Raw herring, with pickles and onion, one of the national dishes of the Netherlands available on an Eating Europe food tour in Amsterdam

Lekker! An Amsterdam Food Tour by Foot and Boat

A collage photo of me chowing down on several different foods on the Eating Europe Amsterdam food tour.

You might have heard it said that Dutch food is…well…boring. Well, I joined Eating Europe for their Amsterdam food tour of the Jordaan neighborhood, followed by a private boat trip through the historic canals of this so-beautiful city. And I’m here to tell you… you heard wrong. This tour will fill your mouth with rich flavors, your tummy with delicious food, and your mind and heart with history and wonderful memories.

This post contains affiliate links. If you click on a link for an item or service I recommend and make a booking or purchase, I may get a small commission on that sale. It won’t affect the price you pay. Also I was offered a discount on this tour to be able to write about it for you. But that has not affected my opinion. My enthusiasm for this experience is genuine.


One of my favorite Dutch words is “lekker.” It means delicious, tasty, good to eat. I love the way it rolls off the tongue, like you’re savoring the taste of it: “lllekkkkkerrr.”

Another thing about the word lekker. It can encompass many things besides food. A sweet girl is a lekker meisje. To tell someone to sleep well, you can say “Slaap lekker.” After spending an afternoon tasting typical Amsterdam Dutch food in the city’s atmospheric old neighborhood and on the city’s wonderful canals, I can say without equivocation that Eating Europe’s Amsterdam food tour makes for a lekker ervaring: a delicious experience all around.

You can learn a lot about a culture by eating their food. Even more when you have a great local guide leading you to some of the best of it while regaling you with stories about the neighborhood, it’s history and legends and tales of the locals. That is what Eating Europe does so well. In Amsterdam, they offer several different tours. I joined the four-hour Jordaan and Canals Food Tour, and I easily decided that for visitors, it was one of the best things to do in Amsterdam.

Where and What is the Jordaan?


A view of a prtty amsterdam canal, from a bridge with, of course, a bicycle and, of course, flower boxes hanging from the bridge railing. SYour Amsterdam food tour takes you along canals and narrow streets.
The Jordaan area of Amsterdam has its share of lovely canals…with, of course, bicycles leaning against the railings, and, of course, flowers in boxes attached there too.

Back in the early 17th-century, Amsterdam was booming, and bursting at the seams. As wealth poured into the city from its world trade, new houses, streets and neighborhoods were being built. And all that growth meant carpenters, stonemasons, bricklayers, and other manual workers also poured in. The Jordaan was built to be the working-class neighborhood for that influx, with tall, skinny houses on narrow streets. Over the centuries, it became more and more crowded and less and less desirable. In fact, it was a slum, so bad that after World War II, the city began making plans to tear the whole thing down and rebuild from scratch.

Fortunately, wiser heads and preservation activists prevailed, and the Jordaan was not only saved but eventually became one of the most desirable neighborhoods in the city. Today it is both hip and cozy, a destination and a community. And eating your way across this diverse and fascinating ‘hood is one of the best ways to experience it.

Cafe Papeneiland: Life is Short. Eat Dessert First

The initial meeting point for the tour was at what might just be the prettiest and most photographed corner in Amsterdam, where the Prinsengracht meets the Brouwersgraacht. And our first food stop on that corner was Café Papeneiland. And a worthy beginning it was. One of the oldest eating establishments in the whole city, this café is over 400 years old. It is what the Dutch call a “brown café” of bruine kroegje. They’re named for their brown wooden walls, stained from centuries of tobacco smoke and good conversation. (Not to worry; smoking is no longer allowed in restaurants in Amsterdam). The bar taps are vintage porcelain whimsies, the windows glazed with leaded glass. An antique stove heats the room in winter.

The bar at Cafe Papeneiland is a work of art unto itself. This is typical of the “brown cafes” found in the oldest parts of the city.

These neighborhood kroegjes are an extension of local people’s living rooms, where they meet to chat, drink, argue, laugh, talk sports or politics, and find out what the neighbors are doing.

They also come to Café Papeneiland for the apple pie, and that is exactly why we were there, beginning our walking “meal” with dessert. And why not? Many people claim this is the best apple pie in town. President Bill Clinton certainly thought so when he stopped in one day for a piece and went home with a whole pie to have in his hotel room.

Dutch apple pie is not what we think it is in the U.S. Nor is it the same as good old American apple pie. The crust is more crumbly and cake-like than its American cousin, and the fruit more lightly cooked. Thin slices of apple piled high, very high, are laced with raisins, cinnamon, less sugar than you’d expect and a bit of lemon juice. The result is a dreamy, not-too-sweet confection that calls out for a dollop of whipped cream and gets it.

The apple pie with whipped cream at Cafe Papeneiland, some of the best in town, and a perfect way to begin your Amsterdam food tour. Yes. Life is short; eat dessert first.
The apple pie at Cafe Papeneiland is some of the best in Amsterdam and the surprisingly perfect way to start an Amsterdam food tour.

Meeting Hungry New Friends

As we chowed down on our pie and coffee, we had a chance to get to know each other a bit. We were a group of nine from four countries and a range of ages. It was a friendly group of people who all loved to eat. That was enough.

We also had the chance to learn about our guide. Eating Europe has a high reputation for the quality, knowledge, and sheer fun of their guides. Some are professional chefs. Or historians. Or people who have lived here forever.

Our Eating Europe Amsterdam guide, Mirka, opens the door to invite us to visit a hofje.
Our Eating Europe Amsterdam guide was Mirka, who grew up in the Jordaan and knows every corner of it, including the hofjes. Here she invites us to visit the Suijkerhofje, built in 1670.

 

Our guide that day, Mirka, definitely added to that fine rep. She was born and raised in the Jordaan and knows every corner and alley of her childhood playground. Throughout the tour, she regaled us with Amsterdam history, family stories, childhood anecdotes, and the secrets behind some of the doors and shopfronts.

One Amsterdam secret she showed us was one of the hofjes dotted throughout the Jordaan. These are courtyard gardens surrounded by small houses, mostly built in the 17th-18th centuries as almshouses or housing for single elderly women. Mirka led us from the busy street through a nondescript door and down a corridor into the tranquil garden of the Suijkerhofje, built in 1670.

Colonial Tastes on an Amsterdam Foodie Tour

But on to more food. Our next noshing stop was designed to remind us that the Netherlands has a strong history as a colonial power. Its empire spread from Indonesia to the Caribbean. And those more exotic foods have had a strong influence on Dutch eating habits. We headed up the street to a toko, or takeaway counter, called Swieti Sranang, which specializes in food from Suriname and Indonesia.

I didn’t know what to expect of the Surinamese food served here, but it was complex, different and delicious.

The owner, Henk, and his Indonesian wife, Juliet, greeted us with huge smiles and began handing food around. Juliet was born in Indonesian and grew up in Suriname, and she does all the cooking herself. We tried two different foods here, standing at the counter or outside in the sunshine. The first was a sandwich called broodje pom, from Suriname, made with chicken, apple, and malanga, a South American root vegetable, topped with a complex sauce-of-many-spices that was punchy, tart, and delectable. We followed the sandwich with baka bana, a broiled sweet plantain covered with a spicy peanut sauce. I fell in love with satay/Indonesian peanut sauce right here in Amsterdam many decades ago and will eat anything covered in it. The plantain was a new one for me, but spectacular.

The Basis of Dutch Cuisine: Meat and Fish

Having had our dessert and more, it was time to back up to the two main pillars of Dutch food, meat and fish. These, along with greens and root vegetables, are what you’re going to find on steaming platters coming out of most Dutch grandma’s kitchens.

Sausage and other meats from Butcher Louman, probably the best butcher in Amsterdam. Photo by Eating Amsterdam

As we walked along the narrow streets, Mirka told us more stories about growing up in the neighborhood. She even showed us the house where she lived as a child, pointing up to her attic bedroom window, high up in the gable. The Jordaan was a wonderful place to grow up, she claimed.

One of her stories included shopping for meat and sausages at Butcher Louman, which she claimed to be the best butcher in Amsterdam. Now coming up on 130 years in business, it has customers not just from the neighborhood but from all over the city, who happily travel here for the quality of the meat. In fact, later in my visit, I ate in two restaurants that both stated proudly on their menus that their meat came from Butcher Louman.

We ate sausages here, one dry and deeply flavored. The second was an ossenworst, a raw sausage of which I was more than a bit skeptical. But actually, I loved it. It was not actually raw, but lightly smoked, with a smooth, fine texture similar to liverwurst. I’d eat it again.

And of course there was fish. The Netherlands has been a seafaring nation for hundreds of years, after all. We walked a few blocks to the Urker Viswinkel. And since the first fish everyone must try here is herring, the owner, Dirk, brought out a big platter of the stuff. There are a couple of traditional ways to eat herring in Holland. You can eat it head first, holding it by the tail above your open mouth and chomping away as you lower your hand. We went the other direction, with the fish cut into chunks with perky little Dutch flag toothpicks stuck in them, surrounded by chopped raw onion and pickles. Stab, dip, and eat. I love Dutch herring, even though the first time I had it I was doubtful I would, knowing it was eaten raw. But actually, it is more like Japanese sashimi. It is partially “cooked” in brine, leaving it with a light, sea-fresh taste and a firm texture.

Herring! You can't have an Amsterdam food tour without herring, shown here in chunks speared with Amsterdam flag toothpicks, surrounded by chopped onion and pickle slices.
Delicious briny herring, like the Dutch eat it–with pickles and raw onion.

We followed the herring with kibbeling, which is white fish—most often cod—dipped in beer batter and deep fried. Think classic fish and chips style, but the best you’ve ever had. The fish was flaky and steaming, the batter crisp but not too much. It was served with a garlic sauce for dipping that I think I could have made of meal of all by itself.

Kibbeling, breaded and deep fried cod, it's like the best fish and chips you've ever had.
The garlic sauce we ate with kibbeling was amazing. Photo by
Zoetnet on flickr. CC license.

Eating Afloat: We Head to the Water for More of our Eating Amsterdam Food Tour

It was now time for that promised canal ride, and I was ready to sit for a bit. We strolled over to the gorgeous Hotel Pulitzer, on the Prinsengracht, and boarded their private salon boat, called “Tourist.” A beautifully restored and maintained wooden salon boat built in 1908, it has an interesting history in itself. In 1946, when Winston Churchill visited Amsterdam to celebrate the end of the war, he and Queen Wilhelmina rode through the canals in this very boat.  Stepping inside, it feels like Sir Winston himself might greet you. The carpet is original. The teak glows, the brass is polished to a high sheen. And Captain Ton, in his epauletted uniform, smiled us aboard.


Inside, red upholstered banquettes line both sides of the boat with a table down the center already set with plates of cheeses and Dutch cider and champagne ready to be poured.

The polished brass steering wheel of the salon boat "Tourist," where Capt. Ton steered us up into narrow canals and past beautiful gabled houses.
Capt. Ton’s station, where he steered us confidently into tiny canals and under low bridges.

As we left the dock in front of the hotel, Capt. Ton steered us carefully up the Prinsengracht and through the system of canals. Since “Tourist” is so much smaller than the big canal boats you see plowing through the water all day, it can easily clear the lowest bridges and nose up into many of the smaller canals, leaving its younger but bigger brothers behind. Seen from the water, Amsterdam is even lovelier, if that is possible, and “Tourist” can get you up close and personal with her. As we floated by the elegant gabled canal houses, nibbling on a creamy young cheese and a three-year-old strong gouda that was divine, our gallant captain described what we were seeing out the windows.

One of those very narrow canals took us past the back of the Holtkamp Bakery. Capt. Ton steered us right up to the edge where a young woman waited with a bag. As he thrust out a hooked pole, she handed off the bag and he hauled it in. I was excited, because I’d heard that Holtkamp made some of the best bitterballen in Amsterdam, and yes! That’s what was in the bag.

A bowl full of bitterballen, just waiting to be speared by a toothpick and dipped in mustard. This is the real typical Amsterdam food.
Bitterballen ready to be speared, dipped in mustard and popped hot and fresh into waiting mouths. Photo by Takeaway-CC by SA 3.0

What are bitterballen? They’re delectable little balls of deep fried gravy, usually made with beef or veal. The gravy is chilled so it can be formed into balls, then rolled in a crumb coating and deep fried. Served up with mustard for dipping, they are probably the most common, most popular bar snack in the Netherlands and much better than the name would make you think. There is nothing bitter about these yummy treats. The name refers to the fact that they are often eaten with a local drink called bitters. Instead, we had ours with beer from Brouwerie ‘t IJ, the famous windmill brewery in Amsterdam (and whose beer is so much better than Heineken). The bitterballen were still hot, right from the fryer, and so so good.

A plate of Dutch poffertjes, puffy little mini-pancakes with a glob of butter to melt into them, and dusted with powdered sugar.
Poffertjes are quite possibly my favorite thing to eat in Amsterdam. And the more butter and powdered sugar the better.

After about an hour on the water, you’d think we were done with this afternoon’s adventure. But there was one more stop to make. After climbing back on land at the Pulitzer, we strolled a little way up the canal to another brown café, De Prins, for our final treat of the day and one of my very favorite things to eat in Amsterdam.

Poffertjes are heavenly little pillows of buckwheat pancake dough, cooked in a special pan and served up hot, slathered with melting butter and dusted with powdered sugar. I could eat them daily (and have been known to do so when I am in Amsterdam).

Finally we were done. Mirka waved us all goodbye and left. But our group had bonded over the last four hours together. We ended up sitting on a while at De Prins, chatting, exchanging contact info and suggestions we’d gleaning about what else to do in Amsterdam. There also might have been the fact that we were so full of excellent typical Amsterdam food that we couldn’t walk and needed to let it settle a bit.

