More Than Currywurst
Piles of Siyahi catalogues with fluorescent post-its sticking out from pages marked ‘per meeting’ and a quip from a corner of my office, ‘please get sausages back for us’ made me peer over the kitschy scooter riksha cover of our catalogue, stop, and think. I realised I hadn’t got my hands dirty in Frankfurt as yet. I was still in that ephemeral space which floated high above normalcy in the rarified spaces of world rights, royalties, print runs, sales in UK versus Commonwealth, enhanced e-books, meetings every 20 minutes. Food was a list of maybes, needed just for sustenance. A quick hot dog, a bunch of fries, a nutella banana crepe, coffee and fresh orange juice dunked down often while scurrying between halls to reach my meetings in time. Evenings were spent over a couple of drinks and small bites because all I wanted to do was crash and not open my mouth for anything – food or talk.
It was time to make amends. On the other end of the spectrum was a quiet yet sulky, “Can’t you focus on writing about museums instead of food?” I cackled, “I can but I love food more.” My trainer was disappointed yet again. We both fear the amply visible remnants of sausage-beer-wine-more-wine excess baggage being carried home, on my backside.
Last year, a day after the book fair, we had checked into the Villa Rothschild Hotel in Königstein, a half hour drive from Frankfurt. Karva Chauth started with a champagne breakfast, ending with a seven course dinner at Vinothek, their Michelin starred restaurant. Long live all of us! And that was the only ‘good food’ memory I have of my visits to Frankfurt.
This year, I wanted to go beyond the currywurst and brätwurst kind of conventional experience. Traditional German food at Zur Schönen Müllerin was my first stop. The restaurant opened in 1933 and the present chef has seen families coming here for the last 35 years. Assisted by an Indian chef from Punjab, he gave us a taste of German warmth, otherwise known to be rather matter of fact, driven by the business of the hour. Apfelwein is the local brew but the chef here served us Apfelwein Rose which called for a second glass. Handkäse is a curd cheese with onions pickled in oil and vinegar, served with bread and butter. The tartness of the vinegar and the sharpness of the onions fuse well with the cheese. Fried camembert with cranberries heightened the contrasting flavours. We were told never to eat handkäse with a fork. Our Indian chef brought in grün sosse with potatoes and boiled eggs. This famous green sauce is made with yoghurt and seven herbs – schnittlauch, sauerampfer, kresse, petersilie net vergesse, boratsch, kerbel and pimpernelle. Boiled pork with sauerkraut, mashed potatoes and hessen schnitzel stuffed with apples and sauerkraut served as our main course. The boiled pork was sealed well with the juices within and the schnitzel was crisp on the outside, tender inside. The sauce over the schnitzel was made with apple wine, hollandaise and estragon. We ate slowly, chewing and savouring each bite, understanding the flavours. Ending the meal with recommended apple rings with vanilla cinnamon sauce that could have been drunk straight from a bottle resulted in the circumference of our abdomens stretching to a maximum.
A cold, rainy evening made us duck into the nearest restaurant just adjacent to the main entrance of the book fair. Cucina Mediterraneano was reverberating with the day’s publishing news, the deals struck, negotiations for rights sales and a birthday party! A spaghetti station just opposite our table was distraction enough while we waited, starving, thirsty for wine, for our order to be served. A waitress was ladling mounds of spaghetti onto plates which were deftly pushed ahead to the kitchen for the sauces to be spooned over. Beef Carpaccio, rocket lettuce and parmesan cheese followed by a hearty saffron mushroom soup was a great beginning. I’d just grabbed a small, dry, chewy burger between meetings for lunch, and the wild salmon with fresh mustard sauce, rump steak medium rare with green pepper sauce, scallops with tomato, wine and parmesan cheese vanished in a matter of minutes. We focused on our plates, silent, our jaws moving steadily. Conversation is never welcome after a whole day of meetings; food is. The menu didn’t have too many choices for dessert. We stuck to the regular tiramisu and berry panna cotta, both of which were not exceptional – have had way better at other places.
