Germany: What’s the difference? – Part 1

As the 6 month mark that I have been based in Germany nears, I have come up with an ongoing list of things that make living in Germany distinctive from living in the US. Some of these can be noticed merely by visiting, but others require having set up a proper home life here.

I have decided to set up a series to thoroughly highlight these differences, one a week, and the list will inevitably grow as the weeks go on.

In my new role as “house-tender” I have decided we should be eating more often a home-cooked meal. This in itself is a big feat after having spent the entirety of my adult life in NYC where many people use any kitchen storage they have, up to and including their ovens, as clothing storage. It’s hard to resist the ease of Seamless for those days we do stay home, and the extensive variety of restaurants for most of the other days. Of course this varies considering one’s circumstances, but it’s certainly a valid generalization. So many restaurants, so little time!

So our (my) goal has been to cook at least three times a week. And I can’t bother eating boring food at home, so this requires a bit of research to find interesting and flavorful recipes and hope they turn out as they look in the pictures! The next step has proven to be the most challenging and eases me into my first big difference between Germany and the US. The grocery stores are considerably smaller and the options much more limited.

As the Americans should easily be able to conjure up, we can imagine our big grocery stores: all the chains around the nation including Pathmark, Albertson’s, Byerly’s, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s. Then you have the stores such as Costco or Sam’s Club, Target, Walmart… and down each aisle, you’ll find an extensive variety of everything imaginable. Think of the tomato sauce, for example. You can find the basic Ragu brand, with perhaps 5 – 10 different varieties. Multiply that by five or so other basic brands and a store brand. Then you have the Organic brands, and now even the regular brands have an organic label or two. Then add in several brands of crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, tomatoes with skin, tomatoes without, oregano and basil added, low salt, no salt. The choices add up, and with that, the uncertainty. Sometimes we choose based on a coupon which usually means “buy one get one for half off” or “5 bags of lettuce for the price of 3!”, in which case it invariably means we end up leaving something to waste, and the guilt of waste is added to the decision process. But that’s a US thing.

The situation here in Germany is a bit different. When I go to the grocery store, my first step is translation, then measurement conversion in order to get an idea of how much to buy. Then I only hope I can find it. There it is. That’s what’s considerably different here in Germany, if I find the correct product, I snatch it off the shelf, lucky to have found it at all. Forget about variety.

Without the Asian grocery stores around the corner here in the Bahnhofsviertel, I think I would be at an absolute loss. There I find anything obscure that can be found in every Asian cuisine imaginable. Fortunately, many of these foodstuffs show up in other recipes as well, so I am not merely limited to Asian cuisine. Lidl and Aldi can generally provide us some basics and hopefully some decent cuts of meat and fish assuming there is anything left. Many a Saturday have come that have found us at Lidl or Aldi staring at an empty section where the salmon fillets should have been.

Otherwise, I’ve also learned all recipes using non-seasonal ingredients are out. M and I fell in love with roasted brussels sprouts in NYC, but unfortunately brussels sprouts are a winter crop and therefore we must wait a few months. In preparation I will build up my repertoire of brussels sprouts recipes and pull them out daily once those bad boys appear.

I wonder what will happen to the squash, etc. What about tomatoes? Time will tell…

Today I was so happy to find a can of chickpeas at the second Asian grocery store I visited, and this was after I bought a bag of dried and looked up the methodology for cooking them. I bought it with a smile on my face, and told myself, next time I will embark upon the chickpea cooking process.

And with that, thanks for reading, and I hope you all have a wonderful rest of your day!


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