Posts Tagged ‘drink’


Max: …and drink

December 10, 2011

First, I’d like to make a correction, or rather an addition, to last week’s post: I mentioned that in Germany three meals are generally eaten in a day. I forgot to mention that it’s often customary to have coffee and cake anywhere between three and five in the afternoon (like tea-time in the UK, except with coffee). It’s not a universal custom; this meal is understandably absent in the normal budget-conscious student’s day.

Now for the central subject matter, namely, the role of alcoholic beverages in German and American societies: The public consumption of alcoholic beverages in Germany is markedly more common than in the US. I’ll take restaurants as an example: It’s probably safe to say that a significant fraction of Americans don’t regularly drink alcohol at restaurants. In German restaurants, however, it’s rare to see someone who isn’t drinking beer or wine. This is most pronounced in Germany’s famous beer gardens, where everyone except children orders a beer with their food. In the higher-end restaurants it’s the same thing with wine in the place of beer. In fact, it’s rare to have anything but beer, wine, or water with a meal other than breakfast or coffee-and-cake.

In other public places the situation is similar. In many American cities it’s illegal to drink alcohol on the streets and other public spaces (I’m guessing restaurants don’t technically count as public spaces); this is the reason you may see people taking drinks out of suspicious-looking paper bags on city streets. In Munich, there either doesn’t seem to be a law against it or it’s never enforced, because people with half-liter beer bottles are a common sight on the streets and sometimes on the trains and subways (which is, unfortunately, where they like to sing loud, slurred, out-of-tune songs).

All these differences lead back to cultural traditions. It’s said that in Bavaria (the German state of which Munich is the capital) beer is not alcohol; it’s food. Drinking good beer is one of the main Bavarian traditions besides wearing a Lederhosen or a Dirndl, the dress you’d see most often at Oktoberfest. Speaking of Oktoberfest, how did I get this far in the post without mentioning it? It’s one of the most spectacular displays in the world of old traditions mixed with gaudy fairground rides and rampant alcoholism! It shows that drinking alcohol and even getting incredibly drunk don’t have nearly the social stigma that they do in the US.

I’m guessing this stigma exists in the US in the first place because the country was founded predominantly by Puritans, whose conservative social rules have survived in some form to the present day. This would also explain, for example, the relative intolerance of nudity in the US as compared to other European countries.

Excessive and Underage Drinking

Finally, I wanted to bring up the topic of the drinking age and the related topic of excessive drinking (here meaning drinking specifically for the purpose of getting drunk). This is a tough topic to cover neutrally, so I’ll do the best I can. If you notice a significant bias in this section that you’d like to point out, please do so in the comments without starting a flame war. First, the basic facts: In the US the general drinking age is 21 for any type of alcohol, with state-to-state exceptions for drinking in the company of responsible adults. In Germany it is allowed to drink beer or wine at 16 and all other alcoholic beverages at 18. Now, if I were to tell you that everyone, or even most people, follow the drinking-age laws in the US you would probably ask me how many pairs of rose-colored glasses I was wearing. Underage drinking happens commonly on American college campuses (including the U of M), occasionally with tragic consequences.

Before living as a student in Germany, I was of the opinion that this excessive drinking was happening because the drinking age was so high and students were drinking out of defiance. It’s possible, however, that the drinking happens just as much in German universities as in American ones. Every week I see a new party advertised in the student residences where the sole theme is to get as drunk as possible. One example of this is a party advertisement that used a poster for a drinking awareness campaign, retitling “Alcohol: Know your limit” to “Alcohol: Blow your limit.” I think it’s pretty safe to say that excessive drinking at the student age is a constant across many cultures. Because of this I don’t think lowering the drinking age in America will help the problem of underage drinking much. I view drinking as a freedom that’s nice and symbolic, but shouldn’t be abused and can be abstained from for a few years. Other Americans who view drinking in this way should be fine with keeping the drinking age the way it is, while those who really want to drink will always find a way to do so.

The most effective thing that really can be done against excessive drinking is to limit the damage that it does. Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) laws are one example of this, although in my personal opinion most aren’t tough enough. Operating a fast-moving two-ton piece of machinery should never be done under the influence of significant amounts of alcohol, and if you have done this before that’s almost always enough evidence that you’re not qualified to drive a car at all.

