(Return to Web Text-ures)
Click Here to return to
American Woman Abroad
Click Here to return to
the previous section
TEA-SHOPS OF ENGLAND
TITLES AND TEA-SHOPS
A PLAIN TEA
TEA AT THE RIVERSIDE INN
"TEAS" IN THE COUNTRY COTTAGE HIGH TEA
AFTERNOON TEA IN THE COUNTRY HOUSE
SUBSTANTIAL TEAS OF SCOTLAND
PARIS ADOPTS THE" FIVE O'CLOCK" CREAMERIES
ITALIAN PASTRY SHOPS
PASTICCARIAS AND DROGHERIAS
CHOCOLATE AN AID TO TOURING
LIGHT REFRESHMENT IN SWITZERLAND
HONEY WITHOUT BEES
BEER GARDENS IN GERMANY
MAKING ONE'S OWN COFFEE
BRASSERIES AND TAVERNES
RAILWAY REFRESHMENT ROOMS
LUNCH ON A RHINE STEAMER
DINING-CARS OF EUROPE
INCIDENTAL meals are particularly attractive to feminine taste, and seem especially adapted to the needs of the woman traveller. A woman seems to dodge regular meals. While man will neglect the finest sight in Europe to connect with the lunch hour, woman, on the other hand, will faithfully finish a round of sight-seeing, and depend on foraging for some fluffy, unsubstantial food to restore her strength.
It must be admitted that there is a certain amount of fascination, and even convenience, in doing this thing; on a small scale, it is the same inspiration as that which keeps the explorer ever forging onward, and that is exactly what the traveller is, or ought to be, to get the maximum of enjoyment out of travel.
In England the tea-shop offers the solution of the light refreshment problem. Afternoon tea is still an exotic in American life which is absolutely scorned by man, though the American woman adopts the habit readily enough when she crosses the water. In England a tea-shop is a tea-shop and not a junkshop for the sale of bric-a-brac on the side.
In London there are many varieties of tea-shop, and some of these are legitimate lunch places of a kind, though their menu is usually restricted and they are apt to be overcrowded at the conventional tea hour. The "Aerated Bread Company's" shops – commonly known as the "A.B.C." – and the "British Tea Table" rooms are virtually developments of the "bun-shop" of the Victorian era. Here one can get such startling combinations as cold meat pies, marmalade, water cress, soft-boiled eggs and a cup of tea or coffee. This is an example of what suits a certain class of English taste, but one can do much better, even in these places, by taking a little pains in the composition of their menu.
As the price goes up the tea-shop grows more attractive. The "Kardomah" is a favourite establishment, got up in a most attractive style, primarily to advertise a particular brand of tea and coffee. The company has also a branch in Paris, where the tea-drinking habit has caught on among Anglomaniac French men and women to a remarkable extent. In London all restaurants have their tea hour and all hotels their tea rooms, and these are as much patronised from the outside as by guests of the house.
In the tea-shops of London's Bond Street, the de luxe shopping centre, one can have their tea served by impecunious ladies of title who have adopted this means of a livelihood. The English know the value of a noble prefix as a means of drawing trade. Milliners, coal dealers and lunch-room proprietors have all tried it, and successfully.
Prices vary, but the high-water mark for a "tea" does not usually rise above a shilling and sixpence, about thirty-six cents. This means a pot of tea, copious hot water and a liberal supply of the delicious thin "cut-bread-and-butter," whose delicate, economical transparency has brought the slicing of it to a science. A habitué of the tea table eats the dainty slices folded once over. This is a plain tea; if one wishes to add cakes, or water cress and cucumber sandwiches, and jam, the price goes up by sixpenny and shilling leaps, according to the environment in which one orders the refreshment.
Tea, with an accompaniment of plum cake, is a dinner spoiler, especially to the American, who usually wants to sit down to dinner before seven o'clock, but it must be confessed that the stimulating effects of afternoon tea as an aid to pleasurable travel are invaluable, and besides this, it supplies an element of sociability, particularly if partaken of in one of the fashionable and popular gathering places.
