One of the best parts of traveling is indulging in a few vices. The “hey, I’m on vacation!” attitude enables you to order dessert, have a glass of wine with lunch, and not worry about the calories you’re taking in, especially as you figure you’ll burn them off walking around museums or hiking the countryside. This photo by Flickr user eolone in Serbia shows some of the best travel food groups: the sausage group, the fried group, even the “hey, I’m in Europe!” tobacco group. Just switch out the water for a beer and you’d have the perfect guilt-free (for now) vacation meal.
While I’m living in Istanbul, I try to take advantage of all the amazing destinations a few hours’ flight away and travel there as often as possible. I like to focus on destinations that are harder to access from the US for just a few days (such as Turkey’s beach town Bodrum) and places best explored while I’m still relatively young and unencumbered (to wit: Beirut). Traveling as an expat takes on a different flavor as well, seeking culture and cuisine not found in my new city.
The place: Prague, Czech Republic
I really had no intention of going to Prague. Not that it doesn’t interest me, I’ve heard it is enchanting and a must-see city, but this particular weekend we were all set to go to Kosovo, one of the world’s youngest countries (by self-declared independence as well as population). A series of minor events caused us to miss our flight by minutes, but as we were already at the airport and ready to travel, we asked to be re-booked on the next international flight somewhere, which turned out to be Prague. We arrived in the Czech Republic with no reservations, research, or plans and through the magic of social media (and the Prague Airport’s free wifi), I was greatly assisted and reassured by the great advice and insight from travel writers and friends Evan Rail, Alexander Basek, and Gadling’s own David Farley. Turns out it’s not an overrated country and I can now say, “Oh, I’ve been to Prague.”
- Two words: pork and beer. Ask any meat-eating expat in a Muslim country what they miss most about home and they will invariably say pork. While it’s available in Turkey, it’s scarce and pricey. Alcohol is easier to come by, but anything imported will cost you and while Turkey’s national Efes satisfies, it tastes like watered down Bud Light after drinking Czech beer. Arriving in a city thronged with sausage carts and beer halls was like visiting Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. The beer isn’t just tasty and cheap, it’s available anywhere, pretty much anytime. For tips on the best pubs to drink at, trust anything by Evan Rail – Tony Bourdain did earlier this year. My last night in Prague was spent at the lovely Meduza Cafe, a near-perfect spot to have a coffee or glass of wine, write in your journal, and revel in Bohemia.
- The city’s beauty is well-known, and one of the greatest pleasures is just strolling the streets and bridges and soaking up the atmosphere. It’s interesting to contrast the romantic castle and ornate Old Town Square architecture with some of the old Soviet buildings, like the modern art Veletzni Palace museum, and the wacky sculptures of David Cerny. Small but worthwhile attractions include the Museum of Communism (if only for the darkly funny posters such as “Like their sisters in the West, they would’ve burnt their bras – if there were any in the shops”) and the Museum of Decorative Arts, featuring a fascinating collection of costumes, design, and knick-knacks – as well as a great view of the always-crowded Jewish Cemetery from the bathrooms (a tip from Evan, thanks!).
- Even after seeing Paris, London, and New York, Prague is the most touristed city I’ve been to yet. Long after being discovered as a “budget” European destination (it’s still cheap by Europe standards, but not quite the bargain it was in the ’90s), the streets are packed with package tourists from all over the world, backpackers, and worst of all – pub-crawling college students. True story: one night a shirtless American kid walked in a mini-market, talking on his cell phone about how drunk he was and how he tried to hook up with some other girls in his hostel. He hung up and told his friends he was talking to his MOM. By day in the areas around Old Town Square and Prague Castle, you’d be hard pressed to hear anyone speak Czech and it’s difficult to find a spot not mobbed with tourists, which all takes a bit away from the city’s authenticity.
- Not quite a downgrade but perhaps due to the aforementioned tourists, service at restaurants can be brusque and some less scrupulous taxi drivers have been known to take passengers for a ride. If possible, let your hotel book taxis to ensure you get a fair price and find out what approximate prices are around town. Other than a few waiters having a bad day, I’d hardly condemn the Czech people as being anything other than friendly and helpful. The bigger deterrent is the disrespectful, entitled, and obnoxious tourists.
Delta flies direct from New York to Prague Airport, and British and American Airlines fly via London Heathrow. Budget carriers bmiBaby, German Wings, easyJet, and WizzAir service Prague from Europe. It’s an easy and cheap bus and metro ride into the city center from the airport.
Make it a week
Prague is surrounded by beautiful countryside (remember the sunflower fields in Everything is Illuminated? Filmed outside Prague) and the city is well connected to towns and cities around the Czech Republic. Spend a few days in the capital and then get out and explore Bohemia.
