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My 9 European Foodie Destinations for October

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Returning home after spending September in Central Asia, I was shocked. I’d left in summer, yet some of my trees were bare, and the rake was waiting for my swift hand. Suddenly I was reaching for a jacket in the evenings whereas days earlier, I had been hiding from the hot Uzbek sun in shaded patios.

It only took a couple of days to acclimatise because, in truth, I love autumn… the sun shines brightly but the nights are cool, even crisp. The days get shorter but with summer over, a certain energy rises from the lethargy of the recent heat. The leaves glow, then fall, and in that “between” season some call Indian Summer, the earth nearly explodes with brightness, one last languorous caress before it is time for the crackle of the fireplace.

October in Europe makes me want to get away quickly, before the mad November rains hit or the snows turn every outing into a snowball fight. I have the good fortune of living in the center of Europe and this, for me, is local exploration season to places right on my doorstep.

It also means sampling foods that have been off my list through summer.

Here are my nine city choices – and the culinary reason behind each choice. The cities are all either within driving distance or easy weekend visits for me – and I’ve been to each and eaten what’s in each photograph. Please join me as I grab the last rays of sunshine and enjoy the continent at its most (at least for me) authentic.

Geneva’s filets de perche

Or fillets of perch from Lake Geneva. While these delicate little fish can be eaten all year round, the fries and tartar sauce that usually accompany them are, to me, a sign of autumn. In summer I rarely visit the lakeshore, preferring to leave it to the thousands of visitors who, unlike me, don’t live less than an hour away. Once they’ve gone home, seats open up on terraces, service spruces up, and the freshest of perch, often fished that morning, are lightly battered and thrown into the butter. This is one dish whose portions should be twice as large, in my opinion. It is so simple to make – and equally easy to ruin.

filets de perche

Filets de perche, lightly fried, served with lemon butter and (if I’m lucky) homemade tartar sauce. Photo by Clément Bucco-Lechat CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Milan – not just about fashion

Yes, that may be why most people go to Milan – to shop for wonderful clothes at prices that can be high but are often below those of other European capitals. I go to Milan for risotto and to stock up on carnaroli rice (like arborio only creamier), good pasta, olive oil and bottles of Crodino for the winter. Risotto is a rice dish that is anything but light and so, not suited to the heat of summer. This is partly because of the natural creaminess of the rice, of course, but also because of the butter and cheese that are liberally mixed into it.

risotto milanese

The creamiest dish I know – and no cream is used. Photo Ahmad Alnusif (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) via Flickr

Bilbao’s beef

While most people go to Bilbao for the Guggenheim, I go for… steak. Spain’s Basque country has always been known for its good food, its animals raised on fresh grass and its vegetables on clean earth. But the cuisine has gone from good to great and the region now has more stars than the average constellation. If I’m going to eat steak, I’m going for the best. And October is the best time: when the rains come in November, they may not stop for months.

steak Bilbao

The waiter sneered at me when I tried to order fish – then I found out why

Madrid’s mercados

Autumn is my preferred season for jamón, not just any ham, but jamón ibérico, de bellota, fed with acorns and acorns only. Now there’s nothing wrong with eating the best ham in the world (sorry, San Daniele, my vote goes to Spain) in summer or any other season, but once the heat goes, Madrid’s mercados, or markets, get frisky and bring out their best. I try to visit Madrid each year and I go with an open mind but as soon as I enter the Mercado San Antón, there’s a jamón stall on the right that grabs me and simply won’t let me go.

Jamon de bellota

The artists who slice this ham of hams do so by hand and manage to produce unbroken slices as thin as paper

Lisbon’s hills and pasteis

Lisbon in October isn’t hot hot, but it certainly isn’t cold. It’s perfect for sightseeing, whether jumping on the tram or walking around the Alfama or the Bairro Alto, sniffing around for food (often fish) being grilled. Prices are down now that tourists have gone, and you’ll have many monuments and museums to yourself. And anyway, October is perfect for pasteis de nata, those creamy little tarts Portugal is so famous for. They may have originally been created by monks, but there’s nothing austere about their taste.

pastel

Portugal’s famed pastel de nata (what – only one??)

Sevilla: Flamenco and tapas

If you’ve ever been to Sevilla in summer, you’ll understand. Much as the city is glorious, all you want to do is find some air conditioning and hide, at least over the long middle part of the day. In autumn, the sky remains luminous and you have none of that swelter – yet it’s still warm enough to sit on the terraces lining the Guadalquivir for tapas, lingering as the sun slowly disappears. After a few rounds of tapas, the twang of guitar strings reminds you that Sevilla is very much a southern city.

Tapas may well be my favourite type of meal - hop from bar to bar and munch along. Even paella comes tapas-sized!

Tapas may well be my favourite type of meal – hop from bar to bar and munch along. Even paella comes tapas-sized!

Lyon’s frogs’ legs and escargots

Many people make a face when I mention these delicacies – they are to me, at least – and one downside of summer is my inability to indulge in these buttery, garlicky preparations. They require slightly cooler weather and come October, I’m hopping on the train for an hour to visit my favourite food mall in France, the Halles Paul Bocuse. I forget about my (permanent) diet around this time because Lyon, with its trees changing colour, is perfect now, just perfect.

