Sonderbares Astronauten-Essen in Apulien (engl. Originalversion der Kolumne in der htr vom 09.01.2014)
Unfortunately, the Frenchman in our carriage had a face that was much more charming than his personality. Disarmed by his smile and the way he pronounced ‘croissant’ when ordering from the refreshment trolley, we broke the No-Talking-in-Transit rule. And soon there we were: stuck for two hours in a small enclosed space with unopenable windows, listening to a misanthropic xenophobe criticise Italians, Germans, Greeks, Spaniards, and pretty much the whole world.
‘I was in England for Christmas. Mon Dieu! The food there is dégoûtant!’ We didn’t need university-level French to interpret this; we were showered with buttery crumbs and contempt. My English friend bristled.
‘Sweet and savoury, all on zee same plate! Hiiii-deous!’ It wasn’t clear if he’d eaten roast pork with apple sauce, roast beef with sweet mint sauce, or roast turkey with cranberry sauce – but at this point my friend went beetroot red and dragged our suitcases all the way to the other end of the train.
‘But you always make a joke that curry is the finest national dish England has to offer!’ I pointed out.
‘I’m allowed to!’ she hissed. ‘I’m English. People shouldn’t criticise other people’s national cuisine.’
Safely in Puglia, we took a taxi to our rural self-catering cottage. ‘There’s a farm one kilometre away that sells cheese and honey,’ smiled our host, ‘and a farm two kilometres away that sells wine and olives.’
It sounded delightfully Italian. But when we announced we didn’t have a car, our host’s smooth face creased up with anxiety. ‘You can’t walk around here! No one walks. Eees impossible here without wheels!’
How right she was! We discovered what city-dwellers always discover: that the best place for a nice walk is in a park. No sooner had we set off towards the Cheese-Man than we were being pushed off the narrow road into the mud by thundering trucks bearing green leafy vegetables towards urban packing plants. Guard dogs leapt out of every gateway. We fled home, cheese-less, honey-free.
We caught a bus to the nearest village, and discovered what off-season holiday-makers in beach resorts always discover: that restaurants are closed. Until 1 April. Three months seemed too long to wait for dinner, so instead we found a supermarket.
There are two types of supermarkets in this world. There are the ‘fresh ones’ – fresh-baked bread, fresh pasta, fresh herbs – and then there are those that appear not to have been restocked since Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon.
We arrived home with ingredients that bore a stunning resemblance to astronaut food. Vacuum-packed cheese, longlife bread sealed in plastic, tagliatelle in a box whose ‘Best By’ date was so faded it was illegible, mushrooms so shrivelled that they bounced, a jar of pomodoro sauce that had possibly once been red, and the most expensive wine in the supermarket: a whopping 3 Euro.
Peering into the cupboard, we found three sachets of salt from McDonald’s, some shreds of dried basil, and a dented aluminium saucepan that looked as if it had been used to hit a burglar over the head.
My friend had been planning to write a food blog about our trip. ‘Perhaps not tonight,’ she commented. It was true; there was only one word to say, and that had already been used today. Dégoûtant.