Continuing on from my first post on Food Around the World, we returned home from vacation in May, Jeremy took extended time off work, and we started our summer travels!
Most international travels begin with an airport. When James gets his way, that means Dunkin’ Donuts with an amazing view of the runway. On this trip, he got his wish!
If you are traveling with kids, particularly American kids, Italy is going to be much easier to deal with pickiness.
The first food that comes to mind is pizza. How many kids don’t like cheese pizza? Of course, in Italy, it will be thin crust and be much lighter on both the sauce and cheese than kids may be used to, and the cheese might be fresh mozzarella rather than aged, but they will get over it quickly. And if you are less picky, there are a ton of interesting combinations you can get. In Varenna, along Lake Como, I discovered that I loved the pizza with a little arugula.
Of course there will be that time when their lasagne or spaghetti comes with minced hard-boiled eggs in the sauce (in Amalfi), but usually they will find something on the menu that they like. And if they don’t, there is a good chance you can order plain pasta.
Or you can just let them skip the meal and get them a gelato afterwards. Do you really want to be sightseeing with a whiny kid that is low on blood sugar? If you are just traveling for a short time, this strategy can work. If it is for a more extended time, then you need to find a different solution. Even if they did finish their meal, gelato is almost always a good idea, particularly if you just want to walk and enjoy the views (in Varenna). The calories will burn off as you walk many more steps than you do at home.
If you are looking for something a little different, an Italian cooking class could be a great idea.
The class we took in Sorrento was a little less hands-on that I might prefer (1-2 people got to do each task out of a class size of 8), but we all got to sample the fruits of our labor, enjoy some good wine and cheese, and have good conversation.
If you love lemons like me, Sorrento is the town for you. Not only will you find them at every market, but there are whole stores devoted to lemon products. The town is best known for their Limoncello (liquor), but you can find lemon candies, lemon soap, lemon dresses, lemon earrings, lemon bags, lemon dishes, the list goes on and on.
And when you get tired, you can always find a coffee shop. Italians will often save money by ordering from the stand-up bars, but that defeats the idea of a rest from sightseeing. Also, Italians will only order a cappuccino in the morning, and never after a meal. Apparently hot milk should never enter a full stomach (full of acidy tomatoes and all), and if you drink it in the afternoon, it will cause indigestion. But as a tourist, you can ignore the funny looks and do what you want. Jeremy stuck to the rules, while I cringed at the idea of black coffee. Luckily while on the Marina Grande Beach in Sorrento, we decided to stop for coffee mid-morning.
In Austria, the best meals are often brown. Brown meat and sauce, brownish-white potatoes, dumplings, and/or sauerkraut. But oh-so-good.
The pork in Austria is quite tasty. I highly recommend Reinthaler’s Beisl in Vienna. The specials were all written in German. In touristy areas, looking for handwritten specials with no English translations are often your best bet for quality food. Luckily, when we went inside, they had a few bi-lingual menus. After being steered away from a random special that I pointed at (chicken livers with a creamy mushroom sauce, which I think would have been interesting to try, but would have also grossed out my table mates), I got the roasted pork with dumplings and sauerkraut.
Sausage is also a good bet, particularly for kids. If it comes with sauerkraut, they may or may not eat that part of the meal, but that just means more white veggies for you!
When everyone needs a break from foreign food, but you don’t want to completely forget where you are, McDonalds has a McBeer. Paired with a greek salad, I was quite content with Jeremy’s restaurant choice.
And if you are looking for a treat only found in Vienna, try the Mozart Balls. A bit hokey, but the kids enjoyed them.
When you need to throw away the wrappers, look for these delightful trash cans. Just watch out if you have young children. When one of our kids was 4, he decided to stick his head inside the hole to see what was inside the “ice cream cone.” Yuck!
Continuing on to Ukraine, we were delighted by the food. At first glance, everything is still brown.
At least, until you discover the soup. Borscht is delicious. Not as delicious as borscht in Russia, but still delicious. Here is a meal we had in Lviv. Complete with the traditional cherry compote beverage, which was basically warm cherry juice.
One interesting thing I found on the menu was banosh. I wanted to try something Ukrainian that I couldn’t get at home, so I pointed to a random item on the menu that I had no idea of what it was. As it turns out, it was Ukrainian comfort food! My southern friends will be happy to know that I ended up really enjoying my super tasty corn grits, pork cracklings, and feta cheese, even if it wasn’t entirely what I was expecting.
Another interesting surprise was how good Georgian (the country, not the state) food is. When in America, you can usually find really good Mexican food. Similarly, in former Soviet Bloc countries, you can usually find really good Georgian food.
In Kiev, we spotted a Georgian restaurant chain, Khachapuri & Vino, that looked good and decided to try it. Delicious! The veal, tomato, and onion stew that I had was amazing. James got some soup dumplings that he liked so much that he found a recipe when we got home and made some. Not quite as good as the restaurant, but still tasty. The “pot pie” that John ordered was more of a pizza, but the flavors in the meat one were quite unusual and again, very tasty.
