Travel Food Surprises

Thought I'd start a discussion of travel food surprises. Food that surprised you in a good way, or a bad way, or some other way. Here's mine to start it off:

Foods I didn't think I would like but weren't bad - Haggis with neeps and tatties (Scotland) and pickled herring (Denmark). I wouldn't order either one again, but they weren't bad.

Most surprising food presentation - My wife ordered roast rabbit in Rome. It came a parmesan cheese basket that was cut to resemble bunny ears! A few people at the table were a little put off when she ordered rabbit, but the bunny ears on the basket really freaked them out.

Most overpriced fast food - We arrived in Geneva late at night and very hungry. Decided to go to McDonald's (which we usually avoid). Two quarter pound cheeseburger meals ran us about $32!

Small country that punches above it's weight food wise - Belgium. Best chocolate (sorry Switzerland). Most diverse selection of beers anywhere. Best fries (they really should be called Belgian fries - mayo optional). The national dish is Moules Frites (mussels with fries). I'll pack my elastic waist pants and go back anytime.

Things so good, I'm surprised we don't have them in America - Stroopwafels (Holland). Not the premade packaged kind that you can get here (just OK). Fresh off the waffle iron with hot sugar syrup in between. Also, 99 Flake ice cream cones (UK). A soft serve cone with a cylinder of thin rolled chocolate shoved in it. Dairy Queen is missing the boat on this one.



  • The best food that I have had recently was during the ESW trip. At the Francis Hotel in Bath I had mussels as an appetizer. They were steamed and served in a big pot and were the largest and most juicy of any mussels that I have ever had. They far surpassed any that I have ever had in New England!

    Going back many years to Leipzig in 1991, in a restaurant I don't recall we had haricots vert tied up with a strip of bacon served as our vegetable. We still talk about them this many years later.

  • haircots- Fr. = beans, vert- Fr. = green. A bit thinner than the standard US green bean. Used especially to make baked beans; a navy bean. :D

    We had the most expensive burger, fries and a coke (no refills) in a restaurant in Davos, Switzerland. "Dinner" (actually late lunch since they weren't serving dinner yet) for two was about $75 (US)!

  • Foods I didn't think I would like but weren't bad Escargots would fit in that category. Much more tender than I imagined, but basically you just taste garlic butter - always a winner in my book. (Would take a pass on haggis again though I had the vegetarian version at the Whisky Experience and that was delicious.)

    **Most surprising food presentation
    ** Both happened at the Lough Eske castle on our Ireland tour. I ordered salmon cured in gin for my starter and bar b q grilled monkfish. The salmon came in a box and I thought the waiters were going to fight over who got to open it. At the bottom was juniper greens and berries, with a plexiglass divider that the salmon rested on. The monkfish came on a tiny grill pan that was still sizzling.

    Most overpriced fast food Walked into a Macdonalds in Basel once and saw the 9 swiss franc quarter pounder. Tried to figure if that was a meal or just the burger. Husband just kept grousing about the price so we left. Honestly, after 2 weeks of river cruise gourmet, I'd have paid it if I'd been sure it tasted like the ones here. "American" food is NEVER the same in Europe.

    Things so good, I'm surprised we don't have them in America Didn't get to have a fresh made stroopwafel in Amsterdam, but did try hot off the grill Poffertjes - tiny puffed pancakes with powdered sugar. Would also add Sticky Toffee pudding to this list.

    ****Dishes I look Forward to Trying **** Switzerland - fondue and Zurcher Geschnetzeltes (Veal in Creamy Mushroom sauce with fried potatoes). France - crepes and galettes. Also something called Brandade - cod and mashed potato casserole.

  • Poutine on one of our Canada tours, I think it was the place we stayed near where Anne of Green Gables home was, Prince Edward Island . This was one of the evenings we had to find dinner alone. We went to a restaurant where you could chose which BAY your oysters were from. Then their version of Poutine.... fries fries in duck fat, covered in Roquefort cheese crumbles and fois gras gravy. A huge platter, we could not stop eating them and still live to tell the tale.

