European food, also known as Western food, is referred to as Continental Cuisine and is famous for its presentation and variety. Europe is a huge continent with so many countries, each with its unique culture, history and culinary arts. European cuisine is an amalgamation of major cuisines like British, French, Italian, German, Greek and many more. Right from pre-historic times to the period of Renaissance, great emphasis has been laid on its food and presentation.
Unlike other cuisines, European recipes include usage of a lot of dairy products like cheese. Wheat-flour bread has long been the most common source of starch in this cuisine, along with pasta, dumplings and pastries. Potatoes have also become a major ingredient in the diet of Europeans since the European colonization of the Americas. Roasted beef(cooked from the period of Julius Caeser), Lasagna( English), Hot Dog( German), Chicken Kiev(French), and Bouillabaisse(Marseilles) are some of the most popular European dishes.
Classification of European Food
European Food can be broadly classified into four categories:
- Northern – The North European Food comprises of dishes from various countries that include British (English, Scottish, Welsh and Anglo-Indian), Danish, Estonian, Finnish, Icelandic, Irish, Lappish, Latvian, Lithuanian, Norwegian and Swedish cuisines. The diet, primarily rich in protein, consists of meat, fish and poultry dishes along with accompaniment dishes made of starchy vegetables and fruit. The English Bangers and Mash, the Irish Colcannon, the German inspired French Quiche Lorraine and pate made of goose liver, are some of the most widely eaten Northern European dishes.
- Southern - The South European Food comprises of dishes from various cuisines primarily of the Spanish, Mediterranean, southern French and Italian cuisine. The Southern French cuisine basically uses olive oil as the primary cooking medium. Usage of herbs like Basil, thyme, Rosemary, parsley and sage is more in comparison to the usage of spices for imparting flavors to food. Appetizers constitute a very important feature of the Southern European cuisine. The various soups of the Mediterranean region, the Italian antipasti consisting of various dishes, the Provencal crudités and the Spanish Tapas are all appetizers of those regions.
- Eastern - The East European Food comprises of dishes from various cuisines that include Armenian, Azerbaijani, Belarusian, Bulgarian, Czech, Georgian, Hungarian, Lithuanian, Moldovan, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Slovak, Slovenian, Tatar and Ukrainian cuisines. The dishes are mostly filling and sumptuous. Many of the Eastern European cuisines have delicious national dishes. The European recipes for pirozhki( Russian) , pierogi (Polish ), the goulash(Hungarian), spicy patties and meatballs( Bulgarian) , and casseroles( Romanian) have gained worldwide importance.
Western - The West European Food comprises of dishes from various countries that include Austrian, Basque, Belgian, Dutch, and French, and German, Luxembourgian and Swiss cuisines. Belgian rabbits, Belgian endive, Chicken Cordon Bleu( French), and Italian sausage soup are only a few of the long list of popular European dishes from this region.
Historical and Cultural Influences on European Food
Due to the number of countries being a part of Europe, one may find huge diversity in culture, traditions, food habits and festivals. Right from British cuisine, which does not, to the traditionally include widespread usage of spices, to the French which lay emphasis on culinary art of varied spices to Italian which is all about pizzas and pastas; the influences of each country has been mind-boggling. Though many food habits have intermingled, each country of Europe has its own unique flavor.
Ingredients Commonly Used by European Cuisine
Cooking techniques and ingredients vary widely across Europe depicting unique environmental, economic, and cultural traditions. Black pepper is the most common spice used across the European region. Cooks specializing in European cuisines also select and combine ingredients using a wide range of tools and methods. Modern day cooking typically mixes cardamom with orange flavors, cloves and caraway. Cinnamon (Laurus cinnamomum) is a mainstay in dessert cooking for many Europeans and Americans. For accompaniments and sauces in European cooking, a mixture of butter and flour called a roux is used to thicken liquids to make stews or sauces. Another spice that finds itself in European cuisine is fennel; a hardy perennial with yellow flowers, this plant originated in the Mediterranean and eastward to India.
European food is cooked in a number of ways. Roasting, especially of meat dishes is one of the most common methods of cooking. Braising is a favored method in Central Europe. Braised cabbage is one of the favorite European dishes of the cuisine. Boiling and baking are also commonly employed methods.
Globally Popular European Foods
The most admired European foods include:
- Hungarian gulyás soup – A traditional soup or goulash made of meat (mostly beef), vegetables, herbs and spices. As Gulyas is the Hungarian word for a cattle-watcher, it follows that the soup may have been originally prepared for the herdsmen.
