Tuesday, 15 April 2014

On German food...

Like most people, I love to eat.  In fact it's one of my greatest joys in life.  When it comes to food, Germany does some things really well, and some things not so well.  I have found some new favourite dishes here, but I've also encountered things which I can't understand anyone enjoying.

It's always nice to end on a positive note, so I'm going to start with the things I just don't get about German cuisine...

1. Fizzy Water

When is water not water?  When you're in Germany, apparently.  Germans don't really drink what I consider to be normal water.  Instead they consume this disgusting fizzy, sour stuff called Sprudelwasser.  Supposedly it's really good for you, but I just think it's gross.  It tastes weird, it doesn't quench my thirst, and it makes me feel all burpy.  People keep telling me that I'll get used to it.  Well, I've been here for almost a year now, and I haven't gotten used to it.  And I'm not alone - if you ask most people, they'll tell you they prefer normal, still, un-mineralised water.  You know, pure H2O.  The way it's meant to be.  I'm pretty sure drinking fizzy water is a specifically German quirk.  A while ago I was staying in Lübeck with singers from around the world, and we were provided with a choice of still or fizzy water.  Guess which water bottles ran out first?  Most of us (except the Germans) drank still water.  By the end we had nothing but fizzy water left to drink, and there was a lot of grumbling about it.  Now, you can get rid of the bubbles by repeatedly shaking the bottle and undoing the cap to release the gas.  But even when you've "de-bubbled" a bottle of fizzy water, that weird sour taste is still there.  It's horrible.  I don't understand why anyone would drink the stuff voluntarily.

Ugh... why??

2. Vegetarian Options (or lack thereof)

Ok, so it's probably harder to be a vegetarian in a place like, say, China.  But here in the land of sausage and schnitzel, the options for a vegetarian are severely limited.  If I am doing my own shopping and cooking, I don't have too many problems - although I must say, chickpeas are unreasonably difficult to find.

Seriously - most supermarkets don't even know what they are.

But if I'm travelling - as I usually am - and eating at restaurants and hotels, things can look get pretty bleak.  No matter how many exciting varieties of cheese and bread there might be, at the end of the day it is just cheese and bread.  It gets pretty boring after a while.

3. Marzipan

Now, some people out there adore marzipan.  And to those people I say... WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU???  For the uninitiated, marzipan is a type of "candy" epidemic to German sweet shops.  It is a paste made of sugar and almond meal.  Mmmm, almond meal.  Doesn't that sound like a treat to give your children?  How this grainy sickening substance ever got labelled as delicious candy is anyone's guess.  But the Germans are extremely proud of it, and love to bestow it as gifts to unsuspecting tourists and hotel guests.  The worst part is, it looks like something that will taste really exciting.  It's always whimsically molded and coloured to look like cute little animals or pieces of fruit.  Or it's covered in chocolate (presumably to try to mask the horrible marzipan taste).  But don't believe the confectioner's lies.  Marzipan is NOT delicious.  At best - and I mean, at the very best - it is tolerable.  The only time I've ever eaten marzipan was when I was jet-lagged and wide awake in a hotel.  It was 3:30 in the morning and I was starving, and there was nothing else to eat.  If I weren't a vegetarian, I might have considered gnawing off my left arm.  But instead I chose to choke down the hotel's "gift" of marzipan.  It was a true act of desperation.

Trust me - it doesn't taste as adorable as it looks.

4. Pudding

I don't hate pudding.  It's a fairly innocuous substance.  You know, the kind of thing you eat in the hospital when you've just had your tonsils out and you're too ill to chew.  But it's not something I would choose to eat for dessert.  I mean, it's just so unsatisfying.  There's nothing to do with it.  Nothing to sink your teeth into.  All you do is put it in your mouth and swallow.  And it's all so samey.  No variety in thickness, taste, or texture.  I mean really, what's the point?  This is why I find myself rolling my eyes when, for the umpteenth time, a German Mensa serves nothing but a variety of puddings for dessert.  It feels like such a cop-out.  I mean, whatever happened to a nice piece of cake?


5. Sundays

I know I harp on about this one a lot, but Sundays in German can be majorly depressing.  It's fine if you're at home and you can plan ahead by shopping on Saturday.  But if you're travelling and living out of a hotel, it's almost impossible to find a restaurant that's open for dinner on a Sunday.  Basically, your options are limited to Chinese food or a kebab.  I can't tell you how many times the Turkish have saved me from starvation on a Sunday night!

Whew.  That was a bit of a downer.  Let's move on to the positives.  Here's the good things about German food...

1. The Bread

Soooo good...

If there's one thing the Germans do right, it's bread  There's always a bakery around the corner offering a delicious variety of bread and rolls.  It's normal to start the day with a little walk to the bakery to fetch some fresh Brötchen.  And you can forget about choosing between boring old brown or white bread.  In Germany there are so many beautiful kinds to choose from: walnut, pumpkinseed, sesame... Some of them are so good that you don't even need to put anything on them.  Going gluten-free?  That's ok too.  Most bakeries make a tasty loaf of Dinkelbrot.

2. The Chocolate

As a dedicated chocoholic, this is the most important point for me.  I could never be happy in a country that doesn't have good chocolate.  Luckily, Germany offers a wide variety of delicious high-quality chocolate - and for a very reasonable price.  I have lived in Belgium, allegedly the world's chocolate capital.  But I have to say that I like German chocolate better.  My personal favourite is a Peppermint Ritter Sport.  I could polish one of those off in a matter of minutes.

The Best

3. Breakfast

Germans know how to enjoy their breakfast.  None of this nonsense of rushing off with a cup of coffee and a doughnut - in Germany breakfast is a lengthy affair, meant to be lingered over and savoured in full.  It is, after all, the most important meal in the day.  A typical German breakfast might include fresh Brötchen from the bakery with a selection of jams, cheeses and cold cuts, smoked fish, fresh fruit and vegetables, yoghurt, muesli, eggs, bacon... and that's on top of your coffee or tea.  It's usually a formal sit-down meal (especially with older-generation Germans), so that you have plenty of time to sit down and chat with your family/roommates/colleagues/whathaveyou as you enjoy your morning feast.  It's a really lovely way to start the day.


4. Restaurant Bills

You know when you're eating out with friends, and the waiter makes a big fuss about it when you ask to separate the bill?  Well this doesn't happen in Germany.  Does. Not. Happen.  Separating the bill is totally normal and expected behaviour.  They simply ask you zusammen oder getrennt?  And if you answer getrennt, they add up the cost of your food on the spot.  No fuss, no drama.  This is the way customer service should be.

5. Käsespätzle

Pure deliciousness.

My favourite treat when I'm in Stuttgart is a nice big plate of Käsespätzle.  It's one of the few traditional Schwäbisch dishes which I can enjoy as a vegetarian.  Käsespätzle is a rich, eggy kind of noodle made with a creamy cheese sauce.  Most places will top it with caramelised onions, which makes for a mouth-watering combination.  Extremely hearty and delicious, especially when washed down with a mug of beer.  It's like mac n' cheese - pimped out.  It's the ultimate comfort food.

Well, there you go - the highlights and lowlights of German cuisine.  Of course, these are just my opinions.  The best way to figure out what you like is to try it for yourself.  Guten Appetit!


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