For more information on DWI laws in various countries you can visit this informative website. More specific information on DWI laws in various US states is only one Web search away; here’s a summary of Minnesota’s laws on the subject as a representative example.



Thomas: Food & drink

September 4, 2011

It’s everyone’s favorite topic: food. After all, everyone must consume it to survive, so why not enjoy it a little. The food in Buenos Aires has been exceptional thus far, although as one can expect, there are several differences in how people from the United States eat/drink to how the Porteños eat/drink.


I must admit, at my homestay, I am getting fed more like an American than a Porteños. It seems like my serving sizes are slightly larger than everyone else’s in my family. A breakfast tray is put out for me seven days a week, which includes bread for toast, orange marmalade, queso blanco (cream cheese spread), dulce de leche, two kinds of cereal, milk (warm and cold), instant coffee, and sometimes fruit.

Quite the display, I know. Most people here just eat toast with spread, coffee and maybe juice. You won’t find any pancake or waffle breakfasts here in Buenos Aires. It’s the lightest meal of the day. A couple items to highlight, the coffee and the dulce de leche.

I know in the U.S., instant coffee is becoming more popular, but this is my first time trying it. It’s not bad, and I usually enjoy 3 cups in the morning. In restaurants here in Buenos Aires, you will find many people enjoying a typical breakfast of coffee and a croissant. All coffee found in cafe’s is actually espresso, so it’s mighty strong and comes in a tiny cup. A lot of people enjoy their coffee with steamed milk (half coffee/half milk or Cafe con leche). In the U.S., we would call this a Latte. Also note, portion size in Coffees is much smaller than in the U.S. Most places only give you a small or a medium size coffee. A medium size looks more like a small in the U.S.

I want to highlight Dulce de Leche because it is a staple here in Argentina. It’s made here and enjoyed daily by almost everyone. Dulce de Leche literally translates to “candy of milk”. It’s basically heaven in a jar. It tastes similar to caramel and milk chocolate, but nothing really compares. Sometimes I will spread it on my toast in the morning, eat it with a fruit, dessert, or with nearly every candy in Argentina. Many candy makers include Dulce de Leche in their products.


Enjoyed between 12 and 3 o’clock. Typically I eat out for lunch at a cafe or restaurant near my school. A light sandwich or salad is a common lunch and is much like those we enjoy in the U.S. One big difference when eating out is that water is not free here in Buenos Aires. It comes with or without bubbles, and in a glass bottle. As someone who typically orders water in the U.S., free of charge, this has been difficult for the pocketbook to grasp.


Enjoyed between 8:30 and 11:30 pm. My host-mother is a fantastic cook, so I have yet to dislike a home cooked dinner in Buenos Aires. Each night I am served at 8:30, early for most people here. Porteños eat very late. Like the U.S., Argentina eats a lot of meat and potatoes, and they are of course most famous for their cuts of steak. I have had steak twice at home, but never at a restaurant.

A favorite meal of mine so far at my homestay included three different varieties of potato, seasoned chicken breast w/ grilled onions, and tomatoes w/ olives on the side. Argentinians love their desserts, and so far I have been served a number of traditional Argentinean dishes. Of course the food, culture, and livelihood here is heavily influenced by the Europeans as most Porteños are direct descendents of Italy, Spain, France, or Germany.


A very popular candy in Argentina is the Alfajor. This treat consists of two soft wafers glued together with dulce de leche, and finally covered with chocolate. Muy delicioso. There’s no question, Porteños have a sweet tooth.


Eben: Meals Without Wheels

October 14, 2009

A few weeks ago, during the presession, we took a field trip to the island of Ngor, off the northwest tip of Dakar, to conduct interviews with strangers on the beach on the subject of polygamy.  We were informed that Waly and co. had bought food for our lunch there.  Naturally, given my concept of what a portable lunch should be, I was excited for the possibility of sandwiches and maybe, if we were lucky, some fruit.  My cold-cut dreams were shattered when I was asked to carry a large vat of oil to the bus, which we subsequently carried with us on the small, wet pirogue that took us to the island.  Accompanying that vat were multiple pounds of chicken and uncooked French fries, along with a gas cooker.  We were going to have a normal lunch, field trip be damned.  And we did; Waly’s assistant, Adji, tended the cooker for a couple hours until our communal platters were ready.

