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From brains to testicles, maggots to marmots, here are some of Europe's more interesting foods that I sampled.
Isle of Man: I bought Manx Knobs thinking that they might be, well, knobs, and therefore something I'd never eaten before, but they were just slightly disappointing boiled sweets. So I looked for an alternative...
Isle of Man: ...Wild boar and bison are not typical Manx dishes but there's a butcher in Castletown who stocks koala and panda and things like that and so I thought I'd experiment. Wild boar is quite tasty whereas bison has the texture of something genetically engineered by Pirelli.
Wild boar: 7/10, Bison: 3/10
United Kingdom: As a Brit, finding something new in the UK posed a difficulty but London held the answer: jellied eels. I suspect we should have added salt and vinegar, y'know, something to provide flavour, because the eels had none. No wonder everyone on Eastenders is so soddin' miserable. 2/10
Channel Islands: Ah, sweets! Jersey has its Black Butter Fudge made from apples, cider and licorice. It's nice if expensive, as is the fudge. 7/10
France: Andouille is a cold cut of concentric tripe-intestine rings with rather a bland but not unpleasant taste that might have been improved by something like pickles or, I dunno, a bacon sandwich. Make sure you appreciate the difference between this tame beast and the evil andouillette. 6/10
France: Horror stories have been written about andouillette. It's reputed to taste of faeces and urine and - guess what? - it does. Cyril, cousin Sarah's hubby, cooked them with a lovely mustard sauce that masked the worst of the sewer experience. Without the mustard, this dish would have scored perhaps five fewer points, maybe even six. 5/10
France: Fromage de tęte or head cheese isn't cheese but it is head, or rather bits of head floating in jelly. Fred West's favourite party food. 5/10
Luxembourg: Luxembourg didn't provide anything original of its own and so I popped into an Asian shop and bought a can of pop from Thailand called Basil Seed Drink. It looks and feels like sickly sweet frogspawn, like Same Difference* in a glass.
*Thanks to the transient nature of British culture, this joke now makes no sense whatsoever.
Belgium: Steak Tartare tasted alright but I couldn't help thinking how much nicer it would have been on a grill. This is what all burgers will be like once the oil runs out. 6/10
Netherlands: Warned how awful these were by a couple of Dutch cyclists that I met, I quite liked kroket. If it really did contain horse I couldn't tell. Reminiscent of Findus Crispy Pancakes. In a good way, that is.
Netherlands: I'd never really done drugs so I thought my visit to Amsterdam would be the perfect time to try marijuana lollipops. Don't bother. About as effective at getting you high as a Tory party political broadcast. 1/10
Germany: Grützpinkel is not so much a sausage as a slurry-filled condom, which sounds like a criticism but isn't. It's a delicious slurry-filled condom.
Czech Republic: Oh my! This massive plateful of pork and cabbage cost only €5 in a dark pub on the outskirts of Prague. It's here because it contained dumplings - two each of three different varieties - I'd never had before as well as that slightly sinister black sausage. A plateful of Heaven and, if eaten on a regular basis, probably a quick route there too. The best meal of 2011.
Czech Republic: Eating your five-a-day in the Czech Republic means consuming five different types of dumpling. Here are some bacon dumplings - as if dumplings weren't unhealthy enough without the addition of pig fat. Artery-cloggingly lovely. 8/10
Austria: Carp, or actually a taster of someone else's. I assume they only eat these fresh water fish in Austria because the sea is so far away. 4/10
Austria: Take the hot, green stuff that comes with healthy sushi and turn it into a calorie-laden, deep-fried snack served in bin bag-sized sacks. Genius. 8/10
Austria: Not far from Graz is Zotter, a Willa Wonka-inspired chocolate factory that likes to mix it up a bit. The shops were out of their fish-chocolate and bacon-chocolate. I'm not kidding. This is balsamic vinegar flavour. 8/10
Austria: Pumpkin seeds covered in Schilcher, the scheisswein so sour it can reputedly suck your shirt through your arse. The seeds tasted alright because you couldn't taste the Schilcher. Austria also supplied Beuschel, a Lecter-esque lung and spleen stew, but I'm missing the photo, which is probably for the best.