In the English countryside the "tea" fulfils its highest functions, and becomes the most enjoyable meal of the day. What could be more appealing than tea in a riverside garden of a little inn on the banks of the Thames, or on one of the many soft-flowing English rivers, where rosy-cheeked maidens bring out the tray and lay the cloth, where one may sit and watch the slow-moving punts, row boats and launches skimming over the river?
There is always the same thin "cut-bread-and-butter," and it is achieved by no patent knife either. One wonders, indeed, how it is done; it must be as the result of centuries of training, like the production of those wonderful lawns of the English and the smooth, sand-papered effect of the country in general.
England is dotted all over with the cabalistic word – -" Teas." "Teas" are quite a source of income to many a small cottager, who often hangs out a modest shingle beside the garden gate which reads: "Teas, Sixpence." One rarely goes amiss in trying out a "cottage-tea." You enter and pass up the little garden walk, between old-fashioned English flowers, and bang the knocker on the door. There is nothing about the little thatch-roofed cottage that suggests commerce. You are asked into a tiny parlour, a bit stuffy because its owner believes keeping out dust at the expense of fresh air.
"Will the lady have jam with her tea?" is asked. Sometimes the offer of a soft-boiled egg is made. The frugal minded in England push the afternoon tea along and turn it into a small supper, thus avoiding the formality and expense of a late dinner. Such a plan works admirably in the country, where the local inn usually serves a midday meal. The tea, in this case, is supplemented by the soft-boiled egg, cold meat and jam, and thus becomes a "high tea," thought not so high in price as the average hotel meal, not more than eighteen pence or two shillings at the most. Of course the "cottage-tea" does not always rise to this height, but such is always within the scope of the capabilities of the average country inn.
Tea in the English home is a function to be appreciated. English tea at its best is only to be had in the home service. In the great hall before the huge open fireplace on a chill November day in some country house, the ceremony attendant upon the serving of tea is something to be remembered, as it is on a June evening under the great cedars on the lawn. It is under such circumstances that one sees in its glory the English muffin, the porous, tasty crumpet, the hot scones and the tea cake. There are a number of variations of these delicious, indigestible dainties, while tea would not be tea without its accompanying plum cake. Tea in Scotland has its own accompanying specialties, such as hot, buttered scones and shortbread, beside which common pastry is like a health food cracker. The Scot needs his sturdy digestion!
Nowhere does tea seem so good as in England. It would be difficult for us to squeeze a fourth meal a day into the domestic economy of American life, but in the chilly little island one seems to require this in order to finish off the afternoon. The English tea room is fast becoming as much of an institution on the Continent as the café wherever the English congregate in large numbers. They have demanded it, and so all over Europe, in the large cities, it can often be found, and if of any pretensions, it serves also toast, scones and plum cake of a standard quite up to that found in Britain.
In Paris there is a nest of tea-shops gathered in the neighbourhood of the Rue de Rivoli which are the rendezvous of English and Americans alike, and where people stand in line waiting to get tables at some of the more popular. When they get them they pay Paris prices, too, usually far ahead of those of London. The Frenchwoman is also to be seen here in numbers; she has taken to the "five o'clock' habit, as it is called in France, with great gusto. These Paris tea rooms might be called "conversational tea rooms," so much do they lend themselves to social intercourse between the tourist flotsam and jetsam that sooner or later drifts together from all over Europe.
But no matter how delightful the cup of tea is in damp, foggy England, the false note for the traveller is sounded when the characteristic eating places of the country are neglected. It is the little things that stamp the individuality of a country on the mind of the traveller quite as much as its monuments. Food and drink, and the manner of their serving, will give one a far clearer insight into the life of a people than the mere contemplation of churches and palaces.
All over Paris there abound little crêmeries, where much the same sort of thing is purveyed as in a tea-shop, though in a much simpler manner and at lower prices. Things here are very French, which is what one wants in France, not imitations of the institutions of another country. The crêmerie serves principally coffee, chocolate, tea and milk, all of which will be very good as to quality. In a small way some pastry and biscuits are served, sometimes eggs, and usually, as a concession to its English and American clientele, jam or confiture.
One of the best attractions that Italy has to offer the hurried traveller for refreshment are the wares of her pasticcaria. These pastry shops are everywhere to be met, and their cakes are invariably good. The shops are so numerous as to suggest that the Italian lives largely on chocolate and cake. Regardless of the time of day, the pasticcaria always seems to be doing a rushing business, and more men than women make up its list of patrons.
