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Bad Bentheim, Episode 1: A peek into Germany

by on November 3, 2009
 

I’ve been away in the last few weeks – London (again), North of the Netherlands and last weekend in Germany! I’ve never been to Germany proper….I don’t think flying through Frankfurt qualifies as seeing the country so I won’t mention that. As you guess, that has been corrected, amended, changed. Now I can say with certainty, I’ve seen a bit of the country, even if it is only the northwest corner of Bad Bentheim. And if you’re thinking ‘Bad’…..don’t. It actually refers to ‘Bath’! Yes, Bentheim is a town noted its spas but also for ‘Bentheim Gold’- a kind of sandstone. And yes…those are my legs!

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Surely, you remember I am a geologist. Rocks, rocks, rocks. A rock worker who loves food. Nothing strange about that. Anyhow, this was a working trip to look at beautiful rock exposures and all the rest that come with it – hotel stays, good food, local scenery and more. All of which I experienced.

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This was  a voyage of discovery and so I bring the tale to you…in part. And if you already know all the things I just discovered, then smile and enjoy the photos and if you don’t then glad you could learn something.I just love people and food facts.

Lesson #1 – Sparkling water is standard unless you specfically request still
Lesson #2 – German food is NOT all bloodwurst and sauerkraut
Lesson #3 – Pay for your bier by the Bierdecker
Lesson #4 – German bakeries open on Sundays
Lesson #5 – German breakfasts are not to be disparaged

Lesson #1 – Sparkling water is standard unless you specfically request still

We arrive safe and sound and head to dinner at the hotel restaurant where we ‘re staying. While we wait for the meal to begin, I study the table napkins. I seem to have developed a thing for them…since I first saw the chickens. I slowly take it apart

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…only to reconstruct it. Who knows when one will need a hat?

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I am served a bottle of ‘gourmet’ mineral water…. and it is sparkling! Now while I drink fizzy water,  it is not often my first choice. I drink it anyway…afterall who would turn down ‘designer’ water…and I should know a bit about that with my treasured VOSS waterbottle. We find out that if you don’t specially request for still water in the resturants, you get the default – sparkling. So for all you still water lovers heading to Germany-do keep this in mind!

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Lesson #2 – German food is NOT all bloodwurst and sauerkraut
All the talk of bloodwurst and sauerkraut stops the minute the food arrives. The long trip from the Netherlands appears to have robbed the snickerers (hmmm hmmm no names  mentioned) of condemning words for German cuisine. As this is my first time in Germany proper, I daren’t say a word about the food…. I don’t know enough yet.

The 1st course arrives and I am famished and eagerly tuck in. The tomato soup is anything but ordinary – smooth, red vegetable soup crowned with a blob of smooth white cream, garnished with chopped parsley and crunchy croutons – exactly how tomato soup should taste. My first spoonful brings memories of passata – made from oven-roasted tomatoes. There is a perfect balance between the salty seasoning and a gentle sweetness that has me almost emptying my bowl. But I’m excited about the main and so don’t hurry to finish this offering. 

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I made a choice of croquettes with grilled back of pork and mixed veggies for the main. When it arrives, I am not sorry. My rack of pork sits on a jus-laden bed of baby carrots, green beans and romanesco cauliflower. Whole potato croquettes fan the plate. Atop the pork rack, there is a nice green layer of what appears to be herbed salt…..but thankfully isn’t. A taste of it brings the flavours of Italy to mind….a pistou/pesto of sorts.

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I rarely eat/cook pork save for bacon so I’m curious as to how it will taste. And amazed when I slice through with ease, filling my mouth with tender, juicy, well seasoned meat. The light oniony flavours of the jus go well as do vegetables, cooked to perfection…a tad soft but on the right side of that. The croquettes are light and crunchy on the outside but soft and creamy on the inside but the star of the show is the Pork. It truly shines through in this cosmic harmony that is my first dinner…first night in Bad Bentheim.

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Lesson #3 – Pay for your bier by the Bierdecker

One curious thing is the method of ‘reckoning’ when you buy your drinks. I wondered what the lady was doing when I ordered some water. I figured it had something to do with the group I was in because I also noticed my colleagues mat had the same numbers and he had an espresso.

It was at the end of the evening that I got to know that you are served with beer mat and a note of the cost of your drinks is made on the bierdecker each time a drink is ordered – one coffee: 1.80, one water 1.80…one beer 1.80. At the end of the evening, you take your mat to the bar and settle accounts. End of story. Apparently…this is a north(west) german culture according to my German colleague. It doesn’t happen in the south!

