German Word of the Week: Schnibbelschinken

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I’m a farmer’s market kind of guy, and Germany’s a farmer’s market kind of place. So yesterday I visited the farmer’s market (g) at the Friedensplätzchen (“Little Peace Square”) in Unterbilk. I came home laden with farmer’s cheese, a swiss roast, vegetables, eggs in crinkly shells, and ham, Schinken in German.

Special ham this time. I was in the mood for what Americans call a loose-meat sandwich. So I needed me some loose meat, if you know what I mean. And I found some, at one of trucks run by super-friendly Meat Women™. It was a silver bowl full of tasty-looking ham scraps. I asked her what it was called, and she said: “Schnibbelschinken!” She was obviously delighted by the word. So was I. Schnibbelschinken, we repeated over and over, savoring every clown-like syllable.

Schnibbeln is one word for “whittle” in German, so Schnibbelschinken is meat “whittled away” during processing. It’s not bad meat, it’s just odd meat. Apparently it’s also called Schnippelschinken. There is probably some regional reason for this variation which I’m not aware of, but someone will surely jump into comments with it. Little help?

Korn, or Breakfast Whisky

Schwarze Frühstückskorn 0,7L 32% vol.Korn is a German distilled alcohol made from grain, between 32-38% alcohol by volume. It’s got sort of a shady reputation as cheap rotgut — it’s not hard to make, and a bottle of average Korn costs well under €10.

It’s the kind of thing you see sold in tiny €1.99 bottles behind the counter of neighborhood shops — the “secret drinker” stash. You sometimes see people sitting on park benches openly drinking from bottles of Korn. These folks, unlike the beer drinkers, are in the very lists of dissolution. If you hang around all day in public drinking 12-15 bottles of 38-cent Oettinger beer, you’re part of the Trinkerszene: the ‘Drinkers’ Scene’, a rowdy but generally harmless addition to any neighborhood.

If you hang around all day in public drinking Korn, you’re slid down several levels from the Drinkers’ Scene, who themselves may shake their heads in disapproval at you. One fine Sunday morning I was on the way to visit a friend and encountered a drunk guy collapsed face-down on the pavement in front of my apartment building. He had just fallen straight down face-first, nearly breaking his nose, and lay there like a beached seal. As we lifted him and and propped him up, waiting for the ambulance, we saw he had collapsed directly onto the bottle of booze he’d been drinking. Which was, of course, Korn.

So it was with some trepidation that I bought a bottle of Korn the other day out of curiosity. I chose a brand manufactured by the Schwarze distillery called Frühstücks-Korn, or “Breakfast Korn“. You can choose to see this either as amusing or horrifyingly cynical. “You’re just trying something new”, I repeated to myself as I poured the first shot. “It’s a traditional German drink going back to the 15th century,” I said to myself as I poured the second shot. “You’re more or less solvent and employed. You are not an alcoholic, or at least you’re not hanging around in parks all day yet,” I said as I poured the third shot.

My verdict? Korn is tasty! It’s incredibly smooth, almost flavorless, with only a touch of appealingly earthy graininess to it, like chewing on a grass stalk. Frankly, it’s so smoothly drinkable it’s a bit dangerous: there are no acids, zippy congeners or high-proof throat-fire to remind you you’re drinking hard stuff.

I’m still a whisky man, first and foremost, but I will certainly try out of a bottle of Korn once in a while, to pay homage to a noble and ancient German distilling tradition. And get pie-eyed for cheap.

German Word of the Week: Zwiebellauch

The other day I dropped by Pizzeria Cemo, one of Düsseldorf’s best, where the pie has the thin, crispy crust. The owner sings merrily (as merrily as Turkish songs ever get) while preparing your order. I scanned the menu:

Boring Pizza.

Tuna fish, calzone, and then “Boring Pizza”.

Let’s look at what makes this pizza “boring”. The first ingredient is Pastirma. Pastirma (g) is dried beef. It was originally invented by Turkic nomads, who hung specially-prepared cuts under their saddlebags to dry as they rode in the desert. It may well be the origins of Pastrami, which was brought by Romanian Jews into Europe. Although only the shape is similar; pastrami is not dried.

The next ingredients are mushrooms and artichokes, which are boring enough. But then comes Zwiebellauch. Odd: I can’t figure out exactly what Zwiebellauch (onion-leek) is in English. There’s no entry for it at the LEO website. There’s only one entry for it at linguee, which is pretty startling. They call it “chives“, but I don’t think that’s right.