Go to one of the big establishments in Genoa, Florence or Rome of an afternoon and it will be found overflowing with a mixture of the tourists of all nations, and members of Italian society as well. One may see an Italian officer looking like an operatic stage tenor in his long, graceful, pale-grey cloak, with his family, the women well-dressed, but lacking the chic of the Frenchwoman. There will be young collegians and young girls chaperoned by their mothers. In the height of season, from February to May, one will hear as much English spoken as Italian. Scattered about are little café tables, where a waiter will come to take your order, but it is quite the proper thing to wander about, selecting your own cake from the varied assortment displayed on long tables and counters at the end of the room. The variety of these cakes is bewildering. In the confection of little sweet cakes the Italians lead the world. Coffee is usually good, the tea fair to middling and the chocolate is served with whipped cream. The price of it all depends upon one's capacity for sweet things, but a lira should cover the cost of many cakes. In most of these Italian pastry shops there is something which greatly resembles a bar, from which are distributed all manner of drinks; that most largely consumed is the sweet, sticky, Italian Vermouth, the best brand of which is familiarly called "Cinzano." The Italian comes, too, to the pastry shop for his before-dinner apéritif, when he usually orders bitters, the most popular brand being "Fernet-Branca."
The Italian pastry shop is found in the most unexpected places, often as an attachment of a drug store, when it will be labelled "Drogheria e Pasticcaria," an ominous conjunction of words. Queer places they are, but barring the pastry, they run otherwise somewhat parallel to our own drug stores. The soda fountain is replaced by rows of bottles of sticky, syrupy drinks, and one stands before the counter and orders a "Cinzano," or sits down at a little table and sips bitters. The Italians declare that Vermouth is an antidote for fever, but in spite of this theory the drogheria is as prevalent as the pasticcaria, and often combines the functions of the two in as appetising a way as possible, the chief precaution taken seeming to be that the drugs shall not get mixed up with the pastry. You sit at a little table and watch the show go on, sipping a cup of chocolate, while the young man at the counter at your elbow weighs out senna and quinine to another client.
The pasticcaria in Italy is particularly welcome, as meals out of hours at hotels are rather uncertain, particularly in the countryside trattoria. It is a fact, too, that the rolls and coffee that one gets at the pasticcaria, are usually far and away ahead of those of the albergo.
The fare of the German beer garden is an agreeable varient in the food that one eats between hours, though its speiskarte is chiefly cheese and sandwiches. Between Italy and Germany comes Switzerland. The business-like Swiss restaurant and inn-keepers are all things to all classes of travellers, and one may run the gamut from the tea-shop, French card through to the beer garden. Switzerland has, moreover, its own style of go-between meals. Nearly every panorama of lake and mountain may be enjoyed from the vantage point of some little eating place, where one sits under a neatly barbered tree and eats bread and butter and honey, and milk from the cows that graze on the mountains above the clouds. Switzerland flows with milk and honey. One can see the brown and white cows perched high up on the mountain slopes, but one never sees the busy bees that supply the golden, sticky, so-called honey that is so lavishly ladled out. This very lavishness on the part of the economic Swiss is of itself suspicious. The little waitress of the Oberland, garbed in a black aureole coiffe and a breastplate of clanking, silver chains, once gave away the receipt: "Oh, no; it's not honey; it's made of sugar and glucose and something else; I have forgot just what, madame." It may have been the honey that was forgotten, for there is undoubtedly little of the bee-made taste about the concoction. However, the glorious mountain air counteracts any bad effects, and one is not critical or over-fastidious of their food with such a panorama as that of the Alps in view.
Prices rise with the altitude in the Alps, the cost of living depending largely upon the difficulty of transporting food up and down mountain roads. From one to two francs ought, though, to buy a little Swiss luncheon, which will be served on the red and white checkerboard tablecloth that one usually sees in a Swiss or German restaurant – the pattern sometimes varies, but the colour scheme rarely.
