“Want to try the fried flies?” asked our Bangkok guide. Who could resist? I popped one in my mouth. For the record, fried flies are salty, oily, crunchy, and much like roasted peanuts – except for the wings. They’re not bad as snacks go. But I don't think you'll find any major fast food franchises asking its customers, "Will you be having flies with that?"
I am not a timid eater. Give me a chance to taste exotic foreign fare – snake, pig brains, alligator, bull’s tails, baby eels – and I rarely turn it down. But I finally met my limits last August in a Munich beer hall.
I loved Munich’s beer halls and beer gardens. Some could seat thousands of revelers, and even when empty they seemed to ring with drinking songs and roars of bosky laughter. The oldest were built in the 7th century, and a great deal of the city’s history has taken place in them – Mozart writing symphonies, Hitler rising to power, everybody holding his bachelor party. In the Hofbräuhaus, there’s a gutter under the tables, where centuries ago men who were too drunk to stand or didn’t want to face the freezing temperatures in the outdoor privy would simply relieve themselves under the table. Such a practical solution; so hard to see why it died out.
Another practical idea: Breakfast in a beer garden. Why wait for happy hour, or even lunch? One Saturday we met our new friend Mike and his mother Betty for a late breakfast under the trees in the enormously popular Augustiner Bräustuben. The centerpiece of the meal was the classic Münchner weisswurst, a white veal sausage, with a side order of pretzels as big as my head. Various beverages appeared in liter-sized steins that – according beer hall custom – had to be lifted one handed. In addition to fruit juices mixed with fizzy soft drinks, we drank weissbier (white beer, known outside of Bavaria as weizenbier, or wheat beer), and russin, a dark wheat beer with a Sprite-like mixer. I turned down offers to try another classic combo, white beer with Coke, because even I have some standards.
“The food here is very good here,” said Betty.
“Yes, it’s delicious,” I said.
“No, I mean it’s good for you.”
I stared at my portion of weisswurst which (I calculated later) contained 25 grams of fat, 73 grams of cholesterol, and .78 grams of salt. To say nothing of the giant pretzel and liters of beer ...
“It’s because we don’t use preservatives,” she added comfortably.
In that moment I realized two things. 1) Who was I to judge whether this breakfast was any less healthy than the typical American breakfast of chemicals and white sugar masquerading as a bowl of cereal? And 2) I didn’t have to say “yes” to every opportunity to eat local foods.
I wouldn’t have missed my beer garden breakfast for anything; the food, the company, and the cultural experience were delightful. But I was at the beginning of a three-month journey through Central and Eastern Europe, and I was already overwhelmed by the prospect of adapting to a rich, new cuisine every time we stepped off a train. The spirit was willing, but the flesh wasn’t able to keep up with locals who had spent a lifetime tucking into German weisswurst, Czech gulášh or Bulgarian kvarma stew. I began passing up the kielbasa in favor of simple soups and salads, at least much of the time.
By showing a bit more common sense at some meals, I felt free to indulge in the local fare at others. When something truly special presented itself, I could say “yes!” or “tak” or “да” with all the enthusiasm I’d shown for the fried flies. Bon appétit!
I'm an American writer living in Seville, Spain and traveling the world with my husband, Rich. We've recently completed a five-month Mediterranean Comfort Food Tour, exploring the world's favorite cuisine to discover more about European culture — and our own.
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