It’s not quite cheese, it’s not quite yoghurt

Quark 2I first heard of quark (such a wonderfully German name) 7 years ago in the “exotic” dairy section of a high-end UK supermarket in London. I was with my German husband. “Oooh” he exclaimed, with tangible excitement, “Look, quark – shall we get some?” I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about and when I asked what quark was he couldn’t really tell me. “It’s a bit like yoghurt,” he said, “Only thicker, more like cream cheese.” Nevertheless, we took home this mysterious dairy hybrid and I was an immediate convert. So what’s the excitement all about?

If you’re new to living in a German-speaking country, the chances are you’ll have noticed quark. A staple of German cuisine, it features prominently in supermarket fridges, bakery counters, cafe menus and Kindergarten meal plans alike. But to call it a cross between cheese and yoghurt is to do it a disservice. Quark is unique. True, technically-speaking it is somewhere between the two. Like yoghurt, it’s made from soured milk, but the starter culture used for quark is different and provides a significantly less sour taste. Like cream or cottage cheese, it’s mild and creamy, but it is without salt. Being salt-free is only the beginning of its nutritional qualities; it’s higher in protein than yoghurt and, in its full-fat form, is a great source of vitamin K2, which helps keep calcium in your bones. Amazing!  Continue reading

Green Sauce

Chopping herbs in London

Chopping herbs in London Photo: Chloe Daniel

The origins of Frankfurter Grüne Sosse (green sauce) are not entirely clear. It is largely believed that the Romans brought it from the Near East. But the route the recipe followed from Italy to Hessen (where it is today a celebrated local speciality) is disputed. Some say it was introduced in Hessen by Italian trading families, others that the recipe travelled to France and was later brought to Germany by French Huguenots – a story which makes some sense, given that the second largest settlement of Huguenots in what is now Germany was in Hessen in the late seventeenth century. What I know for sure, however, is that Easter is not Easter in my parents-in-law’s house in Hessen without at least one meal of Grüne SosseContinue reading

Drinking Kaffee in Germany

You can tell when you have crossed the frontier into Germany because of the badness of the coffee.
– Edward VII (1841-1910, son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert)*

I’m a devoted coffee drinker. I drink it wherever I am, especially in Europe. I’ve had coffee in Austria, France, Germany, Italy, the UK, and even Slovenia. The Germans always rave about their coffee, but I think German coffee is highly overrated. There, I’ve said it. Now here’s why I say it.

First, there is no such thing as “German coffee.” Coffee trees don’t really flourish in northern Europe. All that Dallmayr, Hag, Jacobs and Tchibo coffee gets to Germany via Bremen, Hamburg and other European ports. That’s no different than the rest of Europe. Other than the type of bean, the main difference is the roast. (The brewing methods are pretty similar all across Europe.) The beans are usually Arabica, so that leaves the roast. And I think the roast is the problem.

A German Coffee
A “German coffee” is a type of cocktail made with Kirschwasser, coffee and whipped cream. That’s definitely not what we’re talking about here!

Germans generally like milder flavors. They really aren’t into spicy or pungent. That’s why “Mexican” food in Germany is not even close to Mexican. Foreign foods (Chinese, Indian, even Italian) get toned down for German taste buds. Continue reading

Swabian Delights

Because most of my experience in Germany has been in the Southern half of the country, I often believe that all German food is as delicious as it is here in the region of Swabia. Occasionally, we venture North on vacation and I realize with disappointment that this isn’t true. Perhaps it’s a general European rule: the farther South you travel, the better the food. One dish that consistently gets the longest lines in every corporate cafeteria is the classic Swabian Linsen mit Spätzle (Lentils with Noodles). I have tried making this at home a number of times in the last ten years, but never with the amount of success I had this week. Here for you to recreate in your own kitchen is an admittedly imprecise recipe for this German favorite. I suspect that imprecision was the trick to perfection. Continue reading

Flavors of Christmas

Spending the Thanksgiving holiday with friends who have recently moved to Germany, I found myself thinking – yet again – “I am becoming sooo German”. The topic of conversation was the abundance of deliciousness available at German bakeries; under contention was whether they are all as delicious as they look. In the end, we all agreed that German pastries are less sweet than American pastries, and the level of sweetness required to define “delectable” was left to the individual. What I realized is that after 10 years of German sweets, the American fare is far too sugary for me. For the newly arrived, German pastries are lacking in about a pound of sugar each.

And now we find ourselves in the midst of the holiday season, when kitchens everywhere are bustling with cookie-baking and good cheer (and at our house, Glühwein too!) Something I have grown to love about my host country is Christmas baking. Continue reading

Zwetschgen and the end of summer in Germany

Here in Baden-Württemberg the school year begins again this week. While my children are not yet school age, we’ve been enjoying rituals associated with this time of year: a last visit to the Freibad (outdoor public pool), buying closed toe shoes for autumn/winter and picking Zwetschgen (Italian plums) off of friends’ trees.

Before I moved to Germany, I had never seen a Zwetschge. Plums had always been round, more like smaller nectarines, with varying shades of yellow flesh and yellow or purple skins. In Germany, I first encountered these elegant, deep purple, slender ellipses hanging low on a tree on Jahnstrasse, the street of my first flat. It was August, my second month living here, when I would gingerly step around the squashed and whole pieces of fruit at my feet, wondering if they were edible. It took several late summer visits to the Bäckerei till I realized that the word Zwetschgen was synonymously used with the word Pflaumen (plum) and that the tree on my street was in fact a Zwetschgen tree.

Now that the Zwetschge has entered my life, I have been searching for ways to keep her there all year around.

Continue reading