03 May, 2018

German Zombie Asparagus

Source: pixabay

When I lived in the US I never really paid much attention to asparagus. I knew it was there, and I ate it every once in a while, but it never made much of an impression on me. I was therefore somewhat astounded when I got to Germany and saw how obsessed the country is with this vegetable. Asparagus season is greeted in Germany with a level of enthusiasm that, in my opinion, is completely unjustified by what I consider to be a mediocre vegetable (German asparagus lovers, please don't hate me!).

When asparagus is in season, and only when it's in season, it is prominently featured at every supermarket, is sold at little stands on the street, and is offered on countless restaurants' specials menus. There are signs about asparagus. There are ads about asparagus. There might as well be, and probably very well are, literal banners announcing the joy that is Spargelzeit, or "asparagus time." (I'm sure you can find such banners at the many asparagus festivals held throughout Germany.) Domino's in Germany even has a special asparagus pizza for the months of May and June. You don't see all this fuss about, for example, strawberry season, even though strawberries are delicious, but when it's asparagus season, you will know about it whether you want to or not.

So Germany is obsessed with a funny vegetable, so far, so good. But it's not just the normal green asparagus that I came to know and tolerate as a kid. Germans also enjoy what I call "zombie asparagus": large white asparagus that, as far as I understand it, is covered with dirt while it's growing so it never has a chance to develop the green color characteristic of plants. It looks like this:

Source: pixabay

I had never seen or even heard of such an thing before I came to Germany, but here it is viewed as totally normal and even deserving of all the fanfare described above. It is typically cooked and served with potatoes and Hollandaise sauce, like this:

Source: pixabay

The Germans may find it delightful, but I am majorly skeptical. It still skeeves me out a little bit that it is unnaturally white, and the color seems to have taken the flavor with it when it left. I have eaten the white variety of asparagus several times and the flavor was so unremarkable that I literally could not tell you what it tastes like. I'm pretty sure it didn't taste like the green kind, but that's as much as I can tell you.

And I haven't even gotten to the really weird part: before it's cooked, it's peeled! I still don't understand why this food even exists, never mind why it needs to be peeled, especially since it's typically also cooked until it's droopy, so any toughness you might be removing by peeling it would be easily taken care of anyway. 

While my views on asparagus put me firmly in the minority among the German populace, I am apparently not the only non-German who isn't fully on board the asparagus train. Nic from the blog 40 Percent German wrote a hilarious post about the German love of asparagus, which I highly recommend you read, called Why Do Germans Love Asparagus? I had a good laugh while reading it and was relieved to know that I am not alone in my lack of enthusiasm for the stuff.

While I can't understand the obsession with the food itself, I do like that it is celebrated specifically when (and because) it's in season. The advantages of this are probably obvious: it is better for the environment to wait until it grows here rather than shipping it halfway around the world, and it increases the appreciation of the food and makes it into something worth celebrating. Germans don't take asparagus for granted, that's for sure. They get excited when asparagus season rolls around and look forward to it the following year once the season comes to an end. I think that is a refreshing and very natural approach to food, one that I can appreciate and that I would like to see extended to more food items.

But as for the zombie vegetable itself, I think it is something I will just never understand. And I'm okay with that. While I could take or leave the actual asparagus, I still appreciate the air of celebration and the seasonal nature of it all. And it provides me with yet another entertaining aspect of German life that makes me smile, shake my head with a mixture of endearment and exasperation, and say, "That's so German!"

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