Sometimes, of a weekend, when Alex and I have enjoyed a lie-in, I will come drowsily awake and roll over to face my wife. She will smile at me from her nest of blankets and I will smile back, and her first words of the day to me will be, “I need to eat.”
This is my way of explaining that, in our house, food is a very serious thing.
In a sense, it’s ingrained into the culture over here. An Austrian tradition that takes place across the country every lunch time in every office building (back when people worked in office buildings) is the habit of saying “Mahlzeit!”. As we learnt yesterday, German is a very literal language, and literally translated Mahlzeit means “meal time”.
Now, the convention of giving a pleasant greeting over a meal is not one unique to Austria, but this expression caught my attention as it isn’t solely used when someone spies you about to tuck in to your lunch, but is said broadly anytime from midday until about two pm every time anyone encounters anyone else. You could be catching a lift, heading to a meeting, or making a beeline for the bathroom, and along the way you will be met with a round of enthusiastic “Mahlzeit!” Just a whole nation walking around hallways and offices calling out “Meal time! Meal time!” like excited three year olds.
Food is very important to the Austrian people.
Given that restaurants, fast-food joints, cafes, and bars are all on a global hiatus, a lot of people are now finding themselves also having to care deeply about food and food preparation as they contemplate the prospect of opening their own eatery, also known as cooking at home.
Luckily for me, my wife’s deep passion and concern for food has translated itself into her being an amazing cook. With a back-catalogue of delicious and traditional Austrian meals, she can step into the kitchen with a handful of ingredients and step back out with a hot and nutritious meal that is a delight to eat. The ten kilograms I’ve put on since moving here from London is a testament to how much I enjoy my wife’s cooking.
I have taken on the role of apprentice in the kitchen and am slowly learning her mysterious Austrian arts, and am proud to say I can now independently whip up a mean batch of Nockerl should the need call. I don’t want to brag, but Alex and I have even released our own cookbook.
As a rule, we mostly cook at home, even when there’s not a worldwide pandemic on driving us into apartments like moles underground, and so far we haven’t had too hard a time adjusting to the new restrictions. We try our best to eat cleanly during the working week, having a small breakfast, small lunch, and a home-cooked dinner that usually incorporates a little of everything from the food pyramid. On Friday nights, however, having completed a full working week like good boys and girls deserving a treat, we indulge in a little takeaway.
Luckily, some restaurants are currently keeping their kitchens open and still doing delivery, so we are still able to sit back to some pizza, wine, and a movie at the end of the week. My thanks go out to these delivery men and women, these savoury-smelling saints, for ensuring I can still partake in my feast of grease and fat.
The deliveries themselves have gone from the friendly drop-off of an evening meal to something more akin to a drug deal. Last Friday, for instance, we received a call confirming the address and were told the delivery would take place in five minutes. We waited, palms a little sweaty with excited nerves, and each of us jumped when the doorbell rang. We checked the peep hole, saw the coast was clear, and opened the door to find our package waiting for us on the doormat. Glancing around, we spotted our delivery man slinking out the building’s doors and he threw us a sly wink and a smile before disappearing like a wraith into the night. We hurriedly collected our goods and retreated indoors to the couch for a hit of that sweet sweet junk food.
On the weekends, we go for a two-meals-a-day system, which allows us to eat to our fill without feeling too guilty about it later. A big breakfast/brunch ties us over until a slightly more carb-heavy dinner than we would normally have during the working week. Last Saturday, I was feeling fancy and so whipped up a batch of crepes (crepes are really just flour, eggs, and milk, so not fancy at all, but they come from France so I let myself feel fancy when eating them).
Snacks are also important, so we keep a collection of fruit in the house to tie us over between meals. And when an apple just won’t cut it, I find eating a handful of grated cheese straight from the bag when Alex isn’t looking really gives me the protein hit I need to get through to dinner.
With no social outings on the calendar for the foreseeable future, mealtime is now the highlight of the day. So whatever you’re dining on during the time of COVID, I recommend a balance of something good and something good for you. Make sure you enjoy it. And make sure every day between 12 and 2 you shout “Meal time!” at anyone you see.
I also recommend a piece of my wife’s cake. If you sneak up to our back window, we’d be happy to slip you a piece as if it were a baggie of Mary Jane.
P.S. If anyone was enticed and intrigued by Austrian cooking and our very professional cook book, you can download a pdf copy here: Cookery the Austrian Way.