In a narrow street in Amsterdam's Jordaan, a woman sits in her open front doorway, reading a book and enjoying the sun.
Sunny days in Amsterdam are for enjoying, however and wherever you can!

I can’t recommend enough this experience of tasting the city with an Eating Amsterdam food tour with Eating Europe. Everything about it was professional, friendly, efficient, and top notch.

Eating Europe now offers a range of food tours and cooking classes in several European cities, with more being added every season. Going to Portugal? Try a tour of Lisbon’s eats and street art in the Baixa and Mouraria neighborhoods. Or dive into a Porto Food & Wine Tour. In Prague, you can dine in the cafe where Albert Einstein ate. Or check out their other tours, night crawls, and cooking classes in London, Rome, Florence, and Naples and Paris and Strasbourg, in France. Eating Europe Food Tours covers them all. And I can’t tell you how anxious I am to taste test them all.

Need to Know: Eating Europe’s Amsterdam Food Tour–Jordaan and Canal Tour

  • Your tour might not be a duplicate of mine. Depending on season and day of the week and the vicissitudes of small, family-run businesses, some providers might be different from the ones described here. But they will all be well chosen and equal in substance to what I experienced.
  • COME HUNGRY! You will be enjoying something like a dozen different tastings, plus coffee/tea, wine, cider, and beer. You want to start on empty.
  • They can make adjustments for vegetarian travelers if you let them know in advance.
  • Except for one hour on the canal boat, this is a walking tour. It’s a flat city walk at an easy pace, but you should wear comfortable shoes.
  • The tour runs rain or shine. If it looks gray or damp, take an umbrella and/or a raincoat with you.
  • This trip involves stairs and stepping into and out of the boat and is not suitable for people with serious mobility problems.

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A collage of headshots of me stuffing my face at various stops on the Eating Europe Amsterdam Food Tour - Pinnable image

 

Pinnable image -- "Come & eat Amsterdam" with small photos of some dishes.

 


Check out some other wonderful activities you can book for your trip to Amsterdam.

 

The Grocery Store Tourist: What You Can Learn About a Culture with a Visit to the Supermarket

Supermarket tourism—it’s one of the best ways to get the inside scoop on a culture. So make a visit to the supermarket one of your first stops on your trip abroad.

This post may contain affiliate links. That means that if you click on a link to a product or service I recommend and you make a purchase, I may get a small commission.

A picture of a supermarket cold food aisle with the words "Supermarket Tourism: It's a Thin" superimposed over it.

I have a secret habit. Whenever I travel, I become a spy. I peek through doorways and into corners and peer into people’s faces—discretely, I hope—because I want to get inside the culture of the place as much as I possibly can. I want to see what is behind the touristic surface. Oh, I know I will never fully understand the intricacies of how the people of another country see the world. After living in Mexico for 17 years, there are still things about the culture here that baffle me. But I want to at least try.

And I have discovered one of the best ways to learn about a people and how they live, is to see how they eat and cook. And how they shop for food. That’s why I always try to make one of my first spy outings a visit to the supermarket or local grocery store.

The Grocery Store as a Window on Culture

It’s amazing what you can learn as a supermarket tourist in the local grocery store. What do the people like to eat here? When you walk into the biggest supermarket in my town of San Miguel de Allende, in central Mexico, and one of the largest sections of shelf space is taken up by dozens and dozens of brands of hot sauce and chiles, what does that tell you? Right, Mexicans like their food spicy.

A Mexican supermarket section six shelves high and many feet wide full of hot sauces and salsas. And this is only part of it! Dozens of types and brands.
This is just a part of the display of hot sauces and salsas available at my local supermarket in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

The grocery store is where everyday life happens. The people are not there to serve you a meal, take your entrance ticket, tour-guide you through town. They just want to buy something for dinner. And while they do it, they are opening a window on the culture for you to look through. Do they have a wide variety of herbs and spices to choose from? Are there mountains of fresh fish for sale? How many fruits and vegetables can you find that you’ve never seen and can’t name? How many different brands of beer are lined up on the shelves? These are clues.

Supermarket tourism is also a fine way to discover unique souvenirs. My kitchen tells the stories of my travels in the speculaas cookie butter from Amsterdam, a bag of flavored salt from Tbilisi, in Georgia, pickled kelp from Alaska, and even the little orange ceramic pots I bought yogurt in from a neighborhood grocery store on the Île de la Cité in Paris.

I’m not alone in this quirk, I’ve discovered. I asked a number of travel blogger friends and regular traveling pals about the oddest, funniest, or just different things they have seen in a supermarket in their travels. More than 20 of them came up with an answer, so I’m sharing them all below.

Sightseeing in European Supermarkets

You’d think that European supermarkets would be quite similar to those in the U.S, and in many ways they are. But there are differences, subtle clues to the things that mark us as different from each other. For instance:

Dutch Licorice: “Drop” from the Netherlands, by Rachel at Rachels Ruminations

The Dutch are absolutely crazy about licorice, and in more variety than any non-Dutch person can imagine. Every supermarket in the Netherlands has multiple shelves of the stuff, called drop in Dutch, ranging from super-sweet to dubbelzout (double salt). It comes in all shapes and sizes too: cars and coins and objects of all sorts. Sometimes the licorice is combined with other flavors: half licorice, half some other chewy candy, much like gummy bears, in “fruit” flavor for the most part. Almost all of them have a hard, rubber-like texture: the kind of candy that sticks in your teeth and drives dentists to despair—though sugar-free varieties are also available.

I have a theory about the Dutch love for licorice. In this country where it can stay cloudy for weeks on end, parents give their children vitamin D drops every day from September until April. Newborns get the drops all year. My son’s exclusive diet for his first six months was a) breast milk and b) vitamin D drops. It’s not surprising, once you realize that the drops taste like licorice, that Dutch people love the stuff. It’s comfort food!

Shelves full of packages of Dutch "drop," or licorice, in various shapes and degrees of sweetness or saltiness
“Drop,” Dutch licorice, comes in dozens of varieties.
Most are definitely an acquired taste.

And while we are talking about licorice, it’s not just the Dutch who are crazy about it. The Swedes apparently love the black stuff too, so much so they even flavor their chips with it.

Salty Licorice Potato Chips from Sweden, by James Ian at Travel Collecting

Grocery stores are always an insight into local tastes and culinary culture. Before visiting Sweden, I had heard about their love of licorice. Especially salty licorice. There are hilarious videos on You Tube of Americans trying salty licorice for the first time. It doesn’t go well. I already knew I hated the taste of anise, so I was steering well clear of all things licorice when, while browsing the shelves of a grocery store in Stockholm, I saw something I had never imagined would exist—licorice flavored potato chips. I was intrigued—and fortunately my husband actually does like licorice—so we bought a packet. He ate the entire packet bar one chip. Yes, I tried them (it). Yes, it tasted like licorice. Yes, it was definitely out of my culinary comfort zone. Yes, one was most definitely enough. Nonetheless, it was fun to see the different things you can buy in a Swedish grocery store. And this is something that you will most assuredly not find in an American supermarket!

A man about to eat a single salty licorice potato chip in Sweden.
Have you ever tried salty licorice potato chips?
Do you want to? If you do… why?
??

Plopp Ice Cream in Sweden, by Suzanne from Meandering Wild

In winter, in Sweden, in a blizzard, the best thing to do if you still need an adventure is to explore the warm supermarket. Even in a country very similar to your own, you can find unusual items, usually where translation really doesn’t work well. Browsing the ice creams for a treat to match the outside weather we came across Plopp. The name jumped out as we sauntered by. Amongst the strawberry ice creams and fruity ice lollies sat a box of chocolate Plopp. I am sure you can see why this had to be photographed and then tested. As an evaluation, I can confirm that these frozen ice creams taste far better than their name suggests even when consumed while walking across a parking lot in sub-zero temperatures. This really is a case of bad translation; anything other than Plopp would not have grabbed our attention or secured a purchase for the store.

A package of Plopp chocolate ice cream cones
I think this must be as much fun to eat as it is to say… Plopp!!

Spanish Cold Meats, by Sabine de Gaspari of The Traveling Chilli

One of the things that intrigued me the first time I walked into a Spanish supermarket was the copious amounts of cold and cured meats on the shelves. In most countries, you can find a nice yet often modest selection of various cold meats, both local and international. In Spain however, looking at the almost infinitely long shelves filled with cold and cured meats, it seems like that is the daily staple food, which in fact, it almost is. Most cold meats, or embutidos as they are locally called, are served as tapas, appetizers or prepared in the main dish itself. Serving a meal of Spanish food without cold meats doesn’t happen very often.

The most popular and famous cold cuts are the Spanish ham and chorizo which are also sold internationally. However, the variation seems endless. You can buy thin sliced meats, from small to large cuts of sausages to whole pork legs of cured ham. On top of that, the quality of the cured meat in Spanish supermarkets is of very high standards and tastes just delicious. So next time you walk into a Spanish grocery store, look for the aisle with the cold meats, which is in fact very hard to miss.

Packages of cured meats in Spain, some marked "tasty" and some marked "intense."
A very small fraction of the meats and cold cuts available in your average Spanish supermarket

And for some supermarket tourists, it’s about the stores themselves, not just what is in them.

SPARS stores in Vienna, by Gemma Armit from Two Scots Abroad

Spar brand stores in Vienna, Austria, could be confused for upmarket delis and off-off license shops. In contrast to Scotland’s Spars (and their equivalents) which stock beige food and cardboard boxes. The first time I stepped into a European Spar, not only could my eyes not believe what they were seeing but also my nose was surprised! The smell of fresh bread and pastries in contrast to the smell of, well, nothing because pantry goods found on Scotland’s shelves don’t tend to have a smell. Instead of the tinned peaches we are accustomed to in our corner shops, fresh fruit and vegetables! Forget stale bread in plastic bags, European Spars have baguettes, rolls, and deliciously sweet filled pastries.

Then there is the drink aisle, which admittedly Scotland does do well if you’re not too picky. Vienna has quality wine and craft beers as well as local schnapps. Avoid buying souvenirs at the airport; you can pick up Milka and Mozartkugel at most grocery shops too. So, when thinking about where to stay in Vienna, you might want to think about accommodations with a kitchen if you like to cook in and save money. You can just stock up at the nearest Spar.

Pork and Bacon Snacks in Denmark, by Lesley from Freedom 56 Travel

When it comes to eating pork, Danes eat more than any other country in the world per capita. As ardent pork and bacon lovers, Danish people have for years designed creative ways to prepare their favorite meat. Stegt Flæsk (fried pork belly with potatoes and parsley sauce), frikadeller (flat, pan-fried meatballs), flæskesteg (roast pork with crackling) and so many more are beloved pork dishes in Denmark that are regularly served at family meals and special occasions, particularly at holidays.

But, if you ever feel a craving for pork on a Danish afternoon and it’s hours until dinner, don’t worry—there’s a fast food waiting for you in the nearest grocery store or convenience store. Enter Bacon Snacks. I happened on these crispy pork confections during a holiday in Denmark and can’t get them out of my mind. Similar to pork rinds but fluffier, these delicious salty, porky snacks are as addictive as the best potato chips. Just don’t look at the calorie count. Try them on your next Danish shopping trip!

A bag od Danish "Bacon Snacks"
Yummmm…. bacon, bacon, bacon!
Sometimes supermarket tourism really pays off.

Binned Goods in Bulk in Tbilisi, Georgia, by Chris Backe from Worthy Go

Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, is one of many Eastern European cities formerly under Soviet control. While few of these cities look to the past with any level of fondness, some cities have kept some of the Soviet traditions alive more than others. While I’m sure you’d see it elsewhere, the Carrefour inside the Karvasla mall (a few hundred meters southeast of Station Square) features large bins of staples like noodles, sugar, and so on, sold in bulk. Much as you would with fruits or vegetables, you fill a bag, then take it to be weighed. 

I’m unsure if this was originally done as part of a rationing program, or if locals preferred it to get the exact amount of something they needed. You can always buy the standard sizes of things, but sometimes a holdover from the past still works for people today.

In a Georgian supermarket in Tbilisi, large bins holding dried pasta and meal, to be sold in bulk.
Is buying goods in bulk from bins in Georgia a leftover from Soviet rule and rationing?

Hard-boiled Eggs in Switzerland, by Will from The Broke Backpacker

Swiss grocers uphold the positive cliché that many will recognize of the Swiss: dedication to organization and efficiency. These stores are best approached with a game plan. There is an obvious route that begins at the entrance, passes each aisle exactly once, and deposits the shopper at the register. On the way you’ll see an array of Ricola lozenges (a word I only learned upon seeing them here), mayonnaise and other pasty condiments in stiff metallic tubes, and racks upon racks of eggs decorated for Easter. Actually, it doesn’t matter what time of the year you visit; the eggs are always brightly colored. Half of them are, anyway.

These brightly colored half (never mixed with the other, unembellished ovals) are marked so peculiarly because they’ve been hard-boiled. For us egg lovers, this is a huge convenience. These eggs are ready-made to throw in salads. Plus, you’ll have no difficulty discerning bits of eggshell to pick out when they accidentally fall into your meal.

For more on Switzerland, check out TBB’s Switzerland Travel Guide

A package of 4 "pic-nic" eggs, colored red, yellow, and gold.
Easter-colored eggs in Sweden let you know hard-boiled from not…any time of year.

Supermarket Tourism in Asian Grocery Stores—Not for the Faint of Heart

Europe is easy; Asia and Africa can present a bit more…culture shock. Our blogger friends came up with some interesting finds from the shelves of Asian supermarkets they visited.

Horse Milk in Kazakhstan, by Ellis from Backpack Adventures

The oddest thing I have ever seen in a foreign grocery store was in Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan’s culture is strongly influenced by its nomadic past on the steppes. Horses were and still are very important to Kazakh people and this is also clearly visible in the average Kazakh supermarket. Often there is a special section with horse meat. Horse sausages are popular and an integral part of Kazakh cuisine. The national dish of beshbarmak consists of noodles in a broth with horse meat on top.

