March 31, 2011

Yes Girl, Carbs Are Good for You

Spätzle und Knödel - Friedrichshain

Even though ranting about all that is wrong with Germany has by now become my second favourite pastime (the first one being cake), I still have moments of pure “isn’t-Germany-great” delight (strangely enough unrelated to cake). They are usually triggered by the one or the other kind of Spätzle, which would raise the legitimate question about whether Spätzle – the doughy Southern German version of pasta – contains any hallucinogens. I may not have the scientific credentials to analyse the happiness eggy dough instils in a man, yet I can still think of a couple of Spätzle-related scenes in which something greater than just its chemical composition put an “isn’t-Germany-great” smile on my face.

One of them occurred last year in Munich. It was a drizzly day and everything had gone wrong before we ended up at a place called Altes Simpel, which is apparently a classically authentic local experience. It is one of those magnanimous Bavarian spaces with beer and pork in nearly disturbing abundance. The place was packed and we took our seat at one of the heavy wooden tables looming around to quickly realise we did not understand the menu. This is the place to say it was not due to my German, as I was even equipped with a real German sitting next to me who seemed to be even more at odds with the situation than myself. The menu was written in Bavarian, which is – as endearing as it may be – not entirely decipherable for your average Hochdeutsch (standard German) speaker. We needed help and we needed it fast.

The cavalry came in the shape of a nymph-shaped waitress. She was blonder than a Californian and friendlier than a Dundonian. After refusing to serve us a Weißwurst because you only got that for breakfast (Bavarian rules, if you can’t beat them, join them), she took the time to walk us through the menu, which culminated in her description of the “Schwabenpfandl” (a dish which would roughly translate into a “Swabian pan”, which – you would all agree – makes no sense whatsoever). “Oh, that,” said she, “it’s quite simple really: a few pork medallions with a heap of spinach-spätzle and thick mushroom-cream sauce.” She nodded, smiled and added: “und übrigens, das Ding ist ziemlich geil,” which would translate into: “and by the way, that thing is delicious/brilliant/awesome/sensual.”

Now wait a second, a pretty, slim girl in her early twenties just called a pile of pig, carbs, cream and fat “geil?” As hard as I try to avoid blunt generalisations, her London or New York counterpart would smile and say that she has been told it was good, but really, you see, it is just too rich for her to try it herself *giggle*. In Munich, however, that pile of sinful fat overdose was just “geil”. It was a moment of pure elation. I suddenly loved Germany. And that fat spinach spätzle that came along with the food.

I was hoping for a similar experience of too-much-spätzle-in-your-face when I head about Spätzle and Knödel on Wühlischstraße in Friedrichshain. The area has recently turned into an enclave of Southern German cuisine, and the idea of a restaurant focusing its menu on Spätzle and Knödel (German dumplings) had something glorious about it.

The first impression is of a restaurant not entirely “finished”. The furniture is of the Bavarian wooden sort, the lights are dim, but the walls are barren. The general feeling is of a cross between a Bavarian pub and a restaurant. Honouring Bavarian tradition, we started by ordering Bavarian beer and taking a closer look at the menu: there are few to no starters and it is mainly about the main courses and the desserts. According to the restaurant’s name, the customer can order the mains with a choice of either Spätzle or Knödel. We took the Krustbraten with Semmelknödel (pork roast with slices of bread dumpling, 9.40 €) and a Jägerschnitzel with Spätzle (Hunter’s Schnitzel is basically a slice of pork in mushroom-cream sauce, 8.80 €). The pork roast was just right – it wasn’t spectacular, but it was very good: good quality meat, pleasing consistency, convincing seasoning. The dumplings’ quality were a notch higher, as they were absolutely delicious. The whole lot was served together with Sauerkraut, which I would have liked better without the overdose of cumin, but I reckon this is just a matter of taste. The Jägerschnitzel was also very good. The meat was good and tender; the cream sauce was heavy – but definitely gratifying – whereas the Spätzle was close to perfect.
 Even though every normal human being would have been satiated after only the mains, I decided I also wanted to try out the Kaiserschmarrn (for those who do not remember: it is the Austrian version of “scrambled crêpe”: masses of pancake-dough scrambled and fried in butter and caramel, 4.30 €). Now, I love a good Kasierschmarrn even though I am aware of the fact it is a perverse thing to be eating. And this one was good: The dough had just the right consistency, being soft inside and crusty and caramelised on the outside. The prune jam that came along with it was very good, but my only problem was the overdose of raisins. I personally think humans should be banned from using raisins in apple cakes, poppy seed cakes (actually, in cake in general) and in Kaiserschmarrn. But then again, it’s just a matter of taste.

Spätzle and Knödel is a good address to remember: it won’t be a life changing experience, but if you are looking for an affordable example of pleasingly hearty German food in a Berliner ambiance, go there. Do remember that chic is not necessarily included in the “Berliner ambiance”. But then again, who needs chic with good beer, good carbs and good company?

Overall mark: 

Spätzle & Knödel: Schwäbisch-Bayerische Küche
Wühlischstraße 20, 10245 Berlin

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