Cook, Shop, Seek

Since I have known him, my husband has been obsessed with cars. But don’t worry, this post won’t be about cars, because I get enough of that kind of talk at home. For the past year or two, his interests (obsessions) have taken a turn in a more gourmet direction. Now, instead of eyeing the latest little sports car, he is eyeing produce. My husband actually reads cookbooks and cooking magazines for fun! His favorite chef is Jamie Oliver, of course. Jamie is manly and has a British accent. He cooks with a lot of chili and everything looks simple when you are picking out your next recipe. But when you start looking for ingredients, the simple part ends and the fun begins.

If you compare your local German supermarket with your local American or English one, you will most likely be astounded by the lack of variety in the German ones. You can expect six or eight brands of yogurt, but you can’t expect six or eight brands of bread. There are certainly not as many light products and pretty much no fat-free ones. Now, generally, I don’t mind this. I am of the opinion that light and fat-free products taste like chemicals and that you might as well eat less of the good stuff if that is what’s important to you. The produce here tends more towards what is in season, which means you may not necessarily find clementines in July or rhubarb in January. I don’t mind this either, because eating closer to home is certainly healthier and better for the environment. And produce is much cheaper here. You can find very good bio (organic) produce at Aldi or Lidl and you won’t pay anywhere near the price you would pay in the U.S. for it. I can see why it might be hard to eat healthy living in the States with the way the economy is going right now. Those nice little pots of basil and thyme and rosemary cost about €1.49 here and run for about $5 in the US. Milk is cheaper here in Germany and don’t even get me started about cheese (both quality and prices). Yum!

Anyway, if you are planning to cook a dinner using one of Jamie’s recipes, you start by making your list. In the U.S. you would make your list, go to one of the larger supermarkets and find everything, from fish to cilantro to saffron. Here in Germany, you make your list, try to figure out which grocery store would be most likely to have each thing and hope for the best. First you hit Rewe, thinking, they always have basil and never have cilantro, but usually have green asparagus. You get there and find that they only have coriander on Tuesday mornings after 9am and that the green asparagus is coming in after Thursday. Next you go to Aldi, who usually have bio lemons and boneless chicken breast, and find that they have lots of chicken breast but the person in front of you got the last bag of bio lemons and since they are closed on Sunday, no one is restocking them.

Now this all may sound like a wild goose chase, and sometimes it does feel like that, but it does usually turn out to be cheaper to cook nice meals in Germany than it is in the U.S. Last Christmas, my husband decided to re-enact our Christmas dinner from Germany for my parents in the U.S. during our visit. We started by looking for prawns. We paid twice as much for those. Clementines could be found, but only at Whole Foods, which means you pay the price for all that nice-looking produce and posh looking European stuff. Arugula was also only sold as a sort of fresh spice in a bag. It looked different and tasted slightly different, but we compromised. Then we started looking for buffalo mozzarella, which costs about €1.50 a ball at our local Kaufland. We finally found it at the cheese counter of Whole Foods — for $10 a ball. Umm, no thanks, we will stick with the regular stuff.

So in the end, I think I will make do with what I have here. I sometimes feel like an immigrant from behind the old Iron Curtain when I hit the grocery stores in the US. “Look at those giant onions!”, “Look at the economy size box of Cheerios!”, “Ten pounds of T-bone steak?”. Since I now have a family of six, I can truly appreciate economy size. Here in Germany they sometimes have economy sizes, but usually they don’t make it any cheaper! What’s the point? Either way, you learn to live with the things that are different in the beginning, and eventually, you learn to appreciate those same things. I would love to invite Jamie Oliver over here and have him try to round up the ingredients for one of his “simple” meals, though!

– Sarah