So, a friend suggested I watch the Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations episode on Vienna. We watched it last night on the DVR, and it was a hoot.
The man is not a big fan of sweets, and I am totally with him on that. I mean, I don’t hate desserts or anything, I just don’t go into that eye-rolling, chest-clutching swoon that most people (female people, let’s be honest here) go into as soon as you mention Viennese pastries. I lived in Prague for four years, traveled around that part of the world a lot, and while I certainly wouldn’t pass up a good apfelstrudel now and then, desserts are just not the focus of my existence. I’m the sort of person who likes to order a good hearty meal with a good beer or wine — and then I usually skip dessert.
As for other, more substantial, foods, I don’t think anyone could describe me as picky. You wouldn’t last long in the Foreign Service if you were. I’ve eaten crocodile (tastes like chicken), ostrich (tastes like really good chicken) and guinea pig (tastes like a small, stringy goat). I’ve eaten all kinds of oddball fruits and veggies at all levels of cleanliness. In short, you can take me on the road, stop at any little eating shack, and feed me just about anything. Once, anyway.
But I do have certain principles. Number one, I think we are designed to eat animals, but that’s no excuse to be mean to them. I try to buy free-range or cage-free eggs whenever I can. I try to buy free-range chicken and grass-fed beef. I try not to buy pork products from the big commercial producers. I don’t always succeed, but I try, and have intentions to try harder.
So, I don’t eat veal. Sorry, not doing the wiener schnitzel, no way, no how.
Number two, there are certain foods that I won’t eat because I know where they’ve been. Take paté. I had middle school biology, and I know what goes on in a liver. So, I don’t see why I would want to eat it. This seems perfectly logical to me.
Number three (and OK, maybe this isn’t entirely logical), I am not into weird meat products.
I think it’s good that Europeans don’t waste as much of the animals as we do. It’s ridiculous that so many people in this country will only eat chicken breasts or steaks, and let the rest of the animal go to waste. But seriously, brains?
This looks to me like an item that should either be fed to a pet who can properly appreciate it or composted. And that was only the beginning. During the show, Mr. Bourdain chowed down on everything from liver to heart to the very lowest part of the intestine, if you know what I mean. OK, let’s be frank here: he ate a sheep’s pooper. Prepared in gourmet style with some risotto or arugula or something like that. I am not making this up.
I can’t say as I was all that surprised. When we were traveling around Europe a few years ago, restaurant food often turned out to be not quite what I was expecting. That white sausage thing that comes in a bowl of steaming water? I am sorry, that so looks like a giant maggot. A lot of sausages with indeterminate contents (like sausages anywhere, really, but there are really a lot of them). And there are definitely way too many foods with “blut” in their names. Way, way too many.
They also have a thing for various “loafs” that include bits of the animal that they couldn’t figure out what else to do with. You have to be careful about that ploughman’s lunch thing they do, usually called a käse platte. The cheese is always good, but the meat can surprise you. One time I was in a very twee little restaurant with my mother, and she looked down in astonishment at her plate and said “that’s souse!”
Yep, white trash food. We are from Tennessee, home land of Luden’s cough syrup cake, Co-Cola pork marinade, bacon-wrapped bacon, and more ways to eat Jell-O than you can possibly imagine. So we know it when we see it.
All this confirms what I have always thought about German. The primary purpose of learning it is to make sure you don’t order something nasty on a menu. There ain’t no part of the critter that these folks won’t chow down on. Clearly, I need to be sure I cover the Rosetta Stone lesson on animal parts. All the parts.