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Friday, December 12, 2014

German Foodie Field Trip: Day One - Munich

German Foodie Field Trip

Days One - Munich

Playing Hooky...

Even though we were just about to start a new unit in Culinary School... Petits Fours, no less... when the opportunity to take a three day trip to Germany and Austria presented itself, there was no question in my mind... I would be skipping class!

It amounted to three days of eating every dessert and pastry I could lay my hands on, even when I couldn't pronounce the name. If it looked good, I had to try it.

Marienplatz in Munich

Gentlemen, restart your clocks... 

Nothing better prepares you for a whirlwind, 72 hour gastrological sprint through Bavaria, an eight hour flight and a six hour time difference, than getting up at 5:30am for a morning pastry shift. Oh well, the focaccia at Osteria Morini wasn't going to bake itself. Unfortunately, the empty suitcase at home was just as unlikely to pack itself.

Baking Focaccia at Work Before Flight

With work done and bags packed, it was off to the airport. Check-in and security only took 10 minutes: an unprecedented pleasure. The downside? ...90 minutes to wander the terminals at Newark.

No Starbucks? Damn you, New Jersey! 

As I searched for a coffee substitute like a true caffeine junky, I happened upon these pastry oddities. Now let's be clear - there are good croissants: light, flaky and crispy. And there are bad croissants: dense loaves of butter. But a bad croissant is basically brioche, and there's never anything wrong with that.

...and then there are Airport Croissants. What am I looking at, exactly? Was this thing extruded from some Croissant-O-Matic? 

Oh well, the label on the display said it was "Baked Fresh Here". Good to know there are options if the Culinary School thing doesn't work out.

Sad Airport Croissants

And what travel log would be complete without a gripe about airplane food. True, getting food on a flight is remarkable in its own right. And I learned a new culinary trick. If you overcook pasta, taking it beyond al dente to complete mush, you can just continue to bake the hell out of it, and it will dry out and become crunchy again. Magic!

Sad Airplane Dinner

Seat reclined... seven hour nap (more sleep than I've had in weeks)... and viola! Now arriving in Munich! 

Munich Airport Selfie

Streets of Munich

My Christmas is bigger than yours...

Munich, seated in the southern-most part of Germany, knows how to do Christmas. But it should. On the map since 1158, this city has been accumulating holiday decorations for centuries. 

Sorry Rockefeller Center, but you're definitely in second place. Sprawling Christkindlmarkts (Christmas Markets) extend for blocks and blocks and hide in back plazas and alleyways. 

Christmas Tree in Marienplatz, Munich.

And while the entire city had been transformed into some sort of Christmas pop-up, there was also the Viktualienmarkt, a daily food market with over 140 vendors that has also been in continuous operation for centuries. 

Time to start exploring...

Vendor in the Viktualienmarkt, Munich

It's no secret that Germany isn't the most vegetarian friendly of nationsIf it's meat, it can be ground down and made into a wurst... and that's awesome.

Sausage in the Viktualienmarkt, Munich

More Meat in the Viktualienmarkt, Munich

Spices in the Viktualienmarkt, Munich

That's not to say that you can't find vegetables at the Viktualienmarkt. They're here.... somewhere. They just don't feature prominently on the traditional German plate. Potatoes and cabbage (mmm, kraut) reign supreme.

Vegetables in the Viktualienmarkt, Munich

...and wasn't I more than a little surprised to find a durian among the stalls. 

This Southeast Asian fruit was certainly far from home. But it would seem the nations of the world unite around one simple fact: the durian smells awful. "Stinkfrucht" - you don't need a translator to figure that one out.

Durian in the Viktualienmarkt, Munich

Meat aside, another apparent food trend is the extreme fondness by young and old for all things gummy. 

We're not just talking about Gummy Bears (or Gummibarchen). While the German company Haribo, one of the world's largest manufacturers of gummy candy, created the original bear-shaped candy, gummy seems to assume every shape imaginable

I'm not sure I find the dead gummy mouse (pressed firmly beneath plastic wrap, as if suffocated) to be an appetizing incarnation, but it's just sugar, right?

Gummy Candy in the Viktualienmarkt, Munich

Pastry scavenger hunt...