Switzerland: A recent comment on this photo was that it looks like a plate of sick. It's probably the carrots. But I won't hear a word said against it. OU graduate Elli 'acquired' a marmot and, after days of fat-removal preparation, turned it into a lovely pasta sauce. Her donkey milk wasn't as tasty.
Marmot pasta: 8/10, Donkey milk: 4/10
Spain: In Spanish an egg yolk is a yema. It's also the name of this candied yolk pastry. Try to avoid thinking of fried eggs covered in butterscotch syrup. It's better than that. Sweet and muy buena.
Spain: The brains in Spain go mainly down the drain. This one did. And, yes, I cooked it first. It still had the texture of phlegm.
Monaco: Dean from Nerja's Olas Bar gave me a box of maggots in case I came across a country lacking any original fare. So I ate them in Monaco...
Monaco: ...and then my cousin Vicky gave me barbajuan, a leaf-stuffed pastry. Apparently these weren't particularly great ones. Still, the maggots died in vain.
Monaco: Vicky also gave me this. What's better than beer and better than tequila? Yes, it's tequila-flavoured beer. 9/10
Italy: A packet of delicious, little pioppino mushrooms went into a pasta sauce I made in Rome and created funghi loveliness. It was quite a large pack. There wasn't - wait for it - mush room for other ingredients. Oh, ha ha ha!
Italy: People told me to try arancini. Perhaps I had bad ones. They were in the Reduced section after all. Are they supposed to be dry, flavourless, unswallowable rice balls? 1/10
Italy: When you think of interesting pizza toppings you don't naturally think of potato and rosemary but that's what I had a huge, delicious slice of in Rome's San Lorenzo district. This photo is my home-made recreation. 9/10
San Marino: Fearing finding nothing new here I ended up with a complete meal of first timers: potato and sausage piadina (something like a panino), coffee yoghurt and beer from Hell. Respectively, bad, bad, beer.
Piadina: 3/10, Coffee yoghurt: 3/10, Beer: 10/10 (it's beer)
Vatican City: Light on restaurants I slurped from a fountain and scored me some holy water. I saw the light, but then again it was the middle of a summer afternoon. 7/10 (it could have been colder)
Greece: My big, fat Greek dinner. Greek sausage, a pickled green tomato, which is a bloody silly idea, and dried fish that I later found out is actually an ingredient rather than an end product. As a cohesive-looking dish, it's up there with scrambled egg, strawberry and rat supreme.
Sausage: 7/10, Tomato: 1/10, Fish: 4/10
Turkey: Dough's good for you, right? And deep frying is the healthiest method of cooking, isn't it? And covering the result in a sweetly cloying syrup keeps the calories down, surely? Welcome to tulumba, Scottish health food. 5/10
Turkey: Worry not that the last syllable of kokoreç is 'retch', this sheep intestine sandwich, although a tad greasy, was incredibly tasty but don't expect to see Burger King doing one any time soon.
Turkey: This is künefe, a Turkish dessert. It's basically a deconstructed Shredded Wheat reassembled using a glue made from all the sugar in the world with a blob of ice cream on top. Not bad at all. 7/10
Turkey: Lahmacun is Turkey's oddly-shaped pizza. I had one that was three inches wide but three foot long. That's daft. I had to put two tables together.7/10
Turkey: This doesn't look like much but everyone, just once in their lives, should sit at a restaurant on the underside of Galata Bridge, above the boats bobbing on the Golden Horn, and watch the setting sun turn Istanbul's mosques pink while eating this fish butty. Or probably a fresher one. 9/10
Bulgaria: In Sofia I found a brewery that also sold dried horse meat. Was it terrible? Neigh!
Bulgaria: A supermarket provided this motley collection of deep-fried objects that perfected the unusual combination of dryness, tastelessness and seeping quantities of fat. Stick to the horse meat.