If the horse meat section isn’t odd enough, there is also the dairy section where you will find Kazakh’s national drink. Kymyz is fermented horse milk. A less common variety is shubat or fermented camel’s milk. It is an acquired taste and not one that many foreigners appreciate. Still, if you are in Kazakhstan, it’s a must try and in the supermarket it is relatively cheap to buy kymyz and shubat.

Bottles of horse milk and camel's milk on a supermarket shelf in Kazakhstan with very decorative labels.
Aren’t these bottles of fermented horse milk and camel’s milk in a supermarket in Kazakhstan pretty?

Ramen-Tofu-Kimchi in South Korea, by Cal from Once In a Lifetime Journey

When I first landed in Korea, I was taken to a gigantic “Mart” to do my food shopping. This is actually one of the best things to see in Seoul. It’s a megastore several stories high with different departments on each level, food usually being in B1. I never knew you could get so many different types of tofu, some for stewing, some for frying, with different textures and packaging. There must have been 25 different brands and varieties. Then there was the ramen. Where I’m from, ramen is a snack for you don’t want to cook or can’t afford a proper meal, but in Korea ramen is a very competitive market. It ranges from sweet to spicy, from thick (udon) to thin (soba) to gourmet. I chose Mashitneun Ramen (맛있는라면 – Delicious Ramen) because it looked nice and I’ve never turned back.

After walking past the fishtanks with staff shouting all kinds of sales phrases I got to the kimchi section. Us Westerners who know only a little about kimchi, don’t understand how many types there are. There are, wait for it, over 100 types of kimchi. From bossam (rolled) to chinggak (young) to kkakduki (spicy), it takes a while deciding which you like best and which goes with what dish.

Probably the best things about shopping for food in Korea, other than the glorious product packaging, are the “events” and the free samples. Sometimes each aisle will have a free sample, from kimchi to fried sausage or spam. And the events are constant, we say “buy one get one free.” They say “1+1 Event”. I still find it difficult to get only one toothbrush at a time. 

Supermarket shelves and shelves full of every kind of ramen in bags and cups, i Korea.
All the ramen….
in a South Korean supermarket

Beondegi (Silkworm Pupae) in South Korea, by Marie of Be Marie Korea 

After living for a while in South Korea, I’m used to most of the food and find the cuisine quite delicious. There are only a couple of dishes that I really don’t like and will never eat. One of these is beondegi or boiled silkworm pupae. You’ll find this snack canned in local supermarkets as well as fresh at any street food market. To me it just smells and tastes really weird. I tried it when I first came to South Korea three years back, but I have never gotten used to it. Beondegi became popular in Korea during the 2nd World War as it has excellent nutritional value and was widely available when other food was scarce. A can of beondegi at a supermarket costs around 2000 krw, and it’s about the same at the Myeongdong street food and night market.   

A pot full of Korean beondegi, or silkwork pupae, cooking in a brown sauce.
Beondegi – Boiled silkworm pupae. I’m not at all sure these are ever going to become a regular part of my die

Coconut Worms in Vietnam, by Josh and Sarah from Veggie Vagabonds

For us, one of the highlights of adventuring to foreign lands is experiencing supermarkets and the bizarre products they have on the shelves. In Vietnam, you’re absolutely spoiled for choice. And this is in supermarkets; go to one of the local street markets and things get even more extreme. One of the things that really caught our eye was the first time we saw packaged coconut worms in the chilled section of a supermarket in Hanoi. A pack of them, wrapped in clingfilm and for a cheap price, right next to the regular meats.

If you’ve not seen coconut worms before, they’re a form of beetle larvae which look like huge maggots. Beetles lay their eggs inside coconuts and the larvae grow inside. They ruin the coconut, but the worms are a delicacy to the Vietnamese who eat them in a number of ways. They are becoming more popular with tourists. Sometimes they’re fried, sometimes fermented in stew and sometimes eaten raw. We’re vegan (here’s our Vegan in Vietnam Guide) so they weren’t appealing to us, but in Southern Vietnam they’re highly sought after as it’s believed they enhance men’s sexual abilities!

A metal bucket full of maggoty-looking fat coconut worms.
Coconut worms are a delicacy in Vietnam, found in the street markets and also in Vietnamese supermarkets. Hmmm… I think I’ll take the coconut instead.

Snake Wine in Vietnam, by Ben at Horizon Unknown

Shopping in Vietnam can provide you with plenty of memorable sights, even at the local markets and grocery stores. While this tourist hotspot is known for many things, shopping was always interesting. That is especially true when you first encounter snake and scorpion wine, which I first encountered during a free walking tour of Hanoi. Clear glass bottles of these wines are for sale throughout the markets and grocery stores of Vietnam. Filling the gaps between the snake and scorpions is a white wine-type alcohol that soaks in the flavor, and there is usually some sort of spices added to the mix. While this drink is certainly unique, at least to an Australian like me, you can find it in many shops around the country.

A word of warning: if you want to try this beverage while in Vietnam, know that some of these wines can be watered down. This watering down lowers the alcohol percentage and won’t preserve the snakes and scorpions. This lack of preservation causes the animals to decompose—not great for drinking.

A jar of Vietnamese snake wine, showing coiled snakes marinating in the liquor.
Snake wine? Scorpion wine? Perhaps if I’d had too many drops of some other kind of alcohol first!

Fruit Syrups from India, by Somnath Roy from Travel Crusade

The most interesting items that stole my attention in foreign grocery stores was the syrups made of strawberry and green mango. They are stored and sold in glass containers capable of holding quantity up to 1 liter. These syrups are mostly available in the summer season as they are the perfect soothers and refreshers to keep us cool. They are normally mixed with water and one teaspoon of sugar. They have the real flavors of strawberry and green mango, which are perfect for mocktails to serve during the scorching summers.

Glass bottles of strawberry and green mango syrup, ready to mix into refreshing fruit drinks in India.
A fine way to cool off on a hot summer day, strawberry and green mango fruit syrup for making cold drinks.

The Tiny Grocery Shops of Kathmandu, Nepal, by Michelle from Full Time Explorer

Being an American, I’m used to going to the grocery store, buying a cart full of food, then heading home until next week. Something I found intriguing about living in Kathmandu, Nepal, is how every food item seems to have a separate store. Food shopping for one meal involves going to at least five different locations. We have a dairy store, a fish shop, a chicken butcher, a vegetable stand, a fruit stand, a tea shop, a spice shop, and more. I think Americans are often in a rush, so we demand convenience, but in Nepal everyone has a pretty laid-back attitude. One of the first phrases I learned to say was “Ke garne?” which means “What to do?” If something isn’t working or is inconvenient, the people just shrug and say “Ke garne?” and let it go.

Another interesting insight is that there aren’t many chain stores. Most of the shops are owned by families who live nearby, so you aren’t buying from a corporation. You’re buying from your neighbor. It’s something I admire despite the hassle of running to five different stores every day.

A tiny, open-front shop in Kathmandu, the size of a newspaper kiosk, selling dozens of packages of different spices and teas, including cumin, garam masala, saffron flower, and ilam leaf tea.
A tea and spice shop in Kathmandu, Nepal. Can’t you just imagine the heady smell?

What Oddities Can You Find in an African Supermarket?

Biltong in South Africa, by Alya of Stingy Nomads

Biltong is South Africa’s favorite meat snack. I remember clearly the day my husband first placed this peculiar item in our shopping basket in a supermarket in Cape Town. It is made by cutting meat into strips, marinating it with rock salt, pepper, coarsely ground coriander, and vinegar and just hanging it out to dry. Popular biltong is made from game such as kudu, springbok, and wildebeest, but the most common biltong found in South African supermarkets is made from beef—usually fillet, sirloin, or silverside—due to its lower price and widespread availability.

These pieces of meat hung out to dry can be seen in most supermarkets, where you can choose a piece according to dryness and taste, specifying a “wet” (moist), “medium,” or “dry” piece. Fat content is another criteria used to choose biltong; some customers prefer it with a lot of fat, while others like it as lean as possible. Voortrekkers, the Dutch settlers in South Africa, preserved their meat in this way when they migrated away from British rule in Cape, because there were no refrigerators in those days. The word biltong comes from the Dutch bil (“buttock””) and tong (“strip” or “tongue”).

Long strips on biltong, dried meat, like beef jerky, hanging in a shop in South Africa.
Biltong, available in every South African supermarket. It looks similar to some jerky.

Soya Mince in Lesotho, by Wendy of The Nomadic Vegan

When traveling in Lesotho and in other southern African countries, I was surprised to see row upon row of boxed “soya mince” on the grocery store shelves. It’s a powdered soy product that, when mixed into a sauce, clumps together and resembles minced meat. Plant-based meat alternatives like this are becoming common in Western countries, because many in the West are adopting vegan or vegetarian diets or at least trying to cut down on their meat consumption. In Lesotho, on the other hand, the concepts of veganism and vegetarianism are virtually unheard of. So why are these products so popular? It was explained to me that soya mince is both cheaper and more practical than meat. It is shelf stable and doesn’t need to be refrigerated, which is a huge advantage for people living with a sporadic electricity supply, or perhaps no electricity at all.

As vegans traveling in Africa, my husband and I found our options for eating out were somewhat limited at times, so we decided to give the soya mince a try. We added it to a tomato-based sauce with beans and ate it over pasta. It was pretty tasty!

Boxes of packaged soya mince, in chicken and mutton flavors, in Lesotho. "More meaty taste."
Soya Mince in Lesotho, seems like a good way to “beef” up a vegetarian or vegan meal.

Braid Spray in Namibia, by Shara of SKJ Travel

When traveling in rural northern Namibia, I’ve noticed a paucity of hair care products. In America, it’s overwhelming the number of shampoos, conditioners, hairsprays, gels, coloring kits, etc. you see on the shelves, but not here. However, the one hair product on every shelf, even in the small convenience stores, is braid spray. I had to read the bottle to figure out what it was. I’d never heard of it. Simply enough, it’s a spray to condition the scalp and keep braids or hair extensions (and “all kinds of bonded hair”) soft and supple. In a region where so many of the women, and even men, wear their hair in elaborate braided styles, it makes perfect sense! It’s also an important part of the African Hair Salon.

Going into grocery stores in northwestern Namibia also happens to be one of my very favorite activities because they are a concentration of great diversity in a very small area. Nowhere else have I been where in one check-out line there can be people dressed in regular Western clothes (shorts, tee-shirts, flip-flops); women dressed in brightly colored, long hoop skirts with huge, puffy, fabric hats like bullhorns; men in “skirts” fashioned from two pieces of brightly printed fabric secured by a rope around their waist; and women in stiff cowhide skirts with bangles and jewelry, barefoot and completely topless. I laugh trying to imagine this in America! 

A woman in Namibia with tightly braided hair wrapped in a scarf. And a beautiful smile.
All the elaborately braided hairstyles in Namibia need braid spray to keep the hair soft and conditioned.

South American Supermarkets: What’s Different?

An Eye-Opening Tea in Peru, by Carol Perehudoff from Wandering Carol

“Is this what I think it is?” I asked my friend, as we stared at a grocery store shelf in Lima, Peru. In front of us was a long row of packages of coca leaf tea. “Does coca leaf tea contain, like, cocaine?” Short answer, kind of. But you can’t equate the leaf with the drug. While you can’t make cocaine without coca leaves, the tea is such a mild stimulant that it’s more akin—as one Peruvian told me—to having a cup of coffee.

Said to quell hunger, quench thirst, and help with pain and fatigue, coca leaf tea is also widely used as a cure for altitude sickness. It’s especially popular in the Andes, and when I flew to Lake Titicaca, the highest commercially navigable lake in the world, it was freely offered at the hotel I stayed at. This was a good thing as the altitude sickness hit me like a sledgehammer, and I’m always up for trying to stay healthy while traveling. After sipping a cup, I can’t say I felt any effects, but now, if I saw it in a grocery store, I wouldn’t blink an eye.

A green box of "Mate de Coca," Coca leaf tea, common in Peru and the Andes.
Not everything about the coca leaf is bad for you. Especially is you live in the Andes.

Dulce de Leche in Colombia, by the team at One Weird Globe

Strolling through the Colombian megasupermarket Éxito, past a dozen Fabuloso floor cleaner products decorating the aisle in more colors than a Pride Parade, and not far from the brick-like sugar called panela (coming in blocks ranging from paperweight to paving stone), you eventually come across arequipe. This Colombian delight is caramelized and goes by the names of dulce de leche and manjar in other regions of Latin America. Its uses are general, potentially replacing both chocolate and Nutella. In Colombia, you can find arequipe scattered about the grocery store, in tins beside the sweeteners, in plastic bags by the refrigerated dairy, in personal-sized tubs with the snacks, and in cookies in the bakery section. Mmmm…. alfajores.

Careful of those chips. Make sure they’re not dulce de leche flavored. And compare prices before you buy that manjar! Products can be more expensive when bought in bulk in Peru—due to the extra packaging, it was explained to me. If you end up in Juan Valdez (not Starbucks), snag one of those iced arequipe (not caramel) macchiatos. Here’s our list of Hostels in Medellin.

And Even in the Caribbean…Grocery Store Tourism Can be a Thing

Old Amsterdam Cheese in Aruba, the Dutch Caribbean, by Michele from A Taste for Travel 

If you’re browsing the deli and dairy sections at a grocery store on the Caribbean island of Aruba, you’ll quickly notice that the aisles are packed with a vast assortment of Dutch goods including drop (licorice), cold cuts, and cheeses. The reason is that, along with the Netherlands, Curaçao, and Saint Maarten, Aruba is one of four countries that are members of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. This Dutch influence, along with contributions from 90 other nationalities that have left their mark on the island’s culture and identity, have helped shape Aruba into one of the Caribbean’s most diverse culinary destinations. 

