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WRITER, CONSULTANT AND BROADCASTER SPECIALISING IN BEER, PUBS AND CIDER. BEER WRITER OF THE YEAR 2009 AND 2012

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Friday, 19 March 2010

Defeating the human survival gene

There's a restaurant in Old Street, North London, called the Bavarian Beer House. Look, here it is:
If you've ever been to one of those sad, half-arsed, desperate-and-yet-at-the-same-time-can't-quite-be-bothered apologies for an Oktoberfest that British events companies occasionally excrete onto the heads of an unprovoked public, you could be forgiven for thinking that there is no point going to a Bavarian Beer House in North London.

But unlikely as it sounds, in this case you'd be quite wrong. It's run by Germans, staffed by Germans, has beer imported from Germany, serves truly authentic German cuisine, and the waitresses all look like this:

I first encountered the people there when I met head honcho Sabine von Reth while we were both defending our national honour in Market Kitchen's Beer World Cup. I then went there for lunch, and we got chatting about beer and food matches, and last Tuesday I went back for a free meal, going through the most popular dishes and recommending which of the various lagers and wheat beers worked best with each one.

If I get around to it I'll write up those recommendations - and they should be on the menu in the BBH quite soon. It was a very enjoyable evening and I'd heartily recommend a visit to anyone. Good food. Good beer. Great service.

But I wanted to talk about one particular dish. It's a dish - an ooze, a concoction, a form of matter - that worries me. No, more than that - it scares the holy fucking crap out of me. And that dish is Obatzda.

Here is a picture of Obatzda:

Yes, it looks like cat sick dressed with red onions. It's the most revolting-looking food I've seen since the Heinz sandwich paste my dad used to give me to take to school. There is no reason whatsoever why anyone should feel moved to put this in their mouths. And yet for some reason, Germans do, and the first time I went to the Bavarian Beer House, I did too.

When you put it in your mouth it has the consistency and character of wet concrete. It's all so badly wrong, and then your tongue takes a tentative look and it's oooooooooohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh........ ooooooooooooooooohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh yyeeeeeeeeeesssssss....... mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.............

Turns out it's not made of cat sick. It's made of Emmental cheese mixed up with cream cheese, butter, herbs and onions, served with pretzels.

When you swallow the first mouthful, you feel it coat and line your oesophagus on the way down. A second mouthful, and your heart sits up in your chest like a meerkat sensing a hawk. The third settles in your stomach like wet sand. After the fourth, your heart tries to make a run for it, hammering on your ribcage, pleading tearfully to be let out.

And yet, you just keep going. And going. And going.

I was eating it for, I'd guess, about forty minutes. I had to ask for extra pretzels. I was eating steadily, methodically, workmanlike, and after those forty minutes I had made no impression whatsoever on the bulk of the thing sitting in front of me. But still, I kept going.

This... substance is not right. It's uncanny. Sinister.

Think about it: humanity has had a long and violent history getting to where we are today. Some of the most celebrated stories we tell each other are about our triumphs over adversity and gritty will to survive. We're resourceful, ingenious, determined and strong, but most of all we have a survival gene, a sixth sense that alerts us to danger and helps us avoid it.

When I was a teenager I went abseiling down a cliff face. Eight people went before me. I was roped and harnessed up, and I'd seen them roped and harnessed in similar fashion enjoying the descent. And yet I simply could not make my body take that final step off the cliff top. In my brain I knew I'd be safe, but my body simply refused to obey my brain and would not act on the instructions being given to it. Primally, it knew that to step off a sixty foot high cliff would result in certain death, and so it refused to do it. Eventually I think I tricked it by leaning back ever so slowly, until by the time it realised what was happening there was nothing it could do.

So why - if our survival instinct is so strong - would anyone ever have more than one mouthful of Obatzda? In a brief moment of clarity and strength that just happened to coincide with a pretty waitress passing our table, I just managed to blurt out a plea for her to take it away - I think I may have fought her for the plate as she did so. But if that hadn't happened, I'd still be there now, munching away methodically at this never-ending pile of foul-looking slop, for the rest of my life - which wouldn't actually be that long.

It doesn't even taste that nice. I mean it tastes very good, but it's not the taste that's making it so addictive. It's something deeper, something chemical. In the mouth it releases endorphins that instantly make all the pain and anxiety of existence go away. It cradles your head in invisible cheesy hands, strokes your cheek and shushes you, telling you not to worry about the sudden chest pains and pins and needles that seem to have developed in the last few minutes.

If any ingestible, addictive substance should be banned, it's Obatzda - so potent, it completely overrides the human survival gene.

It goes really well with the Erdinger Hefeweisse, by the way.

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

Yummy,yummy and not just the girls!!!

Tandleman said...

One of my favourite German snacks is that.

Cooking Lager said...

Crikey an actual blog on the blogosphere of somewhere that looks appealing and I fully intend to visit. Top Hole. It's the waitresses what done it.

NeilC said...

I used to eat mounds of it in Munich when I was buying hops. It made no difference to my weight I stayed a steady 16 stone!

