At Least My Tongue Can Travel

Dearest Rachel –

Since I’ve now been confined to this hotel room for the next week and a half, there isn’t going to be much to report as far as actual goings-on are concerned. For all I know, you may get to read about me going stir crazy as I either convalesce from this cold-that’s-not-a-cold, or deteriorate from treating Covid with cold remedies.

For the time being, though, I think I might indulge my inner food critic, and go through some of the meals that the hotel can offer. Like with the visit to the grocery store the other day, what the folks here think of as being typical food may not line up with what I consider typical. Their ordinary is my exotic, and vice versa. So, while my body is cooped up in here, at least my tongue can travel.

So my first meal in confinement is something they refer to as Baselbieter-Kalbsbratwurst, or Basel-style veal sausage. Hey, anything starting with ‘Basel style’ has my attention right there. I want to eat local style, at least at first. When in Rome, after all…

Of course, bratwurst has a meaning to us Americans. This just doesn’t quite happen to be it:

I kind of expect it in a bun, and not something so big. Yes, go ahead; you’re just holding back a joke, now. Go on, let it out – you’ll feel better.

The meat is mild, the grilled onions are ever so slightly sweet, and the sprouts and parsley give it just a little bit more crunch. The sauce up in the corner is beefy and robust color and I’m not sure if it goes with the sausage or the Spaetzl, so I’m taking forkfuls of each and dipping them in the sauce. Either of them work perfectly well in this arrangement, and there’s no one else here to criticize my choices.

My only regret about starting a blog about food is that, in taking the time to comment about it, it gets colder than I like it to be. It’s tasty even slightly lukewarm, but I would prefer to have eaten it sooner. At least for subsequent meals – and there is a bratwurst made of venison on the menu, so I may try that – I’ll already have the phone out to record my thoughts, Rather than coming up with the idea in media res.

A quick sidenote about the bottle in the corner; of course they had Coke on the menu – and little else – but they did also have this local specialty called Rivella. I had to look it up online, and have Google translate the page for me. Granted, in this case, by ‘local’ I mean Swiss, not Baselean (or whatever the demonym is), but that’s good enough.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the crown cap on the bottle. This country may be famous for their Army knives which have all those functional tools, but I didn’t bring one with me. I had to call reception to help me out with this (and after the back-and-forth with the adapter, I’m worried that I’m turning into a nuisance to them), and the girl pointed out that they keep an opener in every minibar. Of course, since I’ve learned never to use the minibar, I would never of thought of that. But it does make sense. Hey, all’s well that ends well.

Anyway, I’m not entirely sure what to make of it; the brown bottle suggests a cola, but the drink itself is clear, with definite notes of citrus. But it’s not a lemon-lime, either. It kind of tastes like what I’m going for when I mix two or three parts cola with one part lemonade. Not perfectly, and I’ll not necessarily be trying to smuggle a case home with me – It’s not going to be my next Whataburger ketchup – but it is quite pleasant and refreshing.

Oh, and that is a pretzel roll in the other corner. The outside crust is even just ever so slightly crisp, with a soft interior (that sounds like I’m describing someone, but I don’t know who). It’s lovely.

Breakfast is a little bit different, as I am dealing with but two options: either a continental breakfast, which simply includes a selection of breads and spreads made for me, or an American breakfast, wherein I choose all manner of things I want to have brought to me. Either way, I am to hang the card on my door, with a time I want it delivered. Yeah, I think I want to have my choice of things for now.

Upon hanging up with Kevin just before midnight, I set the card out with a request for delivery between 9:30 and 10:30. What I don’t count upon is actually sleeping all that length of time. And I don’t sleep all that time – the part I’m awake, though, is between 3:30 and 5:30, rather than just waking some time before 9:30. It’s the rap on my door that ultimately wakes me up.

This one takes a little figuring out for me, as I look at some of the caps on the cups, and puzzle over the fact that I didn’t order milk at all, let alone cold and hot milk. It takes me a moment (remember, I’m hardly awake), but I figure out that the one is for the cereal, and the other is for the chocolate powder. It’s rather a lot to parse first thing in the morning.

The potato fingers are crisp and tasty; the only thing against them is that they’re not piping hot (and the same goes for the chocolate milk), but that’s probably to be expected, as this is being brought all the way from the kitchen, and I didn’t respond immediately to the knock on my door, since I have to put a thing or two in order to be presentable enough to open the door – I think I may have sweated out whatever fever I might have had last night, but that means that for a while, I felt much hotter than would be comfortable, requiring an logical reduction in clothing. My apologies for the mental picture, but this is one of those tests of love, after all.

The bacon is chewy rather than crispy, but it does have the virtue of being supplied generously, which is atypical for what I’ve come to expect from European meals. Then again, this seems to be what they consider to be ‘American,’ so I guess we’ve met halfway.

On the cheese plate, there’s a little orange fruit wrapped inside of those leaves; I suspect it’s a kumquat, but I’m not entirely sure, as I’ve never eaten one. With the texture of a very large grape, and a flavor like an orange or tangerine, it’s an odd experience, especially as I’m half expecting it to be a differently-hued cherry tomato. I’m still not entirely sure it wasn’t.

