Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Essential Oils

Big deal, right?  Olive oil, an avocado and a cilantro garnish.  Well, this represents a small victory for me. Shopping in Germany has provided me with some challenges and some opportunities.  Instead of a once a week trip to the A&P or Whole Foods, I've become accustomed to the German way of making a trip to the market every day or every other day.  I find I waste a lot less food this way because I buy only what I am actually going to cook that day or the next.  So different from the US where the weekly excursion was influenced by cravings, coupons and clever merchandising. And I was never one to plan a week full of meals in advance.  I had a mish mash approach that yielded a lot more mash than mish. And, truth be told, a lot of food went off because we got home so late from work and I was just not motivated to cook. Far easier to stop at Greek Delights and get take-out.

One of the biggest challenges about shopping in Germany is that I can't count on one store for all my needs.  Living in BFMF, it's not as simple as a stroll down Main Street to stores A, B and C with a stop at a cafe in between. Main street for me includes: a supermarket, an Indian restaurant, a children's shoe store, a bank, a butcher and a salon.  Oh, and let's not forget the rocking bar Hokus Pokus which we lovingly refer to as The Poke.  That about sums up my shopping potential.  So, if I want to cook Asian food, I have to take my bike (or the train) to the Asian Grocer.  That's a small inconvenience since I have a certified cilantro addiction and need to have it at least twice a week. The Asian grocer ships it in from who knows where and it's hit or miss what sort of condition it is in.  I'm always psyched when I get a healthy bunch that will last more than a few days. This is also where I need to go if I want bok choy, sweet potatoes, brown sugar, bean sprouts, fresh lemongrass, buckwheat noodles, etc.  If I'm feeling like cooking Aloo Palak or Tikka Masala, I have to go to another store in the city center for Indian staples.

In general, the vegetable assortment in most German markets is pretty basic and more seasonally influenced.  You won't find 10 types of lettuce, a full fresh herb assortment or every type of fruit imaginable. And, for a country that loves their potatoes, they only seem to have two kinds.  New potatoes, Yukon Golds, yams, jacket baking potatoes - that's a trip to the Viktualienmarkt to see the potato man.  And certain things like pecans, parsnips, chocolate chips, vanilla extract - they're either not available or I have to go to the Viktualienmarkt and pay crazy, crazy prices. Thankfully, we have a steady stream of BMW friends visiting HQ for meetings and they are always happy (I hope) to be my baking supply drug ponies.  My last delivery included butterscotch morsels, shredded coconut and cream of tartar.

One of the foods I was missing the most was avocados.  They were a standard lunch component for me mixed with hummus and tomato on a bagel. Don't even get me started on bagels. I think there are two places in Munich. Oh, and ready-made hummus? You have to go to a Turkish market for that.  Fortunately, I like my homemade stuff just fine. But I digress - back to the avocados. The thing is, you can get avocados in every store but they just weren't the same as the ones I bought at home. The first couple of times I bought avocados here I dutifully put them on my veggie tier waiting for them to ripen.  Three days.  Five days.  Seven days.  Still bright green.  When I finally cut into one it was all brown and gooey inside.  Okay, lesson learned, they will not turn black when ripe. With my next batch I did the squeeze test until I determined they were ripe.  And they were.  But they had no flavor.  I tried and tried but I could never get my avocado mojo going.

Now, remember how I said I have to go to several stores to find everything I need?  Well, about 75% of my shopping I do in Edeka for a couple of reasons.  They are close - only a five minute walk.  They are super friendly which is not the norm.  People go on and on about how bad German customer service is but I find that Edeka employees are always pleasant and patient.  And, most importantly, I can go there with a list and almost always get everything I need.  The prices are higher but it is sooo worth it for me to shop there.

Then I supplement with the "discount" and "ethnic" markets for pantry staples and miscellaneous items.  The closest discount market to me is Pennymarkt. I head there about once a week.  You kind of just have to go and see what they have because, beyond the staples, the assortment is never guaranteed to be the same. I hardly ever buy vegetables there because the quality isn't very good.  Germany grades their produce on a scale of 1-3.  Edeka carries a lot of 1st klasse fruits and vegetables and Penny carries a lot of 2nd klasse. So, you can imagine my surprise a few weeks ago as I was skimming past the vegetable section and something round and black caught my eye.  An avocado.  A dark avocado.  Upon closer inspection, a HASS avocado!  I bought five.  They were like little pebbly-skinned bits of hope.  I brought them home and immediately cut two open. I would have made a batch of guacamole right then and there but, you guessed it, I didn't have any cilantro and didn't feel like going all the way to the Asian market.  So, I just sprinkled them with some sea salt and pepper, gave them a generous squeeze of lime and inhaled them. Perfect.  Heaven. Home. Hass.

Which brings us to the olive oil.  You know that über-revealing website dating question, "What are the five things you can't live without?"  My top five includes cilantro and a really great olive oil.  Extra-Virgin. First cold press. Green. Pure. The kind that is so aromatic you could bathe in it.  My last good batch I brought back from Italy. On the self-same (soon to be legendary) Pennymarkt avocado trip I picked up a bottle of olive oil.  I reserve the good stuff for dressings or dipping bread but I also always have a cheapo bottle on hand for general cooking. The bottle I got from Penny cost 2.99.  Like I said, Penny is cheap.  Well, I opened this bottle on Monday to add a little to boiling pasta water.  The smell hit me right away.  This was no Bertolli.  I poured a little on my finger. Like liquid gold it was.  Quickly, I translated the packaging: product of Greece, cold-press, winner of 5 international awards. I used canola oil for the pasta water then cut a piece of bakery bread, added some fresh grated black pepper and a generous pinch of sea salt and dipped away.

Why yes, as a matter of fact, I did just get back from Pennymarkt. What did I buy, you ask? Two more bottles of the olive oil (still 2.99) and four avocados. That combined with the cilantro means the world is mine: Thai, Mexican, Indian, Greek, Italian - I shall cook and enjoy you all.

p.s. I also have a package of pork schmalz in the fridge which technically means I can add Germany to the world cuisine mix.

1 comment:

Lynda said...

There is a Pennymarket in my one horse town.. I have never been in - because my mother-outlaw wouldn't be seen dead there. It filtered down. I am off to pick up some olive oil tomorrow (hope they have hass avocado too!) There is no picking where the good stuff will surface here.