There are so many delectable dishes in Germany. One can choose among endless varieties of potatoes, chocolates, berries, root vegetables, dumplings, sausages, cakes, torts, breads, rolls, meats -- the list goes on and on. Schnitzel is crispy and mouth-watering, restaurant sauerkraut is homemade and healthy. There are pork dishes to die for: the Schwein selection alone is out of this world.
Moreover, people of all nationalities have set up shop here to sell their toothsome wares. We have Turkish, Greek, Chinese, Italian, Thai, Turkish, and Italian restaurants (repetition intentional). There's usually at least one foreign chef or cook in every town, no matter what size Dorf a person lives in. Ironically, Germany's best-selling fast food is a Turkish menu item, the Döner, which is a pita-style bread stuffed with meat shaved from a spit and topped with yogurt sauce. There are so many good foods to choose from!
But sometimes, a foreigner (like me) simply wants a sandwich -- a good, old-fashioned American sandwich on a pair of soft slices slathered in butter or mayonnaise, some tuna salad or perhaps layers of ham, turkey and bacon topped with lettuce and tomato and a squirt of mustard. I could find all those ingredients here and make my own sandwich, but the USA has delicatessens and sandwich shops where great sandwiches are born, laid out on a white ceramic Teller that's been washed a thousand times, and accompanied by a sour dill pickle and potato chips or fries. Building your own sandwich just isn't the same, and I miss such places.
Hey, you Germans! Food doesn't have to be tidy OR serious!
Take for example Weiss' Jewish deli in Henderson, Nevada, right around the corner from where I used to live, just a stone's throw from the Las Vegas Strip. There they make the best homemade chicken noodle soup I've ever had, and they jar the crunchiest of fresh pickles, which somehow miraculously still end up tasting like cucumbers. But what you can really sink your teeth into there are the sandwiches: bread and innards stacked a mile high, stuffed with meat and cheese, and dressings and sauces oozing out from underneath. Weiss' menu has so much on it a person has to order three times their body weight in order to get a taste of everything.
There's another great sandwich shop further south, in my hometown of Phoenix, Arizona. It's called Duck and Decanter -- "The Duck" for short -- and it has been around for more than 80% of my life. They'll make you a sandwich that is so enjoyable, it tastes like another one is necessary real soon. You know how they accuse certain chicken joints of putting an addictive chemical into their food? Well, the Duck has a supply in its back room.
And we can't forget Miracle Mile Deli, a joint we used to go to as kids with Mom and Pop. It, like the Duck, is still there, albeit physical locations may have moved once or twice. You wait in a line until it's your turn at the counter, and there you order from the line of international servers to fill your tray with steaming hot macaroni and cheese, pickles, salad, and the best Reuben (hot pastrami, Swiss cheese and sauerkraut on an onion roll) ever. Dang my mouth is watering.
Now that's a sandwich
Oh, they have "sandwiches" here, but it's not the same. Nope, in Germany, what they serve at every bakery comes on hard crusty or seed-encrusted (healthier) bread, is about half the size of an American sandwich, and is called a belegtes Brot or belegtes Brötchen ("loaded bread or roll"). It may have tasty cheeses like Brie or cream and/or a few pieces of turkey and cucumber, but it's not the right size or shape, and it's not the right softness. Yes, it's cute and oval and fits into one hand. Or it's long on a pretzel roll and covered in cheese. But the thing is, it's also convenient. It comes to you in a small, white or brown paper slip of a bag. Mayonnaise or mustard may cost extra, and that's all you'll get with your "sandwich," if you're lucky. No plate, no chips, no refillable soft drink. It's for people on the go, not for sandwich connoisseurs.
Craving an American sandwich reminds me that there are other foods I continue to miss.
As of yet, I still have to find Mexican food in Germany that tastes as good as it does in the Southwest, or in - ahem - Mexico. Even if real Mexican hombres own a restaurant here, their fare doesn't match up to the reliable tastiness or corny crunch of tacos made back home. Nor does it compare to what I've eaten at Los Compadres Mexican Food since I began working there at the tender age of 15: hand-pinned shredded beef or chicken tacos that are dropped into the fryer when you order them, the best green chili ever made, and burritos enchilada-style smothered in sauce and garnished with a pile of shredded lettuce. Now that's lecker.
There's more to complain about, I regret to say. Bitte verzeih mir.
Hamburgers in Germany should be the best in the world, because after all, Hamburg is here, and supposedly the burger originated in that city when one man stuck a piece of ground sausage between two pieces of bread. I have eaten at various restaurants, cafes and even a "roadhouse diner" that offer hamburgers, but none compare to the hamburgers you can get at an American burger joint. It's not just the recipes. Something about the atmosphere of America lends itself to eating sloppy, juicy burgers with their toppings dripping out from under the sesame seed bun or onion roll.
At Grillpartys I've attended, the Germans attempt to replicate an American burger, but it can't be done. We're the new burger aficionados, having stolen the idea and made it much better. (Burger in photo is the Western Bacon Cheeseburger from Handlebars Food & Saloon, Silverton, CO, USA)
Don't even get me started on the German Donut. The dough is not as light, sweet and airy as ours, but what makes German doughnuts inedible is that the chocolate Glasur (frosting) resembles a plastic coating. Altogether they have very little flavor, are about as sweet as a pretzel, and there's never enough goo on your fingers when you're done eating one. (Are Germans so clean they make tidy pastries as well?) Berliners are okay, but there's never enough gooey jelly oozing out. Come on, Bäcker, you have to stick with what you know! Your bread is great, but your American pastry copies aren't up to par. Don't try to make chocolate chip cookies. They're hard, bland, and boring. And your muffins? They're okay, but somehow they taste so foreign. The homey feel of a warm, freshly-baked blueberry muffin with a cup of Joe doesn't overcome me in any cafe or bakery here.
Speaking of homey and warm, where is the fried chicken? What about macaroni and cheese? The mashed potatoes here are too sodden, and there is no pat of butter sitting atop. It is completely vulgar to put butter on rice or potatoes here, I've found. But hey, spaghetti alla carbonara just isn't the same outside of Rome, and a ribeye steak with garlic mashed potatoes won't taste like it does at a rustic saloon in the Old West.
American comfort food at its best: meatloaf and mashed potatoes
Naja, a person simply cannot be in two places at one time. And no matter what country you are in, it's not going to be like home used to be. Eigentlich, it could be better in many, many ways. The fact is, however, food is comfort, and when you miss home, you miss the food. Or vice versa.
Time to go get myself an authentically American meal. In other words, time to fly across the ocean for a visit.
Ich bin ein Berliner. Don't hold back on the jelly Füllung!
Wörterbuch / Dictionary
(der) Bäcker - baker
(das) Belegtes Brot/Brötchen - literally, "loaded bread" or "loaded roll"; Germany's version of a sandwich.
Bitte verzeih mir. - Please forgive me.
(der) Donut - doughnut
eigentlich - actually
(die) Füllung - filling
(die) Glasur - frosting
(die) Grillparty - barbecue
lecker - tasty, delicious
naja - well
(das) Schwein, Schweinefleisch - pig, pork
(der) Teller - plate