June 4, 2012 by marieelia
For me, a balanced, healthy diet is part of a balanced, healthy life, along with a few other important things, like routine. My house may not be the cleanest, but it’s neat. I hang my keys on a hook by the door every time I come inside. I keep my purse on the floor next to my dresser. We wash dishes after every meal. We keep the eggs on the second shelf, all the way on the left, in the refrigerator. Why? Because not worrying about lost things or undone chores keeps my head clear(er).
Similarly, keeping healthy food—snacks and meal components—in the house helps me to eat in a way that supports my well-being. If I come home from work in a blood-sugar-crash, I can grab almonds or dried fruit or rice cakes and have a healthy snack within seconds. Buying fresh vegetables multiple times per week ensures that we can throw together a good meal without much planning on those weird or busy nights. I build a support system in lots of ways. But what happens when I am taken fully out of this environment?
I spent 4 days in Frankfurt, Germany, last week, plus two travel days. Traveling itself presents challenges to eating well. I have figured out by now to pack my purse full of nuts and Kind bars for emergency snacks. But what about whole meals when you’re at the mercy of an airline or airport? What about when you can’t even read a menu? I was given 10 days’ notice before this work-related trip, just enough time to rummage up my German dictionary, figure out a few basics, and research some things about Frankfurt. It actually turned about to be one of the best weeks I’ve experienced in a really long time, and a lot of that had to do with the very things that challenged me—being alone, being unable to communicate easily, being in an unfamiliar city. But one of the biggest challenges was not just eating well but deciding how well to eat.
Some people decide that, when they’re on vacation—and especially when they travel to another country—they will break from their usual eating habits; however, if you need to eat a certain way because of allergies or other health problems, you can’t do that, and you need to figure out how to navigate the culture and language to safeguard your health. I’m not allergic to gluten or sugar, but I knew that if I ate too much of them, I would feel awful and not enjoy my time. A few factors converged on my first day Frankfurt that forced me to make some decisions right away: 1) I landed at 7:30am, which felt like 1:30am despite a couple hours of sleep on the plane. 2) I had to pass through customs, which took another half an hour (pretty quick, actually!) and figure out how to take the commuter train and the subway to my hotel, so I’d already had a full morning before I even figured out breakfast. 3) Sundays in Europe = shops are closed, though restaurants are usually open.
I opted for comfort and familiarity right away and beelined to a kiosk for a large coffee and a scone as soon as I was free of customs. By the time I made it to the hotel, with the help of a young German lady who directed me to the correct subway, I was kind of wired on little sleep and the coffee. I gave in to a three hour nap. When I finally headed out to explore the area (the Domplatz—the plaza around the Cathedral—which is adjacent to Römerberg, the old city), I wanted a meal. Instead I found myself at a café that had stopped serving food (it was 4pm). I opted for more coffee and continued on my way. I spent an exhilarating couple of hours just walking and wandering, able to use the Cathedral as a homing device so I didn’t get lost, even when I meandered across the river.
Finally I set to finding a restaurant for dinner, settling on a café across from my hotel. The menu was in German, and I could decipher most of it (oops, left my dictionary at the hotel), but when I spotted Grüne Soße (a sauce made of fresh borage, sorrel, garden cress, chervil, chives, parsley, and salad burnet), I knew I had to order it. I had no idea what else was in the dish, but I ordered a beer (what else would you drink in a German café on a warm spring night?) and waited for my dinner. The plate that arrived was completely unexpected and turned out to be one of the best things I ate in Frankfurt.
After dinner I took a short walk and found whatever the German equivalent of a bodega is, purchasing a large bottle of water, a bottle of Apfelweinspritzer, and some soap to replace the weird shower gel in the hotel. Frankfurt is known for apfelwein—cider—rather than beer. I wanted find an outdoor place—apfelweingarten?—to have some, but I settled for this little bottle of cider spritzer for the time being, chosen partly for its great label.
At the end of my first day in Frankfurt, I felt satisfied and proud that I’d found my way to my hotel, explored the neighborhood, and been “brave” (for me) enough to order something I wanted to try, even though there were familiar and surely very good items on the menu. Plus, unless there was secret gluten in the sauce, I think dinner was gluten-free, with the exception of the beer!
Soon, part two; or, more adventures in eating and exploring Frankfurt.