As for the muesli, well, I hate to disappoint my European hosts, but I doubt there’s many Americans who can even spell the word, let alone recognize it on their breakfast table. Maybe they would interpret it as an odd take on granola. As far as it being ‘chocolate’? Well, I would expect that the Swiss, being proud of their forms of manufacture of the stuff, would at least be a little more generous with it. But maybe that’s just me.

After having consumed the muesli, I reconsider my earlier opinion, as the flavor in those little chunks of chocolate do go a long way. Maybe if they were smaller and more numerous, it might be better, but I won’t argue with the overall quantity of chocolate included. I will still admit to having expected to see cereal with a brown tint reflecting a chocolate infusion; such is the difference between American and European sensibilities, I suppose.

Finally, the breads and cheeses. And once again, I know I’m eating things in the wrong order, but that’s the beauty of eating alone; no one can condemn your choices. Besides, there are certain things that need to be consumed at their optimal temperature – or as close to it as possible. That does not apply to these last items, which is why I save them for last.

For the most part, I honestly can’t identify them by name, and those that I might try to do so on, I can guarantee I’ll get wrong. One chunk is hard like Parmesan, while most of the thin wedges are a delightful combination of sharp yet creamy. None of them taste like ‘Swiss’ cheese that we are familiar with (i.e. Emmentaler); none of them bear the holes we’ve come to expect from such produce. The closest guess I would make would be like Pecorino, but like Parmesan, that’s of Italian manufacture; perhaps the Swiss have their own versions, much like various states back home have different takes on the concept of Cheddar. Similarly for the block of what looks to be Camembert, which is rather less runny than I would expect it. And that’s fine; it will be easier to spread it on one of the more solid of rolls. Indeed, its flavor is not unlike that of cream cheese; it would pair well with salmon and capers on a bagel, if you ask me – although I will admit that the bagel would need to be very sturdy to withstand the force required to spread this cheese, I dare say it would be worth it.

And as I usually do, I skipped lunch, and went straight on to dinner. I thought I had ordered venison ragout, but when this arrived…

I mean, it looks very good, but it’s not ragout.

…I found myself calling room service back to make sure I’ve gotten my order. The fellow I talked to said the word ‘burger’ with an accent that made me think ‘okay, I understand how he got those two words confused.’ Perhaps I should’ve pronounced it the way it’s spelled, as ‘rag-out’ instead of ‘rag-ooh’ like I understand it to be pronounced. Oh well, it’s still venison, so there’s some exotic nature to it in any event. And I should stop talking and get to it before it cools much further.

Oh, my goodness. This thing is just dripping with juice and sauce (both ketchup and mayo), not to mention this cheese that lets your tongue know it’s there, and not just some orange color like on an American burger. Look, sharp cheddar is great, and blue is divine, but this ‘mountain cheese’ can hold its own, especially against that rubbish we’ve sullied our nation by calling ‘American cheese.’

The only problem is, it didn’t stay together very well once I took that 7 cm screw out. Yes, I said a screw; this thing required stronger hardware than a mere toothpick to hold it together. I wonder what the fellows at Man Camp would’ve had to say about this. They’d probably have issues with the fact that there was enough lettuce – both red and green – in here for a small salad, and ‘real men’ don’t eat no salad.

The Roesti potato (which is kind of funny in and of itself, because that’s what they called those little fingers from breakfast – I didn’t expect to see it in a hash brown pancake form) is okay, but it needed flavoring… so I just set it on the main plate to soak up all the juices that fell out of the burger.

I have to tell you, the burger was tasty, but it was the definition of a ‘hot mess.’ I’ve had fried chicken that didn’t make that much of a mess – I had to wash my hands twice while I was still eating this thing.

Do you remember that Food Theory episode discussing what was and what wasn’t a sandwich? I think I told you at the time that perhaps MatPat shouldn’t be going for the newest definition, but rather for the original intent of a sandwich, which is to say something you can eat with one hand, while doing something else with the other (in the honorable Earl’s case, playing cards). By those lights, of course, a hotdog (which was the main subject of the theory) is in fact a sandwich. Of course, so is a slice of pizza, if you want to look at it that way, but it’s the spirit of the idea, after all.

What I’m saying is, to borrow from the French general observing the Charge of the Light Brigade, “C’est délicieux, mais ce n’est pas un ‘sandwich.’

Oh, and the bottle of water? Should I mention that? Yes, maybe I should, because we were never much for mineral water, but I had to try it, as I have been rather thirsty all day (and I know, you’d point out that the tap’s available, and that’s fine, but this is something different, which is the whole point). And it’s surprisingly refreshing, although I won’t deny that the carbonation (which doesn’t show in the bottle, but you can feel it on your tongue) makes it a touch bitter, although not nearly as much as you’d expect. Of course, maybe it’s the nature of my ailment that even this is welcome refreshment. I don’t know.

Anyway, I dare say that three meals are more than enough to tell you about for a single letter. I imagine that the wedding feast has more sumptuous fare than anything I can sample down here, but I thought you’d like to know; besides, it’s all that’s really happening down here for now.

I’ll keep in touch, honey. Wish I could hear back from you, but I’m sure you’re well busy. Take care. Love you.

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I am Rachel's husband. Was. I'm still trying to deal with it. I probably always will be.

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