Foreign Food Friday – FIFA World Cup Edition

Hello to anyone still checking this stagnant blog! Apologies for the long blog hibernation. No excuses, I just fell off the technology wagon for various reasons and now I’m attempting to claw my way back into my old social media habits once again.

I’ve never lived in a foreign country during World Cup season before. I knew that the rest of the world was passionate about the tournament in a way that we in America just never seemed to understand. I saw some coverage of the last World Cup, but mostly remember only the vuvuzela horns in South Africa more than which nations’ teams were in the top rankings.

Well, all that’s changed. Here in Germany, there is supreme national pride visible everywhere, from the flags and streamers on the cars driving by to the lowliest products on supermarket shelves. I’ve never seen so much branding, not even for the Superbowl or the Olympics. Here’s a sampling of what I saw today while shopping for my family’s groceries.

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Yogurt with flavors for the top teams (Spanish orange, Italian panna cotta, German rhubarb, and Brazilian lime).

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Potato salad sporting a patriotic image.

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Pringles have jumped on the “themed flavors for different nationalities” bandwagon.

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The frozen food aisle offers Brazilian-themed quick meals to serve at your World Cup party.

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German flag toothbrushes!

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Brazilian-scented shower soap (whatever that means).

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Tiny soccer ball gummies in tropical flavors (for Brazil) and sour gummy German flags.

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Tissue boxes must come in a Brazilian-print, obviously.

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And one’s candy dish must only sport M&Ms in patriotic colors.

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And last of all, a life-size soccer ball made out of chocolate. Because your kids ate the chocolate Easter bunny you gave them last month and now they need MORE sweets.

It’s fun to discover what the marketing teams can come up with. And I’m very glad to have experienced the FIFA World Cup hoopla at least once in my life.

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Foreign food Friday

Only in Germany…

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I never expected to be confronted at the grocery store by gummy candy “Asses with ears”. Bizarre.  Oh, Haribo, what are you thinking?

der Weihnachtsmarkt – the Christmas market

Christmas in Bavaria is very familiar to American Christmas, yet the focus is slightly different. We are delighting in the sights, sounds, and smells that we encounter at every outing. The holiday season still abounds with commercial marketing ploys, yet it also seems easier to focus on the other aspects of the season, such as traditional family foods, gathering together with friends, and reflecting on one’s religious beliefs and charitable aspirations.

Central to each large town in southern Germany is the Christmas market. Many tourists come each year to tour through all of the various cities, but with our two young kids in tow we only managed to visit the one in our hometown.

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The town square (the Münsterplatz, in our case) gets taken over with wooden stalls which sell decorations, gifts, and delicious food.

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After dark, it’s especially magical, with holiday lights twinkling everywhere. And a mug of delicious Glühwein (mulled wine) or Feuerzangenbowle always helps to ward off the cold and uplift one’s Christmas spirit.

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By daylight, there are plenty of fun carnival rides and activities to keep the kids entertained. They had miniature scenes from many Germanic fairy tales and legends. Above, Sam is standing inside a set of the “Bremen Town Musicians”.

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I even got to try my first taste of “chestnuts roast[ed] on an open fire” (heisse Maroni auf Deutsch).

We also tasted lots of sausages, schupfnudeln (large noodles with sauerkraut and bacon), candied nuts, and apple fritters.

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On December 6th (der Nikolaustag), I even spotted St. Nicholas. My apologies for the lack of photography skills. But you can just make out his helper, Knecht Ruprecht, dressed in black and holding the back of goodies. Legend has it that Sankt Nikolaus brings the good children apples, nuts, mandarins, and chocolates, while Knecht Ruprecht gives the bad children a spanking and a lump of coal.

Supposedly, there are also appearances by Krampus on December 5th, but I didn’t make it to the market on that day to check.

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My kids may be naughty at times, but at least they don’t have to worry about visits from such scary creatures!

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Check out this mistletoe! I’ve never seen more than a sprig before.

And watch for the last two riders on the train!

Happy holidays to all our dear family and friends! We may be separated by many miles, but you are always in our thoughts.

Foreign food Friday – Market edition #2

I will get back to more personal blog entries again soon.  I promise!  But having these little Friday deadlines does somehow force me to get on the computer and post something. I’m still trying to create this social media habit for myself.

The fresh food markets are starting to wind down a bit after the cold fall weather slowed the fresh fruit bounty. But we’re still seeing some great crops in our town farmer’s markets.

Germany has some amazing berries, including the biggest, reddest currants I’ve ever seen. They have giant figs the size of tangerines and strawberries that are better tasting and less seedy than the local berries I grew up on (sorry Bainbridge, but it’s true!). But did I get photos of any of those before the summer ended? No, unfortunately not.

The plums here have been a favorite in our family. They have lovely damson plums and plums of all colors and sizes that remind Joe of the fruit trees on his childhood in Napa. Sam loves the small, yellow ones called Mirabellas because they’re bite-sized and super sweet.

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And just like the giant pumpkins that sit outside American grocery stores in October, some of the farmers’ stalls are trying to outdo each other with the size of their giant squash!

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While we’re mourning the end to the summer produce, we’re looking forward to the beauty of autumn in Bavaria. Hearty German stews and roasts are better suited to cold weather, anyhow.

Happy Oktoberfest everyone!

