We were at a local Meetup dedicated to sharing food from different countries, The event sponsor researches a cuisine, posts some recipes, and the people who are interested pick recipes, prepare them, and then share them at a pot luck dinner.
This time it was Madagascar cuisine. I really enjoyed preparing food from a different cuisine, though I do wonder if someone from Madagascar had dropped in would the reaction have been, “OH WOW! It’s like being home again!” or “Where did you say this was from?” It doesn’t really matter the main thing is that we enjoy it. And we did,
Dinner was winding up, and people were talking about other possible cuisines. The woman across the table said it, “I don’t like German food. Or Greek food.”
I’m not sure why that bothers me. Is it partly because I was born in and raised in Germany for a number of years, so my culture was being treated disrespectfully? I hope not.
What bothered me more is the limited vision that can pick up an entire culture and toss it in a box, wrap the box and stamp it “rejected”. It is incomprehensible. It’s like saying, “I don’t like beer.” or “I don’t like wine.” or “I don’t like cheese.”
Or, let’s wrestle this to the ground and kick it, it’s like saying “I don’t like American food.” Having lived in the United States for over 50 years, and having traveled widely, there is a lot of food in this great land of ours that I don’t care for. But I couldn’t say I don’t like American food. Even if I don’t like fried chicken, fried okra, fried corn nuggets, fried onion rings, and fried cookie dough for dessert, that doesn’t really define “American Food”. There are crab boils on the east coast, barbeque in any of several dozen styles, a vibrant vegetarian cuisine, there are increasing locavore cuisines. And New Orleans… little is as American as New Orleans, or as diverse. There are stunning seafood cuisines all along our coasts. And American Chinese, Italian and German cuisines are very distinct from their homeland roots, distinct enough they should be considered different cuisines altogether.
On the German-American front, what is sold in Frankenmuth Michigan is very different from what is sold in Fredricksburg Texas. And Wisconsin has it’s own German-American enclaves.
So, ya got a whole country to choose from and you couldn’t find a thing to eat? Wow.
At the time I offended her by commenting that such broad statements usually display a lack of exposure to the cuisine, or food group, in question. And I believe that still. Of course, there seems to be a rising trend in this country that you are entitled to say anything that comes to mind and no one is allowed to question it. I’ve never bought into that. Feel free to tell me I’m wrong. I’m a married guy, I can take it.
My own view is that a new food is a new friend I haven’t met yet. And with foods I’ve already tried and found wanting, I keep trying. Like Poi, I’ve never had it in Hawaii, but I’ve had it at several Luau’s on the mainland. And it tastes like a low grade of library paste to me. My wife, a librarian, agrees – and she knows her library paste. Still, when someone offers us Poi, we try some, hoping that this time we’ll understand what we haven’t so far.
Last night, that willingness paid off. For years people have tried to get me to eat mangoes. And I do. And I just don’t get it. The texture is close enough to melons that the texture is OK. And the color is nice. Many times, the aroma is great. But all the ones I’ve tried have a nasty aftertaste, kind of metallic. Mango lovers tell me different varieties are different and I should keep trying them. I know how different apples can be, so I keep trying.
Several dishes last night featured mango, some as slices, and also in a mango/curry chutney that is to Madagascar what salsa is to Mexico. And both were SO good. At last, all the bad mangoes redeemed! If I hadn’t tried it, I’d have missed out on the experience. Now I need to look for more mangoes.
Back to German cuisine. It’s not just wurst and kraut. There are excellent beers and wines there. Roulanden, which are thin strips of beef rolled around tasty fillings and braised. Sauerbraten, a marinated and roasted beef or game is tangy and delightful. And Weinerschnitzel is a lot more than a chicken fried steak.
Fresh and delicate vegetables. White asparagus is quite different than the green stuff we’re used to in the states.
An endless assortment of breads, from white and light, to dark wheat breads, to seeded breads, to awesome rye breads. So many breads just bursting with flavors that people raised on WonderBread just couldn’t imagine. And after you try them, you won’t imagine eating WonderBread ever again! Many times, the breads are topped with preserves made from some of the finest fruits in the world. And cheeses. And don’t get me started on aufschnitt, Germany’s answer to charcuterie. Usually sliced to make sandwiches, these cured meats are a true delight. Excuse me, I need to go lie down.
I’m back. And there are pastries to rival any in France. German glazed pies, such as erdbeern torte, or strawberry pie, are different from any I’ve had elsewhere. Cool, refreshing and delightful, like a tart, but not quite like a tart. A bit more whipped cream please? My Oma (grandmother) always called it schlank sahne. A bit of a pun.
The Kaffe Klatch is a lovely custom that holds its own in comparison to Afternoon Tea. Coffee, pastries, cookies, cakes, whipped cream, and conversation.
Like all countries in Europe, the cuisine of Germany was influenced by a wide range of other countries. The same Austrians that so influenced French cuisine also influenced German cuisine. It’s really hard to reject one cuisine in Europe without rejecting the cuisines of its neighbors.
I haven’t been there, but Beth tells me in Helgaland there is a great seafood based cuisine. I’ve never been there, but I’d sure like to go.
At the end of this post, I’m not sure I’ve made a point. Other than it seems weird to reject a whole nation’s food out of hand.
Wherever you go, I hope you enjoy the food you are served!