Bulgaria: Can't decide whether to have a beer or a glass of wine? Get both in a single can! I'd like to have seen that episode of Dragon's Den. 8/10
Kosovo: A huge, leathery, horse penis-like Bosne sausage. Tasty and chewy, like a bacon-wrapped Wookie, it lasted for days.
Macedonia: This is a cheese and spinach savoury sponge cake that contained less moisture than the Kalahari. It's the patisserie equivalent of a dehumidifier. Looks beautiful, tastes rubbish...
Macedonia: ...But this meat and veg wrap thing was pretty good though. That said, it still couldn't touch cevapi, the grilled minced meat fingers, a huge pile of which, with a nice salad, bread and fried peppers, sets you back only €5 even in the centre of Skopje. They provided the best meal of 2012. (Twice!)
Wrap: 7/10, Cevapi: 10/10
Albania: These lokum-like tubes of sweet jelly with a nutty centre were a desperate attempt to find something original to eat in Tirana. Each tube was surprisingly heavy, about the weight of a small car.
Montenegro: Sorry, I only have the flyer to show you. I went for the Banjalucki cevap, a giant meat stick-filled hunk of bread with various vegetables and chips and God's own relish. It's a pity this snack is named after a town famous for its death camp. It never worked for the McDachau.
Bosnia & Herzegovina: Turkey invented burek and yet, almost everywhere there, it's a filling-lite, tasteless wodge of often soggy pastry. The closer you get to Bosnia though, the better the burek becomes. This is krumpirača, a potato variety I had for breakfast in Sarajevo, like a fat, greedy gannet. It was yummy, with a crisp filo shell and a fluffy spud interior. The meat one I had the day earlier with OU student Julian was even better, and a worthy runner-up in my Meal of the Year 2012 competition. It was by far the tastiest burek in Europe. And before you say it, yes, I have tried them all. So ner.
Potato burek: 9/10, Meat burek: 9.5/10
Bosnia & Herzegovina: Now these were interesting - savoury dough, fist-sized balls called uštipci along with a large splat of cream cheese. Served with a great view of Sarajevo. 7/10
Serbia: Joy of joys! The mothership of interesting animal cuts. This is a plate of pan-fried veal testicles in Belgrade. I'm sure there are readers who don't know whether the veal or the testicle is the most unappealing aspect of this dish but, let me tell you, these bollocks were bloody beautiful. 9/10
Croatia: When in doubt, get some local sweets. These were chewy and herby and very forgettable. What was I talking about? 5/10
Slovenia: What a sucker! The contents of Human Fish beer were very misleading. It didn't contain humans or taste remotely trout-like. But it was still beer...
Slovenia: ...the beer didn't count and so I fell back on a mysterious black Chinese egg that was Plan B. I'd bought it in Madrid six months earlier and it had been re-heated to at least 30°C on a daily basis since then. Only now did I discover it was already four months out of date when I'd bought it. Oddly enough, I wasn't sick. It tasted a bit gingery and not very eggy. Who buys these things? Apart from me, that is. That's rather a worrying cist on its side though, isn't it?
