"Yes, I was but then I thought we should really start expanding our horizons and thought that we could try some German food, for a change"
"But it's my birthday, you asked what I wanted to eat on my birthday, I said Thai and you've gone and bought sausages"
"Yes, I know but let me explain...."
"How are you going to do Tom Kha Gai with a bratwurst?
It was at this point I realised that I had really jumped in at the deep end, not only had I agreed to participate in Eating Eurovision at the last minute but now I also had some explaining to do, having to tell my wife that she wouldn't be eating her favourite kind of food last night. On her birthday night.
I had been privy to this idea of 25 food bloggers eating the cuisine of 25 Eurovision countries in 25 hours within the M25 for some time now. It was a project dreamed up by Andrew Webb and looked like a great deal of fun but because of work commitments, I thought that this was one jolly that would have to pass me by. The draw had been made on Thursday night at the Beeb and on Friday morning, numerous excited food bloggers were tweeting on twitter about their nominated countries which got me twitching with envy. However it soon became apparent that there were some countries going spare, namely Germany, Albania, Armenia and Croatia, so without a moments hesitation I made a grab for Deutschland. "Ha ha yes, I am going to get involved, now what do I do?"
Andrew's remit suggested that participants should try to engage in London food life and to research, learn and explore the cuisine of their given country which prompted much head scratching and a slight tinge of panic. I wasn't going to be able to just pluck a recipe off the internet and bomb down to the shops at lunchtime (although let's just say that's exactly what I did). I had to go and find some Germans to talk to at the very least. Lucky for me then, that I found the German Deli and owner Klaus Kuhnke at Borough Market. And luckier still, he was promoting with great fanfare some German white asparagus that came from a small village in the Lower Rhine region called Wahlbeck, regarded as the 'Princess' of it's variety. In Germany, people will travel for miles to get some.
I was very grateful to have met Klaus as he took time out to have a walk around the market and talk about German food, principally the white asparagus, which is grown underground hence the albino appearance. As with the British variety because the season is so short, it really is revered as a vegetable, apparently lots of restaurants in Germany put out a separate menu for asparagus when it arrives. And for the number crunchers out there, Klaus estimated that his country produces 9600 tonnes of the stuff so yes the Germans really really love it, in comparison he reckoned that the UK produces only 2400 tonnes (only!). I asked him about the restaurant scene, whether there were any decent German ones in town and his returning look suggested that they were lacking but he did recommend a pub called Zeitgeist in Vauxhall that did reasonable germanic fare. At this point I remembered the fact that I was meant to be cooking my wife her special birthday meal so I asked Klaus for his advice. Disappointingly, he didn't have a lot to say about Thai cuisine but naturally come back to the asparagus saying I should serve it up "with hollandaise or just melted butter, she'll love it". So we went back to the shop and I got loaded with goodies including some bratwurst, mustard, german potatoes and Rote Gruetze, a berry compote that Germans have for desert, plainly with cream. "It tastes a bit like summer pudding but without the bread" so Klaus says. Although the German Deli does have a license, they didn't have any booze in stock which was a shame but Klaus pointed me in the direction of Utobeer (where Al, the beer punk helped me pick out a selection). So after giving my warm thanks to Klaus for his time, I bombed it back to work feeling quite pleased with myself, some research done, now to get home and cook up an authentic german meal that my wife isn't expecting whatsoever.
As you may have gathered the reception was frosty at first but once I cracked open a couple of bottles of Augustinerbrau Munchen Lagerbier Hell she soon warmed to the idea. I had planned to make the asparagus the centrepiece serving it up as the main course but then greed got the better of me so I decided that we should have it as a starter with some hollandaise. Now the last time I tried to make hollandaise ended in disaster as I had tried to get all fancy with it by using orange juice and it turned out crap and watery. Still Klaus had recommended it so I was giving it another go, this is how the Germans do it and so will I. Having just gently simmered the asparagus in water for 8 minutes, the combination turned out beautifully simple, the asparagus tasted sublime, creamy almost, this really is a vegetable that should be eaten in season only. The hollandaise was a success for once.
White Asparagus with Hollandaise Sauce
After a couple more beers and some wine, I carried on with the mains, an equally simple dish of grilled bratwurst, boiled German potatoes and sauerkraut which in fairness took no amount of effort to do but on putting the plate on the table my wife made an observation that turned the evening on it's head.
"What is it with the Germans and penises?"
I spluttered at this and asked "where the hell did that come from?" to which she responded that both dishes so far could be interpreted as well, fairly phallic. Looking back down at the plate, I could see she had a point but tried to navigate the conversation back to the authenticity of the meal. And then she asked.
"Who is singing for Germany in this year's Eurovision anyway?".
I said I didn't know but that we could find out and duly switched the laptop on, headed for the website and found that this year's entry for Germany was 'Miss Kiss Kiss Bang' sung by two blokes called Alex Swings Oscar Sings!
"See what I mean, they're all sex mad"
Bratwurst with Sauerkraut and German Potatoes
With that the meal descended into more of a debate over the permissiveness of the German people with juvenile giggles, lots of waving of sausages in the air and stupid accents, not something that I think Andrew had in mind really. I can testify that the bratwurst was indeed flavoursome but perhaps we were starting to get too much into the German beer rather than the food and by 10 o'clock we were feeling quite wasted. The fruit compote in the end had to wait until morning for breakfast and was really perhaps a little too sickly sweet to be eating first thing, the kids liked it though.
Rote Gruetze with cream
As far as projects go this really has been good fun especially as it forced me to actually go out and talk to someone about food. We get actively encouraged these days to enquire about the provenance of produce we eat but (and this will come as a shock to some) I can be a bit of a shrinking violet when it comes to asking the questions when I'm out shopping. Talking to Klaus though was really interesting and I felt that in the space of 10 mins chat I learned a lot, well a lot more than what I knew about German cuisine in the first place. If I ever bump into him again, I will happily wax lyrical about his asparagus, just so long as he doesn't ask what I thought of his sausage.
Roundhead or Cavalier?