Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Eurodining VII

I organized and cooked a Mexican feast for the lab today. I made chicken enchiladas and refried beans. My homey Teo made quesadillas, salsa, and guac. We also had peas, lettuce, tomato, and radish. About 15 people showed up, and the feast was quite successful. Everything was ready on time and turned out well. I managed to deflower two labbies with Pop Rocks. Teo (who is from Mexico city) considered my designation of my food as "Mexican" to be quite a stretch. And he is right; as I told him, it is more Cali-Mex, and the last time I was even near Mexico City, I was four. But it was still good. My only other minor mistake is that, instead of buying sour cream, I got some other kind of thick cream, but it actually went quite well with the food.

I forgot to mention a slightly bigger faux pas with my Canary Island feast last month. I was buying butter, and saw some interesting looking brown butter. I could not read it, but it was in the butter section, and I thought it might go well with the bread rolls. Well, sort of. It was already in the bread rolls, and would not have gone well on top of them. It was yeast.

In a butter (or worse) gaffe, I tried to order a turkey sandwich with cheese from the local supermarket, Billa, last week. I asked for turkey and cheese. I successfully conveyed everything, except that turkey sounds quite a lot like butter in German. So I got a butter and cheese sandwich. Not bad, and it entertained my labbies. I am sure many turkeys supported the change as well. But, fuck 'em, they do not have lawyers and so I will eat more of them out of vengeance. I now ask for turkey breast, since butter does not have tits.

I also mastered getting tap water at restaurants without paying for it. There is a secret: learning the proper word. It is normally served without ice, and if you ask for ice, you get one ice cube. I also learned how to ask for many ice cubes, but this confuses them more than asking for a Big Mac without the center bun, so I just accept tepid water. Still free.

And untaxed. This remains a huge advantage of the EU dining system. All tax is included. When you ask for the check, the waiter asks: together or separate? The normative response is the latter (or, if you are dining alone, fuck you, I am not that fat!!!). The waiter then easily figures out how much everyone has to pay. You typically round up to the nearest Euro to get the tip.

Despite the simplicity, I still think the American tipping system is better. TIP means To Insure Promptness and does so. It also gets you drink refills, which do not exist in the EU outside of fast food joints, and bigger portions and smiles. One of my labbies, Gernot, complained about going to New York and leaving a 10% tip, after which the waiter whined loudly. Is that America, he asked? No, that's Manhattan. He also said that the service was poor. I explained that, in such situations, the trick is to leave a one penny tip. That really makes the point. And I am sure the waiters are very grateful for this, and recommit themselves to improved waiting.

There are a few Mongolian BBQs in town. They do not call themselves that; they claim to be Japanese. But the same idea. You fill a plate with veggies, noodles, and raw meats, and give it to an Asian man who cooks it and then gives it to an Asian woman who brings it to your table. Pretty good. The best one is called Graz Tokyo by Hauptplatz. They use so much MSG that you have to pause in the middle of eating so your heart can slow down. Mmmmmmm.

Europeans put fried eggs on a wider variety of foods. The Spaniards put it on many sandwiches. One of the ubiquitous Irish Pubs here, Molly Malone's, serves a burger with 2 fried eggs that is quite good. There is a Gasthaus nearby that serves fried egg over ham. "Gasthaus" is a common term for a friendly little restaurant, and I am flattered to be invited, except you are not supposed to make guests pay for food.

Bio products are even more prevalent here than in the US. Whenever a store sells fruit or meat, they have a bio version that costs 50% more and looks about the same, but is supposedly free of whatever nastiness is in non-bio food.

Many labs here have Nespresso, Nestle's espresso drink hawked by George Clooney. Of course, since he is so handsome and has a perfect soul, it must not be a pancreas-eating addictive stimulant. It is now my daily caffeine shot of choice, since it's quite hard to find fresh iced tea out here. Another interesting drink is blueberry juice, which is tasty even though the main fruit juice manufacturer is named "Smoke" in German.

In an observation totally unrelated to dining, the toilet in the lab, like many out here, has a very stupid design. There is no real toilet bowl. There is instead a flat porcelain plate, parallel to the ground, over which you sit. The conventional toilet, in which you bomb water even with no aiming effort, is much smarter. The lab toilet is a three stage process: finish your meal, flush, get the toilet brush. Instead of dropping your kids off at the pool, you are just dumping them on the diving board.

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