  • Food I didn’t think I’d like - AND I WAS RIGHT:
    Fried Tarantula in Viet Nam

  • Singapore - Durian Fruit. It actually wasn't as bad as it smelled. Couldn't travel that far and NOT at least try it.

  • edited September 2

    What a great topic! Thanks, Ken from Vegas, for initiating this.

    The most unusual meal I had was reindeer in Finland. It was sliced thinly, like a cutlet, and had a very mild liver taste. It was quite good, especially smothered in lingonberries. My grandchildren cried when my dear husband told them that Grandma ate Rudolph.

    The first time I had monk fish was in Bergen, Norway. Ugly fish but delicious. The Norwegians are also masters at taking dried cod and turning it into a gourmet meal. Cloudberries are a delicacy and are delicious.

    Aebleskiver are small round "pancakes" that are crisp on the outside and have a popover like texture inside. They are everywhere throughout Denmark. I like mine with lingonberries.

    The most unusual presentation I have seen was a suckling pig brought to the table whole then whisked away to be sliced. This was in Madrid. The baby pig can not be more than a few weeks old. I did not partake since I could not get past that cute little face. I do not eat at fast food restaurants, but in Spain I consider the tapas and pintxos bars as fast food. Fun and delicious.

    The first time I had poutine was in Quebec City, Canada. Our tour director convinced us to try it. Fries, cheese curds and brown gravy. Sounds repulsive, but it was delicious.

    My final comment pertains to common food in an uncommon place. I had the best oysters at the upstairs bar that overlooks the concourse at Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan, NY.

  • The mussels (moules) in Honfluer. Served several ways and always with frittes. Crying just thinking about them.

  • Hey, knock it off. I'm still dieting!

  • AlanS - Based on your emoji you look pretty skinny, perhaps you have a big head and big feet, but you look pretty skinny. :D

  • edited September 1

    We have eaten several different African antelopes but my husband has also eaten zebra which he describes as milder than beef. I think I ate kudu that day.
    Of course we grew up eating, liver, kidneys and tripe in England. If you go on one of the British tours, please try steak and kidney Pie. And you haven’t truly experienced a ‘full English’ breakfast unless it included ‘black pudding’

  • Speaking of Africa: The Cape Grace had Ostrich on the menu - I tried it twice. It was good and very mild. While on Safari we were served Eland. Imagine, seeing it being devoured by day and having it appear on your dinner plate by nightfall. The circle of Life indeed.

  • On our Northern India and Nepal trip we stayed at Dwarikas Hotel in Katmandu. The hotel is quite nice by the way. Within a block of the hotel there was a butcher shop that had a live goat tied up in front of the shop. We were told that the goat was about to be slaughtered. The next day the goat was gone. That night our buffet had…you guessed it…Goat. Maybe just a coincidence. The goat didn’t taste bad but it’s not going to be part of my regular diet.

  • I once had Yak here in the USofA (in Colorado mountains). A friend of mine who lives in the mountains has a neighbor who raises Yak. He butchers one per year.

  • In Australia we had a dinner called 'The Taste of Australia' - Kangaroo, Crocodile, and Baramundi. All three were very good.

  • In Madrid we ate at one of the oldest restaurants in Madrid and had suckling pig. It was a disappointment.

    The restaurant was founded in 1725 by Frenchman Jean Botin and his wife, and was originally called Casa Botín. It was inherited by a nephew called Candido Remis and had a name change to Sobrino de Botín, which survives to this day. Sobrino is the Spanish word for nephew.

    The cellar is from 1590 and is very old in comparison to the restaurant.

    Apart from using the original recipes, the restaurant has also kept the flame burning in the oven continuously, never to be extinguished. The restaurant and its speciality of cochinillo asado (roast suckling pig) are mentioned in the closing pages of Ernest Hemingway's novel The Sun Also Rises. Its other signature dish is sopa de ajo (an egg, poached in chicken broth, and laced with sherry and garlic): a favorite pick-me-up with Madrileño revellers.

  • While in St. Petersburg, we ate at a place called Teremok, which serves sweet and savory crepes. They were by far the best I have ever had, particularly the beef and mushroom savory crepe. I think they have several locations throughout the city, and have a nice selection of both sweet and savory varieties.

