Today’s article is not about cooking, we are not doing food science or rating a restaurant. No, we are looking at the world from the special perspective of a polyglot gourmet. A person who knows borders from travelling, who likes to cross them, but who would also like to explain what other borders there are: culinary boundaries – the boundaries of good taste. To be fair, it should be mentioned briefly that the exact course of the border is often disputed, but these details are rather irrelevant for this article.
Let’s start with the Weißwurst Equator, probably already known to many and, according to the most popular interpretation, predominantly formed by the River Main in central Germany. South of it, i.e. predominantly in Bavaria, Weisswursts have historically been gently heated (not boiled) for a “second breakfast”, eased out of their natural casings by the 12 o’clock bell and made edible at all with plenty of sweet mustard and a wheat beer.
North of the Main, on the other hand, small sausages made of coarse mince are usually roasted on a grill. Nürnberger, Regensburger or Thüringer – all really delicious. Why anyone then needs a sweet mustardy Weisswurst, I will never know. But moi, meer san halt meer! (hey, we’re simply us.)
The legendary Rösti Divide in Switzerland is probably also already well known, not really a culinary border, but more the small difference in voting behaviour between the Allemanic German-Swiss and the Francophile Romandie, i.e. the French-speaking part of Switzerland.
Here, the Saane serves as the culinary border for the Rösti. Rösti = classic potato dish of German-Swiss cuisine, formerly a common component of a rural farmer’s breakfast. Since the beginning of the 21st century, the “political” Rösti divide in Switzerland has indeed become less important. However, this is being replaced by a growing rift between urban and rural areas, thus turning a rift into a kind of patchwork quilt.
Anyone hoping for a Caribbean feeling with long drinks at the East Frisian Palm is, of course, completely off the mark in culinary terms. The East Frisian palm is an old variety of kale that is threatened with extinction, but with its tall growth and long stalk it certainly resembles a palm tree. Tall plants were useful in the past because the stalk was usually fed to the animals. This characteristic has been bred out of modern commercial varieties.
For some reason in the land of the Bavarians, the vegetable with the botanical name brassica oleracea is hardly known. The kale scene with its culinary mecca “Oldenburg in Oldenburg” divides the north and northwest of the republic. These differences are vehemently fought out as regional questions of faith. Is it permissible to use lard and oat groats when preparing cabbage, once prized as a remedy in ancient Egypt? And how the heck can you eat kale with pork cheek, or worse – grützwurst (a kind of liver sausage also known as Dead Grandma) and pinkel (a smoked sausage for some reason given the same name as urine)?
A relatively new border has been running through Hungary for a few years. There is a persistent rumour that actually identical products are of an inferior quality in Eastern Europe. According to the Hungarian Food Safety Authority, Nutella in Budapest tastes “less creamy” than in other western capitals. The phenomenon was therefore summarily christened the “Nutella Divide” in Budapest. Meanwhile, extensive studies funded by generous EU funds suggest that while there are slight country-specific differences, these do not diminish quality – nor do they exist exclusively at Hungary’s borders.
Well, if you can’t stand free reporting, don’t be surprised if a Nutella Divide becomes an issue. Perhaps Budapest will soon be rebuilding the Blue Milk Canal! Because let it be known that Ephraim Kishon was Hungarian by birth. If you are interested, read more here: Blaumilch Canal / The Big Dig .
The whole world knows that in Asia, and especially in China, the legendary handful of rice is eaten every day. That’s not entirely wrong, but that’s not all. Because in China, people also like to eat noodles, and what is more, noodles are mainly made from wheat.
Let’s take a quick look. The ramen wheat noodles originally come from China, where they used to be poor people’s food. In the meantime, however, this has changed, and in Japan alone there are over 20,000 ramen bars. The much thicker udon noodles are also made from wheat flour, salt and water. They also originated in China, but are now eaten mainly in Korea and Japan.
But who actually invented the noodle was a matter of dispute for a long time until 2005, when it the matter was settled. During excavations in China, a pot with noodles about 4000 years old was found. You wouldn’t believe it: it was a kind of spaghetti, about half a metre long. As a result, the Silk Road was the culinary frontier for noodles for centuries, and that would make the Chinese the real “spaghetti eaters”. But never mind, Marco Polo was definitely one of the first.
The culinary border between the wheat region in the northern China and the rice-loving south lies roughly on Beijing’s latitude. That’s why in Beijing you can find both Chinese mouth-watering dumplings, the jiaozi, but of course also delicious rice dishes like the popular kung pao chicken.
For those who don’t want to travel so far to discover a culinary border, the Ahle Worscht border between northern and southern Hesse should be recommended. Ahle Worscht is a speciality of central and northern Hesse. It is the name given to various types of coarsely grained, usually air-dried raw sausage, which is excellent for storing. The northern Hessians like it a little rougher and like it firm to the bite. The Slow Food initiative has included Ahle Worscht in its “Ark of Taste” to honour the traditional production method and to safeguard it as a cultural asset. So although the Ahle Worscht is almost in a museum, the word hasn’t really got around in southern Hesse yet. Go ahead, it’s really delicious – there’s something culinary to discover.
Actually, I wanted to end here, because there are still dozens, hundreds or even thousands of culinary frontiers. We just have to find them and cross them, absolutely fantastic what there is to discover. You don’t always have to find it delicious, but you should have tried it to know what’s on the other side of good taste. And every now and then there is an absolutely delicious discovery …
Finally, we take a trip back in time and let ourselves be beguiled by bare figures. The final topic – our dessert – is sweets, with a clear focus on liquorice.
The history of sweetness in Germany is directly linked to Upper Franconia, specifically to the Bamberg region; it is considered the oldest liquorice cultivation area in Germany. Yet the juice of the liquorice root is not really sweet, unsurprisingly, but intense liquorice aromas assail you. While Bamberg was still the centre of European liquorice cultivation in the Middle Ages, it came to a complete standstill there in the 1950s, and the eerie liquorice equator was created, again pretty much along the Main line. Notice anything?
But first OK, because the decline of the Bamberg liquorice shavers didn’t stop Harry Riegel from now investing very successfully in liquorice wheels and gummy bears in Bonn. Founded in 1920, Haribo (Harry Riegel Bonn) is now one of the world’s most successful manufacturers of sweets with 7,000 employees. If you lined up the 2020 annual production of Haribo liquorice wheels one after the other, it would amount to about 217,500 kms, i.e. a liquorice equator four and a half times the around the earth.
Katjes, Germany’s other liquorice producer, has also been observing the liquorice equator phenomenon for some time. Katjes points to an unexplained divide in Germany that runs roughly along the River Main. North of it, people like to eat liquorice, south of it they have a bit of a hard time with it. Sales figures prove the existence of this equator. More than 80 percent of Katjes liquorice sold in Germany is in North Rhine-Westphalia and Lower Saxony. That leaves 20 per cent for the remaining 14 federal states.
It gets even more drastic further south, in Austria there is the so-called “Viennese liquorice edict”, which is said to be still in force today. According to this, the last Hungarian-Austrian Emperor Charles allegedly banned the import and consumption of sweets with more than 5 % liquorice content during his short reign.
Well, that’s a bit spooky, but not really bad. Be brave and overcome culinary limits, it’s worth it – sometimes? No, always!
Original text: UTO
English translation: BCO