Food memories from travels around Europe


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The Codfather, a wonderfully named shop in Abergavenny, Wales, is known for its very generous servings of fish and chips. (Courtesy of Olivia King)
Caption

The Codfather, a wonderfully named shop in Abergavenny, Wales, is known for its very generous servings of fish and chips. (Courtesy of Olivia King)

Credit: Olivia King

Credit: Olivia King

Easily the most unusual meal any of our family has had was when our daughter-in-law, Jenny, was working at a school in South Korea, and the teachers and administrators went out to dinner. The school’s principal ordered san-nakji, and offered her some. She didn’t want to try it, since it is a live octopus dish, but refusing food is considered bad manners there, so she accepted.

One of the teachers mimed to her that she should chew it really hard. “That was the opposite of what I had planned to do, since it seemed the easiest way to get through it would just be to swallow it as soon as possible,” she said. “But, I’m glad I listened, because I later read that it is rare, but possible, to die from the suckers attaching to your throat!”

She used her chopsticks to pry the suckers off, since the octopus leg was still wiggling and sticking to the plate. “I chewed it hard,” Jenny said. “It didn’t have much taste, or else I didn’t notice the taste, because it was sucking onto my cheeks. I eventually chewed it enough that it stopped sucking, and swallowed it. I can’t say I enjoyed it, but I think I earned some respect from my colleagues for trying it!”

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The British like to use unusual toppings for what they call a jacket potato. Here is one topped with baked beans, and served with a side salad, at the Cwtch Cafe in Abergavenny, Wales. (Courtesy of Olivia King)
Caption

The British like to use unusual toppings for what they call a jacket potato. Here is one topped with baked beans, and served with a side salad, at the Cwtch Cafe in Abergavenny, Wales. (Courtesy of Olivia King)

Credit: Olivia King

Credit: Olivia King

Another unusual meal: a “jacket potato” (baked potato) that our daughter, Olivia, had at the Cwtch Cafe in my mother’s hometown of Abergavenny, Wales. It was topped with baked beans, which might sound awful, but she said it “spoiled me for jacket potatoes now — I can’t enjoy them plain.”

Memorable settings have made several meals abroad special, including the time Leslie and Olivia dined at the Sorza restaurant on the Ile Saint-Louis in the Seine River in Paris. Olivia said of the pesto risotto: “I would have licked the bowl if that was acceptable in public.”

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Pesto risotto was one of the highlights of a visit to the restaurant Sorza on the Ile Saint-Louis in the Seine River in Paris. (Courtesy of Olivia King)
Caption

Pesto risotto was one of the highlights of a visit to the restaurant Sorza on the Ile Saint-Louis in the Seine River in Paris. (Courtesy of Olivia King)

Credit: Olivia King

Credit: Olivia King

They also visited the very popular Le Relais de l’Entrecôte in Paris, which has a set menu: steak-frites and secret sauce. The boneless steak is covered with an alarmingly green peppercorn sauce, Olivia said, but it was “one of the top meals of my life, thus far.”

On our numerous trips to the U.K., we’ve had a lot of fish and chips, of course. The most generous portions were at The Codfather in Abergavenny (featuring a logo of a tough-guy fish toting a machine gun), while the best-tasting were the hand-battered Atlantic cod and chips at the Pen & Parchment, a 17th-century inn in Shakespeare’s hometown, Stratford-Upon-Avon.

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The Paris restaurant Le Relais de l’Entrecôte has a set menu: steak-frites and secret sauce. All you have to do is tell them how you want the meat cooked. (Courtesy of Olivia King)
Caption

The Paris restaurant Le Relais de l’Entrecôte has a set menu: steak-frites and secret sauce. All you have to do is tell them how you want the meat cooked. (Courtesy of Olivia King)

Credit: Olivia King

Credit: Olivia King

Another traditional U.K. meal is roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, which Olivia ordered at the Sherlock Holmes Pub and Restaurant in London. It was very good and, unlike what you’ll get in many British homes, the roast beef wasn’t overcooked!

On a solo visit that our daughter made to the U.K. between college degrees, she had afternoon tea at Chatsworth House, a grand estate owned by the Duke of Devonshire that was used for the Pemberley scenes in the Keira Knightley film of Olivia’s favorite book, “Pride & Prejudice.”

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A traditional meal of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding is served at the Sherlock Holmes Pub and Restaurant in London. (Courtesy of Olivia King)
Caption

A traditional meal of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding is served at the Sherlock Holmes Pub and Restaurant in London. (Courtesy of Olivia King)

Credit: Olivia King

Credit: Olivia King

Livvy also got to celebrate her 23rd birthday in Cardiff, the capital of Wales. Her birthday is March 1, St. David’s Day, the Welsh national holiday, so she got to march in the parade and then enjoy lasagna made with Welsh beef at the Duke of Wellington pub.

Probably the most memorable mealtime view we’ve had was in northern Italy’s Lake District in 2009, where dinner every night at the four-star Lido Palace hotel offered a majestic vista of Lake Maggiore.

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Olivia King celebrated her 23rd birthday in 2017 with Welsh beef lasagna at the Duke of Wellington pub in Cardiff, the capital of Wales. (Courtesy of Olivia King)
Caption

Olivia King celebrated her 23rd birthday in 2017 with Welsh beef lasagna at the Duke of Wellington pub in Cardiff, the capital of Wales. (Courtesy of Olivia King)

Credit: Olivia King

Credit: Olivia King

The two-hour, four-course meals (five, if you wanted a salad) included such starters as cauliflower muffins, and a tartlet with squash, leeks and taleggio cheese; a different cream soup every night; and a different pasta, except the last night, when we had risotto, one of the area’s specialties. Each night, you also had the choice of fish (usually from one of the nearby lakes) or meat, for your entree, along with some sort of potato dish. Our favorites included the eggplant and Parmesan lasagna al ragu, the veal escalope, and, our farewell meal there, trout with butter and sage.