Wikipedia re-directs you to Winterzwiebel (winter onion), one of whose alternate names is Lauchzwiebel — but not Zwiebellauch.

So what the hell is Zwiebellauch anyway? Little help here?

Also, why is this pizza boring? I asked the owner, but he only smiled. I’d say an exotic delicacy from the Inscrutable Orient™ and an unclassifiable mystery vegetable makes this the most exciting goddamn pizza on the menu. But what do I know?

No-Package Store Opening in the Hood

Ah, the Brunnenstraße (Well Street) in Düsseldorf, my stomping grounds. When I moved in, this storefront contained a regular video store, complete with actual VHS tapes and an X-rated section. Then it became the late, lamented Filmgalerie (g), an upscale video rental store with a massive selection of art-house, classics, anime, and horror from across the globe. And then it was a clothing design boutique named Carmona (g). And now, it’s going to become ‘Pure Note’, a ‘packaging-free’ grocery store:

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Don’t worry, the neighborhood (Bilk) is still ‘diverse’ and ‘vibrant’ in the good way: almost 1 in 4 of the people who live here is a foreigner, like me. But the kooky young kids with their fresh ideas do liven the place up. I will post a report once the store opens.

The Americanization of the German Palate

The Washington Post writes of peanut butter, which the EU might impose tariffs on if there’s a trade war:

The spread, nearly ubiquitous in the United States, barely registers beyond North America. As Northwestern marketing professor Brian Sternthal put it to the HuffPost, “in many parts of the world, peanut butter is regarded as an unpalatable American curiosity.” One New Yorker writer described his acquaintances from Northern Ireland responding to his jars of Skippy with disgust, “as if peanuts were synonymous with maggots.” In a 1981 essay, William F. Buckley Jr., described the students at his British boarding school tasting the nutty treat, then spitting it out. (No wonder, he wrote, “they needed help to win the war.”)

As a result, it can be tough to get a Jif fix outside the USA. “Finding peanut butter abroad is nearly impossible,” one Vice article declared. “Just about every country has peanuts, and just about every country has blenders. Why is it so desperately difficult to find real-deal peanut butter outside of the US? Blame local tastes that just don’t understand the American yen.”

This just ain’t true, as you can see by the photo used to illustrate the article:

This is the store-brand variety of peanut butter sold by the large German discounter Real (“original from the USA”).

When I first landed lived here for stint in 2001, peanut butter was impossible to find. If you wanted some, you had to go to a specialty American/British food shop and pay outlandish prices.

Today, you can get peanut butter in at least 75% of all grocery stores — even the discounters — here in Düsseldorf. The same goes for other delectable treats such as genuine maple syrup, real Cheddar cheese, and “breakfast bacon” which you fry up with eggs.

HERTA Breakfast Bacon feiner Frühstücksspeck

When I first came here, nobody had heard of “bacon”, and they reacted with puzzlement when I told them I planned to fry it up — why would you do that to a nice cut of smoked pork? I told them: “because frying it makes it 100 times as delicious.” And then proved it by giving them some.

Now you can get “Breakfast Bacon” in any store. When I go to the farmer’s market, the nice lady offers to cut my pork “bacon style”, and I’m not the only one ordering it that way.

Maybe this is just Düsseldorf, it’s a pretty cosmopolitan place. But I bet the trend is bigger: with modern transportation and logistics, it’s pretty easy to make and sell a niche product, even in a fairly small store in a small town.

I find this is all good. Bacon, cheddar cheese, maple syrup, and peanut butter are objectively delicious, which is why some Germans end up liking them when they try them. Just as most Americans and Britons fall in love with German bread and sausage.

If there is a trade war, I am sure some enterprising German firm will learn how to make peanut butter well, and immediately fill the gap. One of the things Germans are very good at is imitating the culinary delights of other cultures. And peanut butter is the simplest thing in the world to make. Maybe I’ll just make my own, and begin selling it on the streetcorner.

 

New Cocktail: The Proktophantasmist

Pancrace_Bessa00Last week, I tasted quince for the first time in my life. Before I came to Europe, I had never even seen a quince, and didn't even know what the word meant, except that it sounded funny, and was apparently something you could eat.

