Expatriate Eating Adventures: Volume 1

Food, food culture and cooking has always been important to me. All three of those things are hobbies of mine. By extension I am also interested in matters of health when related directly to food and cooking.

So my move to Germany a few years ago was, in part, an opportunity to dive head-first into a new culinary world. Americans commonly complain that there is no culture back in our homeland. Spending a few rainy afternoons craving everything from macaroni and cheese to burritos to BBQ to a good old fashioned Thanksgiving turkey dinner will correct that notion.

You don’t have to like it, but it is tradition.

Food and how we approach it is part and parcel of who we are. In this case my expectations as an amateur chef in the New California school of cooking was a big part of my identity. It formed the basis of what I cooked with, how I felt about certain cooking methods and ingredients, how I felt about certain restaurants and cafes (*cough* Starbucks) and basically meant that I was a hardcore food snob. More to the point, I was a food snob of Russian-Jewish background. That meant pork was automatically on the blacklist, except for bacon which we all know was accidentally made part of the pig as an administrative error by God’s underlings. So bacon was OK. And cheeseburgers. Clams are good too… well, I was never all that religious, anyways.

But here I am now in the heartland of all cuisine that relates to the pig. Pork comes in far more forms and varieties than I could ever have dreamed. From the obvious (pork roasts) to the subtle (Speck… basically bacon like bits of pork frequently used as a flavor enhancer) to the kind of thing that would make my beloved grandmother shudder: Mettwurst. Mettwurst is straight-up raw pork with a high dose of pork fat all ground together. Sometimes raw onions are added, as well.

If I had known what it was before trying it, I am sure would have held out much longer. But one day I was at a birthday lunch and our hosts trotted out of the kitchen a big plate of this ground meat and rolls. One of my friends spread the meat on a half-roll and then planted the thing face down in a bowl of diced onions. They called it Feuerwehr Marmelade (Fireman’s Marmalade). It looked and smelled great.

Then I tried it. Guess what? It was great! I knew it was pork as that is pretty much all they eat around here apart from potatoes washed down beer or sparkling apple juice. I did not realize how it was made, though. The funny thing is that coming from California with a few elements of a yuppy background, I was already in the midst of a ten year love affair with sushi. On top of that, my food machoness meant that I sought out other adventures, partially for the adventure but also partially for the bragging rights. During my time in California I also developed a liking for Kitfo. Kitfo is an Ethiopian dish which is nothing more than raw ground beef with hot butter and some hot spices. Yum!

But can you imagine that even which such food adventures under my belt that I held pork in disdain all of this time? The crazy thing is… it took moving 6000 miles and immersing myself into an alien culture to turn me around. I had already resolved myself to not being any kind of spoilsport or whiny “but I can’t eat that” kind of guy which surely would have marked me as a non-integrated foreigner. I would have “tolerated” pork in any case but now I can actually count that as part of the adventure of living in a new culture. It is now something I look forward to.

I know my hosts appreciate my openness to this experience. My friends often make a point of making pork free dinner for us when I come over… but I assure them that if they were to put a plate of Mettwurst in front of me, purely for intercultural harmony and understanding, I would dig in. Well… I might enjoy it… a little. Or maybe a lot.

– Geoff