Foodie Underground: Euro Cheapo


When it comes to Europe, I’ve always been a proponent of fresh baked baguettes, a good chunk of cheese and a bottle of local wine as your best bet for a good meal; European culinary travel means not always having to shell out a fortune for good food. But Europe is also the epicenter of fine dining, known for luxurious restaurants and elaborate menus that elicit a sense of upper class. But just like in North America, times are changing, especially in light of recent economic woes, making inexpensive cuisine the new European chic.

What’s the latest Euro trend? Draft mojitos. Hand muddled lime is apparently so passe, at least when the premixed version comes at less than four euros a pop, which is good for both consumers pocketbooks and bars that have until now seen a decline in their clientele. Sure, a draft cocktail is undoubtedly less classy than a hand shaken and stirred concoction, but who knows, maybe the new invention will become something like the PBR of cocktails.

But it doesn’t stop at drinks. Some of Europe’s longstanding street food favorites are starting to get their own levels of new-found respect. Just last week a pita and falafel joint made the Belgian GaultMillau list, which is on par with Michelin or Zagat in terms of ranking restaurants. In a down economy, low key, traditional joints are experiencing a sort of revival, with emphasis on frugal instead of typical definitions of fine dining. This idea of “Bistronomy” puts a focus on simple, classic flavors, for which European cuisine is already known. Now it just happens to be hip again. As the AP is calling it: “Gourmet grunge.”

And, as it turns out, it might not even be all on account of less money. Scaling back and returning to classic recipes might just be because of a general desire to simplify.

Fed up with overly fancy cooking, several chefs in France and some in Belgium have opted out of the Michelin rating system in recent years, complaining that it costs too much to maintain stars and no longer gives them the sheer joy of cooking with simple ingredients.

Which means that baguette picnic lunch just made it to five-star class.

Image: athomson

Anna Brones

Anna Brones is a food + travel writer with a love for coffee and bikes. She is the author of The Culinary Cyclist and Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break. Catch her weekly column, Foodie Underground.