Touring the world one bite at a time with travel icon Rick Steves
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Rick Steves is as synonymous with European travel as Aaron Rodgers is to the Green Bay Packers (sorry, too soon?).
If you have recently ventured abroad or are planning an upcoming trip, chances are Rick Steves has been your unofficial travel agent. From his in-depth guide books to his engrossing travel TV show, "Europe," Steves is a valuable resource to countless tourists around the world and a strong advocate for smart, affordable and perspective-broadening travel experiences.
OnMilwaukee had the opportunity to chat with this king of travel before his upcoming appearance at The Pabst Theater on Saturday, Oct. 28. And since October is Dining Month, we couldn't resist the opportunity to give you a fun (and delicious) culinary tour around the world from someone who knows everything about going anywhere – and what to eat when you get there.
This was a slightly unconventional conversation, inspired by two of our readers' favorite things: travel and food. I gave Rick Steves a few random locations across the globe and wanted him to describe his favorite meal that he'd had in that part of the world. Now, I have to admit, these locations are selfishly inspired by either places I've been to or places I plan on traveling to, but I figured, when else am I going to get Rick Steves on the phone to give me travel and dining advice?
Warning: Reading this interview may cause extreme wanderlust and hunger.
OnMilwaukee: Let's start with an easy one: Italy. That being said, choosing a favorite meal in Italy may be like choosing your favorite child ...
Rick Steves: In Italy, I always say, if you're a smart eater, going to a good restaurant, you can tell where you are and what month it is by what is on the menu. In other words, you should order whatever is in season and what's local.
I always ask the chef to bring me whatever he'd like me to eat, and that works really, really well. Specifically, what would that be? I don't know! I love to go to a place where it's "Mom and Pop" and personality driven.
Moving right along to Ireland. What's a dish that anyone planning on traveling to Ireland (hint: me and my husband this spring) should indulge in during their visit?
Soda bread – they love their soda bread. It's like cake, and you can't get enough of that!
Other than that, I like to go to a gastropub. Some pubs make their money selling beer, and others make their money selling food; you want to go to one that cares about its food.
Ireland has also had some influence in the last couple of decades from other countries. You'll see a lot of French and Asian influence, and even a lot of seafood in Ireland today.
How about Germany? Apart from a generous serving of beer, what meal is an absolute must to enjoy in Deutschland?
Well, there's a million different types of sausages, or wursts, and each city is proud of its wurst. There's a bit of an adventurous spirit when it comes to that.
My traditional meal in Germany would be sauerkraut and a variety of sausages. I love their Nurnberger sausages, which are about the size of your little finger. If you've always been unenthusiastic about sauerkraut in the United States, in Germany, it's amazing. It's a whole different thing over there!
Now, if I were to make my way north to Scandinavia, what's a dish that you dream about long after you come home?
In Scandinavia, I like goat cheese. It's not a dish, but it's something that's unique to Scandinavia. My family is Norwegian, so it's a tradition for me in Scandinavia to have goat cheese.
I like to picnic in Scandinavia, because food can get expensive over there. They have wonderful crackers to accompany your goat cheese and wonderful shrimp pastes that you get in a tube. I recommend that, if you have a picnic meal once a day, you will have enough money to go out to a nice restaurant later in your day.
Okay, now that we've covered some of my top travel spots, let's hear about one of yours! What's a location that I didn't name where you've had a meal that especially stood out?
One thing I like is to share food – that's a big theme of mine lately. I think that travelers should not be too formal or to be above asking for a small plate and then splitting their courses.
Some cuisines lend themselves to sharing better than others. Enjoying Greek cuisine, for instance, is a way to have an adventurous spirit, with six or seven little plates on your table. Two or three people can share that and have a big experience and not go broke and not overeat, and to have great, characteristic, local cuisine. I really like Greece for the fun they have in their food.
Obviously, certain cultures lend themselves to that "tapas" mentality more than others. Of course, in Spain, you can also go to gourmet tapas bars that are very trendy these days. That's reason alone to go to the Spanish Basque country – you'll find amazing gourmet tapas and spider crab there!
Another key in Spain: Wine is really cheap, so I recommend you "splash out" and spend double the cost of a normal glass of wine to guarantee yourself a really good glass – and that being said, you'll still spend no more than $5 for that glass of wine.
What's the most valuable piece of advice you can give to travelers when it comes to dining out abroad?
It's better to go to a fine restaurant and order sparingly than to go to a mediocre restaurant and order wild.
Remember too to avoid the big neon signs that scream English; instead, go to the restaurants that cater to locals. I look for a small, handwritten menu in one language – small because they are just cooking up what they can sell, one language because they are catering to locals and not tourists, and handwritten because it's cheap for them to buy whatever's in the market that week.
What can your fans expect during your upcoming Milwaukee appearance?
I'm looking forward to sharing, most importantly, lessons on how you can connect with the local cultures, carbonate your experience by connecting with real people – not the people who want to make their money off of tourists, rather the people who really want to talk to you – and how travel, when we do it right, is a transformative experience. With that, we bring home the very best souvenir, which is a broader perspective.
Rick Steves will appear at The Pabst Theater on Saturday, Oct. 28. For more information on tickets, visit the Pabst/Riverside/Turner Hall website.
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