  • If one wants to play stomach roulette, there is plenty of street food available in India.

  • Smiling Sam, I ate at Sobrino de Botin in Madrid 25 years ago when visiting my daughter who was studying in Spain. I vividly remember eating squid cooked in its own ink. It was delicious if you could stand to look at and eat black food!

  • Cathy - your description makes me think of Humphrey Bogart steaming down the river :)

  • Some additions and comments:

    Surprisingly good hunk of red meat - Springbok filet at the Cape Grace in Cape Town. As good as any steak I've ever had. Thanks, British, for reminding me.

    Also, I've had the full English breakfast (a.k.a. the morning heart attack on a plate) on several occasions. Only tried black pudding once - that was one time too many. By the way, even the Brits I follow on YouTube admit that English bacon is rubbish.

    Your gourmet poutine sounds awesome (albeit another coronary special). We're doing the Canadian Maritimes next year (COVID willing). Was that restaurant on tour? If not, do you recall the name of it?

    Finally, AlanS, I'm dieting, too. I've lost 35 lbs. of my "body by Tauck." 7 lbs. to go. It's amazing how you can lose weight when you're not eating out or traveling.

  • edited September 2

    I had never had a French macaron until we made them ourselves at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris as part of the Savoring France cruise. So much fun! Also on that same tour we had shaved truffles with a drizzle of olive oil on bread at a truffle farmer's home in Provence.

    The Portuguese love their pasteis de Nata, a tiny custard tart that is best served warm. Delicious!

    White asparagus are abundant throughout Spain. I tried to have them everyday. The best were at a restaurant in Cordoba and were served with grilled octopus. This was the Spain and Portugal tour.

  • edited September 2

    Ken, I love my British bacon! It’s what you grow up with, American bacon is what the Brits call cheap streaky bacon Only good for addition like lardons. I just don’t care for it and am always on the hunt for imported British or Irish bacon. But the restaurant at the Cape Grace, ahh the best ‘tasting’ menu I’ve ever had, a Vegan one. I love that hotel. I’ve definitively had Springbok but can’t remember where.
    I’m sorry, I can’t remember the restaurant in Canada, it was a long time ago.
    The weight is dropping off both of us because we are not traveling. We don’t eat out much at home, we enjoy cooking. But oh dear, drinking more wine!

  • I had the best bacon roll at the train station outside Hampton Court! (I had taken the train out of Charing Cross to Hampton Court on my own, so it was not a Tauck-provided meal.)

  • cathyandsteve
    In London . . . I had the sausage with mashed potatoes.

    Hmmm, looks to me like you had Bangers and Mash! :D

  • The Historic Sausage Kitchen of Regensburg was mediocre at best. it was crowded and really wasn't worth the wait for a table. Think it best to try the not so famous places to eat while traveling and you will probably have a better experience.


  • We have made a bit of a game out of trying namesake foods when at the namesake locations:

    Sacher Torte (Hotel Sacher, Vienna)
    Wienerschnitzel (Vienna)
    Chicken Kiev (Kiev, Ukraine)…it was terrible at the Hotel Rus (best in town in 1997!)
    Chicago {Deep Dish} Pizza (original Pizzeria Uno)
    Peking Duck (Beijing)
    Bergen Fish Soup (Bergen, Norway): a favorite of Ms. Portolan
    Denver Omelet (Denver)
    Key Lime Pie (Key West)
    Philly Cheesesteak (Philadelphia)

    and probably others I don’t recall. Note that these are mostly cities or very specific locations. The list expands hugely if you include country or regionally named foods (e.g., New England Clam Chowder). More can be found at:

  • Eleonore, kind of glad to hear the sausage place wasn't that good. We tried but couldn't get a table so went back to the ship for lunch. Had good sausage at the market in Nurnberg and in Bamburg. Nurnberg market also had a stand with their famous Lebkuchen. Yum!

  • Peking Duck (Beijing)

    I've always found it kind of odd that they still refer to it as Peking Duck, rather than Beijing Duck.

  • Ooooh, Cathy you guys are at a fancy place. We stood around outside at the market in front of the church sampling the food stands. Sooo made me what to try a Christmas market cruise.

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