I’ve had a couple people ask me about the food here, so I thought I’d do a short post on some of my culinary experiences thus far.
(View out of our window-seat at Zum Domstein in Trier)
Several times within the first week of our arrival, I had heard people mention how tired they got of the food at the hotel where we were staying. This surprised me, especially after my first meal there. I ordered a chicken, stuffed with sage and topped with cream sauce, with carrots and potatoes, and found it quite delicious. Aaron and I chuckled a little at the English translations on the menu. (Side note, English and German syntax are so different from each other that word-for-word translations can be quite laughable.) But after some further translating, Aaron got beef with Mosel peaches, and enjoyed his meal as well. In the ensuing weeks I tried wienerschnitzle (pork with mushroom and cream sauce), chicken with curry (there are some interesting Turkish and Indian influences mixed into the German culinary palette), tomato and veggie soup, and more. Aaron had spatzle several times – a sort of special noodle made with potato, I believe (probably a safe bet, everything here is made with potato).
Once I got situated and learned how to run the gauntlet that is the German grocery store, our meals were varied by my own culinary attempts. As our stay at the Maas lengthened, these home-made meals became more frequent and agreeable. Eating at one restaurant every night for weeks can certainly bring on a sense of ennui, and Aaron and I both lost the initial fervor that we had for the restaurant’s food. I used not to understand the Americans who, in foreign countries, sought out the nearest Chipotle or McDonalds. Now, I have more sympathy. Food is such an innate part of comfort and community, that one sometimes wishes for a familiar meal at the end of a long day.
Besides the Roman meal we ate in Trier (see previous post) most of our meals have been similar to those described above. Germans seem to thrive on pork, potatoes, yogurt, and salt. Even dishes that seem to have none of those ingredients seem somehow to taste like them, though not necessarily in a disagreeable way.
One of the most interesting experiences I have had with German food thus far happened last week. Normally at the Maas while your food is preparing, a nice waiter or waitress will bring out a basket of delicious bread, and a small dish of a sort of sour cream with herbs in it. Aaron prefers butter (being the good Anglophile that he is) and usually forgoes the cream, but is generally happy to help me with my portion of the bread.
Last week as were waiting for our food, the waiter brought us something different to go with our bread. This waiter is probably in his early twenties, kind and very German-looking, and has served us many times. Though he doesn’t speak much English (and we don’t speak much German) he has always made us feel at home with his ready smile and constant question of “Alles gut?” (“Is all well?”). He seemed particularly pleased that evening when he brought us something else in a small dish to eat with our bread that night. I thought at first that it was the usual herbs and cream, but instead it was something that looked more like stiff mashed potatoes. “Was ist das?” I asked him. He smilingly replied in German, but I had no idea what he meant. He obviously figured that I didn’t understand, so after thinking a few moments he said: “I don’t know how to say. But all I can say is that it is pig-butter?” I nodded and smiled, pretending to be ok with this strange item. He pointed to the bread, and said something in German that obviously meant “You dip your bread in it.” I thanked him again, and after he left looked in dismay at Aaron.
We were equally divided between amusement at the strange dish (which we think might have been lard?) and the uncertainty of how we were going to pretend that we ate some. In the end we smeared it around a little in the dish and hoped that it would do. Neither one of us considered for an instant the possibility of eating any. Perhaps we were not being adventurous enough, but when it comes to pig-butter, I think I can be safely allowed to pass.
On a more agreeable note, our wonderful new landlady had us over a few Sundays ago to discuss our house etc. and served us a fine afternoon tea while we were there. Beef and cucumber sandwiches, egg sandwiches, cakes and tarts of all sorts were laid out for us on a beautiful table decorated with candles. She even got our her china for us and served us coffee! We felt like royalty.
German grocery stores have inexpensive and fresh fruit and veggies, and that has been a delight to an apprentice cook like myself. But that’s a story for another day, perhaps.