When we think about European cuisine, the first things that come to mind are French artisan cooking, Germany's hearty meals and Italy's feel-good traditions. What seems to be almost forgotten is Europe's most distinguishing mark and greatest strength: our huge cultural variety that doesn't just include the bigger countries. It's time to pay attention to our smallest members, whose culinary offerings are very European: local and diverse as well as international and modern.

Small country, big cuisine: Part one

As all of the smaller countries, like Andorra, Luxembourg, San Marino or Monaco are surrounded by more dominant nations like Spain, France, Italy or Germany, they have been greatly influenced, both culturally and politically. Therefore, their national cuisines are very often the product of mixtures of other European culinary traditions, but have been developed into local specialities through variation, local products and fancy chefs. So, let's have a look at our small neighbours - there is a lot that is worth exploring! 

Photo: Ricardo André Frantz  (CC-SA)
San Marino, with the Guaita fortress in the foreground. This is one of the three towers which inspired the "Torta Tre Monti" cake.

San Marino, completely surrounded by Italy, is the oldest republic on earth. Never occupied by foreigners for long, the Sammarinese are very proud of their culture and traditions, and are known for their humility and peaceful politics. As one would expect, a lot of dishes in San Marino are similar to those found in Italy, especially in the neighbouring areas, such as the Marches and Emilia-Romagna. Nevertheless, there are some culinary treasures to be found. Favourite savoury dishes include roast rabbit served with fennel, or the snack Piada, a flatbread which can be filled with everything good: different cheeses and vegetables, but also chocolate cream or jam.

Favourite savoury dishes include roasted rabbit served with fennel, or the snack Piada, a flatbread which can be filled with everything good: different cheeses and vegetables, but also chocolate cream or jam.

On the sweet side, there is even more: the famous Torta Tre Monti (Three Mountains Cake) refers to the towers of San Marino and is a heavenly creation made from thin waffles and chocolate or hazelnut cream. Another dessert, the Torta Titano, was inspired by Mount Titano, the highest peak in San Marino. It has a biscuit base, with hazelnuts, chocolate and coffee, and is sometimes covered with meringue. It seems the Sammarinese know how to make good cakes, doesn't it? Another interesting treat for those with a sweet tooth is the Zuppa di Ciliegie: cherries cooked in sweet red wine and served with toast or sometimes even ice cream. Of course, it's an advantage if your country is one of the best places in Europe to grow juicy delicious fruits to make this, but it is a wonderful dish that can easily be prepared at home as well. You'll find the recipe at the end of this article to get a taste of San Marino wherever you are.

Photo: Jpatokal  (CC-SA)
One of Luxembourg's best-known dishes, Judd mad Gaardebounen: marinated pork collar with broad beans and potatoes.

From the Italian peninsula, our culinary trip leads us to the centre of Europe: Luxembourg, located between the historically aggressive nations of France, Belgium and Germany, has remained politically neutral most of the time, but has not been so lucky as to avoid occupation entirely. (In modern history alone, Germany invaded it during both world wars in order to reach France). Although Luxembourg has naturally adopted cultural elements from all of the surrounding countries and the language spoken there is a variety of German, it has nonetheless developed a strong national culture and is keen to preserve a sense of identity. In general, the national dishes are hearty, like the German or Alsatian traditions, rather than resembling very fine French meals. The cuisine of Luxembourg strongly reflects the country's resources: F'rell am Rèisleck is a fine local trout served in Riesling sauce. Quetschentaart, a plum cake, is traditionally served in the autumn, after the local plum harvest. One of the most well-known Luxembourg dishes is the savoury Judd mad Gaardebounen: marinated pork collar, boiled and served with broad beans and often potatoes. Luxembourg also produces a special honey that is now under EU protection.

Our next country is famous for a recent wedding, for being a tax paradise and the home of the jet set, for its gambling scene and for enjoying a wonderful view of the Mediterranean Sea. Monaco is one of the richest countries in the world and has the highest population density. Its cuisine is traditionally Mediterranean due to its location, so there is a lot of fish, olive oil, fruit and vegetables. Modern Monegasque cuisine also reflects the nation's elegance and wealth, whereas the country's humble past can still be found when looking at traditional dishes. As a snack or appetiser, a traditional treat is Barbajuan, a small pastry filled with vegetables like pumpkin, leeks or spinach and sometimes ricotta cheese. A sweet local pastry is Fougasse: cookies scented with orange flower essence and sprinkled with nuts and anise. One of the most traditional savoury Monegasque dishes is Stocafi, which consists of cod stewed in fresh tomato sauce, olive oil, herbs and olives. When you visit Monaco, make sure not only to try the modern and glamorous things that can be found at fancy restaurants everywhere, but to take your time and enjoy a culinary trip into history.

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