Austria: Celebrating the end of 2012's ride, I visited Nige and Nem and made 2-minute chocolate cake with their three daughters. It was surprising good. Give it a go. 8/10
Austria: We also had a serious go at polishing off Nige's massive flagon of home-made schnapps. "We" as in me, Nige and Nem, not "we" as in me and their three daughters. That would have been wrong. Besides, they'd probably have drunk me under the table. 9/10
Hungary: The opening evening of 2013's ride featured a huge plateful of meat. Somewhere on there are pig's trotters. They're a bit gelatinous for me. 4/10
Romania: What follows is a series of Romanian deli-counter experiments. First up we have cabbage leaf parcels of rice, which were as tasty as that sounds. 3/10
Romania: Then came a pancake wrap of chicken and cheese. As you'd expect, much better. 7/10
Romania: Finally, a potatoey, cream cheesey, eggy thing, a bit like a Spanish tortilla that someone forgot to cook. 5/10
Romania: Throughout the country is a Romanian Greggs called Fornetti that sell interesting pastries, often from kiosks, that are usually well worth the couple of leus they cost. I'd tell you what these were if I'd written it down.7/10
Romania: And let's end this visit to Romania with a gratuitous sausage picture. First, an old gnarly one... 7/10
Romania: ...and now a more delicate entry. 8/10
Moldova: Oh, look, I thought. That's what the internet told me to drink: beetroot juice. It's amazing for lowering high blood pressure, they said. But what they didn't say is that it's absolutely rank. Imagine tomato juice with a load of syrup added. No thanks. 1/10
Moldova: The beverage of choice of many a Dostoyevsky character, kvass is a vaguely alcoholic (or, in this case, non-alcoholic) beer made from fermented bread. It's not bad, more of a pop than a beer. Later, in Belarus, I had a posher, more alcoholic one that was gorgeus and would easily have earned a 10. 6/10
Moldova: Moldova is seriously poor and mămăligă is peasant food, a bread substitute made from something close to polenta. It's filling rather than tasty, which I suppose is the point. 5/10
Ukraine: People often incorrectly believe eastern Europe to be a drab place lacking the choice
of the west, especially perhaps when it comes to crucially important things like - oh, I don't know - everyday snack food. I bet they only have ready salted crisps, you're probably thinking. And probably something that looks like Wotsits but is actually better used as packing material. Not a bit of it. Before the end of this page
you'll have seen seven flavours that I think you've probably never tasted before. With Crisp Variety No. 1, have yourself some crabs. 7/10
Ukraine: On my first day in Ukraine I was invited to an Easter buffet. This was one of the options, more cabbage wrapped rice but with some mystery ingredient to raise them above the Romanian ones... 6/10
Ukraine: ...and some savory buns not a million miles from those I had in Bosnia. 7/10
Ukraine: Later that day, while visiting a monastery, we were invited to a picnic by a family of Moldovans. They presented us with a jar of huge home-made meatballs. The first bite may well be with the eye but the second bite - the one with my mouth - was better. 8/10
Ukraine: See that green stuff. That's dill, that is. After visiting Ukraine and its neighbours I came to believe that it's the most underrated herb there is. They put it on everything and it makes everything better. Here it tops pelmeni, a rough-n-ready Ukrainian ravioli. They're very good indeed. 8/10
Ukraine: And now Crisp Variety No. 2: gherkin flavour. I didn't make a note of what these tasted like. I seem to remember they were a bit vinegary. 4/10
Ukraine: And a final new flavour from this country: chicken and cranberry sauce. It's not an obvious combination, is it? I suspect someone first invented a random flavour and then tried to decide what it tasted like. 6/10
Belarus: It's another world is Belarus. Even their cheese is green. That's to make up for the fact that it doesn't taste of anything. 3/10
Belarus: In Minsk I was lucky enough to dine with the UK ambassador. The next five photos represent the weird and wonderful meal we had. It's not typically Belarusian though. It was a Siberian restaurant. Never mind. Let's start with the least good of the courses, pickled mushrooms. They're a bit slimy. 5/10
Belarus: Frozen sturgeon was better. I bet everything in Siberia is frozen. 7/10
Belarus: My starter was reindeer soup served with cranberries and reindeer liver paté on rye breads. The soup was a tad on a thick side but tasted great. No wonder
Santa is so fat. 8/10
Belarus: The main course was juicily meaty elk on cabbage-stuffed croquettes. 8/10
