by Diana Maiola
When visiting Europe, we have so very many options to experience art, history, culture, antiquities etc. One of my personal favorite things to experience when I am traveling is try the local cuisine. In the past 35 days I have been in motion between Greece, France and Spain. I love the fresh Mediterranean dishes served in Greece and on the islands that usually come with an amazing view to take in while you are seated. Tzatziki, fresh vegetables, and grilled lamb are always so tasty in Greece.
In France, I enjoy the bistro dining and the sidewalk café experience the most. The haute cuisine is of course something to experience at least once or twice, but I am happier with a well-prepared rustic dish where I can get my fill of people watching. Sitting in a crowded café surrounded by French couples, families, and friends is fantastic. The interaction is genuine, the closeness unbeatable
In Spain, I love the Jamon!! Oh, my goodness!! What a heavenly treat. On a recent trip to Madrid, within the first 36 hours we ate Jamon 3 times. We also had the honor of eating at (according to the Guinness Book of World Records), the oldest restaurant in the World. Sobrino de Botin was opened in 1725 and is an experience. Although there are other places in the world that are older than Botin, many of them have spent time closed and not operating, were rebuilt or relocated and so Botin steals the title. It has been in the same location and has never ceased operations since 1725. Ernest Hemingway was passionately connected to this restaurant and the painter Goya worked here before becoming a famous painter. The day that I had lunch there, the owner so kindly showed us around and it was such a nice memory after an amazing meal. The place operates on 3 levels, the ancient stone cellar level, the ground floor and then the floor above it. The waiters get a daily work out up and down narrow staircases and hallways to please the diners with excellent service and abundant portions. I highly suggest the chicken and Jamon croquettes.
So, to wrap up, I want to emphasize a few elements to exercise the next time you are dining out in Europe.
1. Be patient!! Restaurant staff and owners are not pre-occupied with turning over tables. Service may be slow and that is just how it is. It takes time and care to prepare fresh meals.
2. When you are ready for your bill, just make eye contact with your server, hold up your hand so that it is laid out flat and pretend to write something on it with your other hand. This is internationally understood that you would like your bill so that you can pay and leave the restaurant.
3. Europeans are not great tippers and it is really not expected. However, if you have a good experience, why not leave 10 or 15%? By the way, a cover charge or bread charge is usually added of 1.50-2.00 euro per person in order to include a little something automatically.
4. Always say thank you and smile…….it goes a long way!!
Meal times are sacred and as my Nonno Domenico used to say “There are many beautiful places in the world, but the best place in the world is at the table with family and friends”