However, they are fairly popular in Europe, since they have plenty of uses

The very strong perfume means they can be added in small quantities to apple pies and jam to enhance the flavor. Adding a diced quince to apple sauce will enhance the taste of the apple sauce with the chunks of relatively firm, tart quince. The term "marmalade", originally meaning a quince jam, derives from marmelo, the Portuguese word for this fruit.[16][17]

Quince cheese is firm, sticky, sweet reddish hard paste made of the quince fruit, originating from the Iberian peninsula. It is known as dulce de membrillo across the Spanish-speaking world, where it is used in a variety of recipes, eaten in sandwiches and with cheese, traditionally manchego cheese, or accompanying fresh curds. In Chile, boiled quince is popular in desserts such as the murta con membrillo that combines Chilean guava with quince.

As drink

In the Balkans and elsewhere, quince eau-de-vie (rakija) is made. For a quince rakija, ripe fruits of sweeter varieties are washed and cleared from rot and seeds, then crushed or minced, mixed with cold or boiling sweetened water and winemaking yeast, and left for several weeks to ferment. Fermented mash is distilled twice to obtain an approximately 60% alcohol-by-volume (ABV) liquor. It may be diluted with distilled water to obtain the final product, containing 42-43% ABV.

So the other day, at the farmers' market, I had Afflatus # 1, and bought a bottle of quince nectar. You're never too old to try something new. Then I had an afflatus #2. I stopped by the Polish shop and bought a bottle of Grasowka Polish vodka, which is flavored with the aromatic scent of European bison grass. Each bottle contains one blade of the grass, although it's strictly ornamental.

I mixed one part vodka with three parts quince nectar and one part mineral water, and of course ice, since I'm American. The result was a pale honey-colored liquid that was sweet but not cloying, refreshing and full of interesting overtones. Quince juice tastes like apple juice, but has a faint citrusy overtone and more tartness.

I dubbed this cocktail the Proktophantasmist™, since I just came upon that word while re-reading Faust. You can call it a Prokto for short. It's like drinking a freshly-mown summer meadow.©

I hereby freely grant this cocktail recipe, in perpetuity, to the entire human race. That's just how I roll.

The Audits Suck, But The Food’s Tasty

Here's a screenshot of the Google entry for the Düsseldorf-South tax headquarters:

Order your tax office

The tax bureaucrats get only 2.3 stars? Sounds like a certain ungrateful city on the Rhine could use a lot more tax audits to boost morale.

But what's more surprising: At the bottom there's a link to the meal-delivery service lieferando! Click on it (g), and you find that Düsseldorf's tax bureaucrats will be happy to whip up some vegan sweet potato curry, chia pudding with chocolate, or a Japanese teriyaki plate.

German Word of the Week: Natursekt

Put the kiddies to bed, because this German Word of the Week gets a little blue. Or golden.

Recent events put Donald Trump's alleged partiality to a certain, er, erotic fetish in the spotlight. In English, this fetish is called "golden showers".

In German it's called Natursekt: "Nature's Champagne". Now, of course this isn't a perfect translation, since Sekt is better translated as prosecco or sparkling wine. It's the term used for any sparkling wine which doesn't come from Champagne, the French region which, of course, has a controlled legal monopoly stopping anyone from calling a sparkling wine Champagne unless it's made there by their methods.

And needless to say, Champagne isn't made from urine, unless humanity has been the victim of the greatest hoax the world has ever known (memo to self: write screenplay based on this premise).

But I still think, "Nature's Champagne" is really more true to the light-hearted perversion of the original. I anticipate millions of Germans will encounter the term Natursekt for the first time in the next few days, so keep an eye on this graph.

Of course, millions of Germans already know this term. One of the main reasons is that prostitution is legal in Germany, and working girls, and boys, openly publish their "set cards" on the Internet. Here's one (g) I found, "Carmen" from the Eroscenter Ludwigsburg, which I found completely at random from a website I have never visited before and will never visit again, presented here to you strictly in the name of Science. Carmen says that she is not willing to be the, er, recipient of Nature's Champagne, but is happy to provide that service to her guests.

And what is the proper pairing with Nature's Champagne? Why, Nature's Caviar (g), of course! No, I didn't just make that up. Those who are of a mind to consider Germans ultra-perverse will be unsurprised to learn that paraphilias having to do with human excreta are, in German, compared to mankind's most refined gastronomic delicacies.

After this post, I need a shower — and not the golden kind (ba-da-BOOM!).

Alcohol and Socialism

From a display at the Stasi Museum in Leipzig:

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Translation:

3. Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol abuse occurs when alcohol consumption leads to a contradiction between socialist moral requirements and a socialist lifestyle, on the one hand, and actual behavior, on the other.

