Dining out for the first time in Germany
What did you say is for dinner?
My class took a trip to Cologne, Germany to participate in a music festival. The excitement of so many new things to experience was overwhelming. Besides the initial rush of my performance in another country, there was the anticipation of what an authentic German meal would be like. I considered myself to be a part of a very selective and fortunate group of people. Needless to say, this cultural experience of dining out for the first time in a foreign country was soon to become a memory of un-edible German delicacies and my worst restaurateur nightmare. I did not consider myself lucky anymore. The entrée that was served that night, I believe, could literally walk away.
We were all famished after an exhausting flight, and I could not wait for our very first authentic German meal. The host restaurant, we learned with some dismay, had been pre-selected and paid for prior to our arrival from the states, so ordering anything of our own choosing was not an option. Oh boy, what’s for dinner?
We reached our dining destination at 5:30p.m. The secluded restaurant, operating beneath the earth’s surface, resembled a large train tunnel (excluding the train of course). The ceiling was a perfect arch, encased within were old, crumbling red brick pavers from top to bottom. The same candles that lined the walls of the corridor were mounted along the walls in the dining room. Each candle cast a long, black narrow shadow meeting at the peek of the tunneled room. The expounding dining area was crowded with large, rectangular, banquet-sized tables strategically placed to make the best of the allotted space. All the tables were adorned with crisp and well-pressed white table linens. Each set of silverware lay uniformly along side wine goblets filled with cool tap water. Baskets of warm, crusty bread welcomed us as we began to fill the empty chairs.
I sat in my seat, impatiently awaiting my very first meal in a foreign country, when suddenly waiters emerged from the depths of the kitchen. Dressed in brilliantly white long-sleeve shirts, tan striped vests, and dark brown pants they transported our dinner on large oversized trays. Were my eyes deceiving me? Was that really what I thought it was about to be placed before me?
As my plate was put in front of me, the sight before me was startling and repulsive. A single poached pig leg was resting on a bed of sauerkraut. The pungent smell of the sauerkraut took control of my nostrils; where were the nose plugs and eye masks? This dark-pink steaming leg (thigh included) was hanging off my plate, skin on, still wrapped around its bones. These pig legs ranged from 1000-1400 grams (2-3lbs. of meat each). The tips of the bones were charred from the heated marrow protruded during the cooking process. The waiters finished the delivery of their last dishes and proudly stood back to allow their American guests to enjoy their first German cooked meal. I looked across the table at my fellow classmates, a lot of them having the same look of disgust flooding their faces one by one. I immediately looked at the empty bread basket and wished that I would have eaten more of it, instead of saving my appetite for the real dinner. I was ready to cry knowing that I was going back to the hotel hungry that night.
I became cautiously reserved when we made plans to stop for another meal. Along the way, McDonald’s began to look like a 5-star restaurant to me by the end of this trip. I will never forget the dinner we were served that night in Cologne, Germany. It was a unique and “once-in-a-lifetime” experience that has given me the foresight I need should I travel out of the country ever again. My overall experience of dining on cultural delicacies, so to speak, was only one of several lessons learned on my journey. I learned to take it “all” in: the environment, the customs and courtesies, and let’s not forget the smells! My eyes did not deceive me; this was really a pig’s leg on my plate. Bon appetite!
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