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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Berlin - A Sublime Taste Sensation!

Hi kittens!

I recently returned from a 2 week trip to Central and Eastern Europe. I went to celebrate my 10 year anniversary with my wonderful partner, Andrew. We planned the trip for many months and let me tell you…nothing in my wildest imagination (and mine is pretty wild) could have prepared me for what happened.

For one, I lived through it. I fully expected Andy and I to be abducted and held for ransom by frantic Germans or belligerent Austrians determined to grind us up and use us for garnish on their latest pastry confection. Why on earth they would want to abduct a sweet, loving gay couple from America I have no idea, I just knew it would happen. If Betty Buckley could be abducted out of a hotel room in Paris with Harrison Ford by her side, anything is possible. And Harrison was young then…even he couldn't’t thwart the evils of Dark Europa.

I have this image of myself when I travel. This is what I see: a slightly fat, white American gay man sitting in a seat on a boat or plane or train, his hands clutched against his chest, his eyes wide and needy and fearful, his lips parched and dry, his feet turned onto one another, his mouth opening and closing like a newly caught Bass on the deck of a sea boat, desperately trying to scream but unable to find the sound.

Dramatic, I know, but this is how I see myself. Or, did see myself.

My partner is Mr. Excitement. He is calm and rationale (he’s about to get his Ph.D. and open up a private therapy practice), but he needs constant stimulus – he loves to live. This urgent need in him used to drive me absolutely batty. I like sitting and drinking latte’s and feeling the sun on my face and reading a book and being depressed. Nothing bothers me, nothing is pressing upon me and nothing happens. And therein lies the problem – nothing happens.

I also want to live life, I want to experience life, but the hard truth is you can’t do it by being an ‘armchair traveler.’ Read all the great travel books you want, watch all of the travel shows your Tivo can record, but in the end they are nothing compared to the real thing.

When Andrew and I were planning the trip, I felt a mix of two things: excitement and sheer, devastating panic (more latter than former). I had images of myself desperately coping with the nearly 10 hour plane rides, the panic-inducting, numerous cross-country train trips and the angry villagers who would surely chase us along the Hungarian countryside because we were greedy Americans who didn't’t speak their language and refused to eat undercooked lamb.

Andrew biggest concern was making sure we wouldn’t be bored (and didn’t go over budget). I looked at him after four glasses of wine and said, “You’re making me go to four different cities in three countries and you’re worried about being bored? What about getting a staph infection from drinking dirty water or not finding a reliable Eastern European dentist if I lose a tooth or have gum issues?”

Andrew rolled his eyes and replied, “This is what goes through your mind? We’re planning a 2 week adventure in Europe to celebrate 10 wonderful, loving years together and you’re worried about dental hygiene and gum disease?”

I nodded and he kissed me. I love being loved by this man.

14 days, two long plane rides, three separate Eurorails, endless busses and subways and taxi rides and trams later, I happily report except for one spilled beer, one horrible Prague hotel issue and three mini-fights, Andrew and I THRIVED on the trip and are booking our next one this weekend.

Of course, one of my primary objectives when visiting Central and Eastern Europa was to eat. Eat and eat and eat. We both went ready to try new tastes and foods. I am happy to report we didn’t have once single problem with an upset stomach or gastric problem.

All in all, despite everyone warning me the food was bland but the desserts spectacular, we found the food in Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria and Hungary was pretty damn fantastic. So, without further ado…

First stop -- BERLIN!

Ah, Berlin. As New Yorkers, we were immediately struck by four things on our first day in Berlin: white asparagus, German bread, packaged meats and dogs. Yes, dogs. We have never seen so many sweet-tempered, happy and socialized dogs as we did in the restaurants and streets of Berlin. Dogs are everywhere and they are all off leashes. There is a reason Germany doesn’t need a Cesar Milan – it’s because in Germany, they treat their dogs as family. All shop owners and restaurant managers didn’t bat an eye when I dog strolled alongside an owner.

