Day 25: Germany
This marks the first home cooked meal for Man Bites World and there couldn’t be a more passionate, skilled and prideful candidate for the job than our family friend Max. Once arriving at he and his wife Heidi’s beautiful home, it doesn’t take long before those virtues are put on display. He pours me a bottle of wheat beer and says “Of course, there is no such thing as German food.” Germany is a country even younger than the United States and its food, like so many others, is extremely regional. “Everything north of Frankfurt, I think, is inedible,” he says. Max is from the south, but don’t make the mistake of assuming that means he’s Bavarian. “People think all Germans are Bavarian, which is like saying all Americans are Texans.” He’s from Baden-Württemburg, which are actually two extremely different areas joined together as a single German state. Max was born in one and raised in the other and today, he’s giving us an exciting sampling of the food he grew up eating.
We’re starting off with a very typical Sunday brunch of beer, weisswurst (pork sausage) and pretzels. True German pretzels, when baked, should be coated with a very diluted lye solution, which keeps them moist on the inside, crispy on the outside and gives an added “bite”. They are illegal to sell in the United States and Max was almost able to convince a German baker to make them for him (at the risk of being caught and losing his license) before he backed out and made normal ones instead. After heating the weisswurst in hot, but not boiling water and refreshing the pretzels in the oven, we sit down to the table out back. First, you are supposed to peel the skin off of the weisswurst, then you slice the pretzel lengthwise and butter it. A single bite through the crisp, salty exterior of the pretzel and into the warm, soft buttery insides, following it up with the fluffy, parsley scented and sweet-mustard dipped sausage, then washing it all down with a sip of cold, refreshing wheat beer and it is suddenly very clear what I should have been eating for brunch my entire life.
Max heads back in to prepare the next course and I give myself a moment to take in their beautiful back yard overlooking the recently charred Agoura Hills. On the patio there is a grill and a wood burning oven, making it even more clear that this man certainly appreciates his food. Up next is maultasche served two different ways. Maultasche is a sort of sausage and spinach ravioli and we are told that it comes from a group of monks who were once given meat as a gift, but as it was lent, they weren’t allowed to eat it. To keep the meat from going to waste, the monks decided that if they stuffed the meat and some spinach inside of dough, that God would not see them eating it. For this dish, Max, who has been preparing our meal all weekend, even had the dough flown in from Germany. The first version we eat is in a soup, which really strikes a lovely balance as each component manages to stay simultaneously both light and hearty. The broth receives an exciting kick from the infusion of sausage and the pasta is tender, but still holds true to its thick, durable nature.
Max once again returns to the kitchen, this time to make the version of maultasche which is his favorite. Usually reserved as a technique used for leftovers, the maultashe are fried in a pan, then topped with a cracked egg. A sprinkle of chives, once plated, is the finishing touch and the condensing of flavors and crispy edges that come from their time in a frying pan take the food to a new plateau.
Next up is bubespitzle, potato dumplings which translate literally as “little boys’ dicks”. These are browned in butter then tossed with sauerkraut and imported smoked bacon. The bacon smells unbelievably good and we talk for a moment about the glory of this wonderful swine, culminating in Max revealing “I was told that pigs go straight to heaven through your stomach.” If any animals deserve such treatment, it’s them. This dish, like so many others, chimes in with its own proof of the virtue of my current favorite flavor/texture combination. The salt from the bacon, the crispy coated tenderness of the dumplings and the great leveling tartness and acidity from the sauerkraut convince me that dish should be considered a national treasure.
Just in case the whole evening hasn’t been impressive enough, Max goes on to wow us one more time. Pfitzauf, or “pop ups”, made in his old family pfitzauf pans come hot out of the oven and are served with his own home made apricot jam. They are essentially a pancake batter cooked as if they were muffins, but with enough air inside that they come out like crispy souffle puffs. Dusted with powdered sugar, then topped with the vibrant, tart and astoundingly fruity jam, these hot clouds of airy fluff are worth taking a bullet in a non-essential organ for. One more bite and I suddenly remember that jams are in fact not the sugary, vaguely fruit-ish concoctions that vomit themselves onto various toasts and biscuits across the country. This version is the real deal.
Piled back in the car and driving away from the magical, German wonderland where all your dreams come true, I can’t help but be extremely grateful that people like Max exist. You see, we need people like him. We need people who love something so much that they can’t stand the idea of somebody having a bad impression of it. He knows that German food in Los Angeles is not up to snuff and is painfully aware that it would be a sad, sad day if an Oktoberfest celebration in Torrance were to somehow end up as the representation of such a delightful cuisine. His excitement and passion can’t help but be infectious and a better ambassador of southern Germany may not exist. I am, quite happily, in his debt.
Food Breakdown: Beer, wine, pretzels, weisswurst, maultasche soup, fried maultasche, bubespitzle, pfitzauf, apricot jam.
Distance From My House: 28 miles