by Maria Ruiz
Maria often shares stories with us about Santa Barbara history, her travel all over the world, her dogs, and life.
Eating in Europe was a pleasing adventure. We were just two of the millions who visit each year, tourists complete with backpacks and a map. The only thing that set us apart was that we were traveling with our dog.
We arrived in Amsterdam first, and stayed for a couple of days, then on to Madrid, where we made arrangements to rent a motorhome for a year. As we walked around, we spotted our first European deli. The number and variety of cheeses and sliced meats was overwhelming. I know all about the common meats—bologna, mortadella, salami, and a few cheeses like gouda, cheddar, and brie—but I was a real hick when it came time to place my order. I took a deep breath, pointed at a few things, watched as they were sliced and wrapped in white wax paper, and handed to me.
We quickly found that a simple sandwich for lunch is non-existent in Europe. They serve large plates, piled high with heavy food for both lunch and dinner, and it’s expensive. We’re not used to eating a heavy mid-day meal, so we quickly switched to McDonald’s. Back home, we never eat Ronald McDonald’s offerings; instead, we traveled thousands of miles to stand in line and order hamburgers, fries and a soda.
Another thing we learned quickly when sight-seeing: NEVER EAT AT A MAJOR TOURIST ATTRACTION! We sat and had a cup of coffee and a very skinny slice of cake in front of the Tower of Pisa. We thought we would splurge because how expensive could it be? The waiter brought us a check for fifty-two euros, approximately $56 U.S. dollars, for two cups of coffee and two slices of cake! We never did that again.
We discovered that some foods are seasonal. In Italy they serve a mug of hot chocolate that is as thick as pudding, but only until Easter. In Greece, they only serve gyros in the summer months.
Renting a motorhome meant that we could shop in supermarkets or street stalls, and fix our own food. It also meant that we could see how the average citizen shops. We saw very different parts of the countries in which we traveled, than the ordinary tour-takers see.
Everything is sold by kilos, including eggs. In the produce sections of the large supermarkets, there are rolls of plastic gloves to use when you touch the fruit. I didn’t know that and reached for an orange when a woman leaned over and slapped my hand, then pointed to the roll. I never forgot again. After picking out the peppers, apples, and broccoli, shoppers use a scale on which they push a button with the picture of the produce. The machine spits out a sticker with the price printed on it. The checkout clerk doesn’t have to remember the codes for all the different fruits and vegetables. It’s very efficient.
In Guatemala we had tasted a knobby green fruit called anona. In Spain, we found them as large as softballs and filled with a delicious, white pudding-like meat. They are grown on large tree farms in Spain and transported all over Europe.
We found many different berries and types of pears that we had never seen before. We tasted water bufalo (buffalo) mozzarella, and I was hooked. In addition, wine is very cheap. A bottle of good wine can be bought for as little as a dollar. Quart bottles of freshly prepared olives also cost a dollar at a small factory.
Sometimes we shopped in supermarkets that made the ones in the U.S. look small. At other times, we shopped at tiny shops along the street, and even from stalls. Once I saw a little woman making pan bread for dinner. It smelled so good we each took pieces of it and soon there wasn’t any left.
In Turkey the exchange was 1,650,000,000 lira to one U.S. dollar. It was insane and confusing, since both the 50,000 and the 50,000,000 lira bills were the same color. We made a couple of mistakes along the way. The smallest bill they have is 10,000,000 lira, and as far as we could determine, they have no coins. Several times when I went grocery shopping, they would place a handful of hard candy in my hand as change.
Another thing about Turkey is that they believe that if they use the lights on their vehicles or in stores, they will wear out. On more than one occasion I looked for groceries using a flashlight.
In Italy, we got to see a giant mortadella sausage get sliced. It was about three feet in diameter and ten feet long. It sat on a couple of scissors-shaped wooden stands. One of those would keep us in lunch meat for several life times.
We watched as a butcher in Greece stuffed little breakfast sausages. We bought some and he sprinkled them with powdered oregano that he had grown and processed himself. In a gas station restaurant in the Czech Republic, we paid a couple of euros for the best sausages we had ever eaten. Or maybe we were just very hungry.
In any case, I wish I could create a fantasy country where I could buy marzipan candy and anonas from Spain, sausages from Greece, Poland, and the Czech Republic, berries from Denmark, chocolate from Italy, mangoes from Malaysia, and tortillas from Mexico. I would be a very happy citizen.
Check out Eating at Home vs. Eating Out: groomandstyle.com/eating-at-home-vs-eating-out