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Eating my way around Europe

The summer of travel has come to an end.  It was a fantastic trip that I will continue to relive here for the next few months. One of my favorite things about travel is sampling the unique cuisine that each place has to offer.  Three of my favorites this summer come from Croatia, Belgium and Spain.

Croatia – Geography lent a hand to Croatian cuisine. Located just over the Adriatic from Italy, many Italian flavors are also found in Croatia.  Location helped, but sitting outside, overlooking the Adriatic in Split I ate one of the best pizza’s I have ever had. While I feel odd ordering pizza while traveling, I felt justified given that it is essentially local cuisine here.  Nothing fancy, nothing special, just a well made pizza with fresh ingredients that hit the spot on a warm summer afternoon.

Belgium – I loved the food of Belgium, in fact, I could get used to eating waffles, french fries and Belgian Beer for pretty much every meal, especially the waffles and beer. The waffles come in multiple versions, but my favorite are the Liege waffles that are made with pearl sugar that caramelizes inside the waffle. Each bite has a sweet taste that makes for great snacking. Strawberries, chocolate, ice cream, cherries and numerous other topping are available if you feel that your waffle needs an extra boost but most of the time I was content with just the plain waffle.

Even though many Germans, Irish and others would disagree, I believe that Belgian beer is in a different league from the beers of the rest of the world. I visited the Cantillion brewery, home to one of the last breweries that still uses spontaneous fermentation (use of wild yeasts that offer a somewhat less predictable end product) in their brewing process. Cantillion specializes in Lambic beers. These often feature fruity flavors, raspberry (framboise) and cherry (krieke) are two common flavors, but the winner for me at Cantillion was the Gueuze. Gueuze is made by blending different aged Lambics together which forms a brew that is tart and acidic, very refreshing and often compared to sparkling wine.  It is simply delicious.

Spain – It has been 12 years since I had my first taste of Spanish food and over that time it has become one of my favorite cuisines.  I had been looking forward to my first trip to Spain for many reasons, but perhaps the biggest was to taste sangria, paella, tapas and jamon in the land that created them. Spain did not dissapoint.  While this trip did not bring me to Valencia, the home of Paella, we still did manage to find some good paella in Madrid.  The highlight however, was the sangria.  We rarely left an establishment without trying their sangria.  These cups ranged from small to large, good to fantastic.  Only once did I have a glass that I would not go back for and this was at a place that was trying to kick us out so they could close, keeping love and care from this glass.  The best was had at a bar in Pamplona the night before running with the bulls.  It was sweet and fruity, with a great balance of flavor and just enough kick to remind you that you were drinking alcohol.  Forced to drink this for the rest of my life, I don’t think I would argue. 

The tapas were fantastic, especially various iterations of goat cheese on bread and patatas bravas (spicy potatoes).  Many a night was spent going from one bar to another to compare what each had to offer.  It made for full but happy stomachs.  The final highlight was jamon or Spanish ham.  The ham in Spain is nothing like the cold cuts I had on sandwiches back in grade school.  The ham in Spain is serious business.  For the most expensive (over 200 euro per kilo) the pigs are allowed to eat all of the acorns  they want before a long smoking process.  Less expensive (being a relative term here) ham was fantastic, full of flavor and texture.  Shop after shop featured these hams hung from the ceiling, just tempting shoppers to come in and sample the wares.

Many other meals were spectacular but perhaps because of my expectations before the trip these three experiences remained the most memorable.

**For other food related blogging check out the posts from my awesome sister at her blog pomelosunshine.com**

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