Belarus: And we finished off with tea made from eighteen different plants (well, so they said) sweetened by a berry jam. I've seen films about Siberia. I doubt people eat this well every day. I thought their diet consisted mainly of snow and frozen bits of old gulag escapees. 8/10
Belarus: A packet of fake kiwi-flavoured Jaffa Cakes, except that they wouldn't be Jaffa without the orange. The bright green layer makes you feel you're eating something made by aliens. 7/10
Belarus: Crisp Variety No. 4: mushroom and smetana (that's sour cream) flavoured crisps. They tasted of neither mushrooms nor smetana but they were the best weird flavour so far. 8/10
Poland: Now - a fanfare - welcome to the best meal of 2013. I'd got serious soaked during a long and heavy storm and checked into the kind of hotel I never go to (a nice one) because it was the only one available. This being Poland it still wasn't very expensive - less than a Premier Inn - and neither was this wonderful meal. The amuse-bouche - veg in jelly - didn't amuse my bouche very much but the rest of it was great. 5/10
Poland: Maybe not the ideal vessel for soup if your waiter has shaky hands but żurek, a sour rye soup with slices of smoked sausage and hard boiled eggs, was wonderful. 9/10
Poland: Next came my second starter (I'd cycled a long way, alright?). It was pierogi, a doughier version of Ukraine's pelmeni, full of sausage meat and topped with crispy bacon and onions. There is no possible Weightwatchers version of this dish. 10/10
Poland: Finally, I had cloud-like pork cheeks with walnuts, cabbage and cheese fionoci, a word unknown to the internet but it could just be a really bad misspelling of ravioli, and dotted with juniper berries. These four courses, with three pints and a brandy, came to Ł18/€21. You'd struggle to get the drinks for that in a British restaurant. 9/10
Poland: Now you've definitely never had this flavour of crisps because the packet doesn't even tell you what it is. It just says "Mystery Cheese-flavour", which is a bit worrying. My job, it seemed, was to work out which flavour of cheese it was in order to win some money. I didn't. I just ate them. I have now just checked on their website what the answer was and it turns out they were "Italian cheese flavour", which isn't an answer at all. V. poor. 6/10
Lithuania: A cavalier approach to supermarket deli shopping saw me walk away with this carroty monstrosity. I'd thought the orange bits were cheese. That's the sort of mistake you don't make twice. Unpleasant on many levels. 2/10
Lithuania: This is šaltibarščiai or cold borscht to you and me. Y'know, I get the idea of cold soup. I just don't understand why you would serve it with a bowl of hot potatoes. Answers on a postcard. 8/10
Lithuania: Crisp Variety No. 6: dill flavour. It works better as a herb than it doesn't as a crisp flavour. No. 4/10
Lithuania: The Baltic states have a concept known as beer snacks. You drink beer; you eat snacks. In Britain we only have the humble pork scratching or peanut but here pretty much everything is fair game. This was my first beer snack - salted yellowstripe scad dried until it actually becomes a durable fish plastic. Difficult to eat without a drink, which I suppose is the point. 2/10
Lithuania: Potato cakes. 'Nuff said. 8/10
Lithuania: A beer snack is not just a handy portable packet of something. It can be an entire plateful. I got this selection purely for the sliced brown stuff you see in the foreground. What is it? I'll give you a clue. The white streaks are cartilage. That's right. It's a pig's ear. Not sure I'd eat another. 5/10
Lithuania: Kumpis...two more things I've never eaten before. Only joking. It's manky boiled ham. 5/10
Lithuania: What the hell is that? Although it looks like the contents of a sink with a clogged plughole after a heavy washing up session it was a surprising tasty cold herring and onion soup. I can't see any herring though. Maybe a herring once lived in this water. Zero out of ten for presentation but for taste... 8/10
Lithuania: If Lithuania has a signature dish then it's this, a zeppelin. Imagine a tube of mince meat wrapped in a suet, dumpling dough and boiled for a bit before being covered in a creamy sauce with additional mince lumps in it. It's all a bit school dinners but it's tasty, hearty fare. It's the Hindenburg of health food. 7/10
Latvia: Latvia's beer snacks are even more interesting than Lithuania's. This is, believe it or not, dried squid. It's like eating pieces of string marinated inside the pants of a trout with hygiene issues. In a good way. 7/10
Latvia: Drying fish is not the only way to preserve it. You can smoke it too. This was my breakfast at OU student Paul's place by the coast: smoked cod and hot and cold smoked mackerel. Utterly delicious. 9/10
