Visiting America

Surf and turf

This week I flew to Orlando, Florida. It was a business trip and it was just two and a half days. Not much time for fun so, but we made best out of it. It was in fact my first time in the United States, which means that I didn’t really know what to expect from this country. In particular, I did not know what to expect in terms of food. Would it be all about fast food? Thankfully, it wasn’t.

I guess no other cooking style is so innate American as is barbecuing. There are different ways of it, some guys even differentiate between “barbecuing” and “grilling”. But it always has to do with cooking on open fire.

On our first evening in Orlando, we were invited for dinner at a restaurant called FishBones. When we walked to the restaurant (yes, we walked, completely un-American), we talked a bit and agreed that we were really looking forward to dinner. We knew nothing about that place, except that it was obviously a fish restaurant. And since we all liked fish, this seemed a good choice. Well, it proved even better than we had imagined. When we stepped into FishBones, we couldn’t believe our eyes. There was an open wood fire pit right in the middle of the restaurant and the cooks were grilling fish and meat in front of us. We found that really crazy. An open fire grill inside a building. But this seems no problem in the land of unlimited possibilities.

The menu card was rather simple. Fish or steaks, all grilled. I decided to have tuna. It was delicious. A perfectly fresh specimen, crisp outside, rare inside. And rather unusual for us Germans, it was a really large piece (I guess about 300 g) with no need of a side-dish. Let me introduce you to a terrible German word called “Sättigungsbeilage”. It’s hard to translate into English, but it means that you can save protein (meat, fish = expensive) by adding carbohydrates to a dish (potatoes, noodles, rice = cheap). Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with carbohydrates in general. Yet, when you have a really good piece of meat (or fish), a “Sättigungsbeilage” only distracts from all the pleasures. At FishBones, we got the mere fish. I really loved it.

Well, we all loved it. So much that we decided to come back on our second evening. I didn’t think that it could get even better. But it did. I had lobster with filet mignon. Classic surf and turf. Grilled, of course. The lobster was quite good, the filet was terrific. Well aged, very tender, crisp outside, medium inside. And again: a large piece. Just wonderful.

So what have I learned about American food culture in these two days? Americans worship meat. It’s the centerpiece of a good meal. And they know how to barbecue it. At least, this is what you will find when you look beyond the fast food temples.

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