Author: Brian Siedenburg, MSc Nutritional Biochemistry and Biomedicine
Food. What first pops into your head when you hear that word? Your favorite comfort food that your mom used to make you. A recent incredible restaurant dining experience you had. Or the joy and community you feel when family and friends gather in your home for a home-cooked meal and a glass (or 5) of wine. Regardless, it’s clear that food, whether directly through consumption, or indirectly by bringing people together, brings joy.
I’m Brian Siedenburg, a nutritional consultant and personal chef that helps people reverse their chronic conditions or maximize their performance through the food they put in their body, through guidance and/or personal preparation of food. My love for cooking was born from two older roommates I lived within my early 20’s. They’d always cook these fantastic dishes and talk about food like it was sacred. It was the first time I caught the bug to transform single ingredients synergistically into amazing creations. One of my favorite things to make has to be sushi; just because of how creative you can be with it. I like to go way out of the box when it comes to sushi. Some may say this is a bastardization, but I like to look at it as evolution. Breakfast sushi, for example; bacon, eggs, a thin slice of baked ham and sautéed onions and garlic. Or a beef carpaccio roll – thinly sliced rare beef with capers, olive oil, fresh parsley, parmesan cheese, and a slice of cucumber for added crunch and texture.
I first met Sara a few months after I had moved to Bavaria in late 2016. I knew we’d be friends when we’d only had one or two conversations, and she invited me to see one of my favorite bands, unbeknownst to her. A beautiful night of wine, fantastic music and my first party experience in Munich ensued. The love of food and exploration of different culinary delights was another thing we had in common.
Having lived in Germany for 2.5 years, I had the pleasure of traveling all over Europe, which means different cultures, which means different foods. Now, through modern technology (internet, television), we can type in a few words and get recipes from any culture. Immigration throughout the past 100 years also allows us to experience authentic ethnic food from other cultures. But the minute you leave that restaurant, you walk back into familiarity and fall back into the groove of habit. However, the culinary experience is vastly different when one immerses themselves in the culture where the food originates. You get to live their culture; you see the people, how they act, and how they were raised. You see the geography of what foods grow locally, their local wild game meat, and how they raise their livestock. Through observation of what’s grown locally and the collective cultural personality, you can really observe just how the staple dishes materialized over the years. When you’re sitting in Florence, and an Italian proudly serves you a Bistecca de Florentine and pasta with wild boar sauce, the experience can’t begin to compare to cooking it yourself or even having it at a restaurant.
About Brian Siedenburg:
Founder of Siedenburg Culinary Nutrition and Consulting. He empowers and guides individuals to bring themselves out of chronic ailments and disease through nutrition and lifestyle intervention. He also helps people achieve their best bodies and maximize their athletic performance with nutrition: Disease prevention and mitigation, Aesthetics, body composition, strength and endurance performance; Pre and post-natal nutrition; Child nutrition
Now, I’m a heavy meat eater, which was a huge benefit when living in Germany. Some form of meat is the star of almost every single dish. Although the vegetarian/vegan movement is making its way there, the ancestral cuisine is a combination of meat, fermented cabbage (sauerkraut), potatoes in various form, and/or bread. My favorite dishes ended up being Krustenbraten; a cut of pork with the skin left on that is roasted and subsequently broiled for the top skin to be crispy. And Schweinehaxe; an enormous cut of pork knuckle that gives the meat surrounding the bone an extreme amount of flavor and tenderness. I miss lots of things. I miss Krustenbraten. I miss the slow, relaxed pace and environment of dining. And although the food itself was quite delicious and many dishes unlike anything I’d had in the states, the thing that I miss most is both the price and quality of ingredients.
After living in that culture, you can clearly see why there’s an extreme obesity epidemic in America. Thanks to being a small country (relative to the united states) with excellent agricultural resources, Germany is able to grow much of their own produce, and when they do import, most food does not have to travel far. Walking through a grocery market in America, you see 4 oz (112g) of spinach for $3-4, red or orange bell peppers for $2 a for a single pepper, while things like breakfast cereal and other refined foods are dirt cheap. In Germany, you can get over a pound (500g) of spinach for $1.75, and other vegetables follow suit with similarly low prices with even higher quality. I think the only things equal in price were avocados, understandably. Walking through a cereal aisle; most of the cereals are imported from America, so they’re quite expensive, a deterrent for purchase. I very much miss being able to walk out with several days’ worth of vegetables and meat for ~20 euro (and I eat a lot), where it would have cost around $45 in the US. Okay, rant/tangent done.
I have to say that Germany and Europe, in general, has the US beat by a long shot when it comes to food culture. If we were only talking about types and tastes of cuisines, the US would be the winner given that you can find delicious, authentic food from every single culture. But that’s not the whole picture when it comes to food culture. The pace of dining out, the respect for food, the fact that food is an opportunity to gather and share stories and joy, and the overall attitude towards food, in general, all plays into the culture of food. Sadly, the stereotypical picture of the American eating a microwaved dinner in a plastic tray in front of the television is more accurate than I wish and illustrates just how far the US has fallen when it comes to food culture (this is why I’ll always have a job).
But all is not lost with the US when it comes to food. Where it lacks in the food culture of everyday American life, it makes up for with some of its incredible and innovative dining experiences. A straightforward example would be Café ArtScience outside of MIT in Boston. To make cocktails, they use centrifuges, time-released flavored ice cubes, Bunsen burners to char garnishes, and other lab-like methods. This may sound gimmicky or kitschy, but one visit to the bar will show you why it’s lasted. Or SkyGarten in Philly (which I know Germans might appreciate…Or make fun of). It’s a full, outdoor Biergarten on the 51st floor of a skyscraper, complete with German-accented communal wooden tables.
Both places have their strengths and weaknesses when it comes to food. Food culture, quality, and ingredient price are vastly superior to the US. Food ingredient availability, the number of eclectic cuisines available in a given city, and innovation in cuisine are all things the US has on Germany. As to which I prefer? Well, you’ll just have to guess.