So i am at my parents place (somewhere in the middle of eastern Germany some 2 hours south of Berlin) for the holidays and naturally we are talking about food most of the time. My brother just informed us of his (outrageous) plan to make Sushi for lunch. how insane is this? Making sushi somewhere in the middle of nowhere where all the shops are closed and even if they were open they would still not be selling fresh fish (my brother informs me that he has frozen fish that he intends to use, yuk!).
Now my father says that it is not such an outrageous thing to make sushi here as this area (provincial eastern Germany) used to have the best japanese restaurant in the whole of europe in the 70s and 80s. sounds a bit insane to me (why would the best japanese restaurant in europe be located deep in the provinces of (then socialist) East Germany) but apparently this has indeed been the case (if you can trust the interwebs, which of course you can’t):
In the late 60s some crazy east German engineer bought a restaurant in Suhl (local joke: ‘Suhl is so close to the edge of the world you can see Zella-Mehlis‘) and transformed it into the best Japanese restaurant in Europe [the following is my own crappy translation of a badly written article that appeared in a local newspaper on the occasion of Rolf Anschütz’s 75th birthday on the 4th of May 2007]:
In 1960 Rolf Anschütz became an apprentice Chef and started studies to become an engineer. In the mid 60s he bought the wine-bar “Der Waffenschmied” [pk: the Armorer] in Suhl. He had the idea to transform it into a Japanese restaurant since the time in the chef-school in Leipzig: Only among the people from the land of the rising sun the culture of food preparation constitutes the primary element of the national culture as a whole. He was fascinated with this observation and went to great length to create his own japanese restaurant:
41 years ago the chop sticks were hand made in a local carpenters shop and the rice bowls were sourced from a pottery shop in nearby Rümhilde and the engineer himself cut off the legs from chairs and tables to bring them to japanese proportions. He also hung cloth to the walls to simulate a far eastern ambience and on the 14th of february 1966 he started serving japanese cuisine in the GDR!
At that time he could not foresee the success that ensued over the decades to come – but a legend had been born that day in Suhl. A day that should change his life once and for all: The restaurant deep in the province quickly became insiders tip for culinary events and after japanese journalists had started reporting about this culinary highlight back in Japan reservations for a meal needed to be booked 2 years in advance.
The restaurant was running at full capacity and in 1978 he in introduced the japanese ‘Gastmahl’ [pk: guest meal] that was celebrated according to traditional rules – including a common bath of the guests before the meal. At this time the “Waffenschmied” belonged to the most respected japanese restaurants outside of Japan. In Europe it is the undisputed number “1” followed by Brussel and Japan [pk: since when is Japan in Europe?]. The whole world came to visit Rolf AnschÃ¼tz: from South American cattle barons to Japanese tourists for whom it became a must to visit Rolf Anschütz in Suhl. More than 96.000 guests from Japan ate at “Der Waffenschmied”. In total more than 2 million visitors from 126(!!) countries were guests at this exceptional Restaurant and 186.000 among them took part in the bathing ceremony.
Apart from this rather dubious newspaper article there is not much information to be found online. however it seems that a feature film about the restaurant is in production at the time of writing (IMDB lists ‘Sushi in Suhl‘ as ‘in production’) and the film seems to have received production money from the film fund of the German federal state of Hessen.
While traveling through Iran there are very little signs of the looming crisis over Iran’s alleged nuclear arms programme. There are a couple of down-with-the-U.S.A murals and posters here and there (but i believe they have been all over the place since 1978) and there is a fairly large number of anti-aircraft guns and rockets sticking out of the desert around the nuclear facility at Natanz. More interesting however is the fact that on a beautiful autumn day there are lots of Iranian families picnicking right in the shadow of the AA-guns, on the lawn in front of the facility (it appeared to me that the lawn was there for exactly of that reason).
Popular defiance to the threats of an attack in response to the alleged nuclear arms programme does not stop here: There is a brand (Anata/Jet) chocolate bars on sale in iran that depicts both a photograph of a F-15E Strike Eagle (on the box) and a drawing of a F-16 Fighting Falcon (on the wrapper):
It is kind of remarkable (and maybe a good indication of the schizophrenic split between the official anti-americanism/imperialism and the popular fascination with the American way of life) that one can market candy bars with the same planes on them that the US (and Israel for that matter as the the F-15/F-16 combination makes up the entire long range strike force of the IAF) will use to bomb the shit out of Iran, should they ever decide to attack Iran.
… who just gave an interview on BBC world justifying (in the standard language of contemporary occupiers – ‘unavoidable collateral damage’, ‘regrettable loss of innocent lives’, ‘doing the uttermost best to avoid unnecessary suffering of the population’, ‘the terrorists are using women and children as human shields’, etc…) the controversial presence of Ethiopian troops in Somalia. At some point of the interview he pointed out that…
we have not gone into Somalia to drink milk but ready to make the ultimate sacrifice to preserve peace [emphasis mine]
for some reason i can really relate to this. Having this particular expression makes the Ethiopians much more sympathetic to me (plus, of course their food is much more imaginative than Iranian food).