Since most of us now drink and live a life in contradiction to fundamental socialist principles, we are all alcoholics. I find that strangely reassuring.

The Disgusting Things I Found in the Düssel

Yesterday I took advantage of the nice weather and went fishing for garbage in the local stream that runs through my neighborhood, the Düssel.

The main find was bottles. At least 100 of them. Everything from small schnapps bottles to beer bottles to hip flasks of cheap vodka to actual wine bottles. All covered in and/or filled with nasty blackish gunk. Here are three of them, and what looks like a decaying can of Red Bull, just to give you an idea:

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But wait! That's not all! Once I actually got into the middle of the river, I found all sorts of other garbage, including 7-8 bike locks, an umbrella, various metal rods, a lightbulb, a pair of scissors, clothes, and rotten plastic bags. Here's just a selection:

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Finally, exhausted, I had to give up. It's pretty tiring wading through mud and hauling heavy sacks of garbage up the riverbank. And I found all of this in only a 10-meter-long section of the river south of a well-traveled bridge.

There's still a bunch of junk in only this section of the river. So I'm going to go back today, and hope to at least get this section cleaned up.

Düsseldorfers, you should be ashamed of yourselves. Really, light bulbs? Umbrellas?

On a cheerier note, it turns out that rubber boots are surprisingly comfortable! Also, it seems that at least some life forms can survive in this filth. The ducks stay away from this part of the river, probably having cut their feet on broken glass. But I did one adult and a few juvenile Kamberkrebs, the spiny-cheeked crayfish. Unfortunately, this is an invasive species from America which is an asymptomatic carrier of crayfish plague, which has devastated native European crayfish populations. I probably should have ended them, but I didn't have the heart.

And now, off to start Phase 3 of Operation Glasshole™. I should get some kind of medal for this.

Stuffing Pregnant Women with Marmot Meat

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A while ago I visited Zürich and bought this book, Vom Essen und Trinken im alten Zürich ('On Eating and Drinking in Old Zürich'). I saw it at a flea market and just liked the quality — thick, glossy paper, lots of interesting and well-integrated illustrations, solid and durable binding. A fine example of the bookmaker's art. (You know, real bookmakers).

I've been dipping into it a bit lately, and it turns out to be full of Fun Facts.© As was pretty normal for medieval Europe, people needed protein and ate anything that moved, from eels to finches to sparrows to hawks to frogs to hedgehogs. Smaller birds would just be roasted on a spit and eaten whole, their tiny bones providing the sought-after crunch factor. To conceal the fact that some of these meats are pretty revolting, they would be slathered in fat and whatever spices came to hand. Things got a lot easier after 1500, when trade brought eastern spices, sugar, coffee, tea, and other delicacies first to the rich, then to everyone except the poorest people.

We also learn that medieval and early-modern Germans avoided eating malodorous cheese, giving it the nickname Schreck-den-Gast (scare the guest). During times of scarcity, the Zürich authorities would create exhaustive, precise rationing lists, most of which survive (Remember, they're Swiss). According to one such list, pregnant women were to receive extra rations, including extra portions of marmot (groundhog) meat. 

That'll teach those strumpets!

Japanese Revere, Eat Insects

You might notice I've been on a Japan kick recently, so here's a pice from Aeon in which Andrea Appleton describes Japanese insect love

Insects have been celebrated in Japanese culture for centuries. ‘The Lady Who Loved Insects’ is a classic story of a caterpillar-collecting lady of the 12th century court; the Tamamushi, or ‘Jewel Beetle’ Shrine, is a seventh century miniature temple, once shingled with 9,000 iridescent beetle forewings.

Insects continue to rear their antennae in modern Japan. Consider ‘Mothra’, the giant caterpillar-moth monster who is second only to Godzilla in film appearances; the many bug-inspired characters of ‘Pokémon’, and any number of manga (including an insect-themed detective series named after Fabre). Travel agencies advertise firefly-watching tours, there are televised beetle-wrestling competitions and beetle petting zoos. Department stores and even vending machines sell live insects.

Nor do the Japanese merely admire insects: they eat them too. In the Chūbu region, in central Japan, villagers rear wasps at home for food, and forage for giant hornets that are eaten at all life stages, while fried grasshoppers or inago are a luxury foodstuff. Entomophagy once had a place in Western culture too: the ancient Greeks ate cicadas, the Romans ate grubs. But while modern Westerners blithely eat aquatic arthropods – lobster, shrimp, crab, crayfish – we’ve lost our taste for the terrestrial kind.