BLTP said...

I can't believe this would phase someone who's favourite (only) food as a student was Kraft cheese spread (from the jar) washed down with XXXX!!
We almost went to this place the other day sadly was talked out of it will know better next time!

Adrian Tierney-Jones said...

looks good, though how many days was it before you ate again?

Mario (Brewed for Thought) said...

Good to know there's a good place in London to find authentic German b***s.

Justin Roberts said...

You didn't mention the smell of obatzda. A bit like cheesy vomit. A great "favourite" on the snack board in the tents at the Wiesn but after the 2nd Maß it doesn't really matter what it smells like any more.

Laurent Mousson said...

Emmentaler cheese in Obazda ?

AFAIK, it's usually made from firm German camembert, along with some liptauer if available, and then cream cheese, possibly some butter, plus finely chopped onion, crushed caraway seeds, sweet paprika powder, a splash of beer and some ground black pepper...
And yes - it looks revolting, but it seems to spak to your brain and make it very happy... and you can actually buy it pre-mixed in tiny tubs in many German supermarkets. There even are low-fat versions !

Mark, Real-Ale-Reviews.com said...

tThat looks just like I the way I like my food - big mush! I try and turn everything into curry, stew, mash or something that looks like that. Must try it!

Chris said...

It's right around the corner from our local in London, the Old Fountain. We always pass it on our way to Wenlock Arms but have never stopped in.

lizvater said...

I really am trying to keep Mr PBBB alive, despite his best efforts. If anyone sees him out and about, please can they give him a carrot and a multivitamin.

Merideth said...

Obazda is my favorite Bavarian food! It took me the longest time to ask what was in it. I thought for sure it was something gross. Turns out that it was just made of stuff that would clog every artery in my body. Also, my husband and I pass by that place every time we're in London. We visit our friend Paul, the cellarman at The Old Fountain pub.

Andrew Bartle said...

I believe I must find me some of this slop. Beer and pretzels are a must, adding this glob of obatzda might complete the bill for me. If that fails, I can always just stick to the pretzel.

Bailey said...

Yeah, Obatzda is great. Not as good as Schmaltz in my view, but still a real treat.

According to Wikipedia (so it must be true): 'Obatzda is the Bavarian dialect pronunciation of the Standard "High" German Angebatzter, which roughly translates to "mashed one" in English.'

Barry M said...

Have to say, I love Obatzda (and have been known to make some myself), but I've never seen it look quite as horrible, or sound like such an effort to eat, as that! :D

The recipe I use says to use ripe Camembert, Frischkaese, salt & pepper, butter, caraway, paprika, beer and onions. It's great beer food, but I'd hesitate if that lump if shit you pictured was put on a plate in front of me :)

I'm with Bailey though, Schmelzkaese mit Musik is great, though I only learned recently that the "with music" part is to do with the onion-induced flatulence after it. Not that that'd stop me!

BLTP said...

Bailey - Schmaltz ? I knew chicken fat was used in dimplings etc but never heard it used as tasty beer side snack! I suppose it's like having a spot "mucky dripping " on ya bread.

Bailey said...

Yeah, it's bread and dripping. I'm not exactly clear on the different varieties (my German's not great) but I'm pretty sure I've had pork fat, chicken fat and goose fat.

The first time I had it was in a beer hall in Wroclaw in Poland (formerly Breslau, in Germany, of course) at a beer hall in the town square. Every pint came with a slice of bread and dripping. Marvellous. Not healthy. They call it 'smalec' (pr. smaletz).

Barry M said...

Ohh, Schmaltz! I keep mixing up Schmaltz and Schmelz. Can't stand Schmaltz, but the German side of my family like it, especially around Christmas where the fat from the goose is kept and loads of salt and onion is added. Nah, gimme fart-inducing cheese any time :)

Des de Moor said...

Hey Pete, I'd been putting off visiting that place, but now I know they do obatzda, you've persuaded me. It's the combination of cheesy goo and crunchy raw onion that does it for me, though I'd rather have it with black bread than pretzels. The plattekeis -- soft cheese on dark bread with spring onions and radishes -- traditionally served with lambic is a similar, though preferable, experience.

DJ said...

So Pete is the post christmas weight loss all back on after that?

Rod said...

"Cradles your head in invisible cheesy hands..."

Thanks for nothing mate. That line just made me snort coffee all over my keyboard.

Going to have to visit this one next time I'm in The Smoke...

Julie HG said...

That sounds awesome! I'm heading over to the UK in a few weeks, and I'm definitely stopping here while in London over the weekend!!

Duane Magoon said...

I think the type of cheese you use makes all the difference. Emmentaler? That probably explains why it tasted sharp/bitter to your tongue. Every Obazda I've eaten in Germany had a "base" cheese that was very mild (Brie/Camenbert most frequently).

When I attended language school in southern Bavaria, our teacher told us that there are a variety of Obazda recipes (some well-kept family secrets). Fortunately for us, she gave us a chance to use her family's recipe for Obazda. (One secret ingredient was to add a bit of light beer to the mixture to soften the onions.)