- Spanish Tapas – It constitutes a class of foods that are ideally consumed as hors de oeuvres or brunch items. Tapas consists an assortment of Spanish appetizers or snacks which are often consumed as a meal at social gatherings. Chopitos, fried squid, olives and cheese are dishes that are consumed as Tapas.
- Ukrainian borscht – it is a deep-red colored soup made of beetroot and often with tomato. The green version of the dish is made with sorrel.
- English Sunday roast- Also known as Sunday lunch, Sunday dinner, Sunday joint or Roast dinner, this a meal consisting of roasted meat and mashed or roasted potatoes with other vegetables, gravy and Yorkshire pudding. As the name conveys, this dish is often prepared on Sundays
- Greek salad – It is an interesting assortment of tomatoes, green peppers, kalamati olives, diced feta cheese and cucumber flavored with oregano, salt and pepper. Seasoning with citrus ingredients, and herbs is done if desired.
- Seafood paella from Spain – A very popular white rice and seafood dish consumed as a meal. Ideally the Spanish paella includes meat and vegetables, but the seafood version of the dish excludes these ingredients.
French Breads – They constitute two or three varieties of white wheat flour chewy breads, often resembling a baguette, with a crisp exterior. The breads are consumed as a main course or a snack at any time of the day with chocolate, sauces, butter, mayonnaise or sandwich spreads.
Traditional European Food
The traditional European food is incomplete without a heavy breakfast. The British people are known to have the heaviest breakfast; also called full English breakfast that includes poached eggs, salads, cheese, fruits, juices, toasts, ham, bacon, sausages, salamis, etc. Most of the other countries of Europe too believe in having a heavy breakfast. Traditional European food would include barbecues, roasts, and stews, soups encompassing various types of spices, vegetables and meats. Beef and pork are the most common meats used in cooking traditional meals across Europe.
Special/ Festival European Food
Special or Festival food across Europe comprises of delicacies made during Christmas and Easter. Even Boxing Day is a common festival that is celebrated throughout Europe. During Christmas cakes are baked in different styles. Ingredients like rum raisins, chocolates, fruits and nuts are used to bake the cakes. Another common meal enjoyed across Europe is roasted Turkey. Various spices are used in different countries to roast turkeys.
Gourmet European Food
European Food comprises of a wide range of gourmet food from different regions of the continent. Some of the popular ones are listed as below:
- Baked French onion soup – A signature soup of the region made with caramelized onions in beef-based cooking liquid with croutons topped with cheese
- Pasta Fagioli – also known as pasta e fagioli, pasta fazool or pastafazool, this pasta and bean dish, which is commonly made without meat, is a soup or a stew originally intended to be a main course dish for peasants
- Biersuppe- a popular milky and creamy German beer soup served as an accompaniment to toast.
- Bratwurst - a white German grilled sausage made of veal or beef .The sausage is also made quite often with pork and cooked in a beer base.
- Apfelstrudel – an Austrian and Viennese strudel or pastry made with apples, raisins and dark rum
European Cuisine – A Typical Meal
European food is served in three main course meals, namely breakfast, lunch and dinner; and snacks.
- Breakfast- Ideally this is an elaborate course in the cuisines of the cooler regions of the continent, whereas in the warmer regions it is a lighter fare.Sweet dishes like cream or jam filled pastries or croissants and a creamy coffee drink like a latte or cappuccino. Slices of cold meat such as ham or salami are also served. Juices yogurt, cereal, fruit, cheese, and a variety of bread are also included in the breakfast menu.
- Lunch – The meal includes a variety of salads and seafood appetizers followed by different types of Parmigiana dishes, sandwiches, burgers, chicken, and pasta.
- Dinner – The European Recipes for dinner commences with a variety of Antipasti, a variety of appetizers made of seafood, cheese or vegetables. Shrimp Cocktail, Asparagus Parmigiana and Calamari Fritti are some of the most popular European dishes served as antipasti(appetizers). The next course consists of soups made of vegetables, egg, pasta, meat or cheese. This is followed by a variety of salads which are served as side dishes to main course items like pasta and meat dishes which may be chicken or veal or the meat of any other animal depending upon the regional cuisine. The next main course is rice or bread. The last course is always a dessert or dessert drink.
As the term European cuisine is a collective name for a number of cuisines from different regions of the continent, each region will have its own typical dishes for all the courses of the meals, though basically they follow the generic menu as described in this section.
European Food Trivia
Borscht is an East European soup which is made from beetroot.