While the glossy red rounds of Edam cheese you’ll see are a key ingredient in Aruba and Curacao’s national dish of Keshi Yena (a rind of Edam cheese stuffed with spiced meat), one of the most popular cheeses in grocery stores in Aruba is Old Amsterdam Aged Gouda Cheese. It comes available in sizes from bite size portions to huge pizza-sized wedges, designed as crowd-pleasers. Not only does it come wrapped in almost indestructible packaging that makes it very portable, the intense flavor of this yellow gouda is so full of character, it’s a popular food in Aruba for taking to parties and get togethers. For visitors, it makes a delicious and affordable snack to enjoy during Happy Hour at your condo rental or during a day at the beach. When your visit to Aruba is over, if you haven’t yet eaten your fill of Old Amsterdam Cheese, you can pick some up at the Queen Beatrix International Airport in Oranjestad. Make a stop in the Duty Free area where certain shops have whole sections devoted to Dutch cheeses and meats. 

An assortment of "Old Amsterdam Aged Gouda Cheese" in a supermarket in Aruba.
Dutch cheese in the Caribbean… it makes sense you’d find it in an Aruba supermarket, since the island is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Being a Tourist in an American Supermarket

Of course, what travelers may find odd or funny in a foreign grocery store is not at all weird to the locals. It’s simply what they eat. And we should remember that things we find commonplace at home, might seem distinctly weird to a visitor from abroad. Do you wonder what things would jump out at a foreign visitor to the U.S.? Like how much people on the western side of the Atlantic like dry cereal!

Packaged Cereal in the USA, by Annick from The Common Traveler 

Are you a breakfast eater? And when you eat breakfast, is it cereal that you’re eating? If you visit the United States of America, a walk into any grocery store reveals America’s fascination and love of all things cereal. When I was growing up in South America, we rarely ate cereal, and the cereal we ate was either Rice Krispies or Puffed Rice. But in America, you will find large aisles devoted to shelves upon shelves of any type of cereal you can imagine (and many you wouldn’t have dreamt of!)

Apparently, in the USA cereal is not just a breakfast food. Many people eat cereal for lunch or dinner, or even as a snack, with milk or dry. And there are multiple versions of some favorite cereals. For example, I counted 16 types of Cheerios on the supermarket shelves: Original, Honey Nut, Maple, Blueberries, Oat Crunch, Peach, Apple Cinnamon, Multi Grain, Chocolate, Fruity, Frosted, Banana Nut, Very Berry, Pumpkin Spice, Honey Nut Medley Crunch, and Chocolate Peanut Butter. And that’s just one type of cereal! Healthier, more conscious versions of cereal are available, or you can select from the opposite spectrum with a shameless version of cookies or candy bars in your cereal bowl. You won’t believe the cereal variety available in the U.S. compared to other countries! 

A very, very long supermarket aisle in the U.S. stacked with dozens of types and flavors of dry cereal.
Have you ever really thought about just HOW MANY brands and types of dry cereal there are on the shelves of every U.S. supermarket? It’s kind of staggering.

There you have a taste of some of the things you might (or might not) find odd when you let yourself be a grocery store tourist while on your travels. Wherever you go, a trip to the supermarket can be an entertaining and culturally enlightening experience.

Have you come across some treasures of your own while on a grocery store tour? Tell us about it in the comments!

The dutch Pea Soup, or "snert' at Moeder's Restaurant in Amsterdam, is the closest I've found to homemade.

Traditional Dutch Pea Soup Recipe–the Taste of Family and Memory

In a country not famous for gourmet food, real Dutch Pea Soup stands out as one of the Netherlands’ great contributions to the culinary world. Hearty, filling, and redolent with the scents of peas and pork, of memory and home. This old family recipe takes me back to an Amsterdam apartment and a dinner table surrounded by love.

The Oranjebrug--Orange Bridge--over the Browersgracht canal in Amsterdam, in summer.

Ah, Amsterdam, you are so beautiful, especially with the green of summer and fresh flowers all around.
Is it any wonder I fell in love with you all those decades ago?

Food and Memory–Lifelong Triggers

Many years ago, I lived in Amsterdam. Beautiful city… city of my heart. It was my first time traveling outside the US, my first time living so far from my family. I had a dream job doing what I always wanted to do, a nice place to live, and a busload of wonderful friends, both Dutch and other ex-pats. It was then I fell in love with Holland and the Dutch, a love that has never faded.

When my dream job ended after several months and I could no longer afford my own place, a Dutch friend, Inez Hendriks, invited me to move in with her. It was another step in my education in “being Dutch.” Every Tuesday, Inez went home to her parents’ apartment for a family dinner. Once I moved in, I was “family” too. So of course, I was expected for Tuesday dinner as well.

Mevrouw Hendriks was a good, basic home cook. One Dutch specialty after another appeared on her lace-covered table—hutspot (a one-pot meal of potatoes, carrots, onions and a smoked sausage or meatballs), stamppot (potatoes mashed with a vegetable, often kale), kibbeling (chunks of white fish breaded and fried), pork chops, sausages, stewed pears. But my favorite, the one that always had me thinking “I hope… I hope…” as Inez and I strolled together along the canals toward her house, was Erwtensoep, the thick and smoky, traditional Dutch Pea Soup. It’s so much a part of Dutch family meals that it has a nickname… snert.

A bowl of hearty Dutch Pea soup, so thick it's more stew than soup.  This is what the Dutch call Erwtensoep, or  more commonly "snert."

Of course I don’t have a photo of Mev. Hendriks’ Dutch Pea Soup, after all these decades. But this is close… a bowl of goodness so thick it’s more stew than soup. Photo by the Master Experimenter on flickr. CC 2.0 license

Dutch Pea Soup had been a favorite of mine almost since the day I arrived in Amsterdam. During my days of being pretty broke, I often stopped into a workingman’s café for lunch of a steaming bowl of erwtensoep met broodje, pea soup and a soft white roll spread thick with butter. I slurped it up surrounded by Dutchmen young and old, mostly dressed in blue coveralls and wearing soft caps, hurrying to get the last drops before heading back to work. Back then, such a lunch cost less than a dollar. It was a filling and tasty meal.

Some cooks add potatoes to the peas, some dump in schunks of carrot. Fancier cooks might add a few dollops of sour cream on top. But to me, Mev. Hendriks’ homey snert was the best. Always the best.

Memory can play tricks on us. On recent visits, I’ve never managed to find Dutch erwtensoep in any Amsterdam restaurant with quite the same richness and depth of flavor as Mev. Hendriks’. Is it because hers was seasoned with love and a warm welcome that really did make me feel like family? Was it because it’s hard to find a restaurant in Amsterdam with a traditional tablecloth trimmed in lace, with white lace curtains at the windows, and with the perfume of Mijnheer Hendriks’ scented pipe tobacco still hanging in the air? Perhaps.

Eating Dutch Pea Soup at Moeders

The Dutch Pea Soup, or "snert' at Moeders Restaurant in Amsterdam, is the closest I've found to homemade.

Try this Dutch Pea Soup–Erwtensoep–at Moeders, in Amsterdam. It’s the closest thing I’ve found to Mev. Hendriks’ home-made snert. Served with fresh bread and a little pot of house-made hummus.

I continue to search for the real thing on every trip back. The closest I’ve found is served by my favorite restaurant in Amsterdam, and it’s got just the right name: Moeders… Mothers. It offers a slightly modernized take on traditional Dutch food. It’s smallish, with tables pushed close together. The dishes and glassware are mismatched and homey, walls are lined on every side with photos of mothers… brought by years’ worth of patrons wanting to add their mom to this great altar to motherhood and mom’s cooking. See my full review of Moeders here.

But when I want true Dutch Pea Soup, the one that brings back that cozy apartment, soft Dutch accents, and my struggles with the language, I make my own using Mev. Hendriks’ recipe. I’ve been carrying it around the world for over 45 years and through more than a dozen moves. She was a “handful of this and pinch of that” cook, so her measurements were guesses. But I’ve made this soup several times and they seem to work. The celeriac/celery root is a crucial ingredient to get the flavor true, but it may be difficult for some to find. You can substitute chopped celery hearts with the green tops and a bit of celery seed. It won’t be exact, but it will be close.

Mevrouw Hendrik’s Echte Hollandse Erwtensoep (Real Dutch Pea Soup)

(Copied from a page in my journal, dated December 8, 1971)

INGREDIENTS

  • 750 grams/1½ lb. dried split peas
  • 1 medium celeriac (celery root), diced
  • 2-3 large green onions, chopped
  • 1 med. onion, finely chopped
  • ½ lb sliced pork (with fat) or one ham hock
  • 1 med. beef cutlet or 1 lg. slice ham, cooked
  • 1 large smoked sausage, sliced into large chunks
  • Salt, parsley & garlic powder

PROCEDURE

Wash the peas and let them soak for a few hours. Then bring to a boil over medium heat.
Add the celery root, green onions, and onion. Stir well. Let cook 1-1½ hours, stirring occasionally, until peas are soft.
Add sliced pork or ham hock and the beef cutlet or ham, shredded into small pieces. Cook another 30 minutes.
During the last 10 minutes, add the sliced smoked sausage.
Season with salt, parsley, and a little garlic powder to taste.
Serve with soft white rolls slathered with good butter.

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Three bottles of rum ready for tasting at Outer Banks Distilling, in Manteo, North Carolina

Rum Days at Outer Banks Distilling in Manteo, NC

On a visit to Outer Banks Distilling, in Manteo, on the beautiful North Carolina Outer Banks, prepare to be shocked… then delighted… and then oh so mellow.

Three bottles of rum ready for tasting at Outer Banks Distilling, in Manteo, North Carolina

The Shock of the Raw… Rum in the Making

Raw rum, right from the still is…an experience. A pretty shocking one at that. As a small glass of the stuff was handed to me, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I held it to my nose. Whoa! The fumes knocked my head back. Gingerly, I brought mouth and glass together and sipped. Whoa again! At first touch, my lips were burning. Within seconds, my tongue was numb.

“At this point, it’s 180 proof,” said Scott Smith, one of the four owners of Outer Banks Distilling, who was leading my group on a tour. “It’s got a long way to go before it’s drinkable.” He was not exaggerating.

I’m not a heavy drinker by any stretch, but I do like rum. It has long been my spirit of choice. Hot and buttered, mixed into a Cuba Libra, with a tropical Latin touch a la mojitos and piña coladas, most of the cocktails I actually enjoy include rum. So I was delighted to have the opportunity to visit the first “legal” distillery on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Even better was the chance to taste several of their flavored Kill Devil Rums and see where and how these deeply-flavored spirits are made.

Note: My trip to Outer Banks Distilling was sponsored by the Outer Banks Visitors’ Bureau, to whom I am very grateful. Their generosity had no effect on my opinions expressed here. I truly was blown away.

Four Men and a Passion

Opened in 2015, the distillery was started by four local pals—two brewers and two bartenders. Bonded by their common love for good beer and rum, they decided they wanted to kick the Outer Banks alcoholic scene up a notch. They started a self-designed crash course in rum, including the horrible sacrifice of sampling as many kinds of rum as they could get their hands on.

They taste-tested rums from the Caribbean, from Fiji, and from other US craft distilleries. They took university courses in distilling and tried and tested everything they were learning until they were satisfied they could produce a world-class product right on the Outer Banks.

As a first step. they found a perfect 65+-year-old brick building in the town of Manteo, reinforced the floor with concrete to bear the weight of four 1200-liter tanks and the 300-liter copper pot still from Arnold Holstein, a world-renowned manufacturer of distilling and brewing equipment. Beautiful in its industrial detailing, it looks for all the world like a giant copper oboe standing upright in a stainless steel tub.

The 300-liter copper pot still from Outer Banks Distilling looks like a giant copper oboe in a stainless steel tube.

The 300-liter German copper pot still at Outer Banks Distilling is a beautiful piece of equipment.

Formal studies and travels behind them, the foursome brought in their first barrels of molasses, thick and dark and oozing. They fired up that beautiful still. And then they made their first batch of Outer Banks Distilling Kill Devil Rum. In the short 2½ years since, they’ve racked up several international awards.

Outer Banks Distilling—Rum Strong Enough to “Kill the Devil”

The name of the rum they create actually has two sources. The first is the Kill Devil Hills, just north of Manteo. In earlier times, rum was made almost exclusively in the Caribbean, the source of the sugar cane that created its molasses base. After manufacture, more than a little of that rum was shipped north. Unfortunately, some of the ships didn’t make it to their destinations. Instead they were caught in the shallow shoals that line the North Carolina Outer Banks—often referred to as “The Graveyard of the Atlantic.” In those turgid, shallow waters, many foundered and sometimes broke up, and barrels of rum washed ashore…a fact the locals did not seem to mind at all. Delighted with their windfall of rum “strong enough to kill the devil,” locals fondly began calling the area the Kill Devil Hills. Three of the distillery’s four partners live in these beautiful sandy dunes.

The dunes of the Outer Banks of North Carolina

The Outer Banks of North Carolina have been nicknamed “The Graveyard of the Atlantic” for the large number of ships
that have been wrecked on its rocky shoals, sometimes washing barrels of rum ashore.

The second name association is the rum itself, and it goes even further back. In 1650, rum from the Barbados was called “Kill Devil.” The owners liked the double meaning and its association with the location. Kill Devil Rum was born.

An Appropriate Motto at Outer Banks Distilling–”From Molasses to Glasses”

Good molasses is still at the heart of making good rum. Today the distillery gets most of its molasses from sugar-cane fields in Florida and Louisiana. “We just don’t grow sugar here in North Carolina,” Scott explains. Sometimes demerara sugar is also added. They use yeast from the island of Guadaloupe. For their specialized, small-batch rums, it’s the balance of molasses, demerara, and the type of barrel used for aging that tells the tale, affecting the flavor profile and highlighting the versatility of rum.

