European cuisine comprises the cuisines of Europe including the cuisines brought to other countries by European settlers and colonists. Sometimes the term "European", or more specifically "continental" cuisine, is used to refer more strictly to the cuisine of the western parts of mainland Europe.
The cuisines of Western countries are diverse, although there are common characteristics that distinguish them from those of other regions. Compared with traditional cooking of East Asia, meat is more prominent and substantial in serving size. Steak and cutlets in particular are common dishes across the West.[dubious ] Western cuisines also emphasize grape wine[dubious ] and sauces as condiments, seasonings, or accompaniments (in part due to the difficulty of seasonings penetrating the often larger pieces of meat used in Western cooking). Many dairy products are utilised in cooking. There are hundreds of varieties of cheese and other fermented milk products. White wheat-flour bread has long been the prestige starch, but historically, most people ate bread, flatcakes, or porridge made from rye, spelt, barley, and oats. Those better-off would also make pasta, dumplings and pastries. The potato has become a major starch plant in the diet of Europeans and their diaspora since the European colonisation of the Americas. Maize is much less common in most European diets than it is in the Americas; however, corn meal (polenta or mămăligă) is a major part of the cuisine of Italy and the Balkans. Although flatbreads (especially with toppings such as pizza or tarte flambée) and rice are eaten in Europe, they are only staple foods in limited areas, particularly in Southern Europe. Salads (cold dishes with uncooked or cooked vegetables, sometimes with a dressing) are an integral part of European cuisine.
Formal European dinners are served in distinct courses. European presentation evolved from service à la française, or bringing multiple dishes to the table at once, into service à la russe, where dishes are presented sequentially. Usually, cold, hot and savoury, and sweet dishes are served strictly separately in this order, as hors d'oeuvre (appetizer) or soup, as entrée and main course, and as dessert. Dishes that are both sweet and savoury were common earlier in Ancient Roman cuisine, but are today uncommon, with sweet dishes being served only as dessert. A service where the guests are free to take food by themselves is termed a buffet, and is usually restricted to parties or holidays. Nevertheless, guests are expected to follow the same pattern.
Historically, European cuisine has been developed in the European royal and noble courts. European nobility was usually arms-bearing and lived in separate manors in the countryside. The knife was the primary eating implement (cutlery), and eating steaks and other foods that require cutting followed. This contrasted with East Asian cuisine, where the ruling class were the court officials, who had their food prepared ready to eat in the kitchen, to be eaten with chopsticks. The knife was supplanted by the spoon for soups, while the fork was introduced later in the early modern period, ca. 16th century. Today, most dishes are intended to be eaten with cutlery and only a few finger foods can be eaten with the hands in polite company.
Main article: Medieval cuisine
In medieval times, a person's diet varied depending on their social class. Cereal grains made up a lot of a medieval person's diet, regardless of social class. Bread was common to both classes- it was taken as a lunch for the working man, and thick slices of it were used as plates called trenchers. People of the noble class had access to finely ground flours for their breads and other baked goods. Noblemen were allowed to hunt for deer, boar, rabbits, birds, and other animals, giving them access to fresh meat and fish for their meals. Dishes for people of these classes were often heavily spiced. Spices at that time were very expensive, and the more spices used in dishes, the more wealth the person had to be able to purchase such ingredients. Common spices used were cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, pepper, cumin, cloves, turmeric, anise, and saffron. Other ingredients used in dishes for the nobility and clergy included sugar, almonds and dried fruits like raisins. These imported ingredients would have been very expensive and nearly impossible for commoners to obtain. When banquets were held, the dishes served would be very spectacular- another way for the noblemen to show how rich they were. Sugar sculptures would be placed on the tables as decoration and to eat, and foods would be dyed vibrant colors with imported spices.
The diet of a commoner would have been much more simple. Strict poaching laws prevented them from hunting, and if they did hunt and were caught, they could have parts of their limbs cut off or they could be killed. Much of the commoners food would have been preserved in some way, such as through pickling or by being salted. Breads would have been made using rye or barley, and any vegetables would likely have been grown by the commoners themselves. Peasants would have likely been able to keep cows, and so would have access to milk, which then allowed them to make butter or cheese. When meat was eaten, it would have been beef, pork, or lamb. Commoners also ate a dish called pottage, a thick stew of vegetables, grains, and meat.
Main article: Early modern European cuisine
In the early modern era, European cuisine saw an influx of new ingredients due to the Columbian Exchange, such as the potato, tomato, eggplant, chocolate, bell pepper, pumpkins, and other squash. Distilled spirits, along with tea, coffee, and chocolate were all popularized during this time. In the 1780s, the idea of the modern restaurant was introduced in Paris; the French Revolution accelerated its development, quickly spreading around Europe.
All of these countries have their specialities. Austria is famous for Wiener Schnitzel - a breaded veal cutlet served with a slice of lemon, the Czech Republic for world renowned beers. Germany for world-famous wursts, Hungary for goulash. Slovakia is famous for gnocchi-like Halusky pasta. Slovenia is known for German and Italian influenced cuisine, Poland for world-famous Pierogis which are a cross between a ravioli and an empanada. Liechtenstein and German speaking Switzerland are famous for Rösti and French speaking Switzerland for fondue and Raclettes.