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Saumagen, Tafelspitz, Jicama: The Diplomacy of Food

If you were a head of state and a foreign leader came to visit - what would you serve for dinner?

Germany's official international cultural institution, the Goethe Institut, recently posted an article on this topic on its homepage. From it we learn that "it is part of international diplomacy nowadays to strike up personal friendship between leaders, to invite them into your home – and to give them a sense of national cuisine". In the case of Germany, national fare tends to be on the heavy side. Chancellor Helmut Kohl treated his foreign counterparts Francois Mitterrand, Margaret Thatcher, and Ronald Reagan to Saumagen (pig's stomach) and Blutwurst (blood sausage); Japanese Princess Hisako Takamado got to eat Schweinshaxe (leg of pork) with Chancellor Angela Merkel.

I tried to find information on what other countries' leaders put on the table for guests of honor and am happy to report that Austria likes to show off its national cuisine too. In 2006, when it was Austria's turn to take over the EU leadership for six months, the international leaders who came for conferences got a good taste of home: Tafelspitz (boiled beef), Wiener Schnitzel (breaded veal cutlets), and Kaiserschmarren (something like chopped up pancakes; delicious!). According to an article from the Viennese newspaper Der Standard the general idea was that most ingredients should be from Austria too.

And the White House? When President Barack Obama hosted a state dinner for President Felipe Calderón of Mexico in May of this year the menu did not list burgers, fries, and hot dogs but more Mexican inspired food including jicama, ceviche, and mole. The meal was cooked by a guest chef, Rick Bayless from Chicago’s Topolobampo restaurant. White house Executive Chef Cristeta Comerford must have had the day off. Comerford, I am sure, knows all about Kaiserschmarren: before working in the First Kitchen she spent time cooking in France (of course) and Vienna.


Badger said…
I like Tafelspitz - but it is not eh most attractive food I have ever seen. I just love - and cook often - Wiener Schnitzel.
Lorraine Seal said…
When we last spent the weekend in Vienna, we had Tafelspitz at Plauchutt, which is famous for it. In truth, with encouragement (Thank you, Christina!) I'm not sure I would have ordered it, but I found it wonderful. It was very tender and full of flavour. I loved the broth and bits of things in it too.

Now when I wander the Advent markets, I wish I had a better understanding of what the food offerings are and how to ask for them. (Seems silly, I know, but the menu boards sometimes flummox me.) I enjoy what I try, generally. Now I must learn to make some of it myself.

Badger -

I guess you are right about the visual aspect, eventhough good restaurants (such as Plachutta mentioned by Lorraine) manage to make Tafelspitz look appetizing.

Lorraine -

Glad you liked the Tafelspitz. I love to order it when we eat out in Austria but have never cooked it myself. In L.A. I wouldn't even know which cut of meat to buy.
Reese said…
Hi Christina,

After reading Badger's comment, I
searched for images of Tafelspitz. That is quite a huge serving of meat! Kaiserschmarren looks delicious - I'm sure it'd be a big hit anywhere in the world.

Since Christmas is near, what would be a traditional Austrian meal on this occasion?

Reese -

Thank you for your comment. Goose or carp is the traditional Austrian Christmas meal. More Christmas details on my Christmas Day post...

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