At another restaurant in Kiev, we started with some delicious Georgian bread that ended up coming with a wonderful roasted eggplant side. Since I am the only one who likes eggplant, I ate way too much of it. James ordered some stew-like thing and Jeremy got a veal and potato dish, both of which were very flavorful and tasty. I decided to try the quail, since that is something that is hard to find at home. It was very flavorful and tender, but I was a bit jealous of the saucier dishes that Jeremy and James had.
On the train between Lviv and Kiev, we were expecting a dining car. Unfortunately, this did not happen and we were woefully underprepared. Luckily, the train attendant had a small supply of snacks for purchase. I picked out some meat flavored crackers, James got the sour cream and onion ones, John got some peanut things that were coated in some sort of meat flavoring, and Jeremy got some cookies. All were much better than we expected and, of course, we went back for more. By the end of the train ride, I think we had mostly depleted her supply.
Since Jeremy likes to visit McDonalds in each country he visits, of course we had to go to one in Ukraine. We really liked the Cyrillic alphabet on the packaging.
Coffee in Ukraine is relatively mediocre. Even if you ask for it “strong,” you will get the weakest American coffee that you can imagine. But it was cheap. And we wanted to sit in random restaurants and relax. So we drank way too much of it.
And since everything in Ukraine was relatively inexpensive, we allowed the kids to have way too many treats.
James loved the chocolate muffins (with cute faces) at our favorite coffee shop, Aroma Kava. Don’t miss the orange hot chocolate! The kids didn’t like it, but Jeremy and I thought it was some of the best hot chocolate that we have ever had.
And the kids absolutely adored the lollipop store.
While Jeremy and I went church hopping, the kids went playground hopping. At one particular playground in Kiev, we found gigantic sticks of cotton candy.
Then there were the bubble waffles and other cafes. What is a bubble waffle? It is a delicious waffle with “inverted” holes that are instead filled with deliciousness of your choice. If you really want your mouth to water, you can see a nice video from the Bubble Waffle company.
Monument to the Kiev Cake
And, last but not least, is the “Monument to the Kiev Cake.” It’s really the a statue of Yaroslav holding a model of the city, but the nickname makes a lot more sense.
I loved the food in Egypt! Unfortunately, we were also jet-lagged and a bit lazy about getting good pictures of our food. For this meal in Alexandria, all we captured were our remains. In any case, we started with some very nice hot Egyptian bread and a selection of 6 mezze, all of which were delicious. I favored the eggplant ones, but the tahini and humus ones were very nice. There was also a yogurt that was delicious. Our appetizer was followed by the fish of the day, gray mullet, shrimp, and some tasty rice.
In Israel, we had some really delicious food, but again, we missed the opportunities to photograph it.
Many hotels in Israel have delicious buffet breakfasts. There is no resemblance to any of the standard American hotel breakfasts. You will have lots of veggies, some humus, probably some yogurt (if you aren’t somewhere kosher), plus eggs, some sort of meat, some Israeli pastries, and plenty more. If you get the eggs, look for a jar of za’atar, which is a blend of oregano, basil, and other spices. Quite tasty! And much different than any other spice blend that I have had before. Many of the breads are baked olive oil and a little of this spice.
If you are looking for a quick lunch, consider stopping at a bagel shop for a nice sandwich. On our first day in Jerusalem, we found a delicious shop in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City.
Another good option for a fast and delicious lunch is the shawarma shops. You will see a gigantic slab of lamb (or other meat) being roasted on a vertical rotisserie. When you order, they will scrape off the outer layer and put it on a pita with spices, veggies, and a delicious tahini sauce. If you are familiar with a Döner Kebab, it is fairly similar, but they can’t use the yogurt sauce since that would violate kosher laws regarding meat and dairy. We had one of these sandwiches while on the “Holy City Tour” on our second day in Jerusalem, then again on our third day.
Consider trying a salad with middle eastern flavors. If you are looking for something a little more hearty, while in Nazareth, I had a delicious salad with bulgar, chickpeas, tomatoes, lemon, and mint. Yum!
And if you are looking for a unique McDonalds experience, try one of the kosher McDonalds in Israel. The one pictured below was found on our sixth day while on the drive between the Sea of Galilee and Banias Nature Reserve There won’t be a single Big Mac in sight. In fact, there won’t be a single piece of cheese in sight, since this would violate the kosher dietary laws. I enjoyed the salad, but it definitely would have been better with a little cheese.
Another thing you need to try are the pastries. We found several good shops in the New City. On our first day in Jerusalem, I had a tasty pastry filled with poppy seeds, a delicious pinwheel with mystery ingredients, and a puff pastry with sesame seeds. Wonderful! The best part is that they have a ton of little, tiny pastries, you pick them out, put them in a bag, then they weigh them and you pay per kg. Perfect for samplings tons of delicious treats! At least a couple of our meals came from this method.
While I would usually sample the pastries for dinner, often the boys would start off with some ice cream.