Europe

Sofia, Bulgaria

Copenhagen, Denmark

Helsinki, Finland

Milan Italy

Riga, Latvia

Krakow, Poland

Stockholm, Sweden

Sofia, Bulgaria

Banitsa

This is a traditional Bulgarian food made of savoury pastry with cheese, spinach, ham or leek filling.

Large banitsa at a bakery in Sofia

It’s a good snack when you’re on the move in Bulgaria, especially when you need something warm in the winter and they’re available from most bakeries. While this pastry isn’t the healthiest, I really enjoyed it.

Cheese and ham banitsa

Tarator

Tarator is cold cucumber soup made of yogurt, cucumber, garlic and dill.

Bulgarians love their yogurt and I found theirs had a distinct taste. The consistency was runny and it tasted sour but it’s very healthy for you. Tarator is typically a summer food as it’s meant to be refreshing. However, I found it sharp and salty, something I wouldn’t try again.

Tarator – cold cucumber soup

Rakia

My trip to Bulgaria coincided with the Balkan Rakia and Spirits Festival held at the National Palace of Culture in Sofia. Rakia is a fruit brandy popular in Eastern Europe. It’s also Bulgaria’s national alcoholic drink.

Balkan Rakia and Spirits Festival

I grabbed a glass and went round the room to start tasting.

First up was peach rakia. I took a small sip and felt it burn my mouth. I then tried some cherry rakia and this was also hard to drink. Which was a shame as I loved cherry vodka (see Krakow, Poland). I finally tried the most popular type of rakia – grape and I found this quite pleasant to drink. It didn’t have such a burning sensation.

Aristocrat grape rakia

I continued around the Rakia and Spirits Festival and tried vodka, gin and ouzo. I found the ouzo delicious.

Ouzo 12

Shopska Salad (Bulgarian Salad)

This salad is made of tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, onions, grated feta cheese and seasoned with salt and olive oil. Salads are a typical starter dish in Bulgaria.

When I was in Sofia I wanted to try a traditional Bulgarian meal. I went to Hadjidraganov’s Houses Restaurant in the centre of Sofia. It was inside a restored 19th century house and it had an authentic cosy interior which felt like being back in time.

Hadjidraganov’s Houses Restaurant

I was keen to try Bulgarian wine so I ordered half a carafe of the house red wine. It was really nice and I could have drunk more.

Shopska Salad

Kebapche 

The main course was a selection of meat, including kebapche, grilled minced meat, pork and beef, with spices formed into long cylindrical shape.

Pastirska sofra

On the side we had freshly baked white bread.

If you want more meat then try meshana skara  – mixed grill in Bulgarian.

Rosette macaroons

The Rose Valley in Bulgaria produces 85% of the world’s rose oil. In Sofia I saw rose oil beauty products everywhere. However, I was more interested in the rose flavoured food products.

I visited Chez Fefe and had some of their delicious macaroons. The flavour that stuck out was the Rosette (rose) flavoured macaroons. I recommend anyone with a sweet tooth gives these a try.

Macaroons

Copenhagen, Denmark

Salty Liquorice

This is a Scandinavian and not just a Danish thing, but it was in Copenhagen where I first tried some salty liquorice sweets. These are available in all supermarkets. While they are called sweets, there’s nothing sweet about them. They taste incredibly salty (which I personally love). If you like salt and liquorice then Scandinavia is the right place to be.

I discovered Ga-Jol shots. Ga-Jol is a liquorice brand that produces vodka-based shots with added liquorice flavours. I bought a bottle of this black liquid with apple and pomegranate flavour mixed with liquorice. It only works as a shot and doesn’t go well with a mixer.

Ga-Jol Salty Liquorice shot

Helsinki, Finland

Reindeer Meat

When I was in Helsinki I went to a restaurant called Zetor, it had a casual feel with dark wooden floors. I ordered smoked reindeer soup with cheese and rye breadcrumbs. The soup had a strong flavour and the meat was quite tender.

Reindeer Soup

In Finland I saw lots of reindeer products, including reindeer sandwiches and jerky.

