“I´m dashed”, I said to Francesca when I read her blog. “I would never have thought about making Thüringer Bratwurst the starting point of a character sketch of Frankfurt”.
I´m quite competitive, sometimes, but this can´t be topped.
So I follow humbly with musings about Handkäse mit Musik.
If this were a victorian novel, Handkäs would be the inconspicious girl with gentle manners, whose virtues are overlooked because of her glamorous rival.
I don´t know what would be the glamorous rival to Handkäs. But I know that the love of Handkäse is not love at first bite. Not even love at second bite. Though love it will be, in the end.
Before I knew better, I offered Handkäs mit Musik to any visitor of Frankfurt who asked to try a typical dish. We went to a Apfelweinkneipe, where I ordered Apfelwein (cidre) and Handkäse mit Musik. The look of those inns satisfy any expectations of foreigners coming to Germany. Along old wooden tables, strangers sit side by side, drinking and laughing. My friends enjoyed the gemütliche atmosphere and were always thankful to have me as a guide to true German pleasures.
This lasted till the Handkäs arrived. My guests looked first at the Handkäse mit Musik, then at the waiter, then at me, disbelief in their eyes. Being polite, they then reached for knife and fork and took a bite.
“Do you like it? It is a speciality of the region”, I happily informed them, and tucked into my own serving.
“Oh, it is very … interesting”, they replied, and braved another bite.
Long years in intercultural communication have taught me to beware of the word “interesting”. I have learnt that non-Germans say “interesting” when a German would say bluntly: “No, I don´t like it” or “Nice try, but I can´t eat it”.
“Why don´t they like it?”I wondered.
Only when I remembered my own first encounters with Handkäs, I finally understood.
The first times I saw Handkäs I didn´t even dare to try it. I was a child then and greatly admired an aunt that stayed with my parents every summer. For me, this old lady incorporated the elegance and sophistication my family otherwise lacked. She travelled first class, wore tailor-made silk blouses, and a long goldennecklace. She drank Twinings Earl grey tea for breakfast, and always brought a supply of original English marmalade for the fortnight of her stay.
Only when I watched her one evening slice what seemed to me a lump of yellowish solidified glue did I start to doubt her refined tastes.
I forgot about Handkäs´till I lived in a shared flat as a student. One day, I found a glass jar in the refrigerator, filled with what looked like Albert Einstein´s brain pickled in formaldehyd.
“Don´t you dare to deposit one of your scientific specimen in our fridge”, I attacked my flatmate, a biologist.
“That´s no specimen”, he said, “This is Handkäs´mit Musik.Do you want to try?”
“No”, I cried and left the kitchen when he opened the jar and a strong stint of onions, oil, vinegar and fermented cheese crawled up my mose.
You probabably wonder now how I came to love Handkäs´mit Musik after all?
I learnt to love Handkäs´mit Musik because I learnt to be polite like a non-German.
When I came to Frankfurt, I asked my new acquaintances to introduce me to the regional kitchen. We went to a Apfelweinkneipe where they ordered Apfelwein and Handkäs´mit Musik. I obediently tried and said “Oh, that tastes …interesting”. Until, one day, I suddenly liked the taste.
Nevertheless, visitors are now first introduced to “Frankfurter Grüne Soße”, another regional dish, surprising too, but much more acceptable to international taste buds.
But this will be another story.
PS: Here you find how it looks like