It wasn’t quite what I had planned for our first weekend back. I had been looking forward to my habitual Saturday morning browse of the seasonal offerings at Wiesbaden’s twice-weekly market, and hauling bags full of roots and tubers home to make meals I’ve been excited about cooking for weeks. (I may or may not have had a cookbook haul waiting for me when we got home from the U.S..) I envisaged a Saturday afternoon finishing up a bit of recipe testing, and baking a chocolate cake for my son’s birthday the next day; I dreamed of a cosy Saturday evening with a bowl of Gulasch (see above re: recipe testing) and a large glass of red wine. On Sunday, amongst the birthday chaos, I planned to indulge in some general pottering about the kitchen, sorting out the store cupboard (which is half-full of our subletter’s tinned pineapple stash) and preparing for the week ahead.
But the best culinary plans not infrequently go awry. On Saturday morning, I found myself not at the cobbled market place browsing pumpkins and chard, but waiting for a hospital bed for my 18-month-old daughter in a rather faded paediatric ward on the outskirts of town. We spent two nights in the in hospital (we’re home again now, and she’s fine), and so rather than tales of stews and wine, here I am sharing some snaps of German hospital food.
I’ve been treated to German hospital canteen fare on a number occasions over the last seven years, though only across the river in Mainz, and the experiences are pretty comparable. The Mainzers, it had to be said, were much more amenable to my gluten sensitivity*, but otherwise, it’s the same old, slightly depressing story of overcooked veg, peelable stacks of Aufschnitt (cold cuts), and a variety of shiny brown sauces.
My daughter had her food delivered punctually to our (shared) room each day; my meals had to be collected from the Casino (canteen) in exchange for a neatly printed slip of paper. It being a weekend, the place was deserted but for the odd solo diner, and the kind dinner lady was extra generous with our portions. And this is what we were served:
Day 1: Saturday lunch and dinner
Owing to our midmorning arrival, we had to collect our lunches (on the right of the tray, twice) and my dinner (left) from the canteen shortly after we arrived on Saturday. The smiley solo dinner lady gave us a cheeky wink and shovelled as many Nürnburger Würstchen onto our plates as she could, furnishing us with a chestnut brown pretzel instead of a bread roll, and even allowed me to sneak a small portion of salad onto our tray (both of the latter items usually costing extra). It was probably the best hospital food I’ve ever had, which I suppose isn’t saying much, but we weren’t off to a bad start.
Day 2: Sunday breakfast, lunch and dinner
Things went downhill quickly. The kitchens were able to make allowances for my daughter’s egg and nut allergies; my problem with gluten not at all. For breakfast, I grabbed a banana from the bowl from the ward kitchen instead, rather impressed that there was a bowl of fruit for patients in the ward kitchen (as well as a good selection of teas).
Lunch was a low point. My indiscriminate 18-month-old enthusiastically demolished every last mouthful of her chicken Fricassée, but dry chicken in possibly cream of mushroom tinned soup is just really not my bag. Heating up the carrots with butter improved them immeasurably; the chocolate pudding went in seconds.
But look, they clearly really tried. The Frikadelle (or Bulette – beef rissole) may have been dense and tasteless, and the red cabbage almost inedibly vinegary, but the potatoes were fine, the butterscotch pudding had that classic retro synthetic flavour and, well, you’ve got to give them points for the carefully broken chunk of chocolate biscuit plopped on top.
A Sunday Cake Intervention
My in-laws saved the day on Sunday afternoon, bringing my husband to the hospital (with chocolate truffles) so that I could be released for a bit of fresh air and some time with my son, the birthday boy. Oma presented him with a very moist apple cake, and I rustled up a quick snack from the fridge at home, whilst my daughter, back in hospital, enjoyed (no really) another evening meal of bread and cheese.
We’re home now, the littlest one and I, memories of acidic red cabbage and synthetic butterscotch pudding far behind us, and I’m about to have a final go of that Gulasch. Stay tuned for the recipe.
* Yes yes, it’s a real one. Do you not think I’d be eating a daily pretzel if I could?