Say Goodbye To Olive Oil Bottles In European Restaurants

olive oil
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It’s an old tradition here in Europe: sit down for a meal and at the center of the table is a little bottle of olive oil for using on your bread and other food. In the finer restaurants you’ll often get a dipping bowl too.

Now the Guardian reports that the European Union has banned serving olive oil in anything but sealed, throwaway containers. The EU says this is to stop fraud, claiming some restaurants substitute cheaper olive oil than what they advertise, a bit like how some bars put cheaper brands into their top-shelf liquor bottles. In fact, few restaurants actually advertise which olive oil they’re serving.

The new move is also supposed to improve hygiene, although of course it will increase the amount of trash restaurants produce.

Several newspapers are lambasting the move, saying it’s pointless meddling by a bloated bureaucracy that should be tackling the economic meltdown. The move has already passed, however.

So the next time you go to Europe, your authentic local meal will be a little less authentic.

The Budget Traveler’s Guide To Cut-Price Restaurant Meals

Eating out three meals a day can do some serious damage to your travel budget, especially when you want those three meals to be as good as possible. Sure, you could self-cater to save a few bucks, but if you’re a real foodie who wants to taste the best a city has to offer, how can you do it without breaking the bank?

Filling up on street food or tracking down food trucks are two tried and true techniques used by backpackers and budget travelers the world over, but those who want to eat at traditional restaurants cut their costs too. Here are five ideas for eating at sit-down restaurants on a budget.

Enjoy a pre-theater meal

Restaurants located in a city’s theater district will usually offer discounted meals to diners who want to get a bite to eat before heading to see their show – but you don’t necessarily have to hold theater tickets to take advantage of this deal. Most restaurants will happily accommodate you, although the catch is you’ll have to eat early with pre-show meal deals usually ending around 6:30 p.m. Cities with a strong theater culture like NYC and London have long lists of pre-theater meal venues to choose from but the trend is catching on in many smaller cities as well.


Seek out prix fixe menus

Ordering from a prix fixe (“fixed price”) menu can work out significantly cheaper than ordering individual items off a traditional a la carte menu. As an added bonus, you get to try out extra dishes you may not have considered ordering, which sometimes turn out to be the highlight of the meal. With a prix fixe menu, you know upfront exactly how much your meal is going to cost so there are no nasty surprises when your bill shows up.

Eat well at lunch

Most restaurants have separate menus for dinner and lunch – with the latter being significantly cheaper. So if you’re traveling on a budget, the midday meal is the perfect opportunity to try out the fancier establishments that would be too pricy to enjoy at dinnertime. There’s usually a fair bit of overlap between the lunch and dinner menus anyway since few restaurants can afford to offer drastically different items for lunch and dinner.


Eat at markets

You’ve probably already heard the tip about heading to a local produce market, picking up some bread, cheese and fruit and making a picnic out of it – but that’s not what I mean when I say you should consider eating at markets. Instead, I’m talking about dining at one of the small restaurants or food booths set up inside many popular markets. You’ll usually have to sit at a counter or in a cafeteria-style setting and there are typically only one or two menu choices at most of the booths – but the upside is that the dishes on offer have been perfected.

You also get to enjoy fish, meat and vegetables that are super fresh and a fraction of the cost they’d be at a typical restaurant. Quincy Market in Boston (see image above) and Kauppatori Market in Helsinki, Finland, are two examples of markets offering great meals.


BYOB where possible

Depending on where you’re traveling, alcohol can put a real ding in your budget. For example, Singapore puts a heavy tax on alcohol so a beer in a bar or restaurant can set you back $12-$20 while a cocktail will leave you with serious sticker shock. You may already BYOB when eating out in your hometown, so why not do the same thing when traveling? Supermarkets are often a good source of reasonably priced alcohol that you can take along to your meal.

[Photo credit: Flickr users zoetnet; franklin_hunting; Darryl Whitmore; Christine Cowen]

Eating And Drinking In Estonia

Estonia
I always enjoy dipping into a new cuisine, so when I headed off to Estonia I was curious as to what kind of food I was going to get. Would it be like Russian cuisine? Scandinavian? A bit of both since the country is sandwiched between those two areas?

Turns out it’s a mix with its own local twist. At least that was my impression. I was only in the country a week and so take all my observations with a dash of salt.

The first thing I noticed is that bread comes with everything. The most distinct kind is a heavy black rye bread. Breakfasts include bread and an assortment of cold cuts and cheeses to fortify you against the cold day. Bread reappears for lunch and dinner and snacks. You’ll see kids tromping down the street with a slice of black bread and butter for a snack.

