we ate at a nice little Italian restaurant whose owner serenaded us. My friend had a pasta with meat, and I opted for a brick oven pizza with ham and mushrooms. You might think that pizza is pizza, but once again, it was all about the freshness of the ingredients, the wine, the ambience and the good company.
I regret not taking a photo of my meal in Leipzig, Germany where we played at a club that is also connected to a vegan restaurant, which did the catering. While I had turned my nose up at the vegetarian goulash we were served here on previous trips, this time, the cooks were on point with a Thai-inspired stir fry soaked in coconut milk and served over rice with some fresh greens. Our only vegetarian meal of the entire trip, it was also one of the best.
In Berlin, a world-class food city with affordable eating to boot, I had to break down and have some Indian food. I ordered lamb vindaloo, extra spicy, a Portuguese-inspired dish from Goa, prepared by two guys from Bangladesh living in Germany. Talk about fusion. For lunch you can’t beat half a roasted chicken with a large salad for only 4 Euros. See, Berlin is cheap.
I finally got my tapas revenge when we played in Huesca, Spain, a small town in the north central part of the country. Though it was a Sunday, the day of rest for the party hearty Spanish, we did manage to find a nice traditional restaurant that was open after the show. We had sampled some tapas there earlier—including sardines, anchovies, bacalão, stuffed mushrooms, and chorizo stuffed potatoes—so when we returned for a more substantial meal after the show we ordered pate, tempura vegetables, and a type of Spanish omelet featuring fried potatoes, blood sausage and an egg, broken over it at the end. We also had this goulash of wild game made with boar, venison and rabbit meat in a kind of red wine sauce. Had to top off this amazing feed with a traditional Spanish flan and, of course, some café con leche.
In Marseille, the southern French port city where we have friends, I had requested bouillabaisse, a rich fish stew which is the local specialty, but our gracious hosts said, “It is impossible,” as you must order the dish 24 hours in advance. It was customary for our hosts to cook for us, anyway, so Chantal and crew whipped up some amazing pork with a delicious minty couscous and salad. There was also a whipped white vegetable, which I was unable to identify, but which tasted good all the same. For lunch I had a slice of cheesy lasagna and a salad,while my friend opted for some delicious vegetarian crepes. I don’t think they serve bad food in France.
I didn’t know what to expect from the food in Linz, Austria, a town I’ve played in many times before—but always at a club on the outskirts. This was the first time I got a chance to see the city center, which is bisected by the beautiful Danube. I also found out that Linz was the cultural capital of Europe last year, and any town that’s into the arts must also be into good food. The promoter took us out for Italian again, but I ended up ordering the mixed grill, with lamb, turkey and pork, slightly closer to Austrian fare. Plus, you can never go wrong with grilled meat.
Eating in Europe was a blast, but I also overdosed on bread and cheese. Next week it’s Sri Lanka and back to some fiery food