Friday, June 13, 2014

Food, Glorious Food!

Ritter Sport Candy Sculpture
Sculpture in a train station isn’t particularly surprising, but a sculpture to chocolate? Oh my, yes. And the actual chocolate was inexpensive, mouth-watering and plentiful. Not only did this sculpture provide a great meeting place, but it set the stage for the sub-text of this trip ~ food!

Coffee and tea are available everywhere, as was the ubiquitous Starbucks; the locals drink bottled water, although the water from the tap is quite good. But Bohemia is famous for its beers and wines. Evidently (I know next to nothing about beer) there are two kinds of beer: Ales and Lagers. The difference is where the fermentation takes place; ales are made from top fermentation yeasts, while lagers are from bottom fermentation yeasts. In either case, the beer was unlike what I’ve tasted previously. The best pale beer I sampled was mild, bubbly and tart without being bitter; the best dark beer reminded me of a cola beverage. Both were yummy with the foods we were sampling. The wines were a bit of a surprise. I prefer sweet to moderately sweet white wines and had expected to be in Riesling heaven with a bit of Gewürztraminer, Spätlese, Auslese and, if I were very lucky, Eiswein available. At the first
Beer, wine & hot chocolate
restaurant we visited the waiter told me that he did have a nice fruity red I might like, but ‘real Germans’ don’t drink sweet wines, particularly in the Stuttgart region. Well fine. So throughout the trip I tried to prove him wrong, and failed. The Rieslings, while a bit better than OK didn’t have the floral nose, fruity flavor, crisp finish nor pizzazz that I had expected based on the German imports I’d tasted. Remarkably, not a single bottle provided in any restaurant was marked ‘Qualitätswein mit Prädikat’ (quality wine with specific attributes), nor could I find any in the grocery stores or wine shops. I also never saw on a menu or in a shop a Spätlese, Auslese or Eiswein; one of our group did get a Gewürztraminer and pronounced it unremarkable. The best find was at the Grand Hotel Pupp in Karlovy Vary (Casino Royale was filmed there). They served cups of hot chocolate; but not just chocolate. You could get milk or dark chocolate, chocolate with caramel, white chocolate, and a number of other combinations (I stopped reading at ‘dark chocolate’). The waiter brought a large cup of steaming hot milk, and a huge chunk of chocolate on a stick. You dunk the chocolate in the milk and swirl it around until it is completely melted. Amazingly good. It wasn’t uncommon to find several of our group relaxing with this concoction and a piece of cake at the end of the day.

The wine and beer have to stand up to the robustness of the foods. German and Czech foods are meant to keep you going all day and warm all night. They are heavy on the starches, sauces and meats. I truly believe that the salads have been added to the menu for the tourists. That’s not to say that the veggies in the salads weren’t crunchy, fresh, and flavorful; they were outstanding with tomatoes tasting, well, like real tomatoes should. Found on sandwiches, the
German and Czech main dishes
tomatoes, lettuce, portabella mushroom and fresh bread made a great burger, particularly when accompanied by a heap of sweet red and yellow peppers. Germany has its own version of flat bread that looks and tastes remarkably like pizza, particularly with the pepperoni-like salami, olives and sheep cheese (a German variety of feta). The cheeses were a delight, playing a role in everything from appetizers to garnishes to main dishes (think great hunks of breaded and fried brie) to desserts. The most common main dish was pork or beef schnitzel served with potatoes, dumplings (either bread or potato) or sauerkraut. A seasonal side dish that several of us ordered almost every time we ate was Spargel, which is large, white asparagus generally served with hollandaise sauce. It has a milder taste than green asparagus, making it suitable for salads and soups as well as a carrier for tasty sauces. Chicken and lamb were also in abundance on most menus.  Some dishes required explanations: pork trotters (pigs’ feet), lamb knuckle (leg of lamb), beef knee (yep, meat on a joint). Pork and beef were also roasted and served in a thick gravy with bread dumplings and cranberry sauce. Chicken came in many forms: whole, half, boneless breast, on skewers, and as strips for the kids. Fresh soups were also wonderful, from a lovely creamy tomato-basil to a hearty mushroom. What seemed missing from most menus were the –wursts ~ Bratwurst, Leberwurst, Knackwurst, Teewurst, Gelbwurst, or Weiβwurst. You could find these in grocery stores or from street vendors and several of our Travelers gave them a try.

And if you could still move, there were the desserts. Rhubarb and strawberries were in season, so most of the restaurants were serving some version of pie, cobbler, or an ice cream covered fruit mixture. There were also an amazing array of fruit covered cakes, cheese cakes and, of
course, chocolate covered confections. Apple strudel, served with either ice cream or whipped cream or both was a menu staple. Since Ritter Sport is produced in the area, purchasing it at the grocery store was an easy way to ease a sweet-tooth. Several of us had a good deal of extra weight in our luggage due to the excessive number of bars we brought home. Needless to say, we didn’t go hungry.

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