After it emerges from the huge copper pot still, that nose-widening, mouth-numbing spirit I tasted is blended and aged. One of the goals of the foursome of owners is to show the wide variety of styles of rum that can be produced. They turn out silver, gold, aged, and seasonal spiced rums. These varieties are aged in a range of barrels that affect the final flavors, including used Jim Beam bourbon barrels for their signature Gold Rum.

Outer Banks Distilling co-owner Scott Smith tastes the 180 proof pure spirit rum straight from the still.

Outer Banks Distilling co-owner Scott Smith tastes the 180 proof pure spirit rum straight from the still.

The distillery offers tours for guests over 21, by reservation, in their lovely, wood-lined tasting room. I found the tastings eye-opening. My favorite was the Kill Devil Pecan Rum with Honey. Creamy smooth, with a light honey-sweet finish, it seemed to kiss my tongue. It was inspired by the giant pecan trees surrounding the distillery. Both the pecans and the honey are locally sourced. A delightful by-product, the rum-soaked pecans are candied, packaged, and sold in the distillery.

We also tasted the their flagship rum, Kill Devil Gold. Its rich color and depth of flavor come solely from aging in those bourbon barrels. No flavors or colors are added. When Gold hits your tongue, there’s a sudden feeling of evaporation that leaves behind a hint of sugar and cream.

Kill Devil Silver is their example of rum in its purest form. The molasses comes through, lightly touched with notes of vanilla and créme brûlée. It’s an excellent rum for mixing into cocktails.

Pouring the samples at Outer Banks Distilling for a taste test.

Pouring the tastings. Tours and tastings are available by appointment.

Finally, the distilling foursome has fun a few times a year with their specialty rums. Once a year, they drop a new version in their “Shipwreck” series—another homage to their location. Twice a year, at the winter and summer solstices, they bring out their very popular Sol-Spice creations, which commonly sell out in hours, if not minutes. This year, their 2018 Summer Sol-Spice version was barrel-aged and then spiced with a Thai accent—with kaffir lime, lemongrass, and ginger. Last year’s Winter Sol-Spice Rum was aged in once-used apple brandy barrels and flavored with coffee, cocoa nibs, vanilla and cinnamon. Last year’s was made with two different kinds of orange peel, lemon peel, and coriander. Just imagine the luscious combinations still to come.

The ship's wheel from the wrecked schooner "Irma" hangs on the wall of the tasting room at Outer Banks Distilling.

In the distillery’s pretty tasting room, the ship’s wheel of the schooner Irma, which sank in waters nearby, adorns the bar.

As I admitted at the start of this post… I love cocktails made with rum. And so I asked the guys from Outer Banks Distilling if I could share a couple of their cocktail recipes from their website. And they said yes!

Salud! Prost! Cheers!

The Devil Wears Prada

The Devil Wears Prada Cocktail from Outer Banks Distilling, Manteo, NC.

The Devil Wears Prada cocktail

2 oz Kill Devil Silver rum
½ oz cranberry juice
½ oz Grand Marnier
The juice of one lime wedge

Combine all ingredients into a shaker
tin with ice. Shake and strain into
a chilled cosmo glass and garnish with
an orange twist.


OBX Dreamsicle

An OBX Dreamsicle cocktail made with Kill Devil Gold Rum, garnished with a orange wedge.

Oh yum… An OBX Dreamsicle cocktail made with

Kill Devil Gold Rum.

2 oz Kill Devil Pecan Honey rum
1 tsp vanilla extract
¼ oz simple syrup
1 oz fresh-squeezed orange juice

Combine all ingredients in a shaker tin
with ice. Shake and strain into a glass
over ice. Garnish with an orange wedge.


For more recipes and information about their rums, visit the Outer Banks Distilling website.

Distillery tours are available Tuesday thru Saturday at 1 & 3pm by reservation. Tours cost $10 at the time of writing, and you must be 21 years or older.

Outer Banks Distilling
510 Budleigh Street
Downtown Manteo, North Carolina

Pint it For Later:

A visit to Outer Banks  Distilling in Manteo, North CarolinaA visit to Outer Banks Distilling in Manteo, NC

Bosche Bollen - a huge ball of the creamiest sweet cream encased in a layer of chocolate. A fabulous Dutch dessert.

Two Dozen of the Best European Desserts You Need to Try

Ahhh…. European desserts. Lives there a woman traveler who can resist them? Certainly not me. Because one of the great joys of traveling is… eating. And one of the great joys of eating is… dessert!

A plate of poffertjes in Amsterdam, slathered in butter and hidden under a thick coat of powdered sugar.

A whole lot of travel and food bloggers seem to be just like me—unable to resist desserts in Europe. So I asked some of them to share their favorites with us. Together, we’ve come up with a list of an even two dozen of the best European desserts you need to try on your next trip. Let’s begin with one of my own personal favorites.

Poffertjes in the Netherlands

Poffertjes come directly from the gods, I swear it. These little pockets of heaven are small, puffy buckwheat pancakes (seen in the photo above), baked in a special cast-iron pan with shallow spherical depressions. Once baked, they are slathered in butter and covered in large driftings of powdered sugar. When I first went to Amsterdam, more than 45 years ago, poffertjes were usually bought from special circus-style stands that set up around town at various holidays. Today, you can find them at the street markets, such as the Albert Cuyp Market, and in many cafes. I’ll eat them anywhere I find them, but one of my favorite poffertjes stops is Café De Prins at Prinsengracht 124. This really is one of my very favorite European desserts. You need to try them. Trust me on this.

Lebkuchen in Nuremberg, Germany

By Sage Scott from Everyday Wanderer

A plate of lebkuchen in Nuremberg, served as a traditional Christmas treat.

Lebkuchen is a traditional German Christmas treat. Although the word kuchen means cake in German, I would describe lebkuchen as the love child of a gingerbread man and a spice cake. These German sweet treats are baked on a thin, white, edible wafer called oblaten that always reminds me of a Communion wafer. As it turns out, that’s because the 13th Century German monks who invented lebkuchen in Nuremberg used larger, unconsecrated hosts to structure the cakes and keep the dough from sticking to the baking surface. The cake itself can range from sweet (also known as honigkuchen or honey cake) to spicy (also known as pfefferkuchen or pepper cake).

Typical lebkuchen ingredients include some combination of honey or molasses, spices (like cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and nutmeg), nuts (like almonds or hazelnuts), and candied fruit (like dried apricots or candied lemon peel). As a final step, lebkuchen is dipped in a glaze or dark chocolate. In the country that invented the Christmas tree and is the setting for the Nutcracker Ballet, no Christmas would be complete without soft, sweet, and spicy lebkuchen! They are available at every bakery and every Christkindlmarkt (Christmas market) in Germany throughout the holiday season.

Follow Sage on Instagram

Skyr in Iceland

By Danielle Desir from The Thought Card

A cup of Skyr, a yoghurt-lilke snack or dessert available all over Iceland.

Skyr is one my favorite treats in Iceland. Pronounced “skee-er,” skyr is a dairy product that resembles yogurt but has a milder taste. It is one of Iceland’s oldest dairy products and has been around for nearly 1,000 years. Instead of having a sour and tart taste like yogurt, the cultures that make up skyr have a rich and creamy flavor. Skyr is also very good for your health. It contains more protein and less sugar than yogurt. In Iceland, you can find all sorts of flavors like peach cloudberry, strawberry, banana, apple, raspberry, coconut and more.

Trying skyr is one of the inexpensive things I recommend doing in Iceland on a budget. It costs around 200 ISK or $2+ USD. You can find Skyr at grocery stores, gas stations and even some restaurants.

Churros and Chocolate in Madrid

By Tom Bartel & Kristin Henning from Travel Past 50

A plate of churros and a cup of thick, dark hot chocolate makes a perfect Spanish breakfast.

For your morning coffee or chocolate and churros in Madrid, you must visit Chocolatería San Ginés in the center city. It’s just off Calle Arenal about halfway between the Puerta del Sol and the Plaza de Ópera. If you go at the typical breakfast time of mid-morning, you’ll stand in line for a few minutes to order at the cashier. You pay, get your ticket, and then wait a couple more minutes for a table to open up. The place has seating on two levels in the main shop, and another large room next door. The turnover is quick, so the wait is never long, but even if it were, it would be worth it.

Basically, there are four combinations that are the standard fare. You can either have coffee with milk or hot chocolate, and you can either have churros or porras, which are basically just bigger churros. Churros are the Spanish equivalent of donuts. They are fried dough, usually sprinkled with powdered sugar, although they are so delicious, you can certainly forego the sweet garnish. I do. However, the essence of the Spanish churro breakfast is not the churros. It’s the chocolate. This isn’t the thin gruel that Americans call cocoa or hot chocolate. This is a thick, dark, bitter chocolate that comes in a cup, but is really too thick to drink. It exists solely for dipping your churros. Enjoy.

Read more about Tom & Kristin’s take on Madrid with this Madrid mini guide.

Sebada in Sardinia

By Claudia Taviani from My Adventures Across the World.

A popular European dessert is Sebada in Sardinia. Served with honey.

One of the yummiest sweet treats in Sardina is the sebada (or seada), generally referred to in its plural form—sebadas or seadas. These are made by preparing a very plain dough which is then laid very thin and filled with a mild cheese (it can be Dolce Sardo, but it should traditionally be a sweet and fresh pecorino cheese) and grated lemon or orange rind. The pastry is then folded together carefully, and deep fried. It’s cooked until crispy and then served with honey. The end result is a sweet, salty and at the same time crispy and tangy dessert that makes any mouth water. A classic among European desserts.

Read more about Claudia’s favorite food destinations around the world.

Snow-White Cake in Bucharest, Romania

By Iulia-Alexandra Falcutescu of The Traveling Tulip

A plate of rich and creamy Romanian Snow White Cake, cut into small squares for serving.

When you visit Bucharest, one of the “must have” sweets is a typical Romanian cake called “Snow-White.” I know, it has a funny name, but it is so delicious, light and sweet, that you will immediately fall in love with it, just like the Prince did with the real Snow-White. This is my childhood’s cake. My grandma used to make it, as it is a favorite amongst children and adults alike. It is a layered cake, made from three thin sheets of cake with vanilla-lemon cream in between them. That fresh cream perfectly balances the sweetness of the pastry layers to create a fresh dessert.

Typically, this is not found in your average cake shop in the city, but look for the cake shops that sell “home-made” cakes. It’s a must for them to have it and for you to enjoy it! Better yet, find a Romanian grandma to make one for you. If you can’t manage that, you can always try Lulu’s Cake (located at Strada Bogdaniţa, Nr. 8-10, in Bucharest). It’s a cake shop that makes “home-made” cakes, and they are my favorite when it comes to bringing me back to my childhood.

Follow Iulia-Alexandra Twitter at @thetulipjul.

Gelato in Florence, Italy

By Dhara from It’s Not About the Miles

Gelato in Florence comes in a wide variety of flavors, like these.

Florence, Italy, is considered the birthplace of not just the Renaissance but also my favorite sweet treat, gelato. Story has it that in 1565, Bernardo Buontalenti, the man in charge of setting up fabulous events for the Medicis, decided to chill pastry cream for a dessert offering at a banquet. And that’s how gelato made its debut! Without a doubt, Florence is home to some of the best gelaterias on the planet. But even in this land of plenty, there are standouts that you absolutely must not miss when you visit. Stop by Vivoli for unsurpassed renderings of classic flavors. Pay Gelateria dei Neri a visit for daring and contemporary flavor combinations. Stand in the inevitable line at La Carraia for gelato that oozes decadent richness. Visit Carapina for the most purist take on gelato artigianale. And why not stop by Perchè no! for its cute name and delicious gelato?

One of the tests for whether a gelateria is great is supposedly to see if it carries nocciola (hazelnut) gelato as a stand-alone flavor. Hazelnut is an expensive ingredient, and only top gelaterias offer real hazelnut on its own. Fior de latte, translating literally to flower of milk, is another test…if a shop can do a great sweet cream flavor, which contains nothing but milk and sugar, you can be confident its offerings will be delicious. Happy tasting, and happy gorging on gelato in Firenze! One of the best European desserts in one of the best cities!

Learn more about Dhara’s fave places to try gelato in Italy.

Kürtőskalács in Hungary

By Gábor Kovács from Surfing the Planet

Hollow tubes of the crisp pastry called kurtoskalacs, sold in Budapest, Hungary.

The Hungarian language is full of words that are very hard to pronounce, but one of these unpronounceable words, kürtőskalács, quickly becomes part of the vocabulary of those who visit Hungary. Kürtőskalács is a cake that comes originally from the Hungarian speaking part of Transylvania in Romania, but it is one of the favorites not only in Hungary, but also other places in the region. During your walk around Budapest, you will easily find a food stall that sells this beauty, and you will also find another version in Prague that is called trdelník.

Kürtőskalács is a spit cake (sometimes they translate it to chimney cake), prepared in a special oven where the dough is wrapped around a wooden spit. The cake is baked slowly over a wood fire and then is glazed in sugar. There are different versions with cinnamon, vanilla, or even walnut added to the sugary glaze. A new trend is to put ice cream in the middle, but that cools it down, and I think it’s much tastier when it’s warm.

Follow Gabor on Twitter at @surfingplanet

Brunsviger in Funen, Denmark

By Line Olesen from Nordic Travellers

Danish Brunsviger with its think, gooey topping of caramelized brown sugar.