Latvia: Maybe in an attempt to out-beer-snack Lithuania, Latvia upped the ante with these massive, 8 inch long dried fish. Bloody awful. They still contained organs. It was like eating a shoe made out of kippers. 0/10
Latvia: Solyanka is an eastern European soup, a bit sour and a bit spicy. Looking on the internet, it can contain almost anything. Mine was made from unicorns' tears and the concept of betrayal. Only joking. It was meat and veg. Not bad but nothing special. 6/10
Estonia: Which is the odd one out: vanilla, mint choc chip, raspberry ripple and bread? No - you're wrong - they are all flavours of ice cream and bread flavour needs to be eaten more often. Savoury and creamily sweet at the same time. I'm guessing they use wholemeal bread rather than Nimble. 9/10
Estonia: Estonia became Tongue Land. This was a very edible smoked pig's tongue with pickles and horseradish sauce... 8/10
Estonia: ...and a few days later I got to try ox tongue. 7/10
Estonia: Perhaps realising that I was prepared to try anything, the main course that followed the ox tongue - a chicken salad - contained this massive flower, which may or may not have been a Sweet William. I wonder if the kitchen staff were annoyed at me. "Look, the silly sod has eaten half of the decoration!" It was a bit gnarly. Salad 7/10, Massive flower 0/10
Estonia: As I mentioned earlier I've never really done drugs. I've only ever had one cigarette. So I took an opportunity to develop both a new hobby and lung cancer when this hookah pipe came out at a midsummer all night party. I had a go on it. Not impressed. Think I'll stick to beer. 2/10
Estonia: This is included not so much for the originality of the ingredients - although I'd never had fried black bread in a salad before - but rather for its name. On the menu it was listed as "The Miserable Life of the Haanja Farmer". Go on, Estonia, sell it. 7/10
Russia: At last, an edible dried fish. These were sprats and unlike previous beer snacks they didn't rip my gums out. 6/10
Russia: My final entry in Eastern Europe and Its Unusual Crisp Flavours is sausage flavour, one of their better ideas. 7/10
Finland: You'll notice a paucity of Scandanavian culinary delights. That's basically because I couldn't afford to eat. Anyway, I bought these things thinking they were meat pastries and so imagine my delight when they turned out to be a sort of doughy rice cake in a rye pastry that tasted of literally nothing. 0/10
Aland Islands: In the early morning town centre of Mariehamn, a little stall sold coffee and doughnuts that didn't require a mortgage. This is a cola-flavoured doughnut and may have appeared nicer than it actually was because I hadn't eaten in days. 7/10
Sweden: You can probably get this in the UK now but I haven't seen it on my travels: chocolate popcorn. You can see the standard of food I'm enjoying here. 8/10
Denmark: Denmark's prices were an improvement. I could afford beer again. I also got these fish frikadella things. They tasted like something that shouldn't have been fishy at all, or perhaps they simply weren't fishy enough, although they came with a nice mustard and horseradish dip. 6/10
Netherlands: On my way out of mainland Europe, fellow long distance cyclist Supershane supplied me with a tangy nettle cheese. I had dock leaves at the ready but the only sting was the vicious headwind up to Hook of Holland. 7/10
England: Was there ever a better long distance cycling food than lardy cakes? No, there bloody wasn't. 8/10
Wales: Even as I ordered laverbread I assumed bread was involved. I thought the chef had deconstructed the recipe and given me laver and bread. What a tool. We should eat more seaweed. And, incidentally, more bread with seaweed in it. But bread and seaweed isn't laverbread, is it? I'll shut up now. 8/10
Ireland: With only an afternoon in Ireland I scoured a village shop for something typically Irish I'd never had before. I bought this, a Creamy Pie. It was neither creamy nor a pie. Shaving Foam In Stale Cornet would have been a more apt name. If it really was made in Ireland, it was made in a laboratory in Ireland. As synthetic as a herd of Gary Numans. 1/10
Northern Ireland: Y'see, that's how it's done: home-made soda bread. OU student Mark and his missus fed me this between a fifty mile ride to his house and a climb up Northern Ireland's biggest mountain. It did the trick. 8/10
Scotland: Could there be a dish more typically associated with Scotland than black fungus? Well, yes, obviously. It was a Malaysian restaurant after all. Served with pork, not a single ingredient was deep fried. C'mon, Scotland. Reclaim your identity. 7/10
Thank you for reading!