Europe without Reservations
Experts in 10 cities reveal where to find the best grab-and-go meals.
The desire to eat and run is by no means an exclusively American obsession. Grab-and-go dining, in fact, reaches peak velocity in European cities. To find the best way to satisfy fast-moving travelers there, we canvassed 10 local experts for their favorite restaurants, snack stands and food shops. They named a variety of places to pick up a quick meal, from a monster pizza bianca in Rome to a neat onion pie in Paris. Follow their leads and you won't have to sacrifice valuable sightseeing time to the demands of your appetite.
EXPERT Tamasin Day-Lewis, columnist for England's Food Illustrated and author of West of Ireland Summers, a book of recipes and memories that will be published in the States this month (R. Rinehart). HER RECOMMENDATIONS For food that's as fast paced as modern London, rush to the venerable Lina Stores, a family-run Italian delicatessen that sells wonderful buffalo mozzarella, salamis, anchovies and, in the autumn, amazing porcini mushrooms foraged from a secret location in the woods. Then head over to Baker & Spice. The bakery, which uses ovens built in 1902, has long been known for great breads. However, its pastries are equally memorable--especially the apricot tart, in which the fruit slices stand up vertically, each tip fired to a rich, dark brown. Chocoholics might not be satisfied by a fruit tart, no matter how delicious it may be: for them, the destination of choice is Sally Clarke for a truffle fix. Sally Clarke also sells English and Irish farmhouse cheeses and yogurt, which are perhaps less addictive than its truffles but just as marvelous.
EXPERT Pierre Wynants of Comme Chez Soi, the most famous chef in Belgium. HIS RECOMMENDATIONS When you're too busy to make a full stop on the restaurant-dense Rue des Bouchers, slow down just long enough to grab a shrimp croquette from Aux Armes de Bruxelles, a lovely Art Deco restaurant. Or you might swing by L'Atelier Gourmand for charcuterie, La Petite Vache for cheese and the Pralines Neuhaus flagship (in Europe's first covered arcade) for a supply of chocolate. If you'd rather order a complete restaurant meal to go, hit La Porte des Indes for Indian, Blue Elephant for Thai or Jean-Pierre Bruneau for classic Belgian. The sublime coffee-cream-filled cakes sold at Wittamer are an ideal way to complete a meal of any ethnicity. Style-conscious Belgian couples make a pilgrimage to Wittamer to procure wedding cakes; and on Sunday mornings, the entire city seems full of chic shoppers toting clear plastic "W" bags filled with a selection of the bakery's attention-grabbing confections.
EXPERT Faith Willinger, author of Red, White & Greens (HarperCollins) and Eating in Italy (Morrow). HER RECOMMENDATIONS When in Rome...eat pizza bianca. At Il Forno di Campo de' Fiori, you can watch through glass doors as a worker in shorts and a T-shirt stretches out dough on a long board, then elongates it to the full length of a nine-foot oven. Although pizza is a year-round necessity, Roman street foods tend to be seasonal. For the roasted chestnuts that appear when Roman women don their furs, stop at the carts in the Piazza Navona and on the side streets near the Piazza di Spagna; when the weather heats up, head to Viale Trastavere for the stands that sell crisp anguria, or watermelon. Gelato is another summer pleasure, and San Crispino has the best overall selection. Tre Scalini, however, offers a remarkably good creation, a chocolate-gelato truffle with a candied sour cherry in the center. Get it to go on a silver-colored paper plate, with whipped cream on top, and savor it on a bench in a piazza.
EXPERT Melissa Drier, Berlin food writer and German correspondent for Women's Wear Daily. HER RECOMMENDATIONS Germans love their Wurst--no surprise there--and Berliners swear by Currywurst. The recipe, which was created by accident, has become a city signature, and it's definitely an acquired taste. Acquire that taste for yourself at Biers. Kebabs are easier for foreigners to love, and they're ubiquitous. Kümes, on the outskirts of the city, sells the best: the shop is so committed to kebab quality that it makes its own bread and creamy garlic sauce. Re-turn to the center of the city and the Winterfeldt Markt, where Berliners of all stripes come together to shop and snack on zucchini fritters from the Zucchinipuffer stand. Don't ask for the recipe, however: the owner refuses to divulge his secret. When you can't bear to consume anything else that's fried or meaty, go for soup. The international selection at Soup Kultur ranges from Thai chicken and Moroccan harira to Viennese chocolate. Chocolate soup? Sounds strange, but it's great--and it's not an acquired taste.
EXPERT Helle Broennum Carlsen, writer for Jyllands Posten newspaper. HER RECOMMENDATIONS Copenhagen is famous for its small open-faced sandwiches called smørrebrød, and the restaurant Ida Davidsen is the city's premier purveyor. Locals prefer the variety called dyrlaegens natmad (literally, "the animal doctor's night food"); it's made with liver pâté, raw onions, aspic, corned beef and watercress on rye. Americans might be happier with a fried-fish-fillet sandwich. The hot dog, an adored Danish street food, also conforms well to American tastes, although it's slightly different from the version we know: it's a sausage on a roll topped by mustard, ketchup, fried and raw onions, and thinly sliced pickles. The best hot dogs are sold from a motorized cart that parks in Sundbyvester Square on the small island of Amager, between Denmark and Sweden. For an even faster food, try the oysters at Loegismmose, near the Little Mermaid statue. Or, when you need something a bit more substantial, get an order of the beef Bordelaise at Bojesen--to go, of course.
