Nov 26, 201209:16 AMFood & Dining
Tasty Tidbits and Food For Thought
The first week in November I had the extreme honor and pleasure stay at a Gasthouse in Germany, which was owned by my friend’s post-college host family. Although his college experience was over a decade ago he has maintained a long-distance long-standing friendship with the family.
To say that these kind people were generous and hospitable is an understatement.
The guest house is located in Franconia, a distinct region of Bavaria. From the moment we walked into their guest-house, greeted with a world-class local Hubner Otto bier from the tap and given a toast, we were treated like family. Their hospitality did not stop until we left for the plane a week later.
Stereo-typical images of Bavaria, beer halls and Oktoberfest in Germany, feature football-field sized beer halls, raucously loud singing beer drinkers, and busty blonde women that resemble the St. Pauli Girl delivering giant overflowing mugs of beer. I did not see any of these things in Franconia. My experiences in Franconia were much more intimate.
While our socializing did involve a lot of beer (and a lot of really, really GOOD beer, at that), our gatherings mostly consisted of about 10-12 friends and extended family seated around a long rectangular or oval table, hanging out, sharing good conversation, lots of laughs, and frequent pauses for a good natured toasts of “Prost” all around.
Food and drink were a compliment to the good company but did not seem to be the object of our gatherings. Rather these things were a catalyst to the extended friendship and good will offered to all. Translation did not seem to be a problem, since between my spotty German, their top-notch English, and body language and various gestures, we seemed to communicate just fine.
The first night we were in Germany, a family member treated us to Brotzeit at her home. Brotzeit literally translates as “breadtime” but is actually is an appetizer buffet of the best of the best meats and cheese which is served with various breads, mustard, and condiments. The object is to sit at the table and graze on these fantastic delicacies and while mixing and matching each as desired into bite sized appetizers.
The evening started with a toast of Gluwein which is a spiced red wine served warm. We then sat down to a smorgasboard of little bites, which included jalepeno infused brie, double-smoked black forest ham, Spanish goat cheese, shrimp salad, and herring dip, and salami. The meats were served on a lazy susan, so as to provide everyone easy access to the variety of offerings. I tried blood sausage for the first time and I enjoyed the spicy liverwurst.
The meal was served in the attic dining room of our hostess’s historic farm house, where we could admire the exposed hand hewn beams which were about two feet thick. Again we sat around a rectangular table. After about two hours of talking and grazing, we finished the evening with a nip of pear schnapps.
Most of our long days traveling ended around the guest house dining room table, capped off with a final Ottobier and conversation about the day’s events before our final reluctant surrender to bed.
After a week of socializing, I can’t help but think that this style of sitting and eating naturally puts people in a good mood; it works to assuage tempers and calm irritations, the close proximity to top-notch food and drink, frequent toasts, and handy snacks soothing all daily tensions and irritations.
Subsequently, I have been searching for a long rectangular table for my dining room to replace my rigid square one and I am planning to break out my vintage lazy susan serving platter soon. I often wonder if this eating style might not be helpful in other venues as well. Imagine the world leaders at the G8 summit. Rather than pressure-infused press conferences and Geeky photo ops, the world leaders could start the summit with a private Brotzeit. Each world leader could bring the finest examples of food and drink from their respective countries.
German channcelor Andrea Merkel could start the meeting by passing out little glasses of Gluwein, and they would commence with a toast of good will towards all nations. They would be seated at a large oval table with their translators.
In the center of the table would be the most fantastic appetizer plate of world class delicacies... beluga caviar from Russia, French Bordeaux and cheese, pepperoni and buffalo mozarrella from Italy, smoked wild salmon from Canada, all in ready reach of a hungry leader. Obama could bring Maine lobster and BBQ ribs. Occasionally, a tiny portion of a world class liquer would be offered, capped off with a toast and a renewed pledge of good will and cooperation.
I can't help but think this atmosphere would be more conducive to working out the world’s problems than sitting in a serious sterile conference room.
My fantasy of world diplomacy may be laughable, but haven't we have all been thrust into the role of diplomat, negotiator, or leader, particularly at our annual holiday family gatherings? Who among us has not negotiated peace between relatives at war, de-escalated conflict between siblings, or defended ourselves against a crass comment thrown by a cranky relative across a well decorated but bare table? I definitely have.
And this year I have something to counteract the conflict. It's a Brotzeit. And hopefully it will promote peace. At least in my world this holiday season.