The boiling water burst too close to my hand, releasing hot steam onto my knuckles. The cutting board and knife felt unnatural clutched over the vapers. Flo had made it seem so easy as he scraped the knife against the board, seemingly unfazed by how close his hands were to burning. I was in Freiburg when Maggie, my friend since high school, bragged about her boyfriend, Flo’s, ability to make Käsespätzle and he offered to cook it for us. Food often brings people together, but it’s a deeper experience prepping an unfamiliar meal with someone. Through cooking, you can learn more about and try local cuisine, make new memories, and bond with friends.
“It’s German mac and cheese topped with fried onions!” Maggie exclaimed. She had mentioned Käsespätzle at least once a day since I arrived. I was surprised that this dish sounded so familiar to me. The first time I visited Maggie in Germany she raved about Wurstsalat: sausage salad. This dish was composed of Fleischwurst or Lyoner sausage cut into noodles, pickles, onions, vegetable oil, and vinegar. “You cannot use balsamic vinegar or olive oil!” she stressed. I’d never heard of it and was rather scared of what it might taste like as she explained it to me. After some hesitation, I tried Wurstsalat and was surprised at how refreshing it was on a hot day. If I hadn’t visited Maggie, I probably never would have tried it or even known that it existed. Though I’d never go out of my way to eat it again, I have great memories about that day around the table with Maggie’s family waiting for the American girl to try one of their favorite dishes for the first time.
I learned to cook from a young age, but I cooked mostly pasta outside of culinary classes. Before this trip, I had never heard of spätzle; a type of egg noodle commonly found in southern Germany used for dumplings and other meat dishes. We watched as Flo hand cut the thin noodles until we felt we could try it. Flo walked us through the process: dip cutting board and knife into boiling water, spread dough, dip again, and finally quickly scrap the knife on the board to make thin noodles that fall effortlessly into the water.
For me, it was not so graceful. First, the dough did not want to spread, then I couldn’t seem to get my noodles thin enough or to come off the board. Maggie had a similar experience but had more of an understanding of the basic motions. We laughed about how we could easily identify which noodles were Flo’s and which were ours as ours would be misshapen and take longer to cook. Maggie would just say “oh well, I like some thicker noodles anyway, it adds variety.” After we each had a turn, Flo took over again, fluidly scrapping more noodles, while Maggie and I sipped wine and watched the process, chatting about the food we made in culinary classes.
After we (mostly Flo) finished cooking the spätzle, we layered it with cheese labeled as “spätzle käse,” trying not to let all of the thick noodles be grouped together. Finally, we warmed it in the oven until the cheese melted. The dish overall was good, but most things covered in cheese are. I’ve already been asked to try and attempt this meal at home, but I fear it will take me many tries before my spätzle technique feels more natural. The important part was that we bonded over our clumsy attempts at hand cutting the noodles.
Traveling can lead to all sorts of new experiences. Part of the adventure is learning and trying new things. Maggie and I had never prepped spätzle noodles and laughed the entire time at our attempts, which is one of my favorite memories from this trip. Mealtimes often bring about great conversation and bonding experiences, but I’ve always found it even more meaningful when you get the chance to prep the food. So, when I travel, I try to ask people what their favorite food is and this often leads to a discussion on how it’s prepared and the memories they have relating to it. Maybe it leads to cooking plans, or maybe we just make ourselves hungrier, either way, it’s always a good time.