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Column: Eating my way through Europe


Kürtoskalács roast over an open charcoal pit in a market in Budapest, Hungary. Kürtoskalács is a chimney shaped cake sometimes coated in coconut or cinnamon sugar. Audrey Perkins Buy Photos

I basically ate everything I ran into.

This isn’t usually a problem in Paris because there really isn’t any street food. And aside from the smell of bread baking late at night, French food doesn’t really have any strong smells.

So there normally isn’t anything that will tempt me on the street.

That situation changed these last couple weeks.

Needing to take a break from Paris, I pulled away from France and wandered my way through Italy and Budapest, Hungary.

If I sum up what I found, I would say both countries have mastered the intricate task of making something that tastes complex, yet you can tell they only use a handful of

In Hungary, I gave halászlé — a Hungarian fish stew heaping with paprika — a shot. I was not disappointed.

With only a spoonful, I could tell that the soup probably only had five ingredients in total. The pound of paprika loaded into my bowl just made everything taste heartier than it was. 

In Italy, I was told to try one of Rome’s special pasta dishes — cacio e pepe. Translated, that means “cheese and pepper.”

Normally, when I walk into an authentic Italian restaurant, I look for the most complicated looking dish. Usually it is overflowing with some form of seafood.

I don’t want to pay for someone to make something I could make. So, I pick something that I know I will never be able to do successfully.

But I was pleasantly surprised by the power of pure simplicity.

I feel as if the salt and pepper shakers on the average dinner table get overlooked. Yet I sometimes forget how useful pepper can be. It cut through the fattiness of my cheese sauce nicely by zipping heat through my mouth. But it wasn’t overwhelming.

It also helped that I was in Hungary for Easter weekend. There were Easter markets
everywhere, and it was not hard to find myself surrounded by food. Again, simplicity was key.

Nothing was overdone. In fact, street food is better that way.

Of all I did during spring break, food or not, those markets were my favorite. It was there where I could find other paprika-loaded dishes and other traditional Hungarian foods.

Walking down the concrete sidewalk, I passed by countless wooden cottage-like food stands all selling fried cheese breads, roasting sausages and Kürtoskalács — a chimney-shaped cake sometimes coated in coconut or cinnamon sugar.

I found myself breathing in the smells of unfamiliar foods, and I felt myself seeping in the unfamiliar yet comfortable atmosphere.

That is one thing I love about living in Europe. You are never far away from a handful of different cultures’ foods.

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