Observations leaving the US for Germany – The food

This is part 2 of multi part series, and I’m focusing on the food in this post. Here are the links to all the entries:

Part 1: The buildings & streets

Part 3: The quiet

Well, it’s official, I have left the US for Berlin, Germany. This is part two of a series of observations I’m making comparing my life in the US to the one here. These posts are being made in more or less real-time, within just a few days of arriving, and so encompass my first impressions of it.  This is my second post, and it’s about what I notice about food.

Going out to eat at a restaurant is just about comparable to US prices, maybe slightly cheaper, but not dramatically so. However, the street food, or casual meals, seems dramatically cheaper. For me, this is most apparent when I go get coffee in the morning. A cup of coffee in the US would cost me about $5 or $6 for an espresso drink, and just a cup of coffee would probably be on the order of $3. This morning, I bought a regular coffee with steamed milk, a latte macchiato, and cinnamon pastry. The total was 4 euros. Now, the coffee was a smaller cup than what I might drink in the US, but for that price, I honestly don’t care. If I go to get a hot dog, or slice of pizza for lunch, I can get the entire meal, with a drink, for around 3 or 4 euros.

When it comes to food that is grocery food, the price difference is far more dramatic. Generally, it costs me less than 20 euros to go shopping. To give you a comparison basis, I bought a half kilo of strawberries (a bit more than a pound) for 1 euro. I drink a soda called Club Mate, which is made in Germany, so may not be a fair comparison. In the US, a 0.5 liter bottle costs $3.99. Here? 1 euro. I bought a 1.5 liter sparkling water here for 0.44 euros. On top of that, I can return the bottles to the store (and I’m expected to), which sounds tedious, but since the store is 3 minute walk from the apartment, isn’t hugely onerous. Doing so gives me about 0.2 euros per bottle. I can go to the store with a bag of empty bottles (both plastic and glass, plastic actually gives me more back) and I can pay for half or more of my groceries with it.

From a taste perspective, another thing I’ve noticed is that the fruits and vegetables are much more flavorful than what I would get in the US. The strawberries I mentioned above are smaller, significantly darker than any strawberries I’ve had in the US, and have a ton more flavor. I also purchased some apricots, and I had the same experience. They were smaller, darker, and much more flavor. I’ve noticed the same effect with tomatoes, cucumbers, and bananas as well. I’ve only been here a few days, so I haven’t bought many groceries, and it isn’t true in all areas. For example, cheeses seem to me to be similar, although they are significantly lower cost. Here in Germany, I had a much wider selection of salami and other dried deli meats than I would get in the US, and they are far cheaper. At the local store near me, they had 6 or 7 different types of salami alone, and that doesn’t include any of the soppressata, proscuitto, etc. that are different cuts or preparations of dried meats. Comparing the food that I see, it’s clear that US food is optimized for visual appeal instead of taste. That isn’t to say that the food here doesn’t look good, I don’t want to give the impression that there’s anything wrong with it. The tomatoes don’t look different from a quality perspective (as in overripe, etc.), they’re just smaller and darker with more flavor. When you see it, it becomes obvious that US produce is optimized for visuals.

Restaurant food, while quite similar to US food, does seem to have somewhat smaller portions, although tends to include multiple courses, such as salads or a small desert. The food is different, but I can’t place my finger on exactly why. It’s a bit… simpler in preparation? I can’t put my finger on exactly what is different about it, it comes across more like someone who’s a chef serving you food at home, rather than normal restaurant food. It doesn’t feel as heavy somehow. As I mentioned before, the portions are a bit smaller, and don’t include the fluff that comes with US restaurant food. If I order a burger here, it doesn’t automatically have a side of fries, much less include a salad on top of that. This isn’t entirely true, they have “plates”, but the default isn’t to include all the various sides that you’ll get in the US. Although I’m eating somewhat less than I did in the US, because the food tastes richer, I’m not finding myself as hungry. I feel like a bit like this is a manifestation of the empty calories that are often written about, but I can’t be sure, it could all just be in my mind or a symptom of jet-lag.

Those are my immediate observations on food and cost of living style issues. I’m splitting my observations into multiple posts, I’m planning on writing a bit more about transportation, the people, and the nightlife here.

Check out the next article in the series here, or jump directly to other entries.

Part 1: The buildings & streets

Part 3: The quiet

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