Wednesday, March 18, 2009
It was my first solo meal in Vienna, a city I would call home for several months. A little self-conscious about dining alone, I chose a non-hip-looking café, with plush red velvet seats and a clientele that included a few tourists. I was relieved to see a vegetarian menu, but unlike the main menu, which had pages in German, English, Japanese, and Russian, the vegie menu was only in German. The waiter didn't speak much English – a startling pleasure in a world where the edges of cultural difference are being relentlessly eradicated by the Resistance-is-Futile-You-Will-Be-Assimilated globalizing Borg machine. After searching for and failing to find the right words to describe the offerings, he gave up and went to get a waitress who spoke a little English. She described a couple of items, but it was still all a bit confusing. Finally, I recognized the word "spinach.”
“Yes!” I smiled. “I’ll have that.”
I sipped my beer and tried not to look conspicuous as I studied the artsy black and white S&M photos on the walls, which seemed at odds with the stuffy baroque decor. Finally the waiter arrived and placed my dinner down with a flourish: a plate of bright green, algae-colored puree, with a basted egg floating on top.
(I soon learned that Austrians will put eggs on top of just about anything. You can even get a coffee with an egg, not on the side, but right there in the cup. But, they are an enlightened people in many ways; a standard breakfast comes with eggs, rolls, potatoes....and a beer. I can't, however, guarantee that the egg won’t be in the beer.)
The creamed spinach was soupy – a bit hard to eat with the fork that was provided – and was the spitting image of baby food spooned from a tiny jar. This effect was magnified by the fact that the puree and the shredded potatoes that accompanied it arrived on a divided dish, either a deep plate or shallow bowl, which looked just like the dish you'd use to feed a toddler, sans the picture of Winnie the Pooh. I resolved right then to learn to speak German.
In the end, I never did learn much German, despite buying a pile of dictionaries and German CDs. And, even though I became more adventurous in my dining choices as I came to know the city, I found myself returning several times to that cafe, where I ordered that same SpinachGloppenEggen, an oddly satisfying comfort food for a lone traveler far from home.