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On a Personal Note: Food fight.

Food is an unlikely source of disagreement, but since neither of us has yet had an affair (at least, not as far as I am aware) we don’t have anything much more exciting to argue about — at least until my wife decides to tidy up my desk. Still, if you work at it, the subject can be surprisingly fruitful in a multicultural setting such as ours.

The irony, of course, is that I come from Britain (which has a reputation in Germany for pretty awful cooking) while my wife comes from Germany (which has a reputation in Britain for pretty awful cooking), so anyone from a less culinarily-challenged nation (Italy, for example) would probably find some of our arguments highly amusing.

The growing-up spread

Marmite is one topic of lively conversation. It’s one of those things that you have to grow up with otherwise you will hate it: it looks disgusting and it has a very powerful taste. For some reason, my wife (ever the romantic) bought me a huge jar of the stuff, which isn’t easily available in this country, and now she complains when I actually eat it. She recoils in horror when I go for the traditional morning goodbye kiss, which doesn’t do my ego a lot of good and makes me think that she only gave me the Marmite so that she wouldn’t have to kiss me.

This, incidentally, is the same woman who, when making a salad, drowns it in vinegar and oil to the point that when you try to eat it, all you can taste is vinegar, but with the added sensation of a thin film of oily slime covering your lips and tongue. The reason they do this is because they are so unadventurous with their salads — a lot of lettuce, bits of tomato and some herbs randomly selected from the garden — that this is the only way to make them taste of anything at all. And don’t think that the vinegar and oil is added to the salad just before serving: no, the salad has to be marinated in it for hours, a surefire method of turning the crispest, freshest lettuce into a soggy pile of leaves.

I can’t believe it’s not beef

But then the Germans always use sauces to drown the natural taste of the food, something which they deny (as if lettuce naturally tasted like that) but the evidence is on every German dinner-table. At one pub, I once ordered lamb, because lamb is my favourite meat and Germans don’t “do” lamb. Lamb, roasted properly, is juicy and has a slightly sweet taste to it; the lamb I had was so smothered in a thick, strongly-flavoured gravy that it tasted like a sort of wimpy beef. What we in Britain use to bring out the natural flavour of roast lamb is a teaspoonful or so of mint sauce (finely-chopped peppermint in vinegar, giving it a fresh sweet-and-sour taste). That’s another thing my wife bought me: a pint of mint sauce which, I pointed out, would probably last us for ten years, assuming we ever get to eat lamb, which we don’t because it’s only ever available at Easter unless you can find a Turkish butcher and anyway it costs a fortune. That she was surprised at this says a lot about the German attitude to food: she apparently thought that we piled it on like white sauce on macaroni cheese.

Or take vegetables. The British have a reputation for boiling vegetables mercilessly for 40 minutes at a time, but nothing could be further from the truth. Lightly boiled in very sparingly salted water to preserve the natural flavours and textures. Fresh, plump, juicy garden peas, served with a knob of butter and perhaps a small herby garnish, and naturally flavoursome carrots — delicious. I’m not sure whether it’s something to do with the method of cooking or the climate, or maybe they’re picked too early, but German peas seem to be small and hard and wrinkly, and peas and carrots have to be buried in cream so you don’t have to taste the vegetables. Indeed, Germans seem to have a knack of taking fresh vegetables straight from the garden and making them taste as if they were canned.

It’s an odd thing: sauerkraut is a national delicacy, and yet Germans (or at least, the German who is married to me) will recoil at the mere mention of picked onions. Germans will happily eat knuckle of pork but be put off by the idea of steak-and-kidney pie.

Fine cuisine British style: pork scratchings and mucky fat

I maintain that this is a cultural thing, but my wife remains convinced that the British are simply mad. After all, who in their right mind would take the innards out of a sheep, fry them, call them “sweetbreads” and recommend the result to someone with digestive problems? (Actually, she has a point there.) How else are we to explain why, in the home of some of greatest cheeses like Cheddar and Wensleydale, the title of “king of cheese” goes to Stilton, which is basically the result of leaving cheese to moulder for a few months? (Well, yes, agreed, that is a bit weird.) And how many people with a functioning brain would consider instant coffee to be a good thing? (Yes… well, I had been wondering that myself, actually.) And do you know what goes into an average British sausage? (I think we’d better not go into that.)

Sure, the British have a curious way of deep-frying chips (that’s “fries” to those speaking American) so that they end up dripping in grease and then packing them in greaseproof paper so that they go all soggy, and yes, the idea of pork scratchings as an ideal pub snack fills me with horror, but British cuisine does not deserve the reputation it has. Although you might be forgiven for thinking so if you have ever been served a mucky fat sandwich. Or eaten a slice of Mother’s Pride bread. Or… Actually, I think I’d better stop now. I’m beginning to lose my appetite…

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