Europe’s funny food chain

Picture: S. Popp
A hungry columnist. Ready to start
a chips war (i.e."Patatje Oorlog").

Hello everyone! How's your linguistic appetite? Don't worry if you're starving, because this time you are going to be fed literally with a big plate of linguistically interesting food from all across Europe. Very often, dishes get labels that are peculiar and reflect the customs of the country in which they are produced and enjoyed. However – as is the case with many words – we don't necessarily get what we might expect from looking at these labels.

As an English speaker, you might not really feel very inclined to have some "Jussi Pussi" for your next meal in Helsinki. It's the name of popular buns from Finland. Over to Eastern Europe: what could be a better treat for a traveller after a long night out in Prague than the Czech energy drink that will help you 'stand up' without any further complications? Go get some "Erektus"! And, whatever you do in the Netherlands, beware of their dangerous culinary products: always have a robust umbrella at hand against the temptations of "Hagelslag" ('hailstones') – candy sprinkles usually made from chocolate which are eaten on a piece of buttered bread, and never get involved in a "Patatje Oorlog", a 'chips war' that breaks out between fries, mayonnaise, ketchup, raw onions and peanut sauce – the first battle probably being fought in your stomach. To motivate your belly's defences effectively, though, it is highly recommended that you give a loud drum roll on your war drum with some "chicken drumsticks"!

Cheesy confusions

What would you expect to get in Cologne when you actually don't have to use the chicken's drumsticks in battle but instead want to eat one half of the bird? Of course, Cologne is not only famous for its carnival, and, of course, not even Germans would expect to get a roll of rye bread with a thick slice of mature gouda cheese when ordering 'half a cock' ("Halver Hahn"). But this is the case because a pub's customer once ordered only half a cheese roll and the dialect of the Cologne area made the last two words of this order ("Can I only have one half?"; "Kann isch nur en halve han?") sound so similar to the half of a cock ("Halve Hahn") that the waiter continued to call the roll "Halver Hahn". So, for Cologne, remember: half a cock is cheese!

Picture: vandalay / photocase.com
This is it: The a German "Leberkäse Brötchen"
(english: liver-cheese sandwich).

But what about the other, more widely popular German food which bears the suspicious name "Leberkäse"? It literally translates into 'liver cheese'. But there is neither liver nor cheese in it. It is a loaf of meat mash that is baked like bread. Why should one give a thing names that don't have anything to do with it whatsoever?! The solution is linguistic and quite straightforward: the word "Leber" in "Leberkäse" developed from "Laib" (the word for 'loaf'), and Käse in this case simply designates the solid mass of meat. And, somehow, this makes sense when we think about English "Head Cheese" (also called "Brawn") which again is made of meat pieces from the head of a calf or a pig, but doesn't contain any cheese at all.

Let's have a look down south, to Europe's warmer climates. Did you know that the delicious Italian "Pizza Calzone" got its name from the fact that its dough is folded like a trouser leg ("calzoni")? Of course, the jocular southern temper was also involved in an almost brutal linguistic creation of the Italian cuisine. "Strozzaprete" is the name of a thick pasta dish; it means 'priest-stranglers', and forms one of the hundreds of words and phrases that humourously allude to the omnipresent Roman Catholicism in Italy. Something else you might not expect is the origin of the label of Spain’s most important food export, the famous "Tapas". Their name denotes a 'cover' or a 'lid' and comes from the old habit of placing a slice of bread or piece of ham on top of one's wine glass in order to keep out insects. The edible lid is thus supposed to be the precursor of the modern-day tapas.

The Spotted Dick

However strange the nomenclature of this European food chain may be, there is one dish which gives virtually everyone a good laugh when hearing it for the first time: the English "Spotted Dick". Now, what's that, and – more importantly – who wants to eat it?! Well, knowing the etymology of "spotted" and "dick" in this culinary context is obviously vital for savouring the great-tasting suet pudding which contains currants and is commonly served with custard. "Spotted" refers to the currants, resembling spots, and "dick" is supposed to be either a corruption of the last syllable of the word "pudding" or of the word "dough". Another explanation for the more scandalous half of the name is that it comes from the German word for "thick" ("dick"), referring to the thickened suet mixture.

All right! This was just a linguistic taster of Europe's culinary diversity. So go on and enjoy your real meal, and – mind the cheese!

Spotted Dick Recipe

Ingredients for Spotted Dick (Serves 4):

  • 100g / 4oz Self Raising Flour
  • A pinch of Salt
  • 75g / 3oz Shredded Suet
  • 75g / 3oz Fresh Breadcrumbs
  • 50g / 2oz Caster Sugar
  • 175g / 6oz Currants
  • Grated rind of 1 Lemon
  • Approx. 5 tbsp Milk

How to make Spotted Dick

  • Place all the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl and mix thoroughly. Make a well in the centre of the mixture then gradually add the milk to form a soft dough.
  • Knead lightly until smooth.
  • Turn onto a floured surface and roll out to an oblong about 22 x 28cm or 9 x 11
  • Bring a large pan of water to the boil.
  • Make a pleat in a large sheet of greaseproof paper or a clean tea towel, to allow for expansion, wrap the pudding loosely, tying each end with string (like an Xmas cracker)
  • Steam or boil for 2 hours.
  • Serve your Spotted Dick hot with custard
IN -1022 DAYS