Planning a long, languid meander across Europe? Of course, this continent's food is rightfully reverred, but if you're not clever you can easily run out of money - or lose your appetite - when it comes to choosing where to chow down. Here are a few handy tips for eating well while you're on the road in Europe:
1. Walk out the station. You’ll probably think that European railway stations consist of one bland chain after another if all you do is grab something at the concessions inside stations. Leave Sbarro and Caffe Ritazza to those in a hurry and take a few steps outside. You’ll save some money and might just happen upon somewhere with a little character. Sometimes it’s closer than you think. One of the best slices of pizza in Italy awaits you in an innocuous-looking subterranean cafe beneath Milan’s Centrale station.
2. Walk further than the immediate environs of the station. If you’re familiar with Rome’s Termini or Brussels’ Midi stations you’re probably wondering which characterful, good-value options I’m talking about. But there is a street market and several unreconstructed Roman cafes within ten minutes walk of Termini. Go a little further – you’ve probably got time. I’m off to Brussels next week – I’ll come back to you on that one.
3. Self-cater to save cash. A picnic is a cheap way to eat well and can keep you going for days. My brother filled a baguette with delicious cheeses and meats and ate it over the course of a week on one Inter Rail trip we took together, though I did have to leave him after a few days because of the smell. Buy enough to share for maximum popularity points with fellow travellers.
4. Don’t rely on buffet cars. The food served here is rarely fresh, tasty or distinctive. It will also not be cheap – you are literally a captive audience. Do go and hang out in the restaurant or buffet car, however, these are great places to meet people and sometimes people will offer to share their food or drink with you (see point 3, above).
5. Know when to try something. If you can see it being cooked, give it a go. This goes for fish freshly hooked out of the Bosphorus in Istanbul, sizzling sausages in German city markets and still-warm Spanish churros.
6. There may be an excuse for eating in international food chains when hopping around Europe but I haven’t found it yet. Even the thought of using a clean toilet isn’t the line it used to be – door codes for access, provided when you buy something are now commonplace. Hangovers often drive weary wanderers into the arms of familiar fast-food friends. Any of the alternatives above are better and cheaper.
7. Stand up and save. You’ll often pay more to sit down in cafes and bars. If your legs are dog-tired, grab a take-out and find a view or a patch of green space.
8. Inspiration comes in strange places. Last summer I happened upon a young American lady who was asking a newspaper-seller in London’s Kings Cross station where she could get great fish and chips nearby. I ventured an opinion and was soon joined by several others, arguing the toss for our local favourites. Taxi drivers and cycle couriers tend to know where quick, good, cheap eats nearby are. The winners, after a lengthy squabble:
Golden Fish Bar, Farringdon Road
North Sea Fish Restaurant, Leigh St
Fryer’s Delight, Theobalds Road