Western Europe is quite popular when it comes to tourism. Its food has become ‘continental’ or ‘world cuisine’. England’s fish and chips, Italy’s pasta and pizza, and France’s macaroons are known by all and sundry. People come up with their own versions of these dishes and they enjoy them. Food from eastern Europe is a whole other story though. The food of countries like Austria, Croatia, Slovenia, Czech, Slovakia, Bosnia and Herzegovina is as rich as their history, culture and geography.
The food of any place is affected by its geography . That is true for the countries of this region as well. The Baltic and Black Seas with the Mediterranean provide ample sea food. Potatoes grow in abundance, giving rise to dishes like potato pancakes. Potatoes are almost a staple for people of Eastern Europe.
In Budapest you will find paprika in several local dishes, for instance in the popular Hungarian goulash, which is a soupy stew of beef and vegetables. It is comfort in a bowl especially when it is cold outside. Another local dish that uses paprika is Hortobágyi palacsinta, a savoury pancake that has a meat filling — chicken or veal — stewed in a sauce and then shredded. The pancake is rolled and covered with the sauce.
Small packs of the smoky red powder, paprika, are sold as souvenirs in the country with bags of sweet- smelling dried lavender petals. Lavender grows in abundance across Eastern Europe. It is used to provide fragrance to drinks and food. Lavender lemonade or tea can be found all across Eastern Europe.
The cuisines of these countries are often influenced by each other, probably because they kept invading each other. Turkish food like doner kababs can be found at every nook and corner. The Turks have a huge influence on the culture and food of the area as the Ottoman Empire covered most of Eastern Europe at one point. So pita bread, falafel and mint yogurt have become fast foods for this part of the world.
As savoury dishes like schnitzel, which is a piece of meat beaten flat, breaded and fried, make their way into the world along with German sausages and sauerkraut, desserts have already taken over silently. Although the Danish pride themselves on making the best pastries and the French baked goods, most people don’t know that it was the Austrians who actually came up with them. If you’re in Austria, do try sachertorte, which is a chocolate cake with apricot jam between the layers and iced with chocolate. It is best eaten with whipped cream as it is a little dry. Austria is also known for its strudels. A strudel is like a pie, but isn’t exactly that. It is a flaky, thin pastry stuffed with cinnamon flavoured apple or cherries.
Another delicacy that uses pastry in Eastern Europe is burek, a thin roll with a savoury stuffing of potatoes, meat, spinach or cheese. It is best eaten warm, straight out of the oven as it becomes soggy if kept for long.
Turkish tea is popular all over the world. But the coffee that Bosnians prefer is different from the coffee that you get in Styrofoam cups elsewhere. Bosnians have their own apparatus and method of preparing and drinking coffee. These elaborately decorated coffee sets are sold on the streets as souvenirs. The coffee is not filtered and the dregs remain at the bottom of a little tumbler of strong black coffee, which is why it is carefully poured into small drinking glasses. A regular Bosnian keeps a piece of ‘Turkish delight’ or a sugar cube in his mouth as he slowly sips the bitter coffee. Drinking coffee is an experience on its own.
Food joins people. This part of the world was affected during the Great Wars and internal wars of freedom. But you will find its people hospitable and welcoming. They will feed you wholeheartedly and leave you wanting more.