Friday, September 18, 2009

Eurodining VIII

I returned from the US last month with only three bottles. Breakage prevention, about which I so gloated last time, was a minor issue. This time it was more mundane: weight management. I checked in a suitcase weighing 55 pounds and a box weighing 45 pounds. Perspicacious readers may note that 55 pounds is over the weight limit; I avoided paying by showily moving things from my suitcase to a carry-on bag until I sweated profusely enough to garner pity from the United check-in agent. My carry-ons totalled 45 pounds, for a total haul of 145 pounds.

What does this have to do with eurodining? Much of the haul was more Mexican food: enchilada sauce, beans, jack and other cheeses you can't find out here. Some of the bulk was 2 pinatas, which are also quite exotic. And lots of junk food to become gifts for various labmates and their kids. (They got some great kids' books too, thanks to my mother's grandmastery of both children's literature and hoarding.) I made a pan of enchiladas for the lab the following week, then a pan for the staff at Molly Malone's a few days later. That's right, I cooked food for an Irish Pub and restaurant, then brought it unannounced. My labbies also thought this quite odd. See my last Eurodining post; they just don't understand the tipping system out here. I got a free murder burger, chicken wings, and enough free Guinnesses that I lost count.

A few weeks ago, most of our lab went hiking at Zirbitzkogel, followed by a big meal. Yes, Austrians like to go hiking, then have a feast, often at a restaurant at the peak. Sounds American, much like the joy with which Austrians greet each meal (Americans have no analog to "Mahlzeit"), but I never once encountered any American restaurants full of tired and grimy hikers. Every hiking-restaurant I have seen is hardcore Austrian food, as opposed to ethnic food, fast food, or some franchised slop. So I was delighted to see all these unfamiliar dishes. I was even happier to be able to translate one of them: Fleishnudelsuppe, or meat noodle soup. Great! I ordered it. I caught our secretary looking away a half second too late. Great. I kept looking at her quizzically. "Do you know what you just ordered?" Great....

I said no. She graciously offered to tell me, or change the order. No, I said with poorly hid resignation, I'll indulge in the universal cultural initiation involving mystery meat. I guessed intestines. My Romanian mystery meat was intestine soup. I ate Chinese intestines many times. (I mean, I ate cow intestines served at Dim Sum.) The soup was good. I looked up, steeled for the punch line. Cow lung soup. I don't think anyone saw me gag, which temporarily brought some cow lung in contact with its human equivalent. This wasn't so bad; certainly better than puking on the table. We'll see if my labbies can avoid that when I introduce them to Rocky Mountain Oysters.

We then hiked some more, in little groups, and labbies Jing and Petar asked me to teach them American songs. I said no. We don't sing nearly as much as Germanspeakers, and I can't sing, I told them. Petar was insistent, so I began the American classic:

99 bottles of beer on the wall
99 bottles of beer!
You take one down
pass it around
98 bottles of beer on the wall.

I figured someone would tell me to shut up around 96 or so, and I'd be gracefully acquitted. Petar instead offered to buy me Guinness if I could finish the song. So I did, until suddenly realizing I didn't know the end. There isn't one. The song, like 99 bottles, isn't really meant to be finished. So I ad libbed the following:

No more bottles of beer on the wall
No more bottles of beer!
You fall down
Passed out around
99 bottles of beer on the ground.

I now have 4 bottles of Guinness hidden in my wall. Petar is an honorable man.

The following week, I met my old buddy Bernhard and we went to a Buschenshank. This is a restaurant with wine that is typically located in some pastoral area with nice views. You are also not allowed to serve anything that is not locally produced. Why not open a regular restaurant? Because Austrians pay lower taxes for buschenschanks. It's a great idea, one that would never fly in America. Oh, it could start. It would gain traction amongst my many countrmen who are sick of franchised prepackaged homogeneity. But within a few years, Coke would find some way to wrangle an exception, and soon there would be a McDonald's buschenshank in the middle of downtown Atlanta. Indeed, I have seen some erosion here. One of them serves bottled beer. I got mixed explanations for this, but evidently there are gradations of buschenschankdom. I blame globalization.

I also joined my labbies one Friday for "leberkäse Freitag," which greatly excites my normally equanimous labbie Teo. They ride bikes to a store that sells leberkäse, which I eschewed because it translates as liver cheese. I explained this to labbie Clemens. No, he said, it has neither liver nor cheese. We just say that to confuse Americans. Well, way to botch an otherwise totally successful plan, I replied. In fact, it is basically ground pork, and not bad on a roll with mustard. One of those sandwiches is filling but not fattening, which always helps with a mundane problem: weight management.

The next week, a couple American friends visited me in Graz. My first visitors here! I really wanted to get them cow lung soup, but Eli is just too trusting, so I would have felt guilty. I instead got him schnitzel mit kürbiskernmantel, aka fried pork breaded in pumpkinseeds. He was so happy that he returned on his last night, although he was only here 3 nights. He loved the salad with pumpkinseed oil too. I say again: it is an embarrassment to California's legendary fecundity, and its ostensible multiculturalism, and especially its govenator, that nobody figured out to grow pumpkin seeds out there. Do it. Import the Samen König. Get rich.

Here is our govenator on The Dating Game, asking a narcissistic question and badly parrying her subtly scathing response. For added amusement, the announcer mispronounced both his name and Graz. Also, I have never met any Austrian with an accent like Ahnold's.

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