Brunsviger is a Funen cake that will make your blood flow a little slower due to a butter and sugar overload, but boy is it good. The cake is a yeast dough covered in a sugary mass made out of butter and brown sugar. The icing has to be soft, smooth and without crunch; the sugar grains have to be melted. If you get a piece of brunsviger with a crunch, the baker didn’t do a good job. On Funen, it is customary to have the baker make a brunsviger shaped as a boy or girl and decorate it with candy for kids’ birthday parties. The name of the cake is derived from the German city Braunschweig, but other than that the connection is uncertain.

Although the cake is hugely popular on Funen, people from other parts of the country don’t really understand it. But if you have grown up with brunsviger, you will keep craving it for the rest of your life. I, the writer, was once forbidden to eat brunsviger in the car by my boyfriend because he was tired of putting his hands on a sticky and greasy steering wheel every time I had been to the bakery. Have I stopped? Only I and the car know.

You can follow Nordic Travellers on Facebook.

Sticky Toffee Pudding in England (one of the best European Desserts)

By Claire Sturzaker from Tales of a Backpacker

A rich, cake-like sticky toffee pudding topped with vanilla ice cream and sitting in a luscious pool of caramel sauce.

Sticky toffee pudding has always been one of my favourite English desserts. It is one of those desserts you can find in all kinds of restaurants, from pubs and chains, to high-class gourmet restaurants. The combination of gooey sponge pudding with a sweet toffee sauce and ice cream or custard is hard to beat, and the perfect way to finish any meal!

There is something incredibly satisfying about a warm, sweet sticky toffee pudding which never fails to put a smile on my face—British comfort food at its best. There is some contention about the best recipe of course, mainly whether to include dates in the sponge mixture. Personally, I prefer it without, but there is no right and wrong when it comes to a good dessert. Either way is delicious! The most recent sticky toffee pudding I had was in London, in a restaurant on the South Bank of the Thames, as part of a food tour. Even though I was already stuffed, I still found room for it, and am so glad I did!

Follow Claire on Twitter at @clairesturz

Cranachan in Scotland

By Kirstin McEwan from The Tinberry Travels

I pretty glass full of cranachan, with layers of goodness.

Cranachan is a traditional dessert well worth a try if you find yourself in Scotland. A classic after-dinner accompaniment, a cranachan (occasionally spelled crannachan and pronounced kran-nuh-kun) encompasses a whole host of local produce that make it a quintessentially Scottish pudding. The layered dessert was originally made at the end of summer to celebrate the harvest but is now served at any time of year. It contains layers of toasted oats, cream, honey, fresh Scottish raspberries, and of course a little dash of whisky!

You’ll find this on most Scottish restaurant menus and it is certainly a staple at many occasions such as a Burns Night or at a Hogmanay meal. We even had it at our wedding! There’s also plenty of variations on the standard recipe, but you’ll usually have a tall glass with layers of each ingredient. It should be made with fresh raspberries, local honey, and should be light and sweet rather than heavy, but don’t be surprised if it has a kick as some places can be a little liberal with the whisky!

Follow Kirstin on Instagram.

Hungarian Dobos Torte in Budapest, Hungary

By Eric and Lisa from Penguin and Pia

This multi-layered slice of Dobos Torte shows the hardened caramel topping that seals it and keeps it fresh.

Exploring the Hungarian capital city and looking for something sweet to eat? If this is you, then trying a slice of Dobos Torte in Budapest is the answer to your cravings! This classic cake contains 7 spongy layers with chocolate buttercream icing in between each of them. The top decoration is where Dobos gets its signature look: a hardened, shiny caramel layer is waiting for you to break through when you enjoy a slice.

The cake itself was created by József Dobos. a Hungarian pastry chef. in the late 1800s. As the legend goes, József was a creative baker who was tired of his creations going stale shortly after baking them. His solution? Create a dessert where all the exposed cake was covered up! He whipped together (pun intended) a chocolate buttercream icing and covered all the layers and the exterior edges of the cake. Finally, he drizzled and spread the caramel until it hardened on the top. This combination sealed the cake inside, keeping it moist and fresh. From that experiment, Dobos Torte was born! Whatever you have planned for your time in Budapest,, there are lots of confectionery shops around the city that serve a great slice of Dobos. We’d recommend Café Gerbeaud for an authentic Hungarian experience.

Berliners in Lucerne, Switzerland and Germany

By Halef and Michael, The Round the World Guys

A plateful of Berliners, the popular donuts filled with jelly , marmelade, or cream, one of the most common European desserts in the German areas.

The world was introduced to the complicated German Berliner dessert in 1963. That year, John F. Kennedy made a famous (and what some considered to be erroneous) speech. “Ich bin ein Berliner.” Urban legend has it that he stated, “I am a jelly donut!” That’s because the Berliner is a popular pastry you can get in any German region. It is a sweet dough, fried in oil to create a donut. Instead of a hole in the middle, the Berliner is typically filled with marmalade or jam. You can also find Berliners with chocolate or custard fillings. Obviously, there are many versions of the Berliner, including with powdered sugar toppings or icing.

In parts of Germany, including in Berlin, the Berliner pastry is more commonly known as Pfannkuchen – literally “pancake.” In Switzerland, however, you’ll find the true and classic Berliner, filled with jelly (hence the jelly donut). I had my first Berliner in Lucerne, Switzerland. Because Lucerne is quite culturally German, you can find many pastry shops and cafes which have their own Berliner specialties.

Follow the Round the World Guys on Facebook at Facebook.

Pastel de Nata in Lisbon, Portugal

By James from Portugalist

A pastel de nata, or Portuguese custard tart, with its flaky, layered crust and egg custard filling.

Portugal’s best and most well-known pastry is the pastel de nata (often called a Portuguese custard tart). Made from layers of filo pastry and egg custard, this sweet may be simple in its ingredients, but its flavors are complex. It’s best enjoyed with a small black espresso (called a “bica” in Lisbon) outside a small cafe, as you sit and watch the world go by. You’ll find pastel de nata in just about every cafe in Portugal, but the best ones come from the city where the recipe originates: Lisbon.

Pastéis de Belém is credited with the original nata recipe, and it’s definitely worth making a special journey to this pastelaria. Recently, however, a number of newcomers have sprung up and many have even won the coveted annual “melhor pastel de nata” award. Which is the best? There’s only one way to find out, and that’s to work your way through the entire city.

Read James’ take on pastel de nata.

Also, read about my own NomadWomen love affair with Pasteis de Belem when I was in Lisbon.

Strudel in Italy (and other places)

By Margherita Ragg from The Crowded Planet

Strudel is one of the European desserts you can find in Italy, Germany, Austria and other places.

One of my favorite sweets ever is strudel, a roll of pastry cut into slices and served with whipped cream, custard, or ice cream. It’s found all over the Alps. You can also find strudel filled with ricotta cheese, forest fruits, or other types of fruit; but the best and most common filling is definitely apples and cinnamon.

I love to eat strudel after hiking because I found it satisfies my cravings for carbs and sugar without feeling too heavy on the stomach, like many other types of sweets and cakes. Recently I went on a three-day hike around the Brenta Dolomites, staying in mountain huts, and while everyone was having beer or radler at the end of the day, I was happily munching away on a huge slice of strudel! The best strudel I’ve ever had was at Rifugio Alimonta in the Brenta Dolomites, but I think the fact I had it after hiking for seven hours is part of the reason why I found it so delicious!

Bosche Bollen in Den Boscch, Netherlands

By Karen Turner from WanderlustingK

Bossche Bollen - a huge ball of the creamiest sweet cream encased in a layer of chocolate. A fabulous Dutch dessert.

Bossche Bollen are the traditional sweets from Den Bosch, the Netherlands. ‘s-Hertogenbosch (Den Bosch) is a beautiful city in Brabant about one hour from Amsterdam with a rich culture. Their own delicious pastry is one you’ll want to try, especially if you love chocolate and cream. This Dutch sweet is made with cream and melted chocolate in a giant ball.

When visiting ‘s-Hertogenbosch, you can find these delicious specialties all over the city, although the most famous come from a bakery close to the central train station, Banketbakkerij Jan de Groot. Most of the cafes around town will serve fresh Bossche Bollen, so don’t worry about finding them within the city. Even outside of Den Bosch, you can find them at some bakeries around the Netherlands. I recommend sharing one with a friend and saving plenty of room for later as they’re quite filling.

Learn Karen’s advice on how to spend a day in Den Bosch.

Rote Grütze in Northern Germany

By Cate Brubaker from International Desserts Blog

Servings of very berry Rote Grutze, topped with whipped cream and a chocolate garnish--a traditional German dessert

One of my all-time favorite European sweet treats is Rote Grütze, a delicious traditional summer dessert from northern Germany. If you like berries, you’ll love Rote Grütze! It’s basically a compote made from simmering blackberries, raspberries, cherries, and red currants in red fruit juice and a bit of sugar. When I was served Rote Grütze at a friend’s house, it was typically served warm with a small pitcher of cold, fresh cream to pour over the top. SO good! However, if you order it in a cafe or restaurant, they’ll probably serve it cold or at room temperature and topped with vanilla sauce, vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

Don’t worry, no matter how it’s served, it’ll be amazing! Rote Grütze is super easy to make from scratch, but if you’re in Germany (especially northern Germany) you’ll find a jar of it in any grocery store. Rote Grütze: the perfect local sweet treat to enjoy in your AirBnB!

Check out Cate’s recommendations for things to do in Hamburg, Germany.

Trdelnik in Prague, Czech Republic

By Kris from Nomad by Trade

Trdelnik, cooking on a hot rod over the grill, is one of best desserts in Europe, found on the streets of Prague.

I love trying new foods when I travel, especially when they’re sweet, and I fell in love with trdelnik in Prague during my first visit there. Trdelnik are pastries made by wrapping dough around a spit and then roasting it over a grill. Once cooked, they’re coated in sugar and nuts. Nowadays you can even get them filled with chocolate, pie filling, and whipped cream. My favorite version has melted white chocolate drizzled all over the inside.

Watching them being made is almost as fun as eating them. They’re a great snack to eat while walking around Prague’s historic streets, though if you want to minimize the mess while you explore, opt for one of the simpler flavors, because the fancy ones full of creamy fillings can definitely get messy. You can find variants all over central Europe, but they’re absolutely everywhere in Prague. Don’t miss out on a chance to sample these tasty treats during your visit.

You can follow Kris on Twitter at @nomadbytrade13

Schwärzwalder Kirschtorte (Black Forest Cake)

By Erin from Erin at Large

A slice of Black Forest Cake includes layers of chocolate cake, buttercream, and tart cherries laced with Kirschwasser.

Black Forest Cake is indeed from the Black Forest region of Germany, but there is debate about in which town it originated. Some of the first published recipes for the cake date from the late 1920s. You can see one of these recipes at the Black Forest Open-Air Museum, in the town of Gutach. You can have a large slice of the cake in their lovely restaurant as well.

The Black forest region is famous for its cherry trees, so much so that the women’s traditional local costume includes a hat with giant red pom-poms on top, resembling cherries. It’s no wonder the cherries and Kirschwasser (cherry liqueur) made their way into the famous dessert. A proper Black Forest cake layers light chocolate cake with whipped cream or buttercream, with one layer of sour cherries and Kirschwasser. It’s then topped with buttercream dotted with chocolate swirls.

Read about Erin’s trip to the Black Forest Open Air Museum.

Lokum, aka Bulgarian Delight, in Bulgaria

By Sarah Carter from ASocialNomad

Squares of Bulgarian Delight are coated with powdered sugar for eating.

Bulgaria has been conquered and ruled by many over the centuries, so there’s little wonder that her rulers left their culinary influences on the country. Lokum/Bulgarian Delight may be presumed to have arrived with the Ottoman Empire, which ruled Bulgaria from late 14th century to 1878, but it also could have arrived earlier, as Middle Eastern cuisine features heavily in Bulgarian food. Bulgarian Delight is, like its Turkish neighbour, made of a gel of starch and sugar. The primary Bulgarian Delight flavour is rose—for which Bulgaria his famous. Bulgarian Delight is eaten in small cubes dusted with icing sugar. You’ll find boxes available in tourist stores and be able to spend your last Leva on it at the Airport.

As in Turkey, Bulgarian Delight is known as lokum, and in the Bulgarian alphabet is written as “локум.” The sweet is served at room temperature and often given as gifts.

Learn more from Sarah’s guide to Bulgarian food.

Scones in England

By Liliane Fawzy from My Toronto, My World

Scones with jam and clotted cream--the traditional Afternoon tea in London

Now when you think of British desserts, I’m sure a couple of them come to mind. But the one that typically instantly comes to mind? Scones! If you for some reason happen to not know what scones are, they’re a baked good made of wheat or oatmeal and baked in the oven. There are many varieties of the scone. Some scones come flavored with things like lemon. Some contain fruits like berries or raisins mixed into the dough. While there are savory versions (total sacrilege in my opinion), scones are usually sweet and best eaten with jams and/or clotted cream.

The actual best way to take in a scone is with an afternoon tea. Afternoon teas typically serve you scones with an assortment of jam flavors in addition to clotted cream. It’s a great way to try scones for the first (or tenth) time as you get to try a couple of different flavors. Plus you get to drink tea and dress up!

Read about a unique way to take tea—with scones—in London, on a double-decker bus!

Kaiserschmarrn in Austria

By Linda de Beer from Travel Tyrol

Kaiserschmarn are shredded sweet pancakes covered with powdered sugar and served with fruit compote.

Traveling to Austria and not trying Kaiserschmarrn, the favorite dessert of Emperor Francis Joseph, would be like going to Paris and not having crêpes. Kaiserschmarrn is a thick, fluffy shredded pancake dusted with icing sugar and traditionally served with raisins and fruit compote. It’s so filling that many Austrians even have it as their main meal. There are different stories as to how Kaiserschmarrn was named after the emperor. A favorite is that it was prepared by a nervous farmer who served it up after Francis Joseph and his wife unexpectedly stopped by for lunch.