Hotdogs and sporting events belong together, so when I went to my first U.S. Open tennis match, I knew I’d have to see what the Arthur Ashe Stadium had to offer. Given a delay caused by matches earlier in the day, the Nadal/Gabashvili pairing started late, so I wasn’t able to take my first bite until darkness had descended over Queens.
I left my seat and ambled over to the concession as the players battled into the night to see what a U.S. Open hotdog would taste like, and I found three alternatives I could use to satisfy my hotdog jones. There was an Italian sausage, which would have been too upscale for me if it hadn’t spent what looked like an eternity under the heating lamp. That left traditional hotdogs in two sizes: regular and foot-long. Obviously, I chose the latter … wouldn’t you?
Carefully balancing my cardboard tray – laden with my two foot-longs, water and a beer (Heineken Light, my feeble attempt to make sure there was something healthy on the tray) over to the condiment counter, where I added ketchup and mustard.
%Gallery-101120%Back at my seat, I took my first bite. Simply maneuvering the monstrosity to my mouth took two hands, and I had to be careful to ensure my shirt remained clear of the red and yellow adorning my dogs. As two models of physical fitness sprinted, grunted and heaved under the lights on the court below, I pierced the casing of an American tradition.
I was not disappointed.
The Arthur Ashe Stadium hotdog was exactly as unimpressive as I’d thought it would be. It didn’t quite snap when I bit, and the temperature was only lukewarm, in part my fault because of a detour to the smoking area. The taste wasn’t bad, though. Some stadium dogs can resemble warm bologna too closely, but this one was the real deal. I munched mercilessly and quickly.
While the U.S. Open’s hotdogs don’t compare to those I’ve had in Iceland, Montreal or Antigua, they get the job done when you’re baking in the hot city sun (or if you’re suffering through a sweltering New York night). It’s not the taste that matters when your back is pressed against the hard stadium seats. Rather, it’s the fact that you’re participating in a uniquely American institution that’s important. If you’re among the masses headed to New York for the U.S. Open, be sure to grab a dog –and make it a foot-long!
[Photos by Laurie DePrete]
Disclosure: I was a guest of the U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Tourism, Andrew Hickey and Laurie DePrete. My opinions of these Queens hotdogs were not influenced in any way by the Caribbean destination.
I don’t know your life, but I do know you need to eat sausage in Vienna. If you are a vegetarian, I get that, and there are options for you at some of the finer purveyors, so you are included in this. Weiner schnitzel is delicious and all, but it actually originated in Milan. You should probable have a Sacher Torte at some point, but none of this negates the fact that you absolutely must eat some sausage — or wurst, as they call it — in Vienna. You have to.
Sausage in Vienna is the customary fast food. It’s what people eat on the go or when it’s a nice day for hanging around outside at one of the stands. The Viennese go for sausages after the opera, on their lunch breaks, before clubbing, after clubbing, and basically anytime they feel a little peckish. It’s delicious. It’s protein. It’s sausage, all day, readily available, whenever you want it.
Sausages in Vienna are generally served sliced up and with mini forks. You will be asked whether you’d prefer a roll or bread with your sausage, and from what I understand, the correct response is “bread” (makes you sound like you know what you’re doing). Also, you will uniformly be given mustard, even if you’ve ordered currywurst (sausage doused in curry powder). If you’d prefer a different sauce, you can certainly ask, but you’ll probably look silly. The appropriate beverage to consume with your wurst is a beer — and yes, it is perfectly acceptable to drink beer in the street in Vienna. Nobody does it much, at least not further than a few yards from a sausage stand, but it is, in fact, legal. I found this to be a killer cheap thrill:
Not all sausage is made equal. There are three particularly well-known sausage slingers in Vienna. Two are stands, and one is a micro-restaurant with some crazy, inventive flavors and art from local university students. We’ll cover that one first.Kiosk
Kiosk is the city’s best-known indoor sausage stand (for lack of a better term). The cozy corner shop has a Lower East Side, NYC vibe, from the layout to the music to the staff. The blackboard serves as the menu, and you can order sausage, wine, beer and bread, and a few other options are available in case you go with lame friends. There is a vegetarian sausage option here, but the true star of the menu is the “Bosna.” Kiosk is notoriously tight-lipped about how they make their sausages, and which kinds are made of what, but you know what? We don’t really want to know how sausage is made, do we? No. In addition to their well-beloved Bosna, their currywurst is also extraordinary, and probably the best sausage I’ve ever had anywhere.
Kiosk also, as I mentioned, displays art work by local art students. In the gallery, you’ll see a photo of the current display of portraits. Each one is available for just 100 euros, in case you’re interested in investing in promising young artists, or would like a piece of local art for a souvenir.
