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14th October, 2018

Three local specialities to try across Europe

White wine in glasses on a wooden table

Sometimes you have to go on a bit of a culinary adventure to discover a country’s local specialities. Here are three that writer Amanda Angus discovered on her travels across Europe.

Wine tasting in Switzerland

Before my first visit to Switzerland for work late last year, I had never really considered what the local specialities might be – Swiss chocolate and Swiss cheese aside, of course. I have also never really been carried away by wine, except for the occasional glass of red with dinner, if pushed – and I certainly never touched white – so I was a little dubious when it turned out my trip included two wine-tasting excursions. And when I mentioned to other people that my trip was quite heavy on the wine-tasting front, they would frown and generally look confused. “I didn’t know Switzerland produced wine,” they’d say, or “I don’t think I’ve ever tried Swiss wine,” – or if they knew of my dislike, “Isn’t that a bit like a vegetarian going to a hog roast?” – and I didn’t disagree.

So, it was with some trepidation that I took a sip of white wine at the first vineyard, glancing around the room for nearby flowerpots to quietly tip it into if I really couldn’t finish it – but I shouldn’t have worried. Instead of harsh and astringent – the way my taste buds usually interpret white wine that other people find perfectly palatable – it was mellow, refreshing, and thoroughly enjoyable. Happily, I finished the glass, and didn’t mind when it was refilled with another vintage, equally acceptable.

The rest of my group were just as surprised at how good it was, even though they hadn’t been dreading it quite as much as I had, and the vintner laughed at us. “Because you can’t buy Swiss wine in your shops, you think we don’t make it?” she asked, apparently enjoying our expressions. It turns out that not only do they make wine, they put a lot of care, attention and effort into making it, and then when it’s made, they don’t want to share it. Only 1% of delicious Swiss wine gets exported, and they keep the rest for themselves – and who can blame them?

Visit Switzerland and try some Swiss wine for yourself.

Hot dogs in Iceland

Iceland is chock-full of genuinely astounding, unforgettable experiences that you’ll still be able to recall with clarity years later. Watching the Northern Lights dance in the sky above you as the cold grabs at your toes, gazing out to sea as dolphins leap and play as the cold numbs your nose, standing in awe in front of thundering waterfalls that rush and tumble over huge rocks as the cold puts its icy hand in yours are all memories you’ll treasure – just as you will the memory of unwrapping a hot dog that warms your hands, your nose and your tummy.

I’m talking about the ‘Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur’, a stall near the seafront you can visit for some traditional Icelandic cuisine –hot dogs. Whilst this delicacy isn’t one you might immediately associate with Iceland, it’s one you really shouldn’t miss. Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur translates as the best hot dogs in town, and you can enjoy one for the rough equivalent of £2. With raw onions, fried onions, ketchup, mayonnaise and some other condiments I couldn’t even identify, these hot dogs will be the ones by which you judge all others. The first one I had, arrived with the works, but on a second outing (Reykjavik is an expensive place; £2 hotdogs are a good option) I left out the raw onions and considered my meal all the better for it.

Crepes in Estonia

The old town of Tallinn in Estonia is well known for its fairy-tale buildings, ancient cobbled streets and medieval architecture, and you’ll find hearty stews and roast meat dishes in abundance – but you can also seek out some delicate crepe-style pancakes that offer a sweet or savoury culinary experience. I stumbled upon ‘Kompressor’ –a restaurant that belies its light, airy interior with a very forbidding, prison-like exterior – completely by accident, but if ever I’m back in Estonia’s pretty capital city, I will certainly go out of my way to return. I opted for sweet milk and raspberries, and the portion that came out was huge – I had trouble finishing it (but not that much trouble, if I’m honest, because it was incredible).

Since then I’ve always opted for Estonia whenever I’m invited to a pot-luck party where you bring some speciality from the country of your choice and everyone is filled with surprised glee – I assume, as their mouths are usually too full of delicious pancake to say anything. You can also enjoy them with a range of savoury fillings, from ham and brie to smoked trout or herring; but whatever you choose, you’ll leave full and happy, with a wallet that’s not too much lighter than it was when you arrived.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.