The secret to making the perfect Kaiserschmarrn is in preparing and frying the batter just right. To ensure the thick and fluffy texture, many eggs are used with the whites beaten stiff before gently stirring it into the rest of the batter. Generous helpings of the batter are then fried in real butter while “shredding” it into pieces with a fork. Not everyone likes raisins in their Kaiserschmarrn, so there’s often an option to have it without. The most popular kinds of fruit compote to accompany the pancakes are plum and apple. A traditional Austrian restaurant without Kaiserscmarrn on the menu is just as unusual as one without Wiener Schnitzel!

Follow Linda on Facebook.

Cannoli in Sicily, Italy

By Steph Edwards from The Mediterranean Traveller

Cannoli, filled with sweetened ricotta with chocolate chips and disted with powdered sugar--a delicious Sicilian dessert

The sweltering Sicilian capital of Palermo is a paradise for foodies with a sweet tooth. Sicilians love their sugar, and its capital city is the spiritual homeland of one of the island’s most famous exports: cannoli. These iconic, deep-fried tubes of pastry adorn the windows of bakeries and patisseries around the island. The tasty tubes are filled with a sweetened sheep’s milk ricotta and topped with a variety of crunchy chunky things. The most common is chopped chocolate chips with candied peel or a glacé cherry.

Although you can now find cannoli (the word is plural) around the world, the freshness of the ricotta in Sicily ensures these will be the best you’ll ever taste. Fresh quality produce is a serious business on this island. Rumor has it that the best cannoli is to be found in the twin villages of Piana degli Albanesi and Santa Cristina di Gela, just south of Palermo. Cannoli is just the beginning of Sicilian sweets and desserts though; don’t miss a helping of gelato wedged into a brioche bun for breakfast (yes!), or its famous sponge cake cassata with its neon colors, or the utterly divine setteveli chocolate hazelnut tart. They are all exquisite european desserts.

Follow Steph on Facebook.

Kremna Rezina in Slovenia

By Kay from Jetfarer

A view of Lake Bled, in Slovenia, the perfect backdrop when eating a Kremna Rezina cream cake.

Many people flock to Lake Bled for its spectacular views and historic marvels, but fewer people know about its best-kept secret: kremna rezina or kremsnita, a traditional Slovenian cream cake. Among one of the best things to do in Lake Bled, trying a slice of this cake is a must for visitors to the region. Between layers of fluffy, soft cake is some of the most delicious and drool-worthy sweet cream in the world. Whether you’re trying to satisfy a sweet tooth craving after dinner, or as a reward after a taxing hike in Triglav National Park, kremsnita is definitely a treat you can’t pass up if you’re visiting the area.

Several cafes in the town of Bled serve kremsnita, but the original and best variant is at the Park Hotel. Here, you can order a slice of cake with a coffee or tea and admire the amazing views of Lake Bled from the hotel terrace.

So….what’ll it be? What will be the first of the many delicious European desserts you’ll try on your trip around the continent? Calories? What are those? You’re a Nomad Woman, an adventurer. It’s your duty to try everything, taste everything. And you know, really, calories don’t count when you’re traveling.

What are your all-time favorite desserts in europe. Let us know in the comments.


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A Family Tradition Continued: Our Christmas Cocktail (with Recipe)

Every family has its holiday traditions. In mine, it’s a Christmas cocktail. Every year it’s different. But always yummy.

The tradition started when my brother-in-law, Matt Worrix, decided to invent a cocktail for a big family celebration. It was such a hit, that it continued. Every Christmas, Thanksgiving or family birthday, Matt would invent a new cocktail to celebrate the occasion. It was something everyone looked forward to.

A Christmas Cocktail of hot cider, bourbon and Grand Marnier, garnished with whipped cream, an apple slice and a cinnamon stick.

The “Tempo Toddy,” named for my sister’s business in McMinnville Oregon.
It has now been adapted for this year’s Christmas Cocktail for the family holiday celebration.

Matt and my sister, Marilyn, would spend a week or more working out the finer points of the cocktail–mixing, tasting, tweaking, mixing some more, tasting again. Adding a bit of this or a touch less of that. Agonizing over the proper garnishes. Figuring out the quantities needed for 15-20 people!

After a few “taste tests,” they were often giggling so much they had to stop. But the final Thanksgiving… or birthday… or Christmas cocktail always ended up a winner.

Sadly, we lost Matt this year. The holidays will not be the same. But by general agreement, his spirit will be with us as we celebrate with a new Christmas Cocktail.

Deciding what to make is always fun and challenging. What could my sister and I come up with that would stand up to the Matt Worrix standard?

We were out Christmas shopping last week, on a freezing, snowy day, and stopped for a late lunch at Golden Valley Brew Pub, a wonderful and cozy spot in McMinnville, Oregon. We definitely needed something hot to warm us up, so we asked the waiter for a suggestion. And boy, were we glad we did? What he brought us was one of their popular seasonal concoctions, a wonderful combination of hot apple cider, bourbon, and Grand Marnier, topped with fresh whipped cream.

We knew immediately we had found this year’s Christmas Cocktail.

With a bit of tweaking, testing, tasting, and tweaking again, here is our version of the “Tempo Toddy.” Feel free to tweak the proportions to your personal taste. Try it. I think you will like it!

Tempo Toddy Christmas Cocktail

For One Christmas Cocktail

4 oz. hot spiced apple cider
1 oz. bourbon
1/2 oz. Grand Marnier

Mix well together
Place a whole cinnamon stick in each glass/mug and add the hot mixture. (If using glass, be sure it can withstand the heat without cracking.)
Top with sweetened whipped cream and garnish with a thin slice of apple on the rim.
Think up the perfect Christmas toast, raise your glasses all high, and enjoy!

(Alternately… add one pair of warm, fuzzy slippers, a roaring fire, some holiday music and a good book–with the air scented by the piney bite of the Christmas tree. Enjoy!)


If you find yourself in McMinnville, Oregon (and you should–it is a delightful town) do stop in at Golden Valley Brew Pub for a meal or one of their terrific craft brews. You won’t be disappointed.


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I bite into my first ever Pastéis de Belém in Lisbon, Portugal.

Hooked on Lisbon’s Delicacy: Original Pastéis de Belém

When in Lisbon, Portugal, eating Pastéis de Belém, the iconic Portuguese egg tart, is an absolute requirement, whether you’re a foodie or not. Here’s why you must try it and how to enjoy it at its best.

I admit it. Last year in Lisbon I became a junkie. Obsessed. Hopelessly addicted.

My drug of choice? The Portuguese egg tarts that fall under the general term Pastel de Nata. And for the best fix of all? The original, the only, the best… the supreme Pastéis de Belém.

Portugal is famous for Pastel de Nata, and you’ll see them all over Lisbon. Most are good, a few are great. Some are just… meh. But once you learn to spot the good ones—and it’s not hard to do—it’s near impossible to pass them up. Or at least it was for me.

A plate full of Pastéis de Belém egg custard tarts of Lisbon.

The beautiful, delicious and iconic original Pastéis de Belém egg custard tarts of Lisbon. Photo by Jordiet on flickr, CC license.


A Religious Source-Tarted Up Like Sally Fields

So how did these pastry treats come to be an almost universal symbol of culinary Lisbon?

Back in the day, say in the 17th century or so, many priestly garments, nun’s habits, headdresses and such were heavily starched. (For our generation, think Sally Fields lifting off as The Flying Nun and you get the idea.) Can’t you just imagine the intimidating “swish” of the stiffened underskirts as they glided past? Anyway, to get that desired stiff and glossy finish, they used beaten egg whites.

But this practice of basically painting their clothes with meringue made for a whole lot of leftover egg yolks lying around monastery and convent kitchens and laundry rooms. What to do? Wasting them would surely be a sin, would it not? Such thrifty folk couldn’t simply toss such golden goodness down the drain.

So the nuns in the kitchens began inventing a lot of special dishes to use up all those otherwise-to-be-wasted egg yolks. (Apparently gluttony must have been seen as a sin of a lesser order than waste.) As it happens, there was also a sugar cane refinery next door to the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, a monastery in the Belém area southwest of Lisbon, so sweet desserts, cakes and pastries became the use-up-the-egg-yolks recipes of choice. Convenient how that worked out, no? Clearly, the religious folks there dined well and often.

Skylinde detail of the wedding-cake Manueline style architecture of the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos monastery.

Detail of the elaborate Manueline architecture of the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos monastery in the Belém section of Lisbon, where the famous Pastéis de Belém egg tart was created and just 100 meters from the bakery where it has been sold since 1837.


Pastéis de Belém as Financial Savior

The sweet egg tarts might have remained safely hidden away within the walls of the convent and monastery of Jerónimos forever, fattening only the prayerful and lucky few. But in 1820, there was a liberal revolution in Portugal, and things did not go well for religious institutions. By 1834, monasteries and convents had been closed down and the inhabitants lost all public and government support. The days of dining on sweet pastries were over. They were left to fend for themselves and hunger was looming.

In order to survive, the nuns from the Jerónimos monastery had the idea to begin selling their delicious egg tarts. The sugar refinery had a small store attached, and this became the first outlet for the Pastéis de Belém (Pastéis is plural for pastel, which means cake or pastry in Portuguese.) Eventually, the nuns sold the recipe to the refinery bakery.

At around that same time, the grandeur of the Manueline architectural style of the monastery itself (which is beyond amazing in its size, wedding-cake ornamentation, and beauty) and the nearby Tower of Belém, became popular tourist attractions with the good folk of Lisbon. They could take a steamboat from the city for a day excursion and sail right up to the monastery’s own docks. The fame of the delicious sweet treats sold at the sugar refinery store, now officially known as Pasteís de Belém, began to spread. By 1837, their popularity had outgrown the small store, and the baking moved to larger premises about 100 meters away. The visitors quickly made their pilgrimages to the new location.

They are still doing it today. Now they come in hordes, both locals and tourists. But these tarts are so good almost nobody minds standing in line for them.

Bue and white sign of the Pastéis de Belém bakery with the date, "since 1837"

In 1837, the business had outgrown the tiny refinery store next to the monastery. They moved 100 meters down the street
to a larger location, where they are still do business today.


A Secret Signed in Blood?

Even 180 years ago, when the recipe was first passed on to the sugar company, the secret of making the perfect Pastéis de Belém was entrusted only to a few “master confectioners.” That still holds true today. And those few who do know it are sworn to secrecy. One guide told me, in hushed tones, that it is a blood oath. Another said it was a signed and sealed sacred legal contract. Then he added that the few people who know it are never allowed to all travel together. Imagine if they were all lost! He rolled his eyes and shuddered quite dramatically while telling the story. Apocryphal or not, it’s a good one, you must admit.

There was a line outside when I got to the Café Pastéis de Belém, just as I had been told to expect. I had also been told it would move pretty quickly. But I was hungry, my feet hurt from wandering the vast halls and lovely cloisters of the Monastery, and I felt like sitting down. So instead of getting in the take-out line, I went in the door to its left, which had no line at all, and into the café itself.

The place is much larger inside than it looks from the street, with many tables winding through several small rooms. Except for the very busiest times of day, it’s generally possible to find a seat without much of a wait. If it looks full, just keep wandering through the corridors towards the back, through room after room, until you find a free table.

You will also find clean bathrooms inside as well as a glass window where you can watch the magic happening in the kitchens as the bakers produce dozens upon dozens of tarts as well as other bakery treats.

I found a seat at a table in a front room, beside a wall covered in traditional blue-and-white Portuguese tiles. In only a few minutes, I’d ordered a pastel and a galea—a tall glass of milky coffee. There are also beer, soft drinks and other options on the menu, but for me, a coffee drink is the perfect accompaniment.

As I bit into this warm piece of heaven, the look on my face must have been like something out of a movie—a sort of Meg Ryan look in “When Harry Met Sally” prompting the woman at a neighboring table to say “I’ll have what she’s having!” The young German couple at the next table started to chuckle. Then with sign language, they offered to take a photo of me enjoying my treat. How could I refuse?

I bite into my first ever Pastéis de Belém in Lisbon, Portugal.

As I bite into my very first original Portuguese Pastéis de Belém, I am tasting a bit of heaven. I will never be the same!

First, you realize your tart is so fresh it is still warm, just out of the oven. The first thing your mouth encounters is the crust. It’s super flaky, like a thousand layers of phyllo-type dough have been gently laid atop each other, with crispy bits offering gentle resistance. Then you reach the warm custard, soft, almost-but-not-quite runny enough that you think it really has melted in your mouth. The top is lightly blackened is spots, like the best crème brulée. Shakers of powdered sugar and cinnamon are offered on the table. Add them if you like—or you must—but necessary they are not.

Ordering a single tart was a mistake obvious from that first bite. It was never going to be enough. I ordered another as soon as the waiter passed by. When I asked him how many of these delightful treats are swallowed here or toted out the door every day, he happily answered. “We bake 20-22,000 on a normal day.” While I was still blinking at that enormous number, he added, “but on special days, holidays and such, it can be 40,000.”

Yeah, you might say that Pastéis de Belém are just a mite popular.

If your goal on heading to the Café Pastéis de Belém is to have some of the tarts to take home for later, my advice is still to go inside and find a seat, order a pastel and a coffee, enjoy it at your table, order more to go, which your waiter will happily bring all wrapped up in a lovely box, and then go on your way. You’ll have your pastéis to take home, you will have had a nice break and a treat, and you will probably still have saved time!

If you can’t wait until you get back to your hotel to tuck into that pretty blue-and-white box for more, the tranquil Jardim de Belém park, directly across the street from the café, makes a refreshing spot to sit and down another one—or more.

Pretty take-out boxes await customers buying Pastéis de Belém in Lisbon, Portugal.