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Lesson #4 – German bakeries open on Sundays

Now I consider it a blessing when I come across a market when I visit new places. BB is no exception. Especially as we make it back from our geological excursion in time to walk around the entire market of 3 aisles, in a few minutes. Small…but mighty.

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I finally see some sauerkraut and wurst….but I skip them in favour of looking on and finding something else.

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I spend the most time at the dried fruit stall – mountain after mountain of fruits I’ve never seen dried.

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I have my first taste of tamarillos….so sweet that I can hardly tell what the real fruit tastes like. The kumquats are different. And I’m amazed. Preservation has infused them with a spicy, almost peppery heat that would marry well in a mixed marmalade of fresh and dried, which I must try as I have some fresh ones in my fridge! 

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The mini figs look cute and on the tongue are quite nice.

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As for my final purchase of coconut cubes…all I can think of is toasted, chocolate…something. Who knows what the end result will be? A cookie maybe, or even a cake. Hot chocolate may not be a total miss….

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The ‘standard’ Mediterranean stall is present, pretty as well, peppers, cheeses and olives are displayed in wooden half barrels and the serving spoons are a treat to look at – wooden, bowl like scoopers…from Spain.

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Now in stark contrast to Dutch markets I’ve been to – Emmen, Leiden, and The Hague, there wasn’t a single bread stall in sight. Apparently, Germans get their bread from the bakeries, which are also open on SUNDAY. The vast array at breakfast is enough to convince me that Germans do know their bread…and don’t joke with it. The bread is fresh and tasty. Not just a chewy, stretchy mass but slices that look and feel nutritious and taste great. Everything from oatmeal crusted to seed studded loaves are available….as is  your ubiquitous French bread.

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My visit to a Backerei is rewarding – truffles, pretzels and gateaux fill the screens. Even the door handle is a pretzel!

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I apprehend my pack of Benthemier Moppen – light, crisp, spicy cookies….glad I could find them! Travel research certainly pays…just think of Paris and my salted caramel shortbread. Now to find a bit of that Bentheim gold…..

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The Vol-au-vents and meringues also look pretty good but I can do without them just now.

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Dinner on day 2 is Potato soup. Again, all plates are clean. Everyone seems to find the creamy offering and it saffron-scented mini bites of carrot, bacon and chives pleasant Or perhaps a day in the field has dulled our taste buds and left us hungry….we’ll never know.

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When our main of Schnitzel arrives – breaded slim steaks of veal, I am not terribly excited for I’ve had it thrice in the last year! It is fine but without a sauce, I struggle to eat it. Apparently, serving it sauceless while common in these parts is not the standard for all of Germany. In the Southwest, you get gravy, and in Vienna, I had a parsley and butter sauce. When I myself made it, I paired it with a cheese sauce, which was creamy and flavourful enough to compliment the well-seasoned meat.

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The lemon slice is a stretch, providing a trickle rather than drizzle of jazzing up juices. Oh well. The alternative of Panga fish with spinach now looks rather appetizing – a bit too late though. And finally when I tuck into the fried potatoes…I am not quite enthused. The combination with rather nice flavours is extremely greasy and while the onions and bacon are delish and I clean up the entire plate,….I am left feeling a bit cheated. Hopefully dessert restores some of my lost confidence. 

So when the ice-cream arrives with its holey wafer thin brandy snap and a physalis (cape gooseberry) perched on one end, my hope is comforted. When I taste the mango coulis and the cherry sauce, I heave a heavy sigh of relief – I’m safe. The evening is a success. Nothing to be written off. Thanks. 

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Lesson #5 – German breakfasts are not to be disparaged

Breakfast at this little hotel is a FEAST.

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4 types of yoghurt, 8 varieties of bread.

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All the continental meats, juices, sausages and bacon and boiled eggs 🙂 Cheeses tooo!Even Nutella!

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Jams…

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Terrines….

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Pretzels and more. No resemblance AT ALL to the crisp snack sticks which also bear the same name. These are bready-tasting , knotted shapes which can be eaten with butter and jam. Sprinkled with sea salt, these taste fab.

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Swiss bircher…my favourite breakfast cereal, which I make at with homemade muesli.

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I enjoyed breakfast every single morning we were there. And if you think this is all….. it isn’t. There’s the tower, the wild mushrooms and a medieval feast still to come. Plus the castle….stay tuned!

Do you know of other German food customs/culture? Share them please. Thanks