Long Drink

In preparation for the 1952 Summer Olympics Finland introduced Long Drink. This drink consists of gin and grapefruit, appears cloudy and is usually served in a tall glass. It was really refreshing and tasted of gin and tonic crossed with vodka and lemonade.

Long Drink

It was available in every bar I went into in Helsinki and I recommend any gin lovers try it.

Milan, Italy

Italy – a country known for its delicious food.

Duomo di Milano

Panzerotti

In the streets behind Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is Luini, a place famed for its Panzerotti. These snacks are fried dough parcels similar to doughnuts filled with sweet or savoury fillings typically mozzarella and tomato.

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

Luini’s is a small counter in the wall with a very long line outside. The line moves fast but make sure you read the menu so you know what you want to order when you get to the front. The Italians aren’t patient.

Luini Panzerotti

I got the ham and mozzarella panzerotti for €2.50. At this price they’re a good deal especially in this expensive area of Milan.

Inside the ham and mozzarella panzerotti

Ice Cream

Milan is full of ice cream parlours open throughout the year.

Ice cream at one of many of Milan’s ice cream parlours

I tried Gelato Giusto, a well-known ice cream parlour in Milan. Even though it was November I still wanted my ice cream fix. Gelato Giusto is located in walking distance of Milano Centrale and is recognisable by their cartoon cow logo. Their selling point is they don’t use preservatives in their ice cream. They had a fairly large variety of flavours but nothing too out of the ordinary. I had pistachio and mango ice cream.

Gelato Giusto ice cream – pistachio and mango

Riga, Latvia

Black Balsam

If you’re in Riga, a shot of Black Balsam has to be top of your list. This drink is available in every bar there. It’s a traditional Latvian liqueur made with herbs mixed with vodka, and it’s strong – 45% abv.

Black Balsam shot

I was heading to Folkklubs Ala Pagrabs, an awesome traditional cellar bar in Old Town Riga but there was a large group outside and I somehow got pushed into the bar next door, HHC – Hardcore Hangover Club. I ordered a pint of Heineken (don’t judge) and a shot of Black Balsam.

HHC – Hardcore Hangover Club
Beer and Black Balsam

I sipped the shot and could immediately taste the herbs. It definitely had a strong kick to it! I washed it down with the Heineken which I recommend to do. It wasn’t as bad as people had warned me. I could have done a few shots of this but even after one shot and the beer I felt the effects. In the winter the Latvians mix it with blackcurrant which I didn’t get time to try but it sounded nice.

If you want to feel like a local I suggest trying a shot to get the taste and then mixing it with blackcurrant or even in a coffee!

Krakow, Poland

My first trip to Poland was to Krakow. While there I was keen to try some of the vodkas they had on offer. In Poland they drinked vodka straight and the idea of a mixer caused puzzled faces. So I was pleased when I found cherry vodka, available in most bars and restaurants in Krakow. It was very drinkable without a mixer and I loved the colour and sweet taste.

Having a cherry vodka in Krakow

Stockholm, Sweden

Snaps

Snaps – a small glass of spirits made of vodka mixed with herbs and spices.

They’re typically served in tall long-stemmed 60ml glasses and common at Christmas and Midsummer, as well as summer crayfish parties. Snaps go well with salty foods and a beer.

I went to Lion Bar, a chain of cheap beer bars in Stockholm, and had a snap called O.P. Anderson Aquavit in a 40ml shot glass. I also tried a pint of Spendrups which is a common Swedish beer.

Remember to raise your glass and say “Skål!”

O.P. Anderson Aquavit and a pint of Spendrups

The snaps had a burning sensation on my lips and a spicy hit to it. The beer was cool and washed the snaps down nicely.

Surströmming

This food is fermented herring, tastes sour and is often referred to as the “smelliest food in the world”.

The smell was overpowering, like rotting fish and it had a slimy texture. It was available in large tins in supermarkets and I also saw it served in a restaurant on tunnbröd (Sweden’s version of flat bread) with sour cream and dill.

Surströmming found in a supermarket

It’s traditionally found at Midsummer celebrations held at the end of June. I recommend only those with a strong stomach try this one.