Estonian cuisine includes a lot of meat, especially pork, usually served with some form of potato. One dish I tried was juniper-smoked pork with honey cabbage, mustard sauce and potato-groat porridge. A good recipe that was only adequately done at the place I tried it. In the winter Estonians like soups and stews. My favorite is seljanka, a meat soup that warmed me up after a cold morning chasing the Estonian army through some snowy woods. More on that story in the next post. The vegetable soups thickened with cream or yogurt will keep you going too.

%Gallery-180003%Despite being a maritime country, fish doesn’t rank high on the menu. Herring, eel and flounder are found the most, although I didn’t try any of them.

Eating Spanish food every day, I’m accustomed to simple, direct flavors, while Estonians like to mix up their flavors. Trying to buy pure honey was a bit of a challenge. Most brands are mixed with pollen or bits of various herbs.

A lot of Estonian cheeses tend to have seeds in them, like this sampler plate shown above. My favorite was the one mixed with the rye seeds. I got this at the Seaplane Harbour Museum, which unlike many museums has a surprisingly good and affordable restaurant. The best cheese I tried was a heavily smoked cheese called Lepasuitsu Eesti juust. If you like smoky cheeses, hunt this one down.

This mixing of flavors even extends to beer. Some of the main brands and microbrews I tried were sweetened; one of them was honey flavored. Mead, sadly, was nowhere to be found. A good place for Estonian beer in Tallinn is Hell Hunt, a bar/restaurant that’s hugely popular with both locals and tourists.

As for the harder stuff, there’s no shortage of Estonian and Russian vodka. Estonia is also known for Vana Tallinn (“Old Tallinn”), a sweet liquor that wasn’t to my taste. It’s made with vanilla pods, orange, lemon, bitter orange oils and a bit of cinnamon mixed with Jamaican rum. Often called the “Baileys of Estonia,” I brought some back to my Baileys-loving wife and she found it overly sweet just like I did. We’ll foist it off on some unsuspecting guests. Apparently this is what the Estonians do. Several told me that it’s mostly an export brand.

In the bigger cities you’ll find plenty of other cuisines. Besides the usual staples such as Chinese, Indian and Italian, there are plenty of Caucasian restaurants featuring the cuisines of Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan. These places will give you a very different dining experience and I recommend visiting at least one while you’re in Estonia. At Must Lammas in Tallinn I tried a dish of crisphead lettuce with grilled chicken filet and garlic-cheese sauce that was excellent.

Visiting Estonia in winter, I missed all the fresh herbs, berries and nuts the country folk like to gather. Everyone raves about the local strawberries. I did have a fun culinary experience, though. Plus I took the Estonian advice to eat a lot of garlic to keep from getting a cold. It worked!

Read the rest of my series: “Exploring Estonia: The Northern Baltics In Wintertime.”

Coming up next: Chasing The Estonian Army (And Finding A Different One)!

[Photo by Sean McLachlan]

Photo Of The Day: The Master Of The French Bistro


A Parisian restaurant or bistro often gets its charm and ambience thanks to its waiters. They are the ones that control the scene, passing out espressos and early afternoon beers. If you speak a little French, they’re easy to schmooze. They’ll encourage you to get the carafe of house red with lunch and they’ll probably convince you to get dessert as well.

This photo by Flickr user jrodmanjr – aptly titled “Master of his Domain” – captures the essence of a Parisian waiter, the master of a culinary scene that is so iconic in the City of Light.

Do you have a photo that captures the essence of a place? Submit your photo to the Gadling Flickr pool for your chance to be on Photo of the Day.

[Photo Credit: jrodmanjr]

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Travel App: Rome For Foodies By Food Blogger Katie Parla

travel app Rome for FoodiesIf you are planning a trip to Rome this year and want to be sure to eat well, download food blogger Katie Parla’s Rome for Foodies app for iPhone and iPad. The Rome travel app features short and sweet reviews of everything delicious, from best bakeries for breakfast to wine bars. All of the app’s maps and features can be accessed offline, and you can filter by budget, category and distance. What sets Rome for Foodies apart from other travel apps is an insider’s guide to the city with thoughtfully chosen recommendations personally vetted by a food lover and city expert. You can also get an up-to-date stream of Katie’s latest blog posts about Rome if you are connected to the Internet, and see her favorites in Katie’s Picks.

If you are in New York City this weekend for the New York Times Travel Show, be sure to see Katie speak about Italian craft beer on the Europe stage, and participate in a seminar on the latest apps for travel, along with signing copies of her National Geographic book on walking in Rome.

Buy “Rome for Foodies” on iTunes or via ParlaFood.com.

[Photo credit: Katie Parla]