When you are on vacation, you want to try all the new and fun foreign dishes you don’t get at home. When you are an expat, you still want to taste all the new specialties of your adopted home, but sometimes you just crave food from back home. Comfort food is different in every country. I have been told by my Texan friends here that comfort food for them ranges from Mac and Cheese (the Kraft stuff) to BBQ. I still haven’t been able to get myself to try the way too yellow Kraft mess and while I do think the BBQ here in Texas is probably the best I’ve ever had, it is not comfort food for me. I think comfort food is often what we grow up with. It’s not really the food, but the associations we have with it. I’ve written about popular foods in Germany before and a lot of these foods are comfort food for me (e.g., Currywurst, Frikadellen, a fresh Döner), but the ultimate comfort foods are many of my mom’s dishes: homemade chicken soup when I am sick, a big bowl of Spaghetti Bolognese made with her recipe, and so much more.
My first time living abroad was at 19. A few weeks after my high school graduation, I moved to a small Egyptian town at the Red Sea. I shared an apartment with whoever I was working with at the time and back then (right around 2000) we didn’t have AC there, it was hot most of the time, I didn’t know my way around the fruit, vegetable, and meat stands in downtown – in short, there was no way I was gonna pick up cooking! So, for a year, I was eating hotel and restaurant food for breakfast and dinner and enjoying the cook’s lunch on the scuba diving boats. After I moved back to Germany and started college I cooked a little more, but it wasn’t until I moved to Texas “for good” in 2004 that I started writing my mom emails that started with “I really feel like eating your Frikadellen/Schweinebraten/Bolognese/Reis untereinander/Hackbraten/etc.” Dutifully she would write back with a recipe that was hard to replicate for a cooking novice like me… You have to understand that my mom was a wonderful cook. She enjoyed cooking for people, inviting people to her place for dinners, packing individual dinners for friends, and seeing her family enjoy her food. She was so used to her own recipes that there were never any exact measurements. And that’s exactly what made it so difficult to follow. “A little bit of salt”, “some pepper”, “more onion than you think”, …. these are examples from her instructions. I have to admit that the first few results were less than stellar. There usually was not enough salt or I had skimped on something else and while it tasted ok, it didn’t get close to what her food tasted like. It took me a few years to develop a feel for what a recipe needs. And now? When people ask me for recipes, I provide them exactly the way my mom did for me and it drives people crazy. Oh well, it’s the only way I know how to and I enjoy being like my mom.
One of my all-time favorites (and Marco’s as well) is the German meatloaf (Hackbraten). It’s very different from the US version as it’s cooked in a broth rather than baked in the oven with a crust. Hackbraten is really a dish from the South of Germany. I’m from close to Cologne, but my dad’s family lives in the South and that’s where my mom learned how to make this particular dish. My dad’s grandma taught her. I remember my mom saying how difficult it was to follow her instructions as her dialect was quite strong and for us relative Northeners hard to understand. Anyways, here’s the recipe for those of you who want to try preparing a real German Hackbraten at home. It’s often served with pasta (ideally the German Spätzle, as pictured below) and a warm potato-cucumber salad. Enjoy!
Ingredients for Hackbraten/German Meatloaf
- 1 lb mixed ground beef and pork (works also with ground beef only)
- 2-3 onion
- 1 bunch of fresh parsley
- 2 eggs
- 2 dinner rolls
- some warm milk
- bread crumbs (optional)
- 1 Tbsp butter
- 2-3 big carrots
- 2-3 tsp broth powder
- flour/corn starch
- Soak the two dinner rolls in warm milk.
- Mix the ground beef/pork with one finely chopped onion and the bunch of finely chopped parsley, the two eggs, and the two soaked dinner rolls (squeeze the milk out of them a little before adding them). Season with salt and pepper. If the dough feels too liquid, add some bread crumbs.
- Form 2-3 big meatloaves and fry them in a pan with some butter from all sides until brown.
- Cut up the rest of the onions in larger chunks, peel the carrots and cut them in a few pieces each and add them to the pan.
- When the onion begin getting a little soft, add enough water to cover about half of the meatloaves and mix in the broth powder.
- Cover the pan and simmer for an hour; turn the meatloaves about half-way through.
- Take out the meatloaves and either strain the sauce and throw away the onion and carrots or blend everything together.
- Take the pan off the heat and use either corn starch or flour to thicken the sauce by mixing some corn starch/flour with water and adding it to the sauce. Increase the heat again until the sauce is boiling and gets nice and thick.
- You’re ready to serve your Hackbraten Enjoy!
I am participating in the Expat Blog Hop hosted by Blog in France where expats from all over the place are linking up today. Check out the other participants below.