It’s all in the sauce
The festive season is all about good food, beverages and spending time with friends and family, isn’t it? For the last couple of years Thorsten and I had the smallest possible celebrations (just the two of us). “Let’s do something different this year,” we thought and invited friends over – all of them German expats accustomed to the very different summery, hot Christmas we have here.
Still, I thought, let’s put some typical festive German food on the table and we can all reminisce about the things you end up comparing when you celebrate a traditional event away from home. To start at the end: the dinner was lovely and everybody had a great time. Thorsten and I even received the biggest compliment one can get with a nod of approval and the words “tastes like at home”.
Preparing the dinner was easily done, kind of. We found a butcher in the north of Perth that prides itself on selling continental small goods and also had the cuts of beef I was after. In fact, most of the ingredients you’d need for the dish I had in mind can be found at the local supermarket or smaller grocery stores. Some of the brands are even the same here as overseas, but when I was browsing through the supermarket in the lead up to Christmas I realised what every expat learns at some stage.
On a rational level this experience equates to “some things aren’t just the same so get over it”. Let me put in words what this experience means on an emotional level. You stroll along somewhere completely familiar, let’s say the supermarket, and you are looking for something specific you want, but haven’t had a need for in a while, something like, let’s say mustard. You come to a halt at the condiment section and your eyes keep wondering up and down the rows of neat little jars trying to find the thing. You’re trying to remember what this particular sauce looked like. None of the packages are resembling it, none of the names match what you’re after. “It must be a mistake,” you think and with slight panic keep walking further up and down the aisle to realise, “no that’s it, that’s all the sauces they have got.” That’s when it dawns on you that you won’t be able to find here what you’re after. That’s when this sensation of disappointment sets in. It’s a sense of loss, not just for yourself, but for everyone else too. You’d loved to turn to the elderly lady that’s shopping next to you, grab her by the shoulders and shake her and say “No! hot english mustard is not a substitute for extra hot Loewensenf, don’t you know the difference? How can you live without it? Have you never tasted it before?” Of course, in reality you leave the poor lady alone, because the answer to your question would be “no, young lady, I have no idea what you’re talking about and now please leave me alone or I call the supermarket security.”
Trying to cope with my grief I got a friend to take a picture of the mustard section of a small local supermarket in Germany. It also confirmed my suspicion. Yes, German’s love their sauces. There you have three rows of different brands and tastes of mustards available ranging from sweet, piquant, zesty to hot and extra hot. They come in jars, plastic bottles and tubes and as you can see from the emptiness of the shelfs (this photo was taken pre-Christmas) they are a popular ingredient. I can think of at least five dishes that each require a particular mustard to complete the flavour (and yes, that includes sausages).
Anyway, when I discovered a jar of German mustard at the butcher I mentioned before I felt like Gollum hugging my precious close to my chest. At least one other person (even if it’s just a fictitious character) knows that the value of a thing can be more obvious to some than others.
PS: Thank you to Katrin and Thommy for helping me with the photo and not judging my sanity…hopefully.