The One By the Albertina
The Albertina is a historical museum/event space which we’re not going to talk about; we’re going to talk about the legendary sausage stand outside of it. Also known as “the one behind the State Opera,” this stand offers all the standard sausage fare, and the patronage is half the fun. You’ll see everyone from slumming students to opera-goers in full evening gowns at this stand, drinking beer and eating sausage with mini forks. You can try sausages of the same names at stands all over Vienna, but this one just packs a little extra magic.
The One by the Bermuda Triangle
Did you know there’s a Bermuda Triangle in Vienna? There is; it’s what they call their confusing little district of clubs just off the city center in the northern part of the Ring. While it’s not a “cool” area, it’s always full of clubbers and drunken teens wandering around and getting lost (thus the name). There’s an especially good sausage stand right in front of it to serve said houligans, and you don’t have to walk through any complicated streets to get there from the main drag; it’s on the southern part of the area. By day or night, you’ll find some of Vienna’s tastiest offerings here, and if you map out your day correctly, it fits perfectly into a shopping or sightseeing schedule.
Check out the gallery below for more pics of these sausage destinations and, of course, more sausage.
Welcome back to Gadling’s series on backpacking Southeast Asia, South by Southeast. In Southeast Asia, the center of daily life is the street. In Hanoi, pedestrians stop for a trim at sidewalk barber stands. In Bangkok, co-workers gather for steaming street-side bowls of noodle soup. And in Mandalay, men huddle at curbside tea shops, sipping milky-sweet chai while trading stories and gossip. You cannot claim to have visited Southeast Asia without soaking up this unique sidewalk atmosphere. And if you truly want to partake in this daily carnival of the street, you need to be eating the street food. Frequently.
I can already hear the objections. “I can’t eat street food, it’s going to make me sick. Isn’t all that greasy stuff unhealthy? I have no idea what I’m eating – it could be goat testicles or something!” All these fears harbor a grain of truth. But if you’ve ever had concerns about eating street food during your travels, Southeast Asia is the place to shove those fears down the disposal. Compare plates from your average restaurant in Southeast Asia against a street vendor around the corner and the vendor will win every time. Nowhere on earth will you eat such fresh, well-prepared and innovative meals – all for pennies on the dollar.
Still squeamish? Wondering what all the street food fuss is about? Keep reading for five reasons you should be eating more street food when you come to Southeast Asia.
%Gallery-83608%Because it’s cleaner than you think
The fear with street food is that it’s often unclean. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Many vendors wake up while you’re still snoozing to grab the freshest, most tasty ingredients at the local market. In addition, the vast majority of street food is cooked over an open flame or simmered in a boiling pot. This high heat kills any organism that’s likely to make you ill. Not to mention you get to watch with your own eyes as your food is prepared. Compare this to a restaurant, where an invisible chef prepares your meal away from view. Yes, people do get sick from food in Asia. But if you take care to eat food that is properly grilled, boiled or peeled…you’ll be fine. Relax and enjoy it!
Because it’s the best on earth
Lots of countries have street food. But Southeast Asia has the best. The region’s unique blend of European, Indian and Chinese ingredients is unlike anything you’ve ever tasted: year-round supplies of straight-from-the-ocean seafood, colorful exotic produce and dizzying selection of spices combine to ensure a mouth-watering array of meals, snacks and desserts. Eating the street food of Asia is literally a tourist attraction in and of itself.
Because it’s a great way to meet locals
You don’t eat street food in Southeast Asia by yourself. Typically you’re sitting on a low-slung plastic stool, seated around a communal table. Even when you order, you’ll be chatting with your chosen vendor, offering a chance to practice some local language. The closeness of street food encourages conversation. If you’re traveling the region on your own, it’s a great way to strike up a conversation with your dinner companions and make new friends.
Because it’s good for you
When you think of street food, we often think of greasy snacks from deep-friers. But Southeast Asian street food is much more than deep-fried cuisine. Juicy ripe produce and top-notch ingredients ensure you’ll be getting plenty of vitamins and nutrients. Shockingly, “eating fresh” isn’t just a slogan invented by a fast-food chain – in Southeast Asia it’s a way of life. Cooks have been using healthy ingredients like “organic produce” and “locally-sourced” foodstuffs since the dawn of time.
Because it’s cheap
Each time I pay for my street food meal in Southeast Asia, I feel like I’ve won the lottery. After gorging myself on fresh, delicious food – meals which would set me back $20 or more at home – the bill is never more than $2-3 dollars. If you’re coming to Southeast Asia on a budget, street food is your secret weapon. You can use the savings to pay for nicer accommodations, extra activities or maybe a few souvenirs and still keep within a small budget.
Whether you’re already eating congealed pig’s blood for breakfast or you’re just beginning to explore Southeast Asian cuisine, we could all benefit from eating more street food. Have any street food (mis)adventures you’d like to share? Tell us what you think in the comments.
Gadling writer Jeremy Kressmann is spending the next few months in Southeast Asia. You can read other posts on his adventures “South by Southeast” HERE.