So one of the things which are really nice about being in the middle east is that you have hummos all the time. I mean at least three times a day, for breakfast, lunch and dinner. You wont hear me complain. So yesterday night one the way back from dinner i suddenly wondered where all the chickpeas (which are the basis of hummos) come from. One would imagine that there would be chickpea fields or plantations all over the middle east but i have never really noticed any. Turns out nobody in our party knew either (Khalid was pretty sure that it grows on small bushes) which is a pretty amazing amount of ignorance when it comes to one of the most important ingredients in your regional cuisine. According to wikipedia almost all cickpeas do come from India. The percentage of india in the world chickpea production is so high that the rest of the worlds cickpea output seems to be measured in percentages of the Indian production:
To give the locals some credit, according to the same wikipedia article ‘Domesticated chickpeas are first known from the aceramic levels of Jericho’ (which is like 2 hours driving from Amman)
One of the things that has always fascinated me about borders is the way they structure the local economies of adjacent regions. People one the one side suddenly start selling ridiculous amounts of all kind of things that are not available – or much more expensive – on the other side. Particularly vivid examples of this phenomenon can be observed on the fringes of France. The area around Calais is full of shops selling booze and cigarettes to busloads of brits & in Portbou just across the border to Spain where there is not a single store that does not sell Pastis in 5 litter bottles to visiting Frenchmen. Laila adds another although – although completely unrelated to leisurely border crossing – example from the border between Gaza & Israel:
“Yes, you know, the Imsaddar household. Their farms are near the border with Israel, in eastern Gaza… their bees fly across the border and gather pollen from the Kenya trees and Orange groves in their farms. So the honey is just better.”
How is it that honey from bees gathering pollen from trees across the border is better? Is it because the flowers are freer? Less empty or trapped or sad? Less occupied, perhaps?
“I think they just have more trees and flowers there. After all, most of our groves were razed during the Intifada,” explained a friend.
So everybody who knows me a bit will know that i am not particularly fond of all things white and liquid. basically i hate all white milk based products (except mozzarella cheese & ice cream) to the extend that i get physically sick just by being to cose to them or thinking about them. the stuff makes me literally shiver…
Now the dutch are particularily fond of milk! they seem to eat large amounts of cheese, produce one of the moost awful substances in the whole universe (‘vla’) and even think that it is ok to have a glass of milk for lunch (for adults!!). they seem to be so fond of all things milk that they commission art-works for public space that cherish diary products: on a playground along my route to work there is a giant milk-bottle sculpture. needless to say this thing used to give me the creeps every time i cycled past it. now some kind soul seems to have had mercy and has added a message that i can wholeheartedly support:
Still makes me wonder what the original sculpture was meant to say: kids in africa a worse off [ :( ]because they do not get a bottle of milk every day? and the dutch kids need to internalize this while enjoying themselves on the playground?
Spain is probably the worst place in western europe to be a vegetarian. When i flew to Argentina last year, it was absolutely impossible to find a vegetarian meal in all of Barachas airport. Of course Iberia had fucked up my request for a vegetarian meal so i had to spend something like 20 hours on snickers and peanuts. Now i do not have to deal with the spaniards complete ignorance when it comes to vegetarianism anymore, but my vegetarian colleagues have had to suffer a lot in the first 3 days of our workshop in Spain. After two days of pasta with a tomato sauce made from watered down ketchup, the cooks finally came up with something else, which they referred to as ‘vegetarian risotto‘:
Because of the color we immediately had the suspicion that the thing might contain squid, but because of the funny taste it was kind of difficult to confirm, so we asked them what the fleshy bits in the thing were. Waiter, smiles makes some fishy hand movements that resemble the tentacles of an octopus and tells the two people who had requested something with neither fish nor meat that it was indeed squid. So i start telling him that this is unacceptable and he runs back to the kitchen come back and declares that it is not squid but asparagus. Meanwhile another waiter arrives tells us that it is neither squid nor asparagus and draws a mushroom and tells us it is mushroom. Closer inspection confirmed our initial hypothesis. Later in the discussion one of the vegetarians, in a desperate attempt to justify the fact that he had eaten the entire risotto, came with the theory that actually there was no difference between eggs and squids because they both miss a brain.
To celebrate(?) the fact that i have started to eat meat again (after 12 or so years) i have created a flickr set highlighting some meat related pictures in i took during my two visits to Buenos Aires (in 2004 as a vegetarian and in 2006 after having started to eat meat again in Patagonia). It might be possible to go to Argentina as a vegetarian, but to come back for a second time and still refuse to eat meat comes down to masochism. Remains to be seen if i will continue eating meat here in Europe.