Warten auf Grünzeug (engl. Originalversion der Kolumne in der htr vom 06.02.2014)
Seeing ‘seasonal’ on a menu makes anyone with even the slightest control-freak tendencies nervous. Ordering ‘A selection of seasonal vegetables’ or ‘A coulis of seasonal fruits’ feels like setting out in a boat without a lifevest. I’m not the sort to sit down and say, ‘Surprise me!’ – more the sort who says, ‘Surprise-Me-But-Only-If-You-Check-I-Like-It-First’.
In this climate-changing, glocally aware world, ‘seasonal’ has moved from being a word to being an entire concept: one that’s launched a thousand Bio shops. It’s not just commercially successful, it’s entirely commendable and utterly Right.
But somewhere in my wintry heart I can’t help yearning for some Wrong. For the sweet illegal zing of passionfruit or the red pulp of fresh raspberries. For the toothy squeak of a shiny courgette plucked straight from a sun-drenched garden and tossed in a buttery pan. For a few handpicked spears of green asparagus grilled with olive oil and dusted with parmesan.
Last year a little restaurant opened in Berlin-Mitte, four blocks from my house. The owners are perfectly in tune with the times. Their eatery is like a stylish home: stripped wood, vintage tables, glowing lamps. Their staff is like a dream family: smiley, attentive, and always ready to recommend what’s best that night. And what’s best is always – on account of the restaurant’s principles – locally sourced and seasonal.
I’m a big fan of this restaurant. I love the fact that the menu is small but the flavours big, the ingredients simple but the wines complex. Except… except… I have to admit I’m becoming increasingly hungry for non-seasonal food.
Perhaps it’s growing up in the Southern Hemisphere that means some part of my brain still equates February with summer. And so I’ve begun to crave the incorrect and the impossible. Green beans picked straight from the vine. Non-hothouse lettuces with huge hearts and real dirt on their roots. And stone fruit: plump yellow-fleshed nectarines, peaches that dribble sweet juice down your chin, apricots with sun-blushed cheeks.
Last week I gave in and bought some red imported plums. Their price tag was as large as my guilt, and the disappointment still bigger. Woody flesh, wrinkled skins: they were like plums off a 3-D printer, a facsimile of the real thing.
Mid-winter is the worst time to be a vegetarian. There are only so many ways to prepare root vegetables, and none of them are very interesting. Just a few months ago I had never heard the word ‘Topinambur’. Now I’ve eaten enough of it to last a lifetime. It’s definitely the Vegetable du Jour, if not du Year. ‘Are you familiar with Topinambur?’ the waiters beam, and I nod and accept yet another plate of beige puree.
Better by far to be a carnivore these days, one of those happy devourers of hearty meaty foods: spicy sausage soup, crispy-skinned goose, golden potatoes roasted in organic pig fat. Meanwhile we vegetarians grow pale, as spindly and white as runty undernourished Jerusalem artichokes. You’ll recognise us on the street. We’re the ones staring like crazy people into florist shops, salivating at the sight of all that chlorophyll.