Foreign food Friday – “Bear” meats

The cliché is true: there are a LOT of sausages in Germany. And there is a niche market for making deli meats in animal shapes to appeal to kids.

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Bear-shaped salami

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Mortadella with a bear print. A bit like Pillsbury cookies for holidays that have a design when sliced; presumably made with light and dark meat.  Hmm…not very appetizing to my taste but to each his own!

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For those who don’t like bears, there’s also bee-print mortadella or a Santa’s elf design.

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There’s even bear-print hotdogs. Now those, we had to try. Can’t say the kids even noticed!

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Grocery shopping in a different country is always an adventure!

Comparisons

After a month, we’re starting to adapt to some of the changes that come with living overseas. But I’ve been brainstorming about some of the differences.

Things we had in America and now miss having (in no particular order):

  • Crackers for the kids, like Goldfish and Wheat Thins (Germany doesn’t really have any crackers to speak of)
  • Frozen corn (ditto)
  • Retail stores open on Sundays (a forced “day of rest” really makes Saturdays pretty miserable)
  • Television stations and newspapers that we can understand
  • Kirkland  (Coscto) diaper wipes
  • Small Ziploc bags
  • Cheap clothes for kids (does exist in Germany, but much harder to find)
  • One-stop shopping. Doesn’t exist here.
  • International cooking ingredients – hard or impossible to find here (especially Mexican)
  • White bread
  • Healthy add-ons to kids’ fast food meals – instead of apples slices or mandarin oranges or string cheese, in Germany the fast food chains offer CANDY along with the chicken nuggets and fries
  • Cheddar cheese
  • Streaming TV and movies (in English) – Netflix and Hulu don’t work here
  • A car. Nice not to have to deal with parking, gas, and maintenance, but it would be really helpful to be able to drive on occasion for convenience
  • Free libraries. Library cards here cost €30 per year and have limitations on borrowing
  • Teriyaki shops – a favorite with my kids in America but nonexistent here
  • A clothes dryer. And a larger capacity washer, too , for that matter
  • Dishwasher!
  • A shower I can stand up in
  • Target stores
  • Racial diversity reflected in the media. While there is a lot of diversity among the citizens, even in our smaller-sized city, all of the television and commercials are extremely “white washed”. Rather disturbing.
  • Good tasting tap water

Things we now have that we’ll miss in America:

  • Wonderful walking paths, including tunnels underneath busy intersections to make crossing easy (especially tons of ramps and elevators everywhere for strollers!)
  • Ikea, H&M, and other large chain stores within walking or short bus ride distance
  • Church bells pealing on Sunday mornings
  • Geydan Gnamm – a catering facility that offers delicious, hot and healthy meals to go (perfect for nights you don’t feel like cooking)
  • Delicious chocolate (available in the US but more expensive)
  • Beautiful parks and playgrounds all over within walking distance
  • Beer gardens and the outdoor café/restaurant culture
  • Gelato shops
  • Retail clerks that offer candy to kids (this happens everywhere. Sam has learned that by simply saying “Danke” he will be given candy at the bakery, pharmacy, or retail shop) — a bit of a pain for parents striving for healthy diets, but a nice gesture nonetheless
  • Wonderful public transportation systems that truly run on time
  • Small food packaging – love that the foods aren’t HUGE, both junk foods and also things like milk here come in nice, compact, square cartons that can be stacked in the fridge
  • CHEAP utilities – cell phone contracts with unlimited data are only €35/month (we paid $90 in the US) and prepaid phones with data included are even less, and a quality internet/phone/TV bundle only costs €30/month … much cheaper by far than anything we could find in America (we used to pay $180)
  • Measuring furniture in metric – it actually is a lot easier to remember dimensions that are 24x60cm rather than in minute fractions (5 1/8″ x 11 ¾”)
  • Speedy delivery – DHL delivers many things domestically in only a day or two relatively affordably – one of the benefits of being in a smaller country
  • Travel options – how amazing to be able to be central to so many other European destinations. Joe’s students spent their summers in Spain, Austria, Ireland, Greece, etc.
  • Bathroom attendants. Public restrooms aren’t so scary to go in, even for the men (according to my husband), because the attendants do such a good job

So, pros and cons on both sides. Funny that so many on the first list are food-related. It’ll be interesting to see how we feel about some of these after the end of this year!

Dinosaur Day

We’ve been having a bit of morning rain here in Ulm lately. So we decided to try something new and ride the bus to the local shopping mall for some indoor walking. It’s very nice at the Blautal Center, actually, and I’m sure I’ll be back to do some shopping for the kids and for our apartment. Sam loved the fact that they had a temporary dinosaur exhibit with life-size models.

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We loved the diagonal moving walkways — a cross between moving sidewalks at the airport and an escalator; great for use with strollers!  We comforted in the similarity with American shopping malls (lots of cell phone kiosks, jewelry stores, and a food court). The food court was a bit different, offering Turkish, Scandinavian seafood, and traditional German fare along with the ubiquitous Chinese and Italian.

And we had fun with some of the stores that displayed English names or signs. One advertized their “Freaky Sale!”. [Sorry that some of these pics are a bit blurry…]

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“Schmitt Foxy Food”

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“Mister Lady”

All-in-all a fun rainy-day outing in our new hometown.