The Spirit of Food: 34 Writers on Feasting and Fasting Toward God being discussed this week at The High Calling.“Taste and see,” writes Deborah Leiter Nyabuti in “Cooking Chicken Wat,” one of the three essays in
Almost nine years ago, I was part of a small missions team (three of us in total, plus our guide) that spent a whirlwind week in Eastern Europe – Budapest, Prague, Brno, Dresden and Erfurt. We were a writing and video team, there to talk with and interview missionaries who were part of a Central European missions program.
It was a crazy week, with more time spent riding in a minivan than either interviewing or sleeping.
One of the decisions we had to make was whether or not to “taste and see” – either stick with tried and true (and recognizable) American fast food, which would have helped with our hectic schedule, or to eat local, even if local was five cities in three countries in six days.
We chose local, except for an unexpected side trip that left no time for lunch except for a drive-through at a McDonald’s in Chemnitz, Germany.
So I ate Hungarian goulashes (stronger and more seasoned that what I’d eaten in the U.S.); tomatoes with my toast for breakfast in Dresden; anything the hotel dining room had left when we’d get in after 10 p.m. at night, hoping the dining room was still open; and one of the best lunches I’ve ever eaten, on Wenceslas Square in Prague (despite the prostitutes handing out their business cards to the diners).
The most interesting meal happened in a small town in the Sudeten Mountains in the Czech Republic, not far from the German border. It was early evening, and this town was the last place we could stop if we wanted dinner before we drove through the mountains and then down into Dresden, with an arrival time of close to midnight (and we had to find the bed-and-breakfast where we had reservations).
The restaurant was the only one in town, and it looked very, well, Central European. The main entrance was the bar, and as we walked inside, all conversation literally stopped. Everyone stared. Yes, we looked American, and this wasn’t the kind of town that attracted tourists.
We waded through the fog of cigarette smoke and were seated in the dining room. No one in the place spoke English, including any of the waiters. The menu was in Czech and German. Our American guide was studying Hungarian. The most German any of us knew was the German I took in college. I did recognize a few things on the menu, and one of the guys decided to have whatever I ordered. The other two decided to go totally local and point to something on the menu list, even if none of us knew what it was and the waiter couldn’t explain it.
The look the waiter gave them should have been a clue.
I and the guy who trusted my German ate well – very well. We had a breaded veal dish with pickled vegetables. The other two didn’t eat well. In fact, after a few bites, they stopped eating. We all looked at what was on their plates, and none of us could guess what it might be. It didn’t taste like chicken, they said. It might have been something made from an animal brain, or perhaps a tongue. We took their word that it didn’t taste good.
My only mistake was the after-dinner coffee. I chose Turkish. It wasn’t that it was strong – that was expected – but I wasn’t expecting the inch of coffee grounds in the small cup. I think I learned that night what hot, liquid dirt tastes like.
I decided I didn’t need to taste that local. But during my prayers that night, I thanked my college German professors.
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