Under German influence light refreshments take on a more substantial aspect. Whatever may be the good qualities of Teutonic food, it cannot be qualified by the adjective dainty, though it is probably better fuel upon which to tour than tea and pastry. On the whole, the German beer garden is more enjoyable than a stuffy tea-shop or café. One sits under shady trees on the bank of a river, if there is one, with a good band playing within sight and sound, the German not being able to eat an enjoyable meal or drink with pleasure, without good music and plenty. The menu is abundant, but half a litre of beer, with a cheese or ham sandwich, or a plate of cold meat garnished with potato salad, is an indication that sufficient business is being transacted to warrant your being allowed to spend a whole afternoon or evening without being expected to move on.
The average German beer garden is an eminently proper place, even for the lone woman. The clientele around one will be made up of family parties, apparently occupying themselves with drinking endless chains of steins of beer, but in reality making one big mug last a whole evening. Chiefly it is the size of the beer mug that makes the German out such a hard drinker. There is usually coffee to be had if one wants it, though it is not necessary to follow the custom recently established in the more popular and showy beer gardens of the towns and make one's own coffee at the table. This is supposedly a local custom, but in reality has been established as a costly detail with which to keep the tourist interested.
In Germany, Teutonic Switzerland and Austria are found the classic and monumental beersteuben, gaudy with ornate mediaeval German decorations, where much the same programme, with its accompaniments, is carried out indoors.
The family life in evidence in Germany gives the woman from abroad a feeling of security that is often wanting in the surroundings of the French café; the "other world" does not to any extent frequent the best class of these German establishments, or if it does, it is not in such a way that the stranger is cognisant of it as an element. This diversion of music and light refreshment is also a solution as to what shall be done with the woman traveller's evenings, and as one phase of German family life is here spread out for inspection, contemplation of it should be most instructive and amusing.
Since the French café practically serves no nourishment other than its liquid refreshments – a fact that Americans abroad do not always take into consideration – and since that delightful adjunct of foreign life is treated of elsewhere in this book, no further reference is made.
In the cities and large towns of France are found "Café Restaurants" and "Brasseries," and these, while having their limitations as to menus, will cater for the hurried hungry one with such simple dishes as cold meats, sandwiches, eggs and always a plat de jour – a single special hot dish each day.
In Belgium and Holland, those indeterminate countries where the characteristics of food and drink borrow much from either side – Holland from the German and Belgium from the French – the café and the beer hall thrive side by side, each practically unchanged from what it is in the land of its birth.
In Brussels, to mark another distinction, is to be seen the popular "Taverne." Nowhere else does the combined eating and drinking place of this class rise to such a height. Virtually it is an elaborated cafe, with a full restaurant service. For anything approaching a substantial meal, one picks out a place at one of the already set out tables; if only a sandwich, a glass of beer or a cup of tea is wanted, one is served on a plain oak table undressed with napery.
There remains but one form of itinerant eating abroad to be considered in the nature of a simple repast, and by this is referred to such refreshment as one takes at a railway station in the interval between trains. In France some of these railway eating houses are really excellent, celebrated even, like that at Dijon. This comes rather in the class of a pretentious restaurant, but the lunch counter accessory is conducted on the same bountiful lines, the three-franc déjeuner of the restaurant descending in price, but not in quality, to the one franc, twenty-five centime repast of the marble-topped table of the lunchroom. Snails and the rich red wine of Burgundy are likely enough to be an accompaniment of each, hence the epicure has only impecuniosity to regret in case he dines or sups at the lower price.
The dining-car services on European railways are good or bad as the mood is on, but they serve their purpose in a way, though there is nothing especially characteristic of any land about them or their food, nor is their provender or cooking any better than it ought to be. Moreover, they are costly.
Dining on the cross channel boats between England and France is atrocious, as indeed it is at most railway eating houses in England. On Mediterranean steamers between France and north African ports, particularly on those lines which are French, the formal French course lunch and dinner is often excellent, if one is able to partake thereof – wine, coffee and liqueurs being included – for the smilingly blue waters of the Mediterranean Lake can be turbulent at times.
One lunches and dines delightfully, too, on a Rhine steamer, as luxuriously or as simply as one will, on deck, in between glimpses of Rhine castles, to the accompaniment of the inevitable German band. On the boats of the Swiss and Italian lakes the same thing is partially true, but the melody which goes with the meals is more of the dulcet Italian variety than that of the brazen Teuton.