EXPERT Gabriela Llamas, teacher at Alambique's Cooking School and the daughter of Clara María Gon-zález de Amezúa, one of Spain's most revered food authorities. HER RECOMMENDATIONS Breakfast on the run is a Madrileño specialty, and it often takes the form of keyhole-shaped fritters called churros. The fresh, warm, crisp-on-the-outside, tender-on-the-inside offerings at Churreria Chocolateria A. Domingo are hard to beat, particularly when you dip them into hot chocolate. Madrileños are also passionate about Iberian ham and claim that they would go to the ends of the earth for a good one. But they don't have to: Cuenllas (presided over by a 70-year-old dynamo who has been in charge for more than 30 years) stocks great hams, plus such staples as cheese, foie gras and tuna packed in olive oil. Cuenllas does have a new competitor, however, El Obrador del Café de Oriente, where there's always a line for traditional Spanish food that's made fresh daily. When you don't feel like queuing up, El Mollette serves egg-and-potato omelets, and the owners will offer you a drink while you wait.
EXPERT Johannes van Dam, foodwriter for the daily Het Parool newspaper. HIS RECOMMENDATIONS Make a pit stop at Holtkamp, where the veal, shrimp and cheese croquettes are wonderful and where the pastries are so fantastic that they have the seal of approval of Queen Beatrix herself. If you're not in the mood to hobnob with royalty, grab some savory rolls, or saucijzenbroodjes, which are made with puff pastry and spicy minced meat, at Kwekkeboom. Amsterdam has no short- age of second-rate saucijzenbroodjes, but the ones at Kwekkeboom are the real deal: the pastry is made with butter, not margarine, and the meat is high quality, usually veal. For another traditional Dutch treat, head to Altena, a stall near the Rijksmuseum's main entrance, for a snack of salted herring, which is cut into little pieces and served on toothpicks. (Outside the city, vendors sell herring whole; customers take each fish by the tail and lower it into their mouths.) When the weather's cold, you can also wend your way to the stalls on the square by the Royal Palace to buy an oliebol, a fresh doughnut with an intoxicating aroma.
EXPERT Bonnie Dodson, food writer and author of Fodor's Austria. HER RECOMMENDATIONS The Viennese are known for waltzing, not for rushing. Still, when they need to eat fast, they'll buy a quick Käsekrainer, preferably at the Naschmarkt. What is a Käsekrainer, you ask? It's a sausage stuffed with cheese, which oozes out when you cut into it, that is served with a round, soft roll and sweet mustard. Another speedy choice is Kartoffelpuffer (a big hash brown) from a cart on the Graben, a pedestrian promenade in the oldest part of town. For alfresco eating in the Schwedenplatz, a Turkish restaurant called Lale prepares terrific vegetable sandwiches on flat bread. Of course, Vienna is less famed for sandwiches than it is for pastries. Wealthy Viennese ladies meet their friends for coffee and a slice of the house chocolate torte at Heiner, and all of Vienna descends on Demel, a standout even in a city known for its sweets.
EXPERTJacqueline Friedrich, author of A Wine and Food Guide to the Loire (Henry Holt). HER RECOMMENDATIONS The French know how to turn a simple picnic of cheese and bread into a triumph of gastronomy. To follow their example, stop at Barthélémy, where perfect rounds of cheese are beautifully arranged in the windows (look for the extraordinary Vacherin Mont d'Or) and a milky fragrance wafts out the door. Or visit Quatrehomme for wonderful Parmesan and Beaufort. Before finding your picnic spot, collect the best baguette in Paris at Gosselin, where the young owners show a remarkable commitment to the craft of baking. Then swing by the Aurore-Capucine patisserie for a highly artistic fig tart. On Sundays, finish your shopping at the organic market on Boulevard Raspail, where you can ogle the pristine produce and pick up a caramelized onion pie at one of the stands.
EXPERT Diane Kochilas, restaurant critic and food columnist for Ta Nea, a daily Athens newspaper. HER RECOMMENDATIONS When you're zipping from the Acropolis to the Parthenon and feel an urgent need to eat, look around: there's bound to be souvlaki nearby. The version at Savvas Souvlaki has just the right amount of tzatziki (a garlicky yogurt-cucumber sauce) on thick, soft pita. Another grab-and-go favorite is tyropita, or cheese pie. Kyria Evy prepares the definitive version; Ariston sells dozens of inspired variations. If you'd describe yourself as a food freak, make a trip to Barba Stavros for a warm peinirli, a bacon-and-egg pie. Though the mastiha, or mustard ice cream, at Toula's sounds bizarre and unappealing, it's far from it; mustard refers to the color, not the taste. Rose water adds a musky, incenselike quality to this classic vanilla-flavored dessert.
Malia Boyd is a freelance writer based in New Orleans.