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.
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:
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.