Try this with your friends: say the name of a city they’ve been to and most likely they’ll come up with a one-word, sensory delight that sums the place up for them. For example, Lisbon – ‘oh, the fish; Munich – ‘ah, the beer’; Paris – ‘ooh, the croissants’. Well here are a few of my own favourites, in no particular order as television judges say. These are things that make me get dreamy eyed at the mere mention of that place’s name. And yes, they are all food-related, so… what of it?
#6. Ice cream in Nice
Not the first thing I expected to find when I recently went to the south of France. And yes, the views are nice, the water really is very blue, the people are stylish, the city is pretty, there is art everywhere and so on and so on. But the real jewel we uncovered was Fenocchio, an ice cream place.
We found two branches in the old town, one quite close to our apartment (luckily or unluckily, depending whether you side with saving shoe leather or calories: we would have walked a fair distance for this ice cream, I assure you). There were about 90 flavours, seriously. My first night I had a scoop of violet and one of jasmine. Yes, I ate flower flavoured, purple food. And wow!
After that we began referring to each day as either a one scoop or two scoop day, depending on how far we had walked so how much we thought we deserved. Most days, strangely, we deserved two scoops. In five days we worked our way through fig, cinnamon, chocolate peppermint, ginger, rose, lemon meringue… I have to stop before I book another trip to Nice. (One word of warning: avoid the crepes at Fennocio, definitely not their specialty.)
#5. Sachertorte in Salzburg
This world-famous chocolate cake was developed in Vienna in 1832 by the second-year apprentice chef Franz Sacher. He worked in the court kitchens of Prince Metternich and on the day of an important dinner the head chef was ill, so Sacher whipped up the first Sachertorte. In 1876, his son Eduard began the first Hotel Sacher and registered a trademark on the Sachertorte.
I visited Salzburg to indulge a childhood whim to be a von Trapp for a day and stumbled over the Hotel Sacher almost by accident: it had a nice terrace overlooking the river, the old town, and, oh, a bridge made famous in The Sound of Music. On the table was a history of the Sachertorte so we thought we’d best try it. Sublime! Truly amazing.
Even if you’re not a complete chocoholic. And the tea they served, simply named Sacher Tea, was also great. A combination of bergamot (earl grey), jasmine and black tea, it had me heading round to the hotel’s shop to buy a tin. Apart from the tea, the shop sold cake. Lots and lots of Sachertorte, shipping it all over the world.
When I was in there a girl was having a whole cake sent home to her family in the USA; that’s how good it is! I toyed with sending a couple of pieces to my chocolate addicted sister-in-law but really couldn’t afford it. I did send her a photo of the piece I ate though.
#4. Lokum (a.k.a. Turkish Delight) in Istanbul
I know it sounds really obvious. But Turkish Delight made properly is a completely different taste sensation to the overly sweet and cloying stuff I grew up with. I dragged my feet a little when my travel companion, Steven, wanted to find the original Turkish Delight shop opened in 1777 by Haci Bekir (on Hamidiye Caddesi, near the Egyptian Spice Market) but I gave in, I mean he had just made a full-day trip to Gallipoli with me (9 hours in the car), and the map assured us this shop was only two blocks away. Although two blocks in Istanbul can still be quite an adventure – the traffic!
We found the shop quite easily and it was a delight. The men in there gave us some samples to try and, more from a lack of language and inbuilt politeness than genuine desire, I stuck an apple-flavoured square in my mouth. Oh my! The taste sensation. It tasted like apples! Really! I bought a box. And the rose! Wow! Flavours derived from the real natural article – apples, rose petals etc – it can’t be beaten. Why have we put up with artificial flavouring for so long? Evil incarnate. Anyway, we ended up with about four boxes of Turkish Delight in our luggage and it’s not light. But I would almost have ditched a pair of shoes for it. Almost.
#3. Apple Cake in Amsterdam
Apple Cake. High tinned, full of apple and cinnamon, thin cakey crust, served with lashings of cream – divine! And the best one is at the Noordermarkt on Prinsengracht. You can go there during the week and sit outside in summer or at a communal table inside during winter.
But the time all the Amsterdammers go is Saturday morning when the Noordermarkt is full of stalls selling organic food. It’s not a huge market but it is quality through and through and the place to be. The queue outside the café with the apple cake makes it easy to find, as do all the people with slices of apple cake in various stages of demolition. Do not eat breakfast: the slices are generous. And do not dare to order anything else but apple cake and a drink – the demand is so high, there are presliced apple cakes covering the counter and the staff run to keep up with the demand. Oh, and it’s counter-service, no table service at this time of day so join the queue. Then hop on your bike to ride off the excess you just gained – although with that much apple involved, can it really be bad for you?
#2. Hot chocolate in Venice
Yes, hot chocolate is available around the world and many countries stake a claim to it: Holland, Belgium, Switzerland. But No! Italy wins my vote. This hot chocolate is so thick, the spoon stands up in it, really!
The first one I had was in Calle Rasse, a small backstreet behind San Marco; a rainy day, the acqua alta threatening our ankles, we took refuge in one of those narrow sandwich bars the Italians do so well. We had no idea that life was about to change. But it did.
I have been back to this place every visit since and the quality is maintained. I have cheated on this, my first hot chocolate love, by dating a couple of others in Piazza San Marco itself but have only been disappointed. Once I tried the Caffe Florian. They’ve been making hot chocolate since 1720 so they should have it down to a fine art. And if it wasn’t for the Calle Rasse experience, I probably would have been impressed. Then I tried crossing the square to Quadri, but it was a similar experience. And eating or drinking anything on the Piazza San Marco is going to be a costly exercise: we’re talking a 10 euro hot chocolate as opposed to 4 euros in Calle Rasse. Besides, can anything really match the perfection of your first love?
#1. High tea at The Ritz Hotel in London
Elegant, calm in the midst of crazy London dirt and traffic. Established as a tradition during the Victorian era, high tea in London is not cheap but then you won’t need dinner afterwards so it’s totally practical: an elegant room, pages of tea choices, and three tiered towers of delicate sandwiches, scones with cream and jam, and little cakes – yum.
There are other high teas in London but the Ritz has the history; it’s also the only one I’ve been to so I can’t bear witness to any others. (Editor’s note: also try high tea at the Grosvenor House.) And the Ritz on Piccadilly is just one of those must-have London experiences. High tea is served in the elegant Palm Court which is all columns and chandeliers and has a dress code that bans jeans and trainers; it really feels like London as it once was – or still is if you have money, a title or are Madonna. You do need to book well ahead if possible – they recommend six weeks – unless of course you are moneyed, titled or Madonna.
A couple of quickies to finish with: In Prague have a Budweiser beer – a completely different flavour to the Bud in the rest of the world. In Bratislava try Becherovka, a kind of herb-based liquor. Delicious but can prove potent. You were warned. In Zagreb try the Paprenjak, pepper flavoured biscuits. Sublime. Also the Bajadera chocolates made by local company Kras. Mmmm. And finally, a second bite at Istanbul: Fish in bread with onions, served directly from boats tied to the dock just under the Galata Bridge. Locals everywhere squatting on low, no frills plastic chairs. Cheap, delicious, authentic. Do it.
Planning a trip? Check out top foodie tours around the world, especially Paris Chocolate and Pastry Food Tour, NYC East Village Food Tour and Best of Brooklyn Sightseeing, Food and Culture Tour.