“People who love to eat are always the best people. – Julia Child”
A love affair with German pastries
The day started just like any of my Hamburg days. I rushed out the door of my five-floor walk up, hopped on the U-Bahn and made my way to the Altona train station to get to one of the businesses where I taught English. Anyone who lives or has lived in Germany knows that every single subway station has at least one bakery if not five or six. Bakeries are the Starbucks of Germany and often one of the only places open on a Sunday as well. By the time I left Hamburg I had all my favourite bakeries mapped out in my mind and knew which place to stop in for which baked good. This was an essential part of my life abroad.
On this particular day, fairly early on in my time in Hamburg, I needed something to quickly tide me over before teaching for the next three hours. I indulged and ordered one of my favourite pastries of all time — a chocolate croissant or Schokoladencroissant as they say in German. To give you an idea of the quality of baked goods in Germany, a “just okay” croissant is equivalent to a great one here in Vancouver. So you can imagine what a great croissant is like there. On this particular day I truly believe that the pastry gods shone down upon my fresh-from-the-oven chocolate croissant and personally blessed it themselves. My cheeks burn to this day when I think of the scene I created after taking the first bite of my gift from the gods that day.
I mean, I knew it would be good, but I didn’t know it would be like that. The warm gooey chocolate flooded my mouth as the light pastry crushed gently under my teeth. I stopped in mid-step and stood outside the train station, stunned. “My god, this is no ordinary pastry,” I exclaimed to myself. I was torn between wanting to devour it and wanting to savour every heart breakingly perfect morsel. I moaned with pleasure when I got half way through as Germans gave me the famous German eye as they passed by. I’m pretty sure some of them gave me a knowing look, too. I didn’t even care what anyone thought—one of the perks of being a foreigner. My mouth felt alive with pleasure and as the croissant moved through me I felt a rush of dopamine invade my body. I was having a full-blown foodgasm on the streets of Hamburg for all to see. My only moment of sadness came from not being able to share this pleasure with my friends that day, but I made up for it many times after that. It was the beginning of a beautiful buttery relationship that saw me through many a tough day living abroad. But, to be fair, it was also the German chocolate, bread and beer that got me through as well.
What is it about our relationship with food? It’s something we need to survive obviously and it nourishes us and can give us intense physical pleasure, but it’s also a social glue, the focal point of many celebrations, a gift of love and something that magically brings people together. Of course we can also develop extremely unhealthy relationships with food which can lead to all sorts of problems such as food addiction, disordered eating and major health problems, but at its core, food is at the heart of so many cultures and the sensuous act of eating and the loving act of sharing food can cross boundaries and borders.
Food has always been important to my family. My dad’s side of the family has Italian heritage so enjoying food together with la famiglia was par for the course. When we visited my relatives in Italy they fed us so much that I have no idea how I managed to squeeze into my airplane seat on the way home. I remember when my fellow Canadian expat Joanne and I visited my relatives in Northern Italy on a holiday when we were living in Hamburg. They invited us to come to a gorgeous Italian vineyard with them where some of their friends hosted a sumptuous meal where the wine flowed like water and the food never seemed to run out. We were filled to the brim with the warmth of hospitality, great conversation, wine and food when they said to us, “okay, so now we go to a food festival!” Joanne and I looked at each other with fear. But, how? We politely nodded in agreement and were amazed to find a huge food festival still in full swing at midnight in this small Italian town. Toto, we most certainly weren’t in Vancouver anymore, where you’re sometimes hard pressed to find a restaurant open after 8pm. And yes, I’m now homesick for Europe.
I’ve always loved to bake and share my baking with friends, family and coworkers, but cooking is something I only got into in my late twenties or so. I gave myself a challenge to try 12 new recipes a year and ended up trying about 40 new recipes that first year. I was hooked. These days I don’t have as much time to commit to cooking elaborate meals or trying new recipes and it makes me sad. Perhaps this post will inspire me to get my food-lovin’ act together again.
I could go on and on about food so I think some more food and recipe posts are in order, but for now I’ll just leave you with the recipe for the incredible Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake from Smitten Kitchen that I made for my friend. Do yourself a favour and set aside 7 hours to bake it.
I’m so grateful to have been brought up in a family that celebrates the joy of food and its power to connect us to others. What are some of your favourite food moments and traditions? Feel free to share them with me in the comments!
“For recent immigrants to Canada, especially women, sharing their foods with their friends here is a rite of passage that strengthens the new ties the women are anxious to create. In receiving someone else’s food, we are accepting a gift that represents the best a woman has to offer, a gift that bypasses the language and cultural barriers that so often separate us from each other.” ~Star Weiss in Kitchen Culture: The Lives and Foods of Immigrant Women in the Cowichan and Chemainus Valleys