the country of kartoffelsalat

So I spent three days in Germany. Transportation logistics excluded proper restaurant visits, so I made the stay a wursty experience, in spite of my freshly triggered reservations about meat freshness. Sausage consumption began on Friday afternoon at the Göteborg bus terminal, where the Frankfurter & Cabanossy grill sells what I believe to be the best sausage to be bought anywhere in Sweden (as a touring musician, I’ve tested them all). I remember that their many kinds of sausages are made by an Austrian specialist – I don’t know whether this is still true, but the products are in any case better than what you get in the kiosk at the other end of the station. They also provide unsweetened German mustard, if you ask for it.

One cattle-shuttle flight trip later I found myself back in Frankfurt Hahn airport, a place lost in the countryside somewhere between Koblenz and Trier that has as little to do with Frankfurt as Berlin has with Hamburgers. Here I bought a dry slice of hot ham-cheese-something that kept me chewing until the bus to Koblenz arrived. I will pass over the rest of the day, which ended in a hotel in Limburg an der Lahn, where the bar had already closed.

Time for the introduction of the main subject of this entry, German potato salad. During a rehearsal break on Saturday, in the Café Altes Rathaus at my final destination, Weilburg, I needed fuel. Unmoved by their selection of homemade cakes, I ordered a Bratwurst mit Kartoffelsalat from the menu of their ‘always warm kitchen’. This could have been a back-to-my-roots revelation for me; restaurants in small places sometimes have a direct backdoor connection to the local butcher, and German potato salad has many exciting regional variations, or so I believed. Not so: their Durchgehend warme Küche clearly relies on the assumption that the guests arrive in town walking on their taste buds. The sausage, lonely and forgotten at one side of the plate, was the dry and over-processed takeaway kind. The potato salad, a small pile near a solitary heap of mustard, was, in fact, a little creepy.

Perhaps, in Weilburg, one adds a tiny amount of sparkling mineral water to one’s potato salad, but I am rather inclined to think that this creation came out of a jar, and that the factory had devised something that created a fizzy fresh taste. Since I am aware of the effects of spontaneous fermentation in food, this somehow gave me the wrong signals. Otherwise, it was the kind of potato salad with mayonnaise, and as such, it was entirely unmemorable.

My second sausage-with-potato-salad experience was at Hahn airport before my trip back. I had noticed that one kind of hot sausage on the menus in these parts was called Mettwurst, a name that in Northern Germany could either indicate a cold sausage of a salami kind, or a spreadable sausage-like product. In search of inspirations for my imminent experiments with homemade smoked beef sausage, I ordered a Mettwurst, again with potato salad. For my own smoked sausage, I will have to take another path, that much I learned.

The potato salad was this time of another kind, with fried morsels of fresh bacon, tiny snippets of cucumber and a non-mayonnaise vinaigrette dressing. Even this portion did not taste as if it had been conceived in a real kitchen, and I left the airport very quickly (thanks to the airline) and in disillusionment.

The creation of good potato salad is really only a matter of fantasy and endless testing. Potatoes absorb a lot of the flavors. After an hour or so in the fridge, the final product often needs another go of testing and adjustments. If one wants to store it for a while (factory-produced potato salad definitely belongs here), a premature addition of crisp-fried pork or cucumber bits is, of course, a dreadful mistake. However crisp from the beginning, the salty pork absorbs moisture and gets rubbery, and cucumber salad really only works if fresh (I will not mention details).

I like the Swedish potato salad fine. Usually, they cube the potato, which gives a nicer texture than slices. The dressing contains the heavy version of filmjölk (which is a local fermented milk product akin to, but unlike, kefir), called gräddfil, and mayonnaise (perhaps the gräddfil could be replaced with thick, Greek-style yogurt, even if this is not traditional). Ideally, the salad is spiced with quite a lot of black pepper, has the subtle onion taste of chopped chives, and contains cubes of fresh apple.

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