And this is the way Senegalese food works.  There are restaurants, sure, and even a few fast-food places, but a real meal is hand-cooked.  And in this process, there are no compromises, no shortcuts, and certainly no need for lessons from Michael Pollan.  A meal is a meal, and it must be cooked in a certain way no matter the location or circumstances.  All of which is somewhat surprising given the way food is actually eaten.  Despite the elaborate tradition that surrounds meals here, people eat quickly and usually without stopping to talk or take a drink.  When you’re done eating, you get up even if others are still working.  After hours of cooking — at my house, a 2:30 pm lunch often gets started around 9 am — the meal is usually done within a 10 or 15 minutes.  Then onto the next meal.

At my house, lunch (which I only eat there on weekends) is the biggest deal of a meal.  The family eats with spoons around a large bowl, as depicted in the picture above of students eating in Sokone.  In many families, the bowl is present but the spoons are not, and people sit on mats around the bowl, rolling balls of rice (or millet) and sauce with their fingers.  (All of this is done with only the right hand, for cultural and hygienic reasons.)  Everyone eats the rice and sauce in the area in front of them, while people break off small pieces of the meat/fish and root vegetables in the middle of the bowl to eat with their rice.  This role is often also played by the woman who did the cooking, in which case she’ll distribute the pieces she breaks off to everyone around the bowl.

On the other end of the spectrum, dinners at my house are casual, less stereotypically traditional affairs, eaten on individual plates at each person’s leisure.  Usually, the kids and I eat around 8:30 with Ester, the youngest daughter of Mère Vitou (she’s probably about 30), and the maids.  Mère Vitou gets a plate in the living room while watching tv, and the rest of the house eats later if at all.  Moving back in the day, breakfast, the least important meal, is a very European affair that is done, as far as I can tell, exactly the same at every house throughout the country.  You get a piece of baguette and some chocolate spread or jam, accompanied by a hot drink (despite the heat) made of whatever powders — coffee, milk, hot chocolate mix, sugar — you want.  The French really sold Dakar citizens short in terms of whatever baguette recipe they taught them, and so I’m generally hungry by the end of my walk to school.  Eating air would at least require less chewing.  Outside of Dakar, though, the bread is great — much heavier, but still soft enough to eat comfortably.

In terms of the food itself (beyond breakfast), I’d love to be able to come back to the States and, like many who have traveled abroad, say that the food here was inconceivably wonderful.  But that would be dishonest.  I generally like the vast majority of what I’ve eaten, but I’ll return home and be perfectly happy to go back to eating the food I have for most of my life.  Most meals consist of a starch, meat or fish, and a dark, heavy sauce.  The starch, as I started to explain above, is either rice or very fine-grained millet during one of the traditional “bowl” meals, and then often it’ll be French fries or pasta for our more casual dinners.  The fish is always served whole and I’m pretty sure is usually herring.  It’s nice, flaky white meat once you get past the fact that the thing you’re eating still has its head on.  The meat is either chicken or beef, although Catholic families do eat pork from time to time.  Regardless of the meat, it’s served on the bone with plenty of fat still on.  In my house, beef is much preferred to chicken, much to my disappointment.  I grew up not really eating red meat, and so I do my best to pick around it here, but I’m essentially required to eat at least a little bit given the rules of hospitality.  The meat is always flavored very heavily with spices ground together with the equivalent of a mortar and pestle, and like most everything else, cooked very slowly over a gas cooker.  Finally, the sauce usually falls into one of two categories: onion-based or not.  The onion-based sauce is very thick, and brown, and delicious.  Reminds me of caramelized onions.  The other types of sauces are a mixture of oil with either tomato, peanut butter, or spinach.  This thick spinach sauce (as shown in the picture above) is about the most you’ll get in the way of green vegetables, as the only other “vegetables” you might get are carrots, potatoes, or white roots whose name I have no idea. Read the rest of this entry ?

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