Tag Archives: food

Spargelzeit is nigh!

Spargel! Image by 4028mdk09

In Germany, April showers bring Spargel.

Known to us English-speakers as asparagus, Spargel—specifically the white variety—is a celebrated national symbol in Germany and a sure sign that spring has arrived. Affectionately called “the vegetable of kings” by some Germans (mostly because, back in the day, only royalty could afford to eat it), as soon as the white stalks start popping up in markets, you can sense the country tremble with excitement.

The official debut of German-grown Spargel is still a couple weeks away, but that has not stopped market vendors and grocery stores from whetting everyone’s appetite with early-bird white asparagus from Greece. Even though Germans don’t consider Grecian Spargel the crème of the crop, I bought my first bunch this weekend out of curiosity and impatience—I, too, share Germany’s enthusiasm for asparagus.

In my endeavor to eat somewhat seasonally, asparagus is perhaps the only vegetable I refuse to cheat with out-of-season. To me, asparagus heralds the impending bounty of the growing season, and I want to preserve that magic. So when asparagus season (Spargelzeit auf Deutsch) rolls around, I become gastronomically giddy.

Spargel still art. By Maria Vos (1878), not a German artist.

As I channeled my excitement to write this blog post, I soon discovered I was not the first with the desire to tell the Spargelzeit story. There are piles of other articles that have already done it justice.

So, why reinvent the wheel? At the end of this post, you’ll find a sampling of some of the articles I found. Within the first couple sentences of these pieces, you’ll get a sense for the fanfare around Spargel in Germany.

(And to the Germans reading this, I recognize I am generalizing your culture’s obsession with Spargel. If you actually don’t like it all that much, I apologize for assuming otherwise.)

If you don’t have the time or curiosity to browse those links, here are the “Spargelbasics.”

Spargelhistory

While the dawn of Spargel cultivation was around 2000 BC in the then-major civilizations (Rome, Greece, and Egypt), it reportedly first sprouted in Germany in the 16th century.

During the Renaissance, Spargel was extolled for its presumed medicinal and aphrodisiac qualities, though the truth of these claims has since been falsified. Still, no one can confidently explain the origins of Germany’s obsession.

Nowadays, the city of Schwetzigen considers itself the world’s Spargel capital, and is the center of the “Asparagus Triangle,” a trio of western German towns hailed for their Spargel-growing prowess. The city even commemorates the veggie with a statue (see below).

Schwetzingen's Spargel statue. Image by Hermann Luyken

Spargelscience

Official Spargelzeit is mid-April through late-June, when growing conditions in Germany are optimal (although I wonder what this year’s funky weather will do to the harvest).

White and green asparagus are actually one in the same plant: Asparagus officinalis. The difference lies in how they are grown. White asparagus is grown under mounds of soil to prevent the sun from turning the stalks green. Apparently harvesting them is also more labor intensive than their green brethren.

But Spargel’s health benefits may outweigh the labor costs. It is a low-calorie snack packed with vitamins and minerals, and is apparently good for cleansing the system, if you know what I mean.

Spargel field. Image by Harald Bischoff

Spargelcooking

To eat white asparagus, you have to peel it before cooking (unlike the green variety). Boiling seems to be the preferred, if not the only way of cooking it. In fact, Germans even have special pots specifically designed for boiling Spargel.

Spargel is traditionally served drowning in Hollandaise sauce and accompanied by Schinken (ham), Kartoffeln (potatoes), and a glass of white wine.

During Spargelzeit, Germans supposedly dine on the “edible ivory” at least once a day. Collectively, they consume an average of 70,000 tons of Spargel per year.

Spargel mit Hollandaise und Kartoffeln--lecker! Image by Elya

Did I mention Germans really love Spargel…

Further Spargelreading

Buried treasure: white asparagus” in The CS Monitor

White asparagus time in Germany” on the German Mission to South Africa’s website

Land where asparagus is king of spring” on Boston.com

Spargelzeit: Asparagus Season in Germany!” on germanfoods.org

Deutschlicious: German white asparagus season” in Honest Cooking (includes a recipe for a traditional Spargel dish)

The White Asparagus is Here” on German World Online (includes wine-pairing recommendations)

Asparagus: Green versus White, Not Just a Different Color” on donajuana.com (a more agronomical perspective)

Edible Ivory: Germans Are Obsessed with Asparagus” on Speigel Online (a snarky take on the obsession)

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Home is where the taste buds are

Home is not just where the heart is; it’s also where the taste buds are. This seems to be especially so when in a foreign land.

This past week, I went to dinner with four other expats and one German (but who is part British and part Indian), and we got into a long conversation about where in Munich one can find the best Indian food. One of my dinner-mates was Indian, and he was praising a hole-in-the-wall Indian joint, claiming it sells the best [insert name of said Indian food that I’ve now forgotten] he’s ever had outside of India. Specifically, he described this food as tasting “just like home.”

Another dinner-mate, who is British by birth but Pakistani by heritage, was lamenting the lack of good Pakistani food, saying she just can’t find food like her family makes.

As I walked home from this dinner, I pondered the connection between food, taste, and homeland. People do seem to end up missing certain foods when they have left their home country, which sometimes induces an endless hunt for home-like fare. For example, one of my American friends here, with her German husband in tow, has been on an ongoing search for the best, most American-like hamburger in Munich.

Sure, ethnic restaurants can help satiate one’s desire for that home-like cooked meal (although, if McDonalds and Starbucks are considered “ethnic American,” I can’t say they do anything for me). Some may call these restaurants the globalization of food, but I wonder if they are just expats’ own remedy for their craving for “home-food.”

A brief Google search for attachments to food revealed one article stating that people associate certain grub with specific childhood memories, and another claiming people find comfort foods, well, comforting when feeling stressed or lonely (both emotions that accompany moving to a new place). So there seems to be some science behind the food-home connection.

But whether scientific fact or experiential assumption, seeking out familiar foods does seem to be a fact of life abroad. For example, I asked my flatmate, who lived in Vancouver, BC for a while, if there were any German foods she missed while she was there, and she immediately exclaimed, “Brezen” (pretzels, of the soft variety–a very Bavarian snack).

Brezen! Image by Jonathan M

In my own experience, when I was living in St. Lucia (in the Eastern Caribbean), I recall having strange cravings for vittles like for flour tortillas and cheese that was not yellow, because these were hard, if not impossible, to come by on the island. What was strange about these cravings was that, aside from the cheese, many of them weren’t things I eat on a regular basis in America. My flatmate agreed that you end up longing for food you don’t normally crave at home.

Here in Germany, I tend to cook meals that are close to home (i.e., what I cook in the States). Granted, the food available here is not drastically different than what is available in the homeland. In fact, in some cases, I think the food here is much better. Even so, I haven’t yet ventured into trying any German recipes, even though my flatmate has a healthy collection of German recipe books.

Perhaps if I were living in a small Bavarian village, rather than a big city, with less access to home-like foods and a higher consumption of traditional Bavarian fare–e.g., Bratwurst, Brezen, and Kaesespaetzle (what I consider the German version of mac and cheese)–then I would start pining for quinoa, kale, and the rest of my usual hippie-vegetarian provisions.

Though, I will admit that I do miss my favorite comfort food: Annie’s mac & cheese (note to friends and family: if you send me a care package, please throw in a few boxes of that…especially the organic shells and white cheddar). Kaesespaetzle just isn’t the same.

How about you, dear readers: if you’ve lived in a different country before, what home-food(s) did you miss?

Kaesespaetzle. Image by Wiki der Wikinger

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