One of the realities of Culinary School, particularly one that prides itself of being "tres classique", is that you're frequently learning products which, truth be told, don't feature in many American bakeries in 2014. 

When was the last time you were craving a slice of your local bakery's Gateau Pathivier? Yeah, I thought so...

But I knew that by being in Europe, particularly so close to the Austrian border, I would encounter many of these confections in the wild. I was right.

First up, Stollen! One of many citrus-flavored, fruit and nut filled holiday breads from school, I knew I would see one or two over the weekend. 

The per capita consumption of these butter and sugar drenched breads must be staggering, because they were everywhere.

Stollen in Munich

Another bread of the holiday season, and only somewhat less omnipresent, was the Kugelhopf (or Guglehupf). Similar in flavor, but slightly less decadent, these distinctly shaped cakes graced the counters of more than a few stalls throughout the Christkindlmarkts.

Kugelhopf in Munich

But it was a trip into Dallmayr, a luxury delicatessen in Munich since the 17th century, that presented the most overwhelming assortment of familiar treats. 

There were Chocolate Ganache Cakes...

Chocolate Ganache Cake in Munich

... and Sacher Torte (although that really is an Austrian specialty, but we'll let that slide)...

Sacher Torte in Munich

 ... a remarkably familiar Carrot Cake...

Carrot Cake in Munich

 ... and a host of Charlottes

So when do we eat? 

Charlottes in Munich

When in Germany...

After a full afternoon roaming the city's food stalls, it seemed that a proper German dinner was in order. 

First up, beer and pretzels (or bier und brezel)... I know you can get these in the United States, but somehow it's just not the same. 

Pretzel and Beer at Spatenhaus, Munich

And then it was time for a couple of traditional bread and potato dumplings, proving that good German food is not the most photogenic of fare.

Bread and Potato Dumplings at Spatenhaus, Munich

Testing the theory that all meat can be shoved into a sausage, the next course was liverwurst and black pudding (a delicious, if unappetizing-to-describe mix of pork blood and oatmeal). 

Wurst at Spatenhaus, Munich

And the obligatory wiener schnitzel: thinly breaded, fried schnitzel made from veal. 

Wiener Schnitzel at Spatenhaus, Munich

From the moment we made our first Bavarians in culinary school, a chocolate version that served as an amazing tart filling, I wanted to try one flavored with raspberry.  

Whether laziness or a lack of free time is to blame, where better to satisfy the craving than a restaurant in Bavaria.

And behold! A Raspberry Creme Anglaise Bavarian... as delicious as I had hoped it would be.

Raspberry Creme Anglaise Bavarian at Spatenhaus, Munich

Meanwhile, on the street of Munich...

Appetite whet by a great first meal, it was back to the Marienplatz Christkindlmarkt. Euros in hand, it was time to hit the food stall like it was a contact sport! 

Chocolate Covered Treats at Christkindlmarkt, Munich

A simple baquette with melted cheese may not sound like the most remarkable of first selections, but when the baguette is soaked in garlic butter, and in the crisp night air, it was the perfect starter snack. However, a slightly heavy handed pour with an unexpectedly spicy hot sauce left a lingering burn for hours.

Maybe I should have taken heed of a local's side comment when I grabbed the bottle. My German might not be great, but I clearly made out,  "Wow, that guy must have had a lot to drink!"

Cheese Baguette at Christkindlmarkt, Munich

From savory to sweet. Sugar time!

What's a Schaumkuss (foam-kiss)? Probably the best marshmallow you've ever had, coated in chocolate. Available throughout the market in a variety of flavors, the marshmallow is soft and almost meringue-like. They're messy as hell and impossible to eat while walking around. 



Next stop, food coma...

Sugar levels spiking, pants tightening, and the blackness of a food coma starting to descend upon me, there was time for just one last indulgence for the night.

"I have no idea what that is, but I want one!"

It was an assertive request for a powdered sugar coated bread that has just been placed in a stall window as I approached.

"You want it? You want it now, or I put in bag?" The vendor graciously ignored my complete lack of an attempt to order in German. 

I wanted it now.

Soft and only mildly sweet, it was the perfect post-dessert dessert.

Tomorrow - Salzburg! 

Holiday Bread at Christkindlmarkt, Munich

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