Updated: Apr 13
The last time I took a train with a dining car was right after I graduated from high school. A friend suggested we go to Europe, I had nothing better to do, so off we went.
We flew to Brussels and from there, took a train to Paris. It was lunchtime, so we were overjoyed that we could eat.
When I opened the door to the dining car, I was struck by the rows of tables, all set with white tablecloths, china, silverware, and gleaming glasses. The sight threw me back to memories I cherished. My childhood was filled with trips on the overnight trains we took from Paris to the South of France. I still delight in recalling the meals and my thrill at listening to the sound of the train barreling down the tracks as I fell asleep.
But back to the Brussels to Paris trip: My traveling partner and I were shown to a table and I, jubilant to be back en France, my real home, gazed out the window at the countryside swooshing by until the waiter placed un panier à pain on our table.
Who would think that a piece of bread could be so anticipated? I couldn’t wait to taste what most French people consider to be the most important part of the meal, and I dove in.
I heard the sound of the crust breaking apart and filling my mouth to the thrill of my tastebuds. I’ve searched and discovered nowhere in the world where you can find bread that tastes like a French baguette. The crust was crisp and crackled when broken to expose the center la mie; light and filled with holes that are the perfect contrast to the crust. I was in ecstasy.
My joy was only surpassed when I was served my slice of pear tart. I took my first bite while looking out the window, and when the eruption of flavors exploded in my mouth, my focus changed to what I was eating.
The mix of the flaky crust, the touch of pastry cream, contrasted with the crackle of the caramel that coated the succulent pear was beyond amazing and I savored every bite. To this day, I’ve never had a piece of pear tart that was as good.
Unfortunately, those experiences are few and far between. Now, when I take a train, it’s a bullet train: the TGV (Train a Grande Vitesse). Their speed has transformed train travel, but the tradition of great food is gone, at least on the TGV.
Dining cars can still be found on special trains, but they are no longer on the regularly scheduled ones that run throughout Europe. That feels so sad; we’ve exchanged a leisurely trip that indulged our senses for speed.
How about you?
Do you have memories of train travel with dining and sleeping cars? I’d love to hear about your experiences.
Check out what Conde Nast Traveler chose as the best dining cars available today.
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"I read this book pre-publication. I am not a cook and don’t really want to be one. However, if I had kids and they’d survived to at least their teen years living on my microwaved and stovetop roasting methods of preparing food, I would buy this book and give it to them wrapped in a bow with an apology note: This is how to cook, my dears. I’m sorry I didn’t want to do this for you, but I know you love food, so here is everything I was unable to teach you. Everything you’ll ever want to know and pass on to your kids.” —Betsy Robinson
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Le Kitchen Cookbook
Everything you need to know to be a good cook.
by Adeline M. Olmer