When I first got here, at the later part of 2009, I felt completely adrift. I was on a different planet, and a bit bereft because everything I was used to, food-wise, was not here. (there is a reason I am a fat little grey haired granny and not a Glamogranny)
Peter warned me, when I saw Salsa and Barbeque sauce in the grocery stores, that it would not taste anything like I expected. And he was very right (Y’all know I had to try!)
I could only find cheddar cheese (very mild and quite young) at stores with specialty cheese counters and paid dearly for the privilege of eating it.
I could not find any tortillas, flour or corn. The chips came in really weird flavors (ketchup? bratwurst?).
No black eyed peas, no butter beans, pinto beans or anything I recognized.
Pizza sometimes had corn on it! Chili always had corn in it!
There were no chocolate chips anywhere.
There was no Hershey kisses or Reese’s Peanut Butter cups, no American candy at all!
Mayonnaise came in a toothpaste tube, and even the ketchup tasted different!
I’m thoroughly ashamed to admit, but I did poke my bottom lip out quite far about all of it.
Not to negate the wonderful discoveries that Austrian food held for me! Austria is a bakery paradise. And the breads! Oh! The breads!
But the heart wants, what the heart wants.
So I quickly started learning german cooking terms and ingredient names and figuring out how to make the foods that I loved and missed.
Many things that I just bought at the store in the US, had to be made from scratch here, and it was actually fun.
I already had my BBQ sauce recipe from home, and my Chili (without corn) recipe, and my meat and chicken rubs and deep dish pizza recipe, but figuring out how to make corn meal and corn flour, so that I could have cornbread, was a huge turning point for me.
Learning to make various shades of real Brown Sugar, when all that was here was Demerara and Turbinado.
Making my own vanilla extract with vodka and vanilla beans had me feeling like I was rediscovering secrets that my Great Grands would have known.
Finding Masa Harina at the international grocery store so that I could finally have corn tortillas… I wanted to cry with joy.
At the same time, I was diving into Austrian food and food culture and learning how to make the meals that my husband loved. I must admit,the flavors were a bit of a mystery, as it is very different from anything I had been used to. But Austrian food is basically made very much like southern food (lots of boiling and frying), so I knew the techniques.
Then I got really lucky and found this cookbook. Figlmüller Viennese Cooking with Pictures. It had the german cooking words that I knew and lots of pictures.
In fact, now they have a new version, in English. If you are any of my kids, shut your eyes. Pretend that you did not see this and will therefore be surprised when it is delivered.
I made meals that I had never even smelled, direct from this cookbook, and all of my Austrian family said it tasted exactly as it should.
Over the years, I have noticed more and more of American Food culture arriving here, which I selfishly, heartily, celebrate.
I started seeing what they labelled Wraps (flour tortillas) in the grocery stores, which are just as tasteless and generic as the ones in the grocery stores at home. Then BBQ sauce, brands that I recognized, were showing up (Mine is still better, to me). Heinz ketchup arrived. Followed by Heinz yellow mustard and Hellman’s mayonnaise. In Squeezy jars! No more toothpaste tubes!
I even once saw a glass jar of Miracle Whip in a Merkur in Vienna. By that time, though, I had figured out how to make my own.
Then cheddar cheese showed up on the normal cheese aisle in the grocery stores. AGED cheddar cheese. Time for a long and riotous happy dance!!!!!!!!!!!
Just this past Thanksgiving, a German colleague told me that she was making Thanksgiving dinner for a large group of friends. Her menu sounded exactly what I would expect at home, even down to the pies. (the dressing was not made with cornbread and there was no pecan pie, but that is a very Southern difference)
I am glad, for convenience’s sake, to see so many American foods in the stores. I even found out about a store called AMERICANDY here in Vienna where sometimes, I can even find Butterfinger Bars!!!!!
But I have to say, my heart has become firmly attached to Austrian food. Shnitzel, Goulasch ( I know, I know.. Hungarian), Zwiebelrostbraten, Palatschinken, Semmelknödeln, Topfenstrudel, Käsekrainer, Eirnockerl, Rösti….
More breads and baked goods than you can try in a lifetime, hams and bacons and würstel (cold cuts) better than I could ever have imagined, strong coffees, liquer filled chocolate bottles to hang on the Christmas tree, little upside down chocolate umbrellas (literally) also for the Christmas tree ornaments… There is so much of this culture and this country and it’s people to love.
I am doing my best to show my friends and colleagues all of the American foods that I love, and they, in turn are showing me the foods that they love from their own countries, and that, to me is the very essence of friendship, sharing what you love with each other, and therefore finding even more things to love. (Granny Privilege! I can say stuff like that with a straight face and mean it.)