Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Bon Appetit!

Here is a little interesting fact about this tiny country we live in.  Luxembourg has more 4 star Michelin restaurants per capita than any other country in the world. These restaurants tend to have a wonderful blend of French and German cuisine, inspired by extremely talented chefs who have come from long lines of culinary artists.  Joe and I had the pleasure of going to one of these restaurants during our "sell" week back in May, and the restaurant did not disappoint.  It was beautifully French, the wine was delish, and the service was impeccable.

Typical German-style lunch - farmer's market in Metz
Well, here is the reality check. Outside of the anniversary dinner or other special occasion that may warrant such a fancy, schmancy night, few folks partake in such dinners.  Not to mention the fact that if you have children, those dinners become few and far between. Lux definitely has an amazing selection of incredible, high esteemed restaurants. It also has an incredible selection of Italian pizzerias and French cafes. I always get the question, "what is the food like there?" Well, the answer obviously varies depending on if you are talking 4-star restaurants, or what you can expect to buy and cook on a daily basis. Regardless, when you live in a different country, you have to anticipate that there will be culinary challenges.

In a nutshell, anyone wanting to pursue a low-carb diet here in the Grand Duchy will find themselves in a culinary dilemma.  Yes, it is possible to do it. But when you are surrounded by a patisserie and/or boulangerie on every corner, and constantly confronted with an endless supply of French or Italian restaurants, those low carb intentions tend to find themselves diminishing into a puddle of submission to those ever-present pain ou chocolats and hand-tossed pizzas! Funny enough, our host for that "sell" weekend swore he lost 15 lbs. his first few months here in Luxembourg, simply because the food here does not contain nearly the amount of preservatives, high fructose corn syrup, or other chemical ingredients we all struggle to pronounce when we read those lists of ingredients on US product labels.  (Note: Our host mentions this fact as he is downing a pain au chocolat and espresso. He failed to mention until later that he runs on a regular basis - an activity that cannot be accomplished here without encountering a series of major calorie burning hills!)

On a personal note, I am not that SAHM (stay-at-home-mom) that pours over the latest Southern Living magazine looking for that great new recipe to try out on the family for Sunday night dinner.  I am also not that SAHM that finds cooking relaxing.  Unfortunately, I am the more common version of the SAHM who finds cooking a necessary nuisance that somehow must be crammed somewhere between swim practice, tennis practice, homework, golf lessons, piano lessons, and the eventual arrival of the husband, home from a very long day at work. This either means that I have either worked magic to pull together the basic, necessary ingredients that can allow me to throw together some quick pasta or chicken dish that 1) the kids don't "feel like" and 2) the husband will reheat in the microwave at 9:00 p.m., OR, I am desperately trying to figure out the closest non fast-food restaurant that will somehow meet the demands of three very different palates. Needless to say, I rarely reach 100% satisfaction from the family.  My best odds are when the husband is out of town and the kids are happy with the box of Mac and Cheese or a bowl of cereal.

I can't say things have changed dramatically with this move.  I have made a conscientious effort to minimize the number of kids' activities in the afternoons (a huge accomplishment from the crazy schedule we maintained in Dallas), and, because of that lack of preservatives I mentioned, I find myself at the grocery store about every other day. However, I still am always in a quandary as to what to do for dinner. Add to that the struggle to find ingredients I am familiar with (bread crumbs, sticks of butter instead of large cubes of butter, tortillas, etc.) and the significantly fewer fast food options, I find myself staring into the refrigerator, trying to will together something resembling a balanced meal. I know once I feel more settled in, I will find the time to scrutinize recipes/ingredients, I will read the manuals to my appliances from cover to cover, and I will get a better handle on the metric system so that I am not completely dependent on my conversion app on my iPhone. In the meantime, here are some interesting things I have learned about the food here:

1)  Bread and cheese do constitute a meal.  Whether it be fondue, Croque Monsieur, or cheese rocklette and a French baguette, Europeans love their carbs.

2)  You can find at least three Italian restaurants within any 1 mile radius, that includes our house.  Few deliver, but most provide "emporter" - carry out.

3)  No, the menus at McDonald's and Pizza Hut are NOT like the ones in the US. I don't recall tuna ever being a topping option for pizza, let alone fried eggs or brie and honey.

4)  Bio = organic.  Here, that means you better eat the produce in a couple of days, or you will be making another trip to the grocery store or farmer's market.

5)  There is no such thing as a "quick" meal in Europe. If you intend to eat out, you better anticipate a two hour meal, or at least master the phrase "L'addition, s'il vous plait."  (May I please get the bill?)

6)  Learn to love yogurt! The variety here is fantastic, and most stores have two aisles worth of choices including French, Greek, parfait, soy, low-fat, non-fat, drinkable, etc.  Don't get me started on the cheese...

7)  If you find yourself missing a particular American product that just cannot be found in the stores (e.g., Captain Crunch cereal, Aunt Jemima syrup, marshmallows, fruit rollups, TollHouse chocolate chips, Hidden Valley Ranch salad dressing, Fritos, Cheetos, Cheese Its, Goldfish, Pepperidge Farm cookies, Jello, etc.), a membership at the American Women's Club of Luxembourg is a MUST! The selection changes a bit seasonally, and you can always make requests.  Also, I understand they sell turkeys for Thanksgiving dinner, though I have heard the challenge is whether or not your oven is big enough for the turkey.

8)  Del Haize, a small local grocery store chain, sells some great take-and-bake options, including some great vegetarian meatballs.  Just don't be surprised that the vegetarian section happens to be located right next to the refrigerated meat section that contains rabbit and kangaroo meat.

9)  Regardless of where you go, going out for dinner is going to cost almost twice what you paid in the U.S. Example: There is a Chi Chi's Tex Mex restaurant in the city center (conveniently located near the Pizza Hut and across from the McDonald's). Nachos and margaritas cost about what you might expect in the States, but burritos are about the equivalent of $20 an entree, and the fajitas are closer to $30. If you want a reasonably priced meal, stick to Italian.

10)  Pretty much everything is closed on Sundays.  So, if you are a procrastinating cook like myself, you will quickly learn that Del Haize is open until 1:00 p.m. on Sunday mornings, and many gas stations have a pretty decent selection of pastries and frozen pizza :)

1 comment:

  1. I have been told to get over my love of yoghurt before i move to Bangkok...I hope that's not true :(

    I love that in Europe you can take your time to talk and enjoy your meal, not like Australia where they start clearing the tables around you to drop the hint that it's time to move on!