The weather wasn’t holding up at all this year. Scrunching my scarf closer to my throat, head bent down against the wind, I raced across to the Marriott to meet up with an old friend. An elderflower martini down, spirits up, it was time to head to VaiVai, a contemporary Mediterranean bar restaurant. The vice president (Finance-Europe) for Marriott recommended VaiVai with 100 per cent confidence, knowing how fussy I am about food. Straight lined, modern and minimalistic, with a rough wooded look, VaiVai seemed to be just the place to unwind after a hectic day. Of course the publishing industry had marked its territory here as well. A couple of bottles of wine down, we lapsed into talking about old friends, memories of time spent together in Jaipur and fell into full-on bitch mode – wine makes you see people in a fresh light!
And then the food came – burrata con pomodorino, a creamy cows’ milk mozzarella (Oh! So delicate!) with roasted cherry tomatoes and crostinis, insalata cibo marino, celery carrots and white beans were served as starters followed by a herbed chicken (corn fed) breast with grilled vegetables and tomatoes sugo and a rib eye steak. The tender and juicy chicken and the perfectly medium rare steak were quickly devoured by hungry stomachs. Gamberoni grigliati herb oil and lime aioli king prawns served with a side of spinach tossed with anchovies, pine nuts and zardelin carried a sense of the sea and I emptied the bowl of spinach. Stomach stretched yet again, feeling six months pregnant, we walked back at least half way to our hotel just to feel less guilty not realising that we had skipped ordering dessert.
“When you visit Frankfurt, you just have to walk around Sachsenhausen and enter any of the restaurants in that area – it’s like being in food haven,” I’d been told a million times. A salesman at a watch boutique told us that he had taken his new bride to meet his family at a very ‘homespun’ Italian place. “But it’s not fancy. It is like home.” Exactly what I was in the mood for. I still carry the taste of the scallops with tomatoes, white wine and mozzarella baked on oyster shells. The beef cut and halibut with porcini mushrooms served as the main course made for robust eating. The zabaglione, made fresh on a stove at our table, with the chef whipping it into thick foamy seduction was beyond perfection. It was the end of this year’s book fair for me and I was dying to reach switch-off mode – the zabaglione did that, blocking all thoughts of words, books, sales, contracts. I had found my happy place.
We went back for lunch the next day wanting to try out some more of the basic home cooked array on their menu card. A mildly sunny afternoon warranted a Feudi di San Gregorio Ros’Aura – a rose which slid down smoothly. The minestrone soup followed by freshly made ravioli stuffed with ricotta spinach and tomato cream and truffle, a platter of pasta in four different sauces recommended by the chef confirmed the fact that we were enough for four people. The gnocchi in saffron sauce with gorgonzola and mozzarella, tagliatelle with porcini mushrooms, cantuccini with almonds, the classic tomato with garlic and onions made up the platter and made sure we took an hour to finish each bit on our table. The zabaglione was a definite repeat order, this time accompanied by a fine dessert wine, Passito di Pantelleria 2006 by Ben Rye made from zibibbo grapes good with herbed cheese foie gras and sweets from Sicily. Coffee, served with a delicately flavoured biscotti, chocolate and marmalade ended our afternoon. We trudged lazily back to the station – it was time to go gift shopping before catching our flight home.
The weekend farmers’ market at Konstablerwache in the middle of the shopping area in Zeil bustles with energy, music, tourists and local citizens. Hot sausages sizzling on the huge round grilling pan flanked by booths selling freshly cut, home-style fries with a variety of sauces to top them and the best – wine booths selling a variety of wine! Beer is the staple beverage here. You can’t have a sausage and not wash it down with a mugful. We had sworn at lunch that we would not eat or drink any more till we reached the airport. But a glass of mulled wine and some more white wine infused with fresh raspberries, peaches, strawberries and then some fried potato pancakes with apple sauce had that thought flying out of the window. I picked up fresh fruit preserves, apricot and grape fruit flavoured olive oils, orange sugar and vanilla chilli salt to stock my kitchen. I don’t know how the book fair will turn out in terms of business for Siyahi, but food in Frankfurt definitely needs more exploring. Weinsinn is on my list for next year – at least to start with.
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