Thursday, February 08, 2007

Das Schmeckt!

If you’ve ever lived in a foreign country, you develop a taste for the cuisine of your adopted land. And, if you really love the place you’re living, you try to learn how to cook some of the signature dishes of that country. Such is the case for me.

Back in the late 80s/early 90s, I lived in Austria for a year and a half. For those not familiar with Austria, it lies at the crossroads of East and West. It is bordered in the northeastern and eastern quadrants by the former Communist enclaves of Hungary and then-Czechoslovakia (now two countries: The Czech Republic and Slovakia.) To the north, it shares a border with Germany. In the west, it is bounded by Switzerland and Liechtenstein. The south includes Italy and what was Yugoslavia, but is now Slovenia.

When I lived there, it was a broadly historic time in Europe with enormous political unrest. Communism was disintegrating all across the Eastern Bloc and, in December 1989, the wall in Berlin that stood as a literal, physical symbol of the divide between East and West came tumbling down. Austria became a way station for immigrants pouring out of eastern Europe and heading to new lives in western Europe, Canada, America, and Australia. In addition to Austrians, I met and became friends with Czechs, Hungarians, Poles, Romanians, Slovenians, Albanians, and Serbo-Croatians.

With a population of just over 8 million people, Austria is a tiny country when compared to its Germanic sister state, The Federal Republic of Germany (pop. 82 million.) The Democratic Republic of Austria is divided into nine provinces, or Bundesländer, and each has a unique history, cultural flavor, and dialect. German is the official language and has a lilting, melodic quality that their neighbors to the north lack.

When you return to your homeland, there are certain smells and flavors that you miss from your adopted country. In my case, it’s things like chocolates, sausages, breads, cheeses, and jams that surpassed the simple rating “good.” Even the lowest end chocolate in Austria is better than the highest end chocolate in America.

One of the gems in the D.C. area is a little shop in Falls Church, Virginia, called the German Gourmet Deli. Located just south of Route 7 on Route 29/Lee Highway, the German Deli stocks every thing from Hausgemacht Bratwurst and Bauernwurst, beef tongue and German bologna, Ritter and Milka chocolate, Knorr gravy and soup mixes, Marble Cake and Pfeffernüsse, Gummibären and Mozartkugel, sauerkraut and mustards, Teekanne tea and Darbo jams, hearty breads and pastries, to cosmetics, newspapers, gifts, and cards, as well as a broad selection of German and Austrian beers and wines. And it’s all packed into less than 1,000 square feet.

When my grandfather would visit us, we’d make a trip to the German Gourmet Deli. In addition to the fabulous food we’d buy, he’d get a kick out of my conversations in German with the staff. His eye would gleam with pride and he’d dust off his soldier’s German, point at some delectable and declare “Schmeckt gut, ja?” (“Tastes good, yes?”) As we’d leave, he’d holler a hearty “Auf Wiedersehen” and give one of his classic, twist-of-the-wrist waves, as we’d head out with our booty and the prospect of a fabulous Mahlzeit!

If you love a good brat and sauerkraut or you’re looking for excellent chocolate, if you’re tired of amerikanisches Luftbrot* and you want a hearty, robust bread, or you want pointers on how to make a good Schnitzl or goulasch, this is the place to go. The Deli is owned by a German family and most of the employees speak German, so you can also indulge your need to sprech’ Deutsch.

German Gourmet Deli
7185 Lee Highway
Falls Church, VA
(703) 534-1908

Monday and Saturday: 9:00 a.m.–6:00 p.m.
Tuesday through Friday: 9:00 a.m.–7:00 p.m.
Closed on Sundays

The Deli is hard to see from the road, but is directly across the street from a Chevron gas station. Parking is limited, but you can find additional space on the residential streets. Do not park in the spaces for the veterinary clinic next door. You will be towed.

Have you lived or traveled overseas? Where do you go in the D.C. area to find the foods and products that remind you of your favorite places?

* The Germans and Austrians refer to American bread as Luftbrot or “air bread” for its light heft, bland flavor, soulless crust, and scant redeeming qualities other than its ability to hold cold cuts and condiments.

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Swizzies said...

Very nice post.

You made me feel:

(A) Hungry

(B) Guilty for sitting here drinking diet Coke.


Gunfighter said...

Now I'm hungry.

I was stationed in Germany for three and a half years, once upon a time, and I loved it.

I learned to speak the language fairly well, and have lost almost none of it, even though I was last in Germany in 1985.

Thanks for the memory.

Sister Mary Lisa said...

I'm sitting here crying, damnit! God, I've got to get back there.