In the part of Europe that runs from the deep east of France to the confines of Poland, and from the North Sea into the Balkans, the average food on the road is pretty awful. I have just driven the 2,500km between my home in France and Belgrade, and I hope never to have to eat this way again.
I am not seeking your sympathy; I simply wish to record my puzzlement. This is not an area that lacks decent ingredients, and some city restaurants serve excellent food. I, who like to think I can usually find the best place in town, suddenly found myself in a succession of gastronomical disasters.
I should have known from the moment I made my first stop - just short of Annecy - that I was in for a bad time.
Usually French motorway stops are a touch above decent; I found one that was indecent. Half a baguette filled with steamed, soggy frankfurters, topped with processed, tasteless cheese and shoved into the microwave, is not a proper meal.
By nightfall I was in the picturesque town of St Gallen on the Swiss-Austrian border. Following the recommendations of obvious fools, I went to a sort of garden cafe.
With visions of Alpine forests, I ordered mushrooms. They were the industrial button mushrooms - fried in batter. They tasted of fungi, all right, but more the kind that grow between the toes on hot days. And the medallions of pork, likewise in batter, tasted as if they had been cooked in an old flannel.
In Haydn's Eisenstadt, I had boar, which normally I love; this one retained a certain savagery, but had also been desiccated, slowly, painfully and by a cook on automatic pilot.
Did things improve in Hungary? No. A wienerschnitzel, all flour, batter and a sliver of meat, was an insult to a fine dish.
I leave you with this thought: that the dishes which are the better for batter are infinitely rare.
For a proper schnitzel, whether of veal or pork, the batter should be so light as to be barely noticeable; on either meat or fish, it should be refrigerated between coating in egg yolk and cooking; finally, it must be cooked in fresh butter - and slowly.
Now I am going to get out of this area.Reuse content