How Going to Europe Changed the Way I Eat

As I've been chirping about on the blog for so long, I recently got back from my first ever trip across the pond to Europe. While I was there I visited central/southern Germany and spent a night in Paris. At risk of sounding like a total Europhile, I really enjoyed my time there and spent many days wrapped in wonder of all things European. There are so many subtle differences within European life that I really wanted to bring back and integrate into my own. That all being said, there were moments that I did miss the good ol' US of A. (Free water and refills at restaurants being two things, maybe there's another blog post in here somewhere...)

Smaller Portions
One thing I noticed about food in general overseas, other than the enormous schnitzel, was that the plates were balanced with protein, veg, and starch. I never felt full to the point of no return, and even though the portions were smaller I never wanted for more food. Everything seemed to be "just enough," and at times I left bits of things on my plate, feeling satisfied without being overly satiated. This seems less common in the US, as we're used to seeing heaping piles of french fries, "big as yo face" burritos, and TV shows dedicated to restaurant challenges where gorging yourself is the goal. Europe does food well, and they size it right.

Simple Ingredients
I noticed in Europe things like jams didn't taste quite as sweet, bread was more savory, I didn't see nutrition labels with tiny tiny font trying to cover up a ton of preservatives and added chemicals. I'm sure there are ample opportunities to eat unhealthily in Europe, but the food I came across all seemed to be exactly what it said it was. Fresh baked bread with butter. Hard boiled eggs. White fish with lemon. Some things are just better with less.

Don't Be Afraid of Fat or Carbs
I've always been pretty health conscious when it comes to food, and have often found myself choosing to limit grains, oils, and fats in order to watch my waistline, but with good ingredients, one doesn't need to be quite so strict. Since I hardly ate any processed food in Europe, I was able to have that wiggle room of dumplings with dinner, a pretzel from a food stall, a cocktail with lunch. Since I knew I was eating whole foods, I felt more comfortable indulging and didn't end up feeling puffy the next day. While I didn't eat all carbs all the time, I made sure to try a little bit of everything, and never once felt guilty.

Indulge in Moderation
I think one myth about Parisians in particular is that they're always swigging wine, carrying a baguette under one arm, munching on a macaroon, and washing that all down with a chocolate croissant and espresso. While all of those things are delicious and certainly a part of the food culture, I didn't witness a ton of it. While the French didn't seem overly indulgent in their habits, they also didn't seem too fussily health-conscious either (hello smoking.) There's no reason not to have wine with dinner, or a croissant from the bread basket, or a cup of hazelnut gelato, but it seemed uncommon to choose all three in one day. Besides, isn't the idea of having the next indulgence tomorrow more romantic?

Take Your Time
I really enjoyed the European restaurant experience, especially in Germany. Unlike in the US, Europe isn't really a tipping culture, so waitstaff is usually more laid back, and less likely to be running around trying to please a huge group of whining customers at once. It's not uncommon for a meal to take upwards of two hours, even for lunch. When Sabrina and I were on a tight schedule we physically had to flag down our waiters a few times to pay the check. Often we were met with "Oh are you leaving so soon?" Since food in Paris was quite expensive, it was the norm to see friends meeting for a single drink and sitting with the empty glass for a while. I never felt rushed while dining in Europe, but in the US, it's not unheard of for the server to bring the check shortly after the food as a subtle "Can you get out of here already?"

Savor Everything
I will certainly look back on everything I ate on vacation for years to come. I had an amazing cherry tart, a delicious braised pork shank, a pretzel practically stuffed to the gills with butter, a pistachio macaron to die for, wonderful "young" white wine, a delightfully interesting slice of onion cake, gorgeous celery root risotto, and a spectacular assortment of sausages. I wish I could go back and eat it all again, and even slower this time.

Have any food knowledge to share? 
I'd love to hear it in the comments below!

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