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A picnic fit for a king

Picnicking and street food in Europe

A bottle of Chianti or Merlot, a crusty baguette, some fresh fruit, local cheeses and salamis, yogurt, and a pastry to top it all off makes a fabulous meal. Stop at a half-dozen little neighborhood shops, and $6 to $10 per person later you'll have a feast fit for a king.

Far from being a budget fall-back, picnicking in Europe can be as much fun and unforgettable as a meal in the finest Parisian restaurant. What with all the restaurants I eat in just to do my job, one of my most memorable European meals ever remains a late-night picnic in a hotel room in Tuscany with my parents and a buddy.

European produce is usually of very high quality, hailing from local farmers, not distant agricultural conglomerates whose idea of the perfect tomato is one that ships well, whether it has any taste or not.

Visit a few small neighborhood grocery stores or an open-air market and point to anything that looks like a local specialty. 100 grams is usually the perfect amount or one person. (Often if you just say "picnic for two people," the workers will give you the appropriate portions.) You'll sometimes find supermarkets in the basements of large department stores.

Le Fast Food

Please, whatever you do, try not to fall back on American fast-food chains if you're in a hungry pinch. The local specialties that make up the "fast food" of each European destination are almost invariably better—and much cheaper—than le Big Mac.

If you still crave a cooked meal, but don't want to pay for a full restaurant spread, each country has its own downscale version of snacking on delicacies or dining on prepared foods for not much more than the cost of the ingredients.

In Britain and Ireland, the local pub will have stomach-filling grub and pints of ale to wash it down with. In Spain, head to tapas bars for appetizer portions with wine. In Italy, go to a tavola calda for steaming plates of spicy penne and herbed potato wedges. In France, you can get quiche to go at a pâtisserie (pastry shop) or boulangerie (bread bakery). In Vienna, try a konditorei for sandwiches and a slab of pastry or cake with a steaming mug of coffee.


Intrepid Travel

This article was last updated in August 2007. All information was accurate at the time.

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Copyright © 1998–2010 by Reid Bramblett. Author: Reid Bramblett.