Lyon food destination

I’ve waited all summer for these

Istanbul, oh so sweet

I love Turkish food under any circumstance, but some things aren’t made for summer – like baklava, that feathery pastry gooey with honey, filled to the brim with chopped walnuts or pistachios. It is often sold by the trayload in pastry shops but when you go for coffee, you can order a single one – and one will be more than enough (there seems to be portion creep these days). It is rumoured that baklava originated in Central Asia but I looked for it incessantly during my trip and sadly, I found none…

Baklava Turkish food

Nothing wrong with three – notice there are two forks, however

Annecy, in the heart of the Alps

This small city – which happens to be half an hour away from me – is gorgeous any time of year but in summer it’s overcrowded, and I’m sure (unproven, only suspected) that food quality goes down. By October, Annecy hits its stride. It’s too warm for thick coats but you can order a fondue and raclette and no one will balk. If you can, visit on the last Saturday of the month when the antique dealers spread out under the medieval arcades.

Raclette

Raclette, finally. Slices of raclette cheese that you melt under a grill, accompanied by cold cuts, pickles and boiled potatoes. It’s my contingency plan – if you ever appear unannounced, expect this for dinner

I’ve now made myself thoroughly hungry but… it’s the time of year when one should be.

20 Comments

  1. Penelope on October 2, 2016 at 10:03 pm

    What a wonderful post. Fortunately I’ve had dinner, or I would now be hankering for baklava. (Well, I am hankering anyway, just a little ..)

    It’s true that with non-sweltering weather one at least enjoys the idea of cooking again. I’ve been making complicated food (by my standards) since the temps went below 28 … and the dishes I am making are better for the health than salad salad salad.

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on October 3, 2016 at 4:27 pm

      The weather also makes me want to start cooking… and yes, Baklava is definitely better for my health than salad, no contest! 😉

  2. Susan Stephens on October 6, 2016 at 5:39 am

    Thank You for this post! Every single picture truly made my mouth water, and even I too have just had dinner! I’ll be sure to stop by at least a couple of these places on my next trip to Europe.

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on October 6, 2016 at 8:03 pm

      I may live in France but food is not always around the corner!

  3. Sue Reddel on October 7, 2016 at 12:51 am

    Yes to all these fabulous food destinations! I’m dying to try that darn egg tart in Portugal.

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on October 7, 2016 at 5:32 pm

      I feel a Lisbon visit coming on…

  4. Doreen Pendgracs on October 7, 2016 at 4:23 am

    What a delicious post! How fortunate you are to live so close to all of these wonderful locations. It takes me a day of flying time to get to Europe, but it’s well worth the effort.

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on October 7, 2016 at 5:31 pm

      I am indeed fortunate! But then, I love Asian food and there’s not much to be had near me 🙂

  5. Carole Terwilliger Meyers on October 7, 2016 at 11:32 pm

    Looks like you did indeed enjoy some lovely meals on the road. Of them, I would most like to try raclette.

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on October 8, 2016 at 4:45 pm

      It’s also the easiest one to make! All you need is a raclette set, available in any French supermarket… some raclette cheese, pickles, potatoes, charcuterie… and a few friends to share it with!

  6. Irene S. Levine on October 8, 2016 at 5:00 pm

    It’s 11AM in the morning here and you’ve made me very hungry! Both for the food and for travel!

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on October 9, 2016 at 9:35 pm

      Excellent!

  7. Astrid Mitchell on October 8, 2016 at 9:40 pm

    I’m a foodie, and the dishes featured here are beautifully presented. I’m sure they’re mouthwatering. I live all the way in the Caribbean (we have some great food here too), but I think a trip to Europe is worth it just to sample the culinary masterpieces. Definitely part of my “Travel With a Plan”.

  8. Anita on October 10, 2016 at 8:25 am

    Pure foodie inspiration, Leyla! I share your enthusiasm for most of these wonderful dishes, if not your proximity to some of them. I should not have read your post while hungry! One item I would add to the list (since our move to Porto) is octopus rice, my new comfort food. 🙂

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on October 10, 2016 at 6:23 pm

      Octopus rice… intriguing. I need to find out more!

  9. Julie Dawn Fox on October 10, 2016 at 6:19 pm

    When I saw the title of this post I had to check to see if you’d included Portugal and was happy to see that Lisbon’s pasteis get a worthy mention. I’d love a baklava right now though.

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on October 10, 2016 at 6:23 pm

      I’d settle for either this minute!

  10. Dyanne Kruger on November 1, 2016 at 6:33 pm

    Oh great – I just returned from 44 days backpacking through 7 EASTERN European countries (plus Turkey – and yes, delish eats there – among my favorite meals in Istanbul was sitting on a tiny sidewalk stool, munching on a plate of fried sardines with fresh basil leaves and thick slices of onion as accompaniment – swoon!) ANYWAY…

    Thanks a bunch, Leyla – now that I’m (waaay the heck down) back in Ecuador – now you entice me to head across the puddle (not to mention the Equator) again to taste all these luscious treats in WESTERN Europe!

    That said, glad to see you mentioned raclette. I first had it long ago in Zermatt, Switzerland (presented in the traditional way via my waiter poking a half-round of cheese into an open fire and scraping individual portions onto my plate). But you need not an open fireplace nor a fancy raclette grill to enjoy it any time – shoot, I’ve been known to simply melt the slices in my microwave!

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on November 4, 2016 at 10:34 pm

      What you need is a raclette set – a portable grill with little individual pans in which to melt your cheese. Where I live – tucked away between the Alps and Jura mountain ranges – raclette sets are part of every household. And often used!

  11. Shweta | Online Flight Booking on November 5, 2016 at 8:17 am

    What a delicious post! How fortunate you are to live so close to all of these wonderful locations. It takes me a day of flying time to get to Europe, but it’s well worth the effort. Thank you so much for sharing it.

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