Pretty take-out boxes lined up and ready as the crowd throngs the counter at Pastéis de Belém in Lisbon, Portugal.
There’s always a line, but it moves quickly. Photo by Andres Monroy Hernandez on flickr CC license.


Good Pastel de Nata Beyond Belém

While the original Pateís de Belém recipe is so secret is has never been precisely duplicated—and likely never will be—you will find similar egg tarts everywhere you go in Lisbon. These copycats are called Pastel de Nata and their quality ranges from excellent to good to meh to awful… basically a dollop of thickened custard pudding in a pre-baked mini pie crust, and the whole thing’s been in the display case too long. Most of the Pastel de Nata I had was quite good, and I would have been happy to have it every day, had I never eaten the real deal in Belém.

The best Pastel de Nata I ate in Lisbon, almost, but not quite, as good as the original, was at a small café just outside the entry gates to the Castelo San Jorge at the top of the city. Its name, appropriately and accurately, is The World Needs Nata. The tart was served warm, and I had it with a glass of galea. The custard was rich and smooth, the pastry light and crispy. When I came out from exploring the castle a couple of hours later, I sat down and ordered another!

My personal bottom line for Lisbon: Do not—repeat, DO NOT—fail to make the trip out to Belém while you are in this beautiful city. There is much to see and do there, including the Monastery, the amazing collection in the Coach museum, the Monument of the Discoveries, the Belém Tower and the Presidential Palace, among others.

But for me all that is icing on the tart. The TRUE reason to go to Belém is the egg custard bites, the true, the original, the one-and-only Pastéis de Belém, eaten right where they were created some 200 years ago.

Powdered sugar and cinnamon shakers and a box of napkins sit on the table to add to your egg custard tarts.

Shakers of cinnamon and powdered sugar sit on every table for adding to your egg custard tarts–a nice addition, perhaps, but not really necessary. They are perfect just as they are! Photo by Inayaili de León Persson on flickr. CC license.

As for me, I am jonesing for more Pastéis de Belém as I write this. And since I quite fell in love with Lisbon on my last trip and have plans to go back as soon as possible, I have no intention whatever of looking for a recovery program for my addiction. On my next arrival in this gorgeous city on the Tagus River, I’ll hit the ground running—toward the first tram that will get me out to Belém, a tall glass of galea, and a plate full of warm, crispy-crusted, runny-fillinged goodness. With my plate of Pastéis de Belém before me and a look of total joy and satisfaction on my face, I will be fine once more. Just look for me there.

 

For more information about the original Pastéis de Belém and more pictures of the bakery and restaurant, visit their website here.


Café Pastéis de Belém
Rua de Belém, 84-92
Belém, Lisbon, Portugal
Open 8 am -11 pm in winter, 8 am–midnight in summer

The World Needs Nata Café
Rua de Santa Cruz do Castelo 7,
Lisbon, Portugal
Open daily, 9:00 am-9:00 pm


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Eating Genuine Pasteis de Belem in Lisbon

A beautifully packaged box of the best chocolate truffles, from the Brigittine Monastery in Amity, Oregon

Are These the Best Chocolate Truffles in Oregon? In the Country?

Recently, my constant search for the best chocolate truffles wherever I may roam took me up a small country lane in Oregon’s Willamette Valley to a place of peace, quiet… and Heavenly Chocolates.

Lives there a Nomad Woman on this earth who does not love chocolate? If so, I have yet to meet her. I most definitely am NOT her. I love chocolate in just about any form—hot, cold, bars, bonbons, drinks, sauces.

A sign at the Brigittine Monastery in Amity. Oregon reads "I need more balance in my life: Dark Chocolate, White Chocolate, Milk Chocolate

Obviously, the monks of the Brigittine Monastery in Amity, Oregon, have a sense of humor. And they know their chocolate is the best.

But truffles? Oh, truffles! Chocolate truffles! The magic of the hand-rolled ganache. The densely flavored outer coating of chocolate. The closing of the eyes and the sinking in of the teeth. Oh yeah. I do love me a truffle or two… or ten. And when they happen to be among the country’s very best chocolate truffles? For truffles that good, I’m even willing to tote some extra baggage weight to take a few boxes of those babies home with me, for myself and for friends who are high up on the “I love you lots” scale.

When it comes to the heavenly qualities of chocolate, the truffles I recently toted home have a unique advantage—being crafted by hand in a monastery. I’m talking about the gourmet chocolate confections made by the Brigittine Monks of the Priory of Our Lady of Consolation in Amity, Oregon.

Chocolate cherry truffle, best chocolate truffles, Brigittine Monks, Amity, Oregon

A chocolate cherry truffle from the Brigittine Monastery in Amity, Oregon

I discovered this place and their products years ago when visiting family in the Willamette Valley, just south of Portland. My sister was a real estate broker at the time and mentioned that she’d just sold a piece of property to a group of monks. And that they intended to support their monastery by making and selling fudge. And that it was astonishingly wonderful fudge. She was right and it was. It still is.

In fact, the fudge is so good it has been written up in The New York Times, Bon Appetit, Chocolatier and even People Magazine, among others. It’s been talked about on The Food Network, CNN and ABC Nightly News. It was even featured on Jeopardy! Yeah, see? This is good stuff!

A sign points the way to chocolate samplings--fudge and the best chocolate truffles--at the Brigittine Monastery in Amity, Oregon

Chocolate sampling? Why yes please! Right this way to taste great fudge and the Best Chocolate Trufflesat the Brigittine Monastery in Amity, Oregon

The monastery, the only male Brigittine monastery in the United States, has been making this amazing, super-creamy, wonderful fudge since the 1970s, when they were still located in San Francisco. Then a few years after settling into their Willamette Valley home in the ‘80s, they added chocolate truffles to their product mix.

The Best Chocolate Truffles…Created Directly from Heaven?

With such a reputation for excellence with their fudge, of course they were not going to be satisfied with anything less than making the best chocolate truffles possible. So that is what they did. And while it is that melt-in-your-mouth fudge they’re most famous for, it’s the truffles that have me driving these Oregon country roads. It’s the truffles that have visions of chocolate-covered creaminess dancing in my head. It’s the chocolate truffles….

As you’d expect, the monastery is a peaceful place, set in pastoral farmland at the end of a mile-long gravel road. The grounds include a vineyard, a small orchard and a veggie garden tended by the monks to help them be self-sustaining.

The Brigittines are a contemplative order and one of their missions is to support themselves “by the labor of their hands.” “We don’t go out into the world,” explains Brother Steven, the monastery spokesman. “But all monasteries have to make a living. Chocolate is our means of support.”

A view of the lovely Brigittine Priory of Our Lady of Consolation, home of the best chocolate truffles in Oregon.

The Brigittine Priory of Our Lady of Consolation in Amity, Oregon, is a place of peace and contemplation… and chocolate.

The road ends at a tree-shaded area beside the Priory church. When I arrive, mine is the only car in sight. The main sounds are the breeze in the pine trees, an occasional bird tweet and my footsteps on the gravel. But then I step into the lovely small church, which is open to the public, just in time to hear the monks chanting the last of the mass. The sound wafts up into the wooden beams and falls onto me in a peaceful sigh. As it dies, they file out of the church to their lunch.

Interior of the priory church at the Brigittine Monastery in Amity, Oregon

Priory Church of the Brigittine Priory of Our Lady of Consolation, Amity Oregon

I stop to admire the quartet of jewel-toned stained-glass windows spilling colors onto the wooden floor at the back of the chapel-sized room. The space seems filled with grace.

Stained glass windows in the Priory Church at the Brigittine Monastery in Amity, Oregon

Stained glass windows in the Priory Church at the Brigittine Monastery in Amity, Oregon

Back outside again, the air seems even purer, softer, the clear Oregon air more benevolent. The shop where the confections are sold is just to the left of the church. Ring the bell next to the door and someone—a monk or lay worker—will come to greet you.

The entrance to the Brigittine Monks gift shop, Amity Oregon, just beside the church.

The entrance to the gift shop is just beside the church. Just ring the bell to be warmly welcomed.

In the small retail space, you’ll find not only the heavenly fudge and those best chocolate truffles ever, but also dozens of books on saints, the liturgy and Catholicism in general. There are rosaries and medals and images and other holy items to remind you how blessed this place and these sweets are.

You’re also greeted by a sign with the purely pragmatic reminder: Chocolate is cheaper than psychotherapy and you don’t need an appointment.

And we know it’s the chocolate you’re really here for. Don’t try to pretend otherwise. You can pick up a T-shirt with the logo of the monastery and a Book of Saints, but we all know why you’re really here. It’s the chocolate….

How Do They Do It?

So what makes this chocolate so good? What makes the fudge so creamy and the truffles possibly the best chocolate truffles you’ll ever eat? Are they really touched by an angel?

A Brigittine Brother adds the monastery's signature swirl to top of one-pound tubs of fudge ready for shipping.

A Brigittine Brother adds the monastery’s signature swirl to top of one-pound tubs of fudge ready for shipping.

Well for starters, they use only the highest quality ingredients: pure cream and fresh dairy butter, local filberts and walnuts, genuine natural flavors and only Guittard chocolate, which comes from the oldest family-owned and operated chocolate company in the U.S., founded by a noted French chocolate maker in 1868. No preservatives of any kind are used either.

Also, the candy is made in relative silence. As a contemplative order, the Brigittines don’t talk as a general rule. It is not a strict silence—speaking is allowed when necessary to communicate—but there’s no chit-chat in the kitchen. “That’s what’s nice about the candy business,” says Brother Steven. “It is something we can do in silence and keep in communion with God.”

Perhaps there is something in this quiet, contemplative life that adds a special richness and depth to the product they produce. Perhaps it’s the level of concentration and attention to detail. Or simply the spirit of peace that permeates the walls and grounds of the monastery itself. Whatever, the chocolate seems just that little bit richer, smoother, more mellow for it, as if this amazing fudge and these best chocolate truffles do have something of the presence of God mixed right into their DNA.

A monk from the Brigittine monastery prepares a batch of the best chocolate truffles for shipping.

A monk from the Brigittine monastery prepares a batch of the best chocolate truffles for shipping.

With modern equipment and old-fashioned commitment, the fudge is mixed and poured, the signature swirl added to the one-pound blocks by hand. The chocolate truffle centers are hand-rolled then hand-dipped before packing.

The fudge comes in seven varieties, including the basic original fudge, with or without nuts, and varieties such as amaretto, extra dark, chocolate cherry nut, hazelnut and pecan praline. Prices range from $11.95 to $13.95 for a one-pound box.

The chocolate truffles come in a dozen varieties. To my mind, the maple ones are clearly touched by heaven and the butter rum chocolate truffles are most definitely inspired by an angel. Then there’s amaretto, mint, cherry. Or maybe you like orange, raspberry, or extra dark chocolate truffles. You will have to decide for yourself which ones you think are the best chocolate truffles. If you simply can’t make up your mind, the assorted box gives you six big bites of yumminess in one package for $13.95.

Whichever you choose, buy more than you think you’ll need or want. Trust me on this.

A beautifully packaged box of the best chocolate truffles, from the Brigittine Monastery in Amity, Oregon

You’re likely to find yourself toting more than one of these babies home with you. Pretty enough for gifts… if you don’t eat all these best chocolate truffles yourself!

Discover Amity, Oregon

Before leaving the area, you should definitely check out the sweet small town of Amity. Step into the Coelho Winery to try some fine local wines. The tasting room is a comfortable space more like an oversized living room with a big wooden bar made of wine barrels and a cozy fireplace for drizzly Oregon days.

Visit the Coelho Winery and Tasting Room in Amity, Oregon before or after a stop at the Brigittine Monastery for the best chocolate truffles.

Visit the Coelho Winery and Tasting Room in Amity, Oregon before or after a stop at the
Brigittine Monastery for the best chocolate truffles.

If you’re hungry, you can’t do better than to stop for a meal at The Blue Goat on Amity’s main street. This very comfortable, locally run place features wood-fired dishes cooked in a specially built cob oven. They use seasonal, locally sourced ingredients. The menu changes almost daily but standard items include goat empanadas and their signature cob-oven pizzas. Innovative salads and small plates are giving The Blue Goat a growing reputation for excellence and drawing foodies from all over the Willamette Valley and beyond.

The Blue Goat interior, a cozy, comfortable place with seriously good food in Amity, Oregon.

The Blue Goat on the main street of Amity, Oregon has been drawing serious foodies from all over the Willamette Valley with their wood-fired, locally sourced creations.

But wherever you stop and whatever you eat and drink… be sure to save room for dessert. Because once you’re back in the car, you’ll remember. You’ve got some of the world’s best chocolate truffles in there! And if you’re anything like me, you’ll be hard pressed to stop yourself. You will have to open one of those boxes for “just a taste” of those Heavenly Chocolates.


If you can’t get to the Brigittine Monastery to buy their amazing fudge and chocolate truffles, not to worry…. You can order them from the Brigittine’s online store. They are also available in several retail outlets in the area and in the Made in Oregon stores in downtown Portland, Salem and other locations. Most convenient for me is the Made in Oregon stores right at PDX airport! If you forgot your chocolate truffles, you can pick up a couple of boxes just before your flight home!

Contact Info:

The Brigittine Monks – Priory of Our Lady of Consolation

Amity, Oregon 97101
Phone: (503) -835-8080
www.brigittine.org
E-mail: monks@brigittine.org

The Blue Goat
506 S. Trade Street
Amity, Oregon 97101
503-835-5170
www.amitybluegoat.com

Coelho Winery
111 5TH Street
Amity, Oregon 97101 USA
Phone: (503) 835-9305
coelhowinery.com/tasting-room-winery


For a glimpse of the modern preparation process of the best chocolate truffles and fudge at the Brigittine Monastery—but always with that blessed human touch—check out this video from.
Travel Oregon.

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