I’ve never understood American’s hysteria regarding dogs being hygienic or not. If a dog does not eat off of the dishes and is potty trained and quiet and relaxed, how is it not hygienic?

I think the reason dogs are allowed is because Germans, as a whole, were more organized, polite and aware of each other than many Americans I’ve met. I know I’m generalizing, but in New York, the level if rudeness and entitlement is staggering. In Europa, you simply don’t see this as much.

For our first day in Berlin, we stayed in a private apartment. Near the apartment the sublime KaDaWe (or, House of God as I call it). More on this later.

The local supermarket was a scant four blocks away from the house and when we first entered the thing which shocked us was the bread. Here is an ‘average’ bread counter in at the local Berlin supermarket:

The best markets we saw were Reichelt, Meyer, Ullrich and Kaiser´s. All had smaller aisles than American supermarkets and stocked the most amazing array of breads, wines, bears, cheeses and meats I’ve ever seen in a neighborhood supermarket, but were shockingly absent on staple items but yet fully stocked on curious items, such as pantyhose, skirts and dresses. I guess it’s all about getting curry ketchup, nylons and bread whilst you shop for when you shop in Berlin!

One of my favorite local condiments was curry ketchup. As you can see, they are big into curry ketchup:

And beer, beer, beer. Look at the varieties!

Some of the vegetable were unreal. From gigantic shallots:

To massive and wildly popular white asparagus (SparbelweiB) and overwhelming green asparagus:

To my endless variety so potatoes (look at the black ones! Unreal!)

One of my favorites, Wirsing (or, German cabbage):

And let us not forget Frühstücks-Schinken, or, shaved, low-fat cured ham and/or German meat…tasty straight from the package with cheese, bread and grainy mustard:

The Germans love meat!

One of the biggest local foods from the street was Bratwurst with Curry Ketchup (or, currywurst) which is served hot red pepper flakes and fries. Of course, Germans love their pork. It is more common than chicken by far, but oh MY…they do know how to cook it well.

It’s not easy to find curry ketchup in the supermarket, except for special Pommes Frites shops, such as those on the street in New York and other major US cities. Here is a basic, no-frills recipe to make your curry ketchup at home:

• 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
• 1 small yellow onion, peeled and finely chopped
• 1 (14 ½ -ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, drained
• 1 tablespoon brown sugar
• ½ cup cider vinegar
• pinch of powdered mustard
• pinch of ground allspice
• pinch of ground cloves
• pinch of ground mace
• pinch of ground cinnamon
• ½ bay leaf
• salt and freshly milled black pepper
• 4 large bratwurst sausages
• Madras gourmet hot curry powder
• Extra hot red pepper flakes

1. For the ketchup, heat the oil in a small saucepan and sauté the onion until translucent. Add the tomatoes and the sugar, vinegar, mustard, allspice, cloves, mace, cinnamon and bay leaf. Simmer uncovered, for 45 minutes, or until a thick paste forms. Remove the bay leaf and puree the sauce. Season with salt and pepper and cool. The sauce can be kept refrigerated for 3 to 4 weeks.

2. Sauté the sausages until cooked through and browned, turning them frequently (grilling or using a Foreman indoors is great). Top each sausage with the sauce and sprinkle with a pinch of curry powder and red pepper flakes.

Quite frankly, the meal wasn’t very exciting, but it was better than most American fast food. It was good but not great. Yet, it’s very popular in Germany and on just about every street corner, so it’s worth a taste.

After our first day in Berlin, our apartment hosts told us, with a flicker in their eyes, we were to be taken to KaDaWe Berlin the next day. “What is KaDaWE, danke shan?” we asked?”
They didn’t reply…they didn’t need to, and neither will you, my dear foodies, after I show you what I saw.

Next post – the WONDERS of the ONE FOOD GOD of the BERLIN UNIVERSE:

KaDaWe Berlin!



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