Getting out of the country provides a great opportunity to also escape your comfort zone in regards to what you eat, and there are countless spots in Europe where foodies will have the chance to experience some of the tastiest and finest cuisine on the planet.
MSC Cruises offers voyages to many of these fantastic food destinations and here are just five of them...
Culinary delights often lace the streets of inner city Barcelona, so you don’t have to stray too far from the port for fantastic food.
When it comes to Spanish food, many will immediately think ‘tapas’, which is just as well because Barcelona is home to some of the best tapas restaurants in the world.
Listing all of them here would take quite some time, but a few worth keeping an eye out for close to the port include Viana on Carrer del Vidre, Quimet i Quimet on Carrer del Poeta Cabanyes and El58 on Rambla del El Poblenou.
Newcomers to tapas may be unsure of what to order, but some solid entry-level standards would be patatas bravas, deep fried calamari, beef cheeks, meatballs with cuttlefish and poached eggs with foie gras and sauce Périgord.
For any first timer to Barcelona, the famous Mercat de Sant Josep de La Boqueria just off the even more famous Las Ramblas stretch is a must-see.
Known to locals as simply ‘La Boqueria’, this vast public market dates back to the 13th century and is one of Barcelona’s best-loved landmarks, boasting a hugely diverse selection of food.
Hailed as the best market in the world by CNN, La Boqueria comprises stalls peddling meat, poultry, game, fruit and veg, seafood, olives, fish, even pizza. Additionally, there are no fewer than 15 bars and in excess of 20 delis. A must-see, even if your belly is fit to burst.
Venice may be known more widely for its infamous canals than its chow (or should that be ‘ciao’?), but La Serenissima’s supreme food offering certainly isn’t drowned out.
Two of the best restaurants in Venice are Quadri on Piazza San Marco and Il Ridotto on Campiello Santi Filippo E Giacomo, both of which are Michelin star holders.
Dining doesn’t have to be la-de-dah though, and you’ll find many a bacaro dotted around the city. Bacari (that’s plural) can be likened in the most relatable sense to a fast food joint, and these compact quick pit stop eateries date back five centuries, laying on a great choice of wines by the glass and nibbly snacks.
They function more like a bar that just happens to serve food than a traditional restaurant and many don’t even bother having a formal menu. However, they are arguably the best place to get a genuine taste of Venetian life.
One of the best-known bacari is Ca' d'Oro alla Vedova on Calle Cà d'Oro, tucked away just off Strada Nuova behind a McDonalds (oh, the indignity). The locals rave about the polpette (which are salty balls of finely minced pork), which go down well with unbottled Veneto red quaffed from charmingly dinky glasses.
Just around the corner on Campo San Felice, the dishes at La Cantina are truly inspired, with a flair for raw fish and around 30 wines served by the glass. Some of the highlights include the minced salmon, lightly seared tuna with finely sliced cucumber, sea bass, as well as oysters served on a bed of ice.
We’ve almost ticked Italy off our list without even mentioning pizza - scandalous.
Granted, you’ll get some of the world’s best pizza in Italy, but not necessarily in Venice; Naples and Rome are better equipped to satisfy pizza lovers. However, Venice does have Antico Forno on Ruga Ravano, which is often praised for baking the most delizioso pizza in the city.
Similarly, those on the hunt for some tasty Italian ice cream should keep an eye out for Suso Gelatoteca, La Mela Verde, Gelato Fantasy and Gelateria il Doge, where you’ll encounter new flavours (fig and walnut anyone?), as well as well-honed takes on classic favourites like strawberry and vanilla.
Greece offers an alternative taste of the Mediterranean to what we’ve covered so far.
The likes of moussaka, feta, baklava and tzatziki will be known to anyone mildly familiar with Greek food, but there’s so much more to explore and you’ll be able to sample plenty of it on the Greek island of Mykonos.
Lamb serves as the basis for many a Greek dish; souvlaki, dolmadakia (stuffed grape leaves) and gyros to name a few. If you have a soft spot for succulent melt-in-the-mouth lamb, then the baked kleftiko and stew-like stifado are essential tasting, especially during a stop-off in Mykonos.
Do a quick online search of ‘pastitsio’ and we’d wager you’ll be salivating within seconds. This baked pasta dish could be viewed as Greece’s take on lasagna, with ground beef and béchamel sauce mixed amongst penne pasta.
