Sunday, September 10, 2006

Eating. schnitzel.

My first trip to Europe (in 1992) is remembered only as a blur of rolling green hills, cathedrals in city squares, endless palaces, bratwurst, elaborate buffet breakfasts (a revelation to me), and fluffy down comforters (another revelation) in every hotel we stayed in. And wiener schnitzel. It was everywhere, across the Bavarian countryside, through Austria, into Switzerland (excepting a brief interruption of goulash in Hungary). A huge veal (or pork) chop, pounded into twice its original size, breaded and be-crumbed and fried until golden brown. It usually came on a large white plate, with some boiled or steamed potatoes on the side, or noodles. A sprig of parsley was the only adornment, perhaps a wedge of lemon.

Other nations have their own versions. The Japanese tonkatsu (served over rice with that Worcestershire-ish sauce on the side), which I grew up eating at home, or the Italian scaloppine, in a Marsala sauce over buttery pasta, which I would order at the restaurant near my grandfather's apartment. But for me it is all about the wiener schnitzel. Maybe it's that song from The Sound of Music, cream-colored ponies and crisp apple strudels, doorbells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles. I could do without the girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes, or even the brown paper packages tied up with string, but I could not do without schnitzel with noodles.

On the Sundays I have to go into work, I reward myself with lunch at the nearby pub, probably one of my favorite places to eat in this city. (The beer is fantastic, too, but there is no way I could concentrate on work after a pint of stout). There are sandwiches and burgers and soft tacos filled with pulled pork or fish or steak. I go in with my thoughts on a Philly cheesesteak sandwich, am momentarily distracted by the rib-eye steak sandwich, but then I see schnitzel with noodles and I know immediately that this is what I will be having for lunch.

In a booth by the window I can watch people walk by on their way to or from yoga class, curl up with the book I bought last night, absorb myself in Alexander McCall Smith's Edinburgh and its inhabitants while drinking ice-cold Coke and waiting for my lunch. In less time than I expect it arrives, a vast round of pork tenderloin, pounded thin, breaded and fried crisp. It is resting on a bed of egg noodles, lavished with a sauce of beer and mushrooms and capers, which add little sparks of contrast with their briny acidity, cutting through the rich sauce and fried pork, everything showered with fresh chopped parsley, faintly, sweetly fragrant. There is some bread from the Macrina bakery, (I know it is from this bakery because when I walk past early in the morning there is a bundle of plastic-wrapped baguettes hanging from the handle of the front doors, with a delivery order stapled to the clear plastic) but it is superfluous.

Everything is perfect. The crusty outsides of the pork have remained crunchy beneath the unctuous sauce, which melds deliciously with the soft, herb-flecked noodles. The pork is firm, well-cooked without being over-cooked; it yields easily to my knife. I take a bite, trying to spear a piece of pork, a chunk of mushroom, and some noodles all at once; it is an explosion of contrasting tastes and textures in my mouth, and I am happy.

No comments: