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Archive for December 31st, 2012

A long break for Christmas this year. A week in the snowy Norwegian mountains with skiing, food and family. Playing cards, reading books, reaching a consensus on what dvds to watch.

It’s been an autumn of learning, as I’ve told you, I have been following a German course at the Goethe Institut here in Oslo. I’m quite pleased with the results. Sure, I could have worked a lot harder with my grammar, but my general command of the language has never been better. Enthusiastic and cheerful follow pupils – Studenten is reserved for more formal higher education, we are told by our charming teacher Katharina from South Tyrol.

But this means that I have to avoid this new found knowledge slipping away again. There are some vague plans of spending more time in Germany, but closer to home, I try to read more German. The weekly newspaper Die Zeit is delivering what the English Sunday papers used to do – a good read.

I found two articles in the Christmas issue particularly interesting.

Deutschland al dente is about changing food habits, based on the publication Fremdes Essen by historian Maren Möhring. The foreign food in question is the food the migrant workers brought with them when they came looking for jobs in the fast growing Federal Republic of Germany, rising from the ashes of WWII. The came from Italy, Greece, Yugoslavia and Turkey and established pizzerias, tavernas, kebab shops and grill kiosks. What fascinates me is the time scale here, the snack food we now consider global did not really start spreading beyond their countries of origin until the seventies and eighties, when restrictions on setting up small scale eateries were lifted. Before that, the Italians living in Germany had to go to the pharmacy to buy their olive oil..

It is also interesting to note that most of these migrating dishes are not invited into the setting of more formal dining. Sure, there are upmarket Italian restaurants in Germany (and the rest of Europe) now, but the food of the Balkans is still regarded as street food. In Germany that usually means buying your food and beer from a kiosk and eating it standing up at an outside table.

The story is not, however, exclusively a matter of food finding its way from the South to the North. There is an element of there-and-back-again as well. Until the middle of the fifties, there were only ten pizzerias in Italy outside Naples. The transition from Neapolitan to Italian happened in Germany. And as the number of German tourists in Italy grew during the sixties, the pizzerias spread across Italy.

This is a scientific publication, but I hope a more popular (and cheaper) book is in the making. But food migration is obviously important in other countries, too. The melting pots of North America have their tales to tell. The curry lanes of Britain and the fierce  piri-piri chicken in Portugal, too. Not to mention how the cold and skeptical Scandinavians have turned down our herring and potatoes for factory processed versions of what we believe is Mediterranean cuisine.

The other article is about beer. Well, it’s not beer writing at all. It’s about beer in a particular setting, a universe away from our everyday tasting notes. The comprehensive article covers the fate of the Christian churches in the historical heartland of the religion. The Coptic church in Egypt, the Aramean church in Turkey – and the last Christian town in Palestine. This village is home to the Taybeh Brewery, which has won international fame as one of the most exotic brews on the planet. But  the brewer is also the mayor of the town, and the future is uncertain, squeezed between Jewish settlers and islamists, with the support of the governing party Fatah but with the fear that their rival Hamas will come to power.

– Our beer is resistance with peaceful means, says brewer David Canaan Khoury. That’s a bit more than most of his colleagues around the globe can claim.

As I wish all of my readers a happy new year, I raise my glass to David Canaan Khoury.

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