Greek food isn’t all about the meat though, veggies are equally spoilt with feta me meli (oven-baked filo-wrapped feta cheese) and yemista (rice-stuffed tomatoes).
For afters, try amygdalota - a ubiquitous gluten-free almond cookie that serves as a great coffee accompaniment that dippers will struggle to resist.
Bougatsa is a pastry comprising layers of phyllo, usually wrapped around semolina custard most usually but less sweet variants contain cheese and even minced meat.
If Mykonos is a scheduled stop during your cruise, some of the restaurants worth investigating include Compass, Avli Tou Thodori, Kikis Tavern, Blue Myth, Limnios Tavern, Mikos Gallop and the aptly named Funky Kitchen.
The Portuguese capital is one of the most charismatic and vibrant cities in all of Western Europe and its food is suitably stunning.
Portuguese food isn’t nearly as well represented in the UK as say Italian or Spanish cuisine, which is a shame because Portugal has given the world some truly incredible dishes, and spending time in Lisbon during your cruise provides a great opportunity to experience some of them.
As you’d expect for a coastal city, fish is big in Lisbon and Portugal generally, especially cod. Bacalhau is a traditional dish on a similar level to the humble Sunday roast in the UK, with the dish traditionally consumed on Christmas Eve in Portugal. Recipes differ on location and time period, but Bacalhau à Brás is one of best-loved variants, combining cod with onions, chips, olives, parsley and egg.
Cataplana de Marisco is a rich, vibrant-looking seafood stew, synonymous with Portugal, that anyone with a taste for mussels and prawns will struggle to resist.
Meat lovers will have feel obliged to try francesinha - the signature dish of Porto - which consists of steak, ham, sausage and chorizo, covered in melted cheese and drizzled in a spicy, tomato-based sauce, all slapped between two slices of bread and served with chips and, if you like, a fried egg.
Some of the Lisbon eateries worth checking out if you get chance include Mercado da Ribeira – the city’s biggest fresh food market, Cervejaria Ramiro (nicknamed ‘the seafood temple’), and the Tágide Wine and Tapas Bar in upmarket Chiado.
Labelled the most underrated city in Europe by some, Marseille - France’s oldest city - has plenty to offer foodies.
It may not be as aesthetically pleasing as other European port cities, but what it lacks in visual beauty, it more than makes up for in the taste department.
Poor man’s soup
Ask any local what you should try and ‘bouillabaisse’ will almost certainly be the first response.
Once a poor man’s soup, bouillabaisse comprises five different types of local fish, which in Marseille will usually be rockfish, red mullet, conger eel, red scorpion fish and spider crab, but you could also get monkfish or crayfish in there too.
Accompanied by croûtons, aïoli sauce and rouille sauce, it is served a very specific order. The broth comes first, followed by the fish filleted, a generous dash of croutons, finished with the rouille served on top or to the side.
Cheap bouillabaisse can be risky, prepared with low quality cuts, and it’s worth paying a little more than you would usually like to for a decent bouillabaisse. Just some eateries known for top quality bouillabaisse include La Miramar, Chez Fon Fon, Le Rhul and Restaurant Chez Loury (also known as the Mistral Restaurant).
Moules Marinière are also a must-try. Some would argue it is the quintessential French lunch and it can be found at most Marseille restaurants, served with chips and freshly baked bread.
The mayonnaise-like aïoli is often deemed little more than a sauce to dip chips in, but ordering the ‘aïoli provençal complet’ will bring you a more comprehensive meal of salt cod, steamed vegetables and shellfish – all to be dipped in aïoli.
Perhaps surprisingly, Marseille is amazing for pizza, claiming to be the birthplace of the wood-fired pizza oven, and you’ll be able to enjoy some monumental slices in Marseille. Just some of the names worth seeking out include Chez Étienne, La Bonne Mere and the Le Safari pizza truck.
Of course, your MSC Cruises ship doesn’t have to pull into any of these port cities for amazing food, with several onboard restaurants offering memorable gastronomic experiences.
to see how we can treat your taste buds during your next adventure with MSC Cruises. If you still would like to try the some of the best local Mediterranean dishes, rest assured MSC Cruises will take you there!