One night, a strawberry and vanilla cake topped with a sparkler was wheeled out to celebrate the birthday of our 24-year-old son and a lady in our tour group. Young Bill got to slice the cake.

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Writer Bill King is seen lunching al fresco at Ristorante Pizzeria in Stresa, a tourist town on Lake Maggiore in northern Italy. (Courtesy of Leslie King)
Caption

Writer Bill King is seen lunching al fresco at Ristorante Pizzeria in Stresa, a tourist town on Lake Maggiore in northern Italy. (Courtesy of Leslie King)

Credit: Leslie King

Credit: Leslie King

And, always, gelato of various flavors was part of the dessert buffet.

In general, the food at the hotel — and in the various restaurants where we had lunch, including pizza just down the lake in Stresa — was wonderful, especially the simply prepared pasta (usually in oil and a light, creamy tomato sauce, not the heavy sauces favored in southern Italy). Zucchini was a frequent ingredient, as was eggplant.

When Olivia did a study-abroad stay in Rome in 2014, her most memorable meals included a pasta dish at La Fiaschetta (she liked the place so much, she ate there four times); and cacio e pepe served in a bowl made of Parmesan cheese.

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Cacio e pepe, here served at a restaurant in the Trastevere area of Rome, is pasta with black pepper and grated pecorino Romano cheese. (Courtesy of Olivia King)
Caption

Cacio e pepe, here served at a restaurant in the Trastevere area of Rome, is pasta with black pepper and grated pecorino Romano cheese. (Courtesy of Olivia King)

Credit: Olivia King

Credit: Olivia King

Of course, you can find fine Italian cuisine in other countries, with one of the best meals I’ve ever had being at Casa Italia in Liverpool in 2001, when my son and I both had the pollo al forno — shell pasta, chicken and mozzarella in bechamel sauce, sizzling hot in a skillet and sprinkled with Parmesan and black pepper. Delicious!

Seafood always has been a favorite of ours, too, and a favorite spot was the now-closed Geales in Notting Hill, where, on our last visit, we had cod and chips, whitebait (a small battered, fried fish), salmon fish cakes, fried plaice fillet with new potatoes, and fish pie (with cod, prawns, salmon and smoked haddock in cream sauce, topped with mustard mashed potatoes).

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An instructor known as Angeles teaches visitors in Barcelona, Spain, how to make paella mixta, which includes chicken and seafood along with a lot of vegetables. (Courtesy of Jenny Robb King)
Caption

An instructor known as Angeles teaches visitors in Barcelona, Spain, how to make paella mixta, which includes chicken and seafood along with a lot of vegetables. (Courtesy of Jenny Robb King)

Credit: Jenny Robb King

Credit: Jenny Robb King

Our son and daughter-in-law had another memorable seafood meal in Barcelona, Spain, where they signed up for a class to learn to make paella mixta, which also includes chicken and vegetables. “A big part of the work was chopping veggies,” Jenny recalled.

They enjoyed sangria while the paella cooked in a large round pan, and, for dessert, they learned to make a Catalan cream, similar to a crème brûlée. Said Jenny: “It was one of our favorite meals and experiences in Spain!”

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You have to book well in advance for afternoon tea at Chatsworth House, the Duke of Devonshire’s home in Derbyshire, England, where part of the popular Keira Knightley film “Pride & Prejudice” was shot. (Courtesy of Olivia King)
Caption

You have to book well in advance for afternoon tea at Chatsworth House, the Duke of Devonshire’s home in Derbyshire, England, where part of the popular Keira Knightley film “Pride & Prejudice” was shot. (Courtesy of Olivia King)

Credit: Olivia King

Credit: Olivia King

We’ve also had some unforgettable servers during our foreign meals. When we met up with some longtime friends at the Pavement Cafe in the Royal Lancaster Hotel in London, we had a terrible waiter, who was so bad he apparently got fired midway through the meal!

On the positive side, the day after my son and I dined at Liverpool’s Casa Italia, we got a taste of the famous Liverpudlian wit when we returned for lunch. The waiter we’d had the night before recognized us and, with a grin, asked if we’d like our “usual table.”

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This wonderful dessert served at the Angel Hotel in Abergavenny, Wales, features ice cream, strawberries and sugar cookies. (Courtesy of Olivia King)
Caption

This wonderful dessert served at the Angel Hotel in Abergavenny, Wales, features ice cream, strawberries and sugar cookies. (Courtesy of Olivia King)

Credit: Olivia King

Credit: Olivia King

Another meal, at the Angel Hotel in Abergavenny, featured not just delicious food (including a dessert combining strawberries, vanilla ice cream and sugar cookies), but also a charming French waitress, who managed to talk me into trying something called Jasmine Pearls. It proved to be a delicious green tea scented with fresh jasmine flowers, and I enjoyed it, in spite of my doubts.

And, in 2014, we returned to a London restaurant called Olio, in a hotel near Hyde Park, where, 13 years earlier, we’d enjoyed a wonderful Italian meal. Unfortunately, in the interim, Olio had switched to a European-Malaysian menu. When we expressed our disappointment, the waitress, who hailed from Turkmenistan, convinced the management to serve us from the Frank Sinatra Night Italian menu one of their other restaurants offered just one night a week.

We appreciated the effort — and, of course, she received a very generous tip.

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Read more tales of memorable meals abroad at Bill King’s Quick Cuts blog, billkingquickcuts.wordpress.com. He can be reached at junkyardblawg@gmail.com.





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