Thursday, August 21, 2008

Gut Essen

Europe is known for it's food. Or maybe France is known for its food. Sometimes when a person makes a generality about Europe - "Well, in Europe they...(insert ideal that America fails to attain i.e. recycle regularly, walk more often, speak multiple languages, have free college tuition, don't shave their armpits" - that person really means France unless he or she specifies otherwise.

Based on my previous, brief experiences in Greece and England I feel comfortable saying this whole continent has great food. Maybe it's because chain restaurants are few and far between. Or maybe it's just because most people (including myself) assume different and delicious are synonymous (but Tunaishpizza proved me wrong. More on that later). Regardless, I was stoked to review my dining options in Germany.

Last Sunday the Fulbrighters, all 38 of us, took a trip to Christenberg, a small town about twenty minutes away from Marburg. Christenberg means "Castle Hill" and had a fortification on its summit for at least fifteen centuries, from the second through the seventeenth. Before taking a tour of the battle-weary grounds, we ate at a pub overlooking the valley. The pub is actually owned by the local church, a church which has been around since the eleventh century, and, man, those parishioners could serve some mean wurst.

What you see in the photograph is an authentic German sausage (wurst), and "Pig on a Stick," also called (by me) bacon kebab with spicy German mustard. Both were delicious. What you don't see is the German potato salad, pasta salad and a pint of Hefeweizen beer.
That's a barbecue. The rest of the area was gorgeous, but my impression was probably made slightly rosier by the incredible meal I was digesting.

The barbeque-er was a blond, middle-aged German woman who was more than willing to throw as much food on your plate as you had space for. When I tried to stop her from throwing another sausage my way, she raised her eyebrows, challenging me to clean my plate and come back for more. I did.

She also apologized for her "poor English" as did the tour guide we had later in the day (He was also the principal of the local school. I guess educators are underpaid everywhere). I've become very skeptical of Germans apologizing for their English. I would feel an incredible rush of accomplishment if I could produce the German word for "Interactive Touch-Screen" or "Are you enjoying the food?" on a whim.

Here are a few more photographs of the area. I hope to put together a photo album of the pictures I took, but here are some favorites:

The forest leading up to the former site of the castle. The slight mounds to the left and right of the frame are former defense walls. This is also an example of a typical central German forest. The scene reminds me of the forest in Disney's Sleeping Beauty or an illustration for a Grimm Fairy Tale.

The church is the only surviving building from the old fortress and walled city that once sat in the green space my fellow Fulbrighters are traversing. The church itself wasn't particularly ornate. It was and always has been a relatively humble country church. But the interior did offer some wonderful lighting, including the open door picture that I am using for my profile picture.

But this post is about food. Yesterday a group of us went to Mexicali, one of two Mexican restaurants I've seen in town. I was curious to try the German interpretation of Mexican cuisine. There aren't exactly a lot of Mexican immigrants in the Rhineland, so I figured it must be a German take on American Tex-Mex. The results could be disastrous, hilarious or both. Thus my interest. It was also intriguing because the restaurant is next to Elisabethkirche, the oldest Gothic church in Germany.

In fact, the restaurant sits on the very spot where St. Elizabeth performed her healing miracles and was a point of pilgrimage before the church itself was constructed. So, if the food wasn't great, at least the site could help me get over the last of my Jet-Lag.

I was a little skeptical of the place when we first entered. There was no Our Lady of Guadeloupe tapestry by the front door and the bathrooms were labeled "Men's" and "Ladies" rather than "Senors" and "Senoritas" or the standard German "Herren" and "Frauen." But I kept these observations to myself (now muse on how different cuisines get passed through different cultural hands. I did while we sat down. Any interesting thoughts? I had some).

It was a strange experience to examine the menu. I don't know what everything on an English-Spanish (Spanglish) Mexican restaurant menu is. My confusion was of course compounded by the German-Spanish (Spantsch?) menu. Fortunately "Salsa und Chips" is pretty self-explanatory.

Cultural note: As far as I can tell, the Germans take our side in the Brit versus American "Chip versus Fry" debate. The English call fried potatoes "Chips." In the states we obviously call them "Fries." They call thin, fried potatoes "Crisps" while we call them "Chips." The Germans agree with the United States. A thin, fried piece of potato (or corn, in this case) is a "Chip." Thank you Deutschland.

Finally ordering "Ich möchte das 'Enchiladas Verde' und eine 'Margarita,'" felt a little weird. Of course in perfect English our waiter asked, "Would you like chicken or beef?" We complimented him on his English. He apologized it was terrible. This is a familiar ritual. I covet his ability to readily communicate with a table of ten people while I can hardly get out of the library without getting Deutsch-slapped (a new word coined by Catherine, a Fulbrighter headed to Berlin).

Ultimately the food was good. The rice and beans were well seasoned and the sauce tangy if not spicy. Someone asked for some hot sauce and we were a little disappointed when Tabasco was our only option, but to be fair, we wanted a German-Mexican experience, not an American one. It reminded me of Cazuela's, the Mexican restaurant on High Street near OSU which made me slightly nostalgic. The bill didn't remind me much of Cazuela's, and even if I had a fantastic experience at Mexicali, I don't think my wallet could support the habit (though Thusday Karaoke may lure me back. I would love to hear a tipsy German belt "Livin' on a Prayer").

Other highlights include the beer at the cafès. It's usually cheaper than the water (and I expect there to be bubbles in my beer, not my water). My least favorite meal so far came last Monday. I went to cafè in the Oberstadt for dinner and ordered "Tunischpizza." I had never had tuna on a pizza before, so I was intrigued. I think in my enthusiasm to try something new, I might have missed a key noun: Ei. That is "Egg." The "pizza" was baked French bread with canned tuna, sliced hard-boiled eggs and mozzarella with no sauce. I would hesitate to recommend this combination to any but the most die-hard tuna-egg-and-cheese-combo fans. They must be out there, but I am not a member of their merry band.

Hope you're eating well, even if you're not in Europe (specifically Germany but not excluding France). Next time...Grammar!


German Heutewort: Der Beruf - Occupation

Was is Ihr Beruf? Ich bin Paleonthologe. Ich studire bisschen Säugetier.
What is your occupation? I am a a Paleontologist. I study tiny mammals.


Carolyn said...

Apparently eggs are the new "it" ingredient for pizzas: at a trendy local-foods place in town, they recently offered a broccoli pesto pizza with bacon and egg...except in this case, they cracked a raw egg on top of the pizza, letting the residual heat cook it a little bit. I'm glad I asked the waitress about it before ordering.

Mama B said...

"Deutsch-slapped" has now made it into my vocabulary. And egg will never be on my pizza. Especially in the way Carolyn describes...

daddyb said...

nice - try Weinerschnitzel.