Some of my favorite travel moments have been traveling in Europe around the Christmas holidays. Formally familiar cities transform into festive showcases during the holidays and at the heart of these celebrations in many places is the Christmas market. While markets take a variety of forms depending on where in Europe you are, there is one constant variable – great food. Food really is the keystone to enjoying the holidays in Europe, so I thought I’d show you the culinary side of the traditional European Christmas market. (As a note, I have never been to any Christmas markets in Germany, so sadly that aspect of traditional Christmas markets is not present in this round up. And yes, I know I need to correct that.)
Arguably one of the favorite foodie aspects of Christmas markets are the quick, easy to eat snacks. In France and Belgium, this usually takes the form of waffles, crepes, hazelnuts, Belgian fries and even macarons. One of my favorites though were the Boules de Noel I found at a stand on the Champs-Élysées in Paris. These chocolate covered balls of marshmallow fluff come in a variety of flavors and for only 1 Euro you can’t go wrong.
In Milan, the snacks were a little different, reflecting regional preferences no doubt. Pastries were available in almost every shape and size, as were entire stands of nuts and dried fruits. Arancino, fried balls of risotto and cheese were a personal favorite but one of the more unusual snacks that caught my eye were the stacks of Brigidini. Originally a Tuscan specialty, these sweet fried wafers flavored with anise are light and surprisingly delicious.
If you’re in the mood for more than a simple snack, nearly all Christmas markets can satisfy your grumbling stomach. I’m usually surprised at the variety of meal options actually, from delicious shawarma and fries to massive foot-long sausage sandwiches, it’s impossible to walk away hungry. To go with dinner of course are a variety of libations, including plenty of warm, spiced wine, beer and non-alcoholic ciders as well.
No meal is complete without dessert though, and those snacks you enjoyed earlier turn into the perfect after-dinner sweet. One of my favorites were the cones of freshly fried and sugared beignets at the Winter Wonders Festival in Brussels. These delicious balls of fried dough were so popular that I had to wait twenty-minutes to get a small order. They were perfect though as a way to warm up on a very chilly night.
Take home delicacies
Christmas market foods aren’t only for immediate consumption. The markets did originally start as a convenient way to get your Christmas shopping done, and there are certainly plenty of tents offering gifts for just about everyone on your list. The most popular are the vendors selling regional delicacies, either to use at holiday meals or as gifts themselves. This was especially prevalent in Italy where tables lined with incredible dried meats, cheeses, breads and pastries had me salivating at first glance. Non-perishable items are also for sale, including jellies, jams, spices and a variety of foodie odds and ends.
No matter where you go in Europe or even your particular tastes, the Christmas markets are sure to keep you satisfied. The markets are fun, festive fairs and remember to visit with a good attitude and an empty stomach.