01 March 2010

Getting Stuffed, German Style

As if the previous weekend's overindulgence in London wasn't enough, it was off to Germany this past weekend. While the focus of our trip was Düsseldorf, travel issues forced us to spend more time than planned on train changes in Brussels and Köln. And though they were an inconvenience, we found ways to take full advantage.

Half a minute of pleasure
Despite being laid over two hours in Brussels to change Thalys trains, we didn't have much time to indulge Belgian style. Not only was getting anywhere on Brussels' cramped, slow metro system time-consuming (half an hour to go three stops!?) but the weather was so bad, even the locals wouldn't come out with their carts to sell us waffles and fries.

No matter, though. I managed to find one of the most charming beer bars in town, Au Bon Vieux Temps, to relive the greatest part of a previous visit: Westmalle. It's the only Trappist ale you can get on draft (all the others are bottle conditoned).

Unfortunately, by the time we ordered, we had about thirty seconds before we'd have to suffer the godforsaken transit system back to Brusells-Midi/Zuid station, so we more or less chugged our monastery-brewed liquid goodness and booked it back to catch the Thalys train.

But even when not properly appreciated, a proper Trappist ale is, um, appreciably better than most of the swill served up on our side of the border, where Heineken-brewed Affligem passes for an Abbey ale. Poor monks. Not only can they not get it on, but their finest product has been jacked by a conglomerate.

Meat and two veg. Maybe three.
Köln (Cologne) - Brauerei Früh - Do you see the onion, tomato, and lettuce used as garnish above? (Alongside the little pretzels...) Ogle them, because you won't see anymore vegetables. The platter above - consisting of aforementioned garnish, Leberwurst (liver sausage), Blutwurst (blood sausage), Speck (bacon), potato salad and aged cheese contained the last vestige of veg we saw until our return to France. That said, the charcuterie and cheese were so good, we didn't even miss food that contained color.

Taste the golden spray
The beer you wash down all that meat and cheese and dark bread with in Köln is, naturally, called Kölsch. It's light. It's nutty. It's refreshing. And it goes down way too easily. It's as though it's made to go with food. Or without food. Or to be drank by the gallon between train rides. And the waiters know this. They just keep bringing it until you stop them, marking your coaster with a pencil to keep a tally of how many you've had. Not to make sure you don't overindulge, but because it's a much easier way to keep track of the huge quantities being ordered at each table.

We didn't want to leave. We could've ordered even more cured Wursts and other unmentionable animal parts, but we eventually had to get to our destination, Düsseldorf. Which isn't to say we didn't get our tubesteak on before hopping on another train. After all, they sell Bratwurst and Currywurst on the train platforms there.

Slurping on the Axis
Who knew that the best Japanese food I'd ever have in Europe would be in Düsseldorf, Germany? The locals, apparently. People there line up – even in freezing weather (thanks to a heated bench) – for Na Ni Wa's array of authentic ramens. They're big, they're the real deal, and in proper German fashion, they're meaty. Really meaty. I had more cha-shiu in my bowl of ramen than in all the bowls of ramen I've eaten in Paris combined. And that's a lot of ramen. (And never you mind that green onion. It's not a vegetable. It's a garnish.) While Alannah slurped up the most fantastic curry ramen, I went for what they call the "Stamina." It's actually a kim-chi ramen, but they call it stamina because you seriously need some if you want to make it through the giant bowl, not to mention the serious dose of spices.

Oh, but it burns so good. Twice, even.

I like 'em older
Na Ni Wa had dominated us. Bound us. Tied us. Made us her bitch. Despite the fascinating array of old-school German brewhouses (and their accompanying menus), we couldn't eat another bite. But, we theorized, beer is liquid, and thus can fill the crevices without (most likely) killing us.

So we parked ourselves at a booth in Brauerei Uerige to imbibe in some Altbier. That means "old beer," but it's not old, just made using old methods that predated lighter-colored lagers. (By pre-dated, I mean back to the 16th century.) Alt is the Shirley Bassey of beers - older, darker, and still worth fantasizing about after all these years. And despite its rich appearance, its far from heavy, so you can keep drinking it just like with the Kölsch. See the marks on the coaster above for proof.

Swingin' with the locals
We don't go traveling solely to eat, you know. In fact, the main motivation behind this trip was to see Depeche Mode's final concert of their Tour of the Universe. So we'd met up with fans from all over (and stayed with our friends in nearby Dortmund). Upon the suggestion of one of the locals, a bunch of us got together for a pre-show lunch at Im Füchschen ("The Little Fox") for more Düsseldorfer Brauerei action.

While the beer didn't flow quite as freely (four non-drinkers and slower service in general), I managed to rack up five tallies of Alt on my coaster over lunch.

Lunch itself was a gorgeous, dark set of balls... Liver balls (or dumplings, though they weren't very bready) known as Leberkloße. As part of my put-as-many-unknown-meats-in-your-mouth-as-you-can travel/eating policy, I was excited to try this new sensation... and admittedly a little apprehensive. While the balls themselves were a bit organ-y, they were brilliant with a bit of gravy, sauerkraut and mashed potatoes. To be honest, I also ordered it because I was hoping the sauerkraut would somehow compensate for the lack of vegetables in my diet. But, of course, the cabbage was cooked down to near-nothingness, leaving the chunks of bacon mixed within as the only morsels.

Alannah, growing tired of mystery meats, stuck to the plain Schnitzel.

Stick it in your pretzel hole
If I learned anything at the concert Saturday night, it's that if Germans aren't drinking beer, they're eating. And because outside of a Brauerei there may be a five to ten minute gap between beers, there is food available everywhere. And when I say everywhere, I mean on the floor, in front of the stage, within the audience, at a concert. Not only were there vendors going around selling beer, cola and – WTF? – pre-made caipirinhas, but they'd also come around with enormous baskets of pretzels, cheese bread, and other baked snacks the size of your head. A small bicycle bell on the handle of the basket alerted us to their (omni)presence.

I didn't indulge, fearing that having anything more to eat would make me have to go drop the kids off at the pool during Depeche Mode's most energetic, energized, electrifying show in decades (though the previous week's gig at Royal Albert Hall was their best ever, but in a totally different way).

Between after-parties, staying out late, sleeping in really late, and rushing to catch mostly canceled trains during Europe's biggest storm since the late 90's, our eating and drinking adventure ended prematurely, but this is probably a very good thing.

A steady diet of fat and beer since the previous weekend – while culinarily inspiring in some ways – has actually given us a new mandate: To detox.

So we promise... The next update will be about something healthy. Something fresh. Something that doesn't involve squeezing meat, pulling casings, or chugging as fast as the tap allows. Unless, of course, I find a cheap ticket to Prague.


  1. Yum. I miss German eats. Bread, bread BREAD. Johanissbeeren pastry. Kuchen. More kuchen. Mystery meats.

  2. Oh and you know what else is awesome - Brezel mit Butter. A big soft pretzel sliced with a huge serving of butter. It's basically a butter sandwich.

  3. Oh, tell me about it. I can't wait to go back for all that. And to have actual *wheat* bread. Wow... It's been a while, my dark, textured friend.