Friday, February 1, 2008

Why aren't Germans fat?

I just returned from a business trip that took me to Cologne, Germany for 4 days. While there, I took great care to attempt to eat everything my German friend had listed for me. I was extremely excited about that list. It was filled with meat, sausages, meat, noodles, and meat. I'm a lover of meat, so I told my colleagues that I was going to eat meat that entire week, and could they please take along some fiber pills for me?

The first night was at a lovely, rustic Bier Garden overlooking the Rhine River in Old Town called Haxenhaus. I ordered the Paulaner on tap and the "Augustus," the house specialty. It included pig knuckle, Leberkese, bratwurst, sauerkraut, and some nice pan-fried potatoes. Now, I don't know about you, but when I read "pig knuckle," I was thinking it would be the size of a pig's toe. If they had toes... In any case, it wasn't supposed to be very big. Maybe kind of like Chicken Fingers. When I read "bratwurst," I was thinking of the huge sausages we have in the US where the diameter of the sausage is about the size of my wrist. And the Leberkese? I had no idea what that was. Our waiter, in his broken English, God bless him, said something about Bavarian and ham, but what the heck, everything I'm eating is coming from the pig.

When it came, it was enormous. Gigantic. An enormously gigantic plate of pig. The pig's knuckle was practically the size of my head. Turns out it's a huge part of the entire pig's leg. It's the portion just above the knee of the rear leg--so shouldn't it be called Pig's Knee? It was loaded with meat, and it had this wonderfully crisp skin that was still loaded with the fat just between the skin and meat. A few of my co-workers got to work in removing the skin and placing it aside. What were they thinking?!? That was the best part--high cholesterol be damned!! The Leberkese turned out to be SPAM! Now I know where SPAM comes from! It was pan-fried on both sides to give it the crispiness that offset the, ahem, very soft everything else. Now, the bratwurst was a bit of a surprise. It was like a very long breakfast sausage. You know, it's pretty thin, has a lot of spices. Very good, but really took a back seat to its pork brothers. Delicious meal, heavy as a brick.

The next day, breakfast consisted of smoked salmon with some horseradish sauce. I'm going to have that for breakfast for the rest of my life. Just imagine all that Omega-3 coursing through my body...offsetting the saturated fat I filled my body with the night before... Lunch was in a charming little restaurant in a little town a 45-minute train ride away. I had beef stroganoff with Spaetzle, an egg noodle that my husband LOVES. It was quite good.

Dinner was another German night. Wiener-Schnitzel. Now, I thought that might be another sausage. Boy was I wrong! It's a veal cutlet pounded until it's thin, then dredged in flour, egg, and breadcrumbs, then fried in LARD. It was DELICIOUS. Now, had I known it was veal, I probably would not have ordered it. While the slaughter of meat isn't the most pleasant of thoughts, or very humane for the animals, I still can't manage to not eat it. It's too good. Veal, on the other hand, does make me a little sick. Sticking a baby cow in a box not large enough for it to move in so that the meat can be as tender as possible really is disgustingly cruel. So while I savored the dish ignorantly, I now write about it guiltily.

Day 3, and I was on a roll. Breakfast of salmon, and I had found Nutella and peanut butter go very well together when spread on perfectly crusty bread. For a late lunch, we stopped by a little sausage stand to get some curry-wurst. It's the equivalent of the hot dog stand in New York City - the best worst hot dog you've ever had. They take the sausage and throw it into a machine that cuts it all up into bite sized pieces, and then they pour this gravy over it, sprinkle some curry on top, and there you have it. Good, but not my favorite. I really liked the curry flavor, but the gravy was too sweet and thick.

Dinner that night was at a place called Oyster, near the train station. I ordered the French Oysters, if only to find out what French oysters were like. They were raw oysters with a garlic vinegar condiment. Now, it might have been my high expectations that a place called Oyster would deliver an incredible oyster experience, but it was average, perhaps a little disappointing, even.

My entree was the Iberica Pork, which is cured ham from Spain. These pigs have only been fed acorns. Wonderful dish! Two slices of the Iberica ham, one crispy with the bone still in, the other with a pink hue that was incredibly tender. It was served with a balsamic vegetable ragout that lent the right amount of tang and sweetness. It was also served with baked new potatoes with herbs.

Last day, and I couldn't even eat breakfast--my body just couldn't take in any more calories! I went shopping that day and found myself in these gourmet markets in the basements of the department stores there. Beautiful produce and interesting culinary finds! For lunch, we stopped at the tortellini counter where there were these plump, fresh tortellini of all kinds just staring at us with tags written in German that we couldn't read. After the man behind the counter did a couple of chicken flaps and rooster sounds, we just said, "Pick anything. Enough for two plates, okay?" I still can't get over how delicious the mushroom tortellini was, how I almost wanted to ask for the hazelnut mixture in one of them as a side dish, the freshness of the halibut concoction in another. Not bad for a couple of foreigners without a clue.

Dinner that night was at a Chinese restaurant. Say what? Yes, a Chinese restaurant. I still like to visit the world and see whether the Chinese is any good or not. And this time, it did not disappoint. I saw a dish on another table that is a typical SiChuan dish. Hot and spicy, beef is stir fried, placed onto a bed of vegetables, and over the top this spice mixture goes! In New York City, the dish is so spicy, the top of it glistens in red. But I couldn't find it on the menu. Turns out the dish is an off-menu item, and I was lucky enough to cash in! I also gave a try for the Seafood Tofu Hot Pot dish. It was surprisingly good, but still a distance from the version I have come to love at California's Sam Woo's restaurant.

After all of this eating, I was so ready to go back home. My calorie-laden body just couldn't handle anymore heavy meals with lots of simple carbs. South Beach dieters would have been appalled! I promised myself I would go on a 40 day fast. Perhaps a diet like Daniel's when he's in Babylon. Anything but more meat and heaviness.

But the thing that still eludes me -- Why aren't Germans fat?


Jenn Dixon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jenn Dixon said...

I actually studied in Cologne for three months as a student, and I have experienced some of the culinary delicacies you have, like Wiener schnitzel. I also avoided Leberkas because I know that it literally translates into "liver cheese."

Did you get to sample any of the desserts or or kolsh beer while you were there? Also, there is some fantastic Italian dining in Cologne, too.

Oh, I also agree with your assessment of the Lancaster Brewing Company. Good beer, weird food.