When I went to China, I filled my suitcase with trail mix, cereal bars, and peanut butter sandwiches. While my friends were licking the juices of a fried duck from their fingers, I was nibbling on Nilla Wafers. While they sat around an enormous, round table fashioned with a lazy-Susan piled high with noodles, boiled seaweed, pork filled dumplings, bowls of sticky rice, a scaly fish with a monstrous sized black eyeball floating in coagulated goop reminiscent of toxic ooze, I secretly and thankfully consumed the Pringles I had stashed in my purse.
Days in Beijing: 4
Local food consumed: 0
Cost of food smuggled in suitcase: $57.69
Satisfaction in knowing I did not have to endure Oscar Wilde-like hallucinations from ingesting bad monkey brains: Priceless.
It looks like I will never be invited to hang out in the wilds of Borneo with Bear Grylls (damn) and munch on beetle larvae (phew). It's also fairly safe to assert that I won't be jetting off to Thailand with Anthony Bourdain or Jeff Corwin.
I will never be a fearless foodie like my Kamakaze brother, but I would like to be a bit more adventurous. My mother and best friend have broad palates that allow them to travel anywhere and at least try some of the local food. My palate is not as broad. In fact, I am what many people would call a picky eater. I hate mushrooms, seafood, bleu cheese, grapefruit, asparagus, uncooked tomatoes, venison, avocados, raw eggs, canned spinach, brussel sprouts, and the brains from any animal.
I have lived and traveled abroad extensively and have only brought a suitcase full of food on the aforementioned trip to China. So, you might be wondering how I have managed to survive and thrive in Kyoto, Roatan, Dumfries, Ixtapa, and Zaragoza? I trust in two things: the chicken and the potato.
I have rarely met an ill-prepared chicken. Fried in bacon grease (Germany), baked in chocolate sauce (Mexico), grilled on skewers (Japan), sauteed with garlic and cucumbers (Greece), made into a soup with coconut milk (Panama), drizzled with red wine and pan drippings (France), chicken can be prepared in thousands of ways and few of them are disappointing. So, when in a strange and exotic locale and faced with a menu full of meat choices, I inevitably order the chicken.
The other go-to for the cautious gourmand? The potato.
Baked, fried, boiled, grilled, chopped, sliced, diced, sauteed, mashed. Tubers turn me on. I could start a blog about my love affair with the potato and regale you with details of our sordid encounters in seedy and sexy cities all around this globe. We've met in hotel restaurants, in a castle, at markets, fairs, and even in an alley. At the risk of being called a tuber tart, I admit I have had my fair share of spuds.
The Sexiest Potato
It was at the Christmas Market in Trier, Germany, where I had my most blissfully satisfying encounter with a potato named Bratkartoffeln (Don't let the brutish name fool ya', this was one sexy potato dish). Yellow potatoes are cooked in a big copper skillet with bacon and onions, until the delicious aroma permeates the air.
When I returned from my trip, I did a search for "bratkartoffeln recipe" and learned that there are 74,900 possibilities on Google alone. After sifting through at least a third of those recipes, I realized that there are many different ways to prepare this beloved German side dish but the basic ingredients remain the same: bacon, onion, potatoes, oil, salt and pepper.
The bratkartoffeln in Trier was seductively bathed in a light cream sauce. After many bites and much speculation, my friend and I (yes, it was a manage a trois) decided the bratkartoffeln was made with white wine, heavy cream, and cheeese, like the French Tartiflette. My friend insisted gorgonzola had been used, though I suspected something smoother, creamier with less bite, like a Munster.
My Virgin Attempt
Several weeks later, in a moment of deep bratkartoffeln longing, I decided to attempt to replicate the Trier recipe.
Six large yellow potatoes
1/2 an onion, diced
4 pieces of cooked bacon, in pieces
3/4 cup white wine
3/4 heavy cream
5 Tablespoons butter
4 Tablespoons flour
1 cup Munster, cut into cubes
Sea salt and fresh cracked pepper
First, I washed and boiled the potatoes for about fifteen minutes. They were softer but not flacid or mushy. I let the poatoes cool and then cut them into thick slices. I quartered the slices.
Next, I used a piece of uncooked bacon to coat a large, heavy-bottomed skillet and then put the potatoes, several cubes of the Munster, and onions inside. I poured the white wine all over the potatoes and onions and let that cook while I prepared the cream sauce.
In another skillet, I made a simple roux, melting the butter and whisking in the flour. Then I added the cheese and continued to whisk it until it was creamy.
I poured the cream sauce over the potatoes, added the bacon and salt and pepper.
I let this cook and in a few moments...
Viola! Trier Bratkartoffeln!