By Alice Lapuerta
My kids are watching CBeebies, the children’s program of BBC, which we were not able to receive until now. It is hard to tell who is more excited: my kids or me! My philosophy is that if they must watch TV, it better be in English or Spanish. Modern technology is fantastic, is it not? TV is a good opportunity for bringing some of that Other culture into your living room.
So my kids are sitting in an Austrian living room, watching on a Korean TV how bagels are made in a British supermarket.
“Bagels are round pieces of dough with a hole in it,” says the narrator in impeccable Queen’s English. (hear, hear! A superb opportunity for my kids to pick up on that lovely accent!). We watch how they take out tray after tray of golden bagels from the oven. The girl bites into one and looks into the camera with a big grin. Our stomachs growl.
“Mami, I want a bagel too! For breakfast!” This was to be expected.
“Unfortunately we don’t have any bagels … you can have a Kipferl, though.” A Kipferl is the Austrian version of a bagel: it is an incomplete bagel.
“No, I don’t want a Kipferl. I want a BAGEL! Like the girl is eating on TV!”
Yeah, me too. The last time I had bagels was when we visited our friend in London a year ago.
The thing is that the baker in The Village here doesn’t bake bagels. It’s just not done here. A bagel is one of those Anglo-American things. I try to explain that to my kids.
My daughter refuses to accept that. She has a solution for everything: “Well then, Mami, no problem. YOU can bake bagels for us!”
“How about we put two Kipferl together and pretend it is a bagel?” I ask hopefully. I mean, how much of a difference is there, really? Bread is bread, right? Who cares what you call it?
Wrong. There is this profound cultural and linguistic importance attached to how one correctly labels one’s piece of bread, whether it is circular, semi-circular, oblong, ring or sickle-shaped. We tend to get quite obnoxious about it, too.
In Ecuador, abuelita used to serve us cachitos for breakfast. I never really understood where the “cachito” comes from. Really. Just call it croissant, will ya?
“No. A cachito is a cachito,” insists The Hubby.
Here in Austria, we have something truly special. We have The Semmerl! We even have historical anecdotes about our Semmerl, just to prove how special it is: After the Turks pulled off their troops from Vienna in 1683, sulking because they weren’t able to conquer those infidels, the Viennese bakers gloated and thought of something truly fantastic. In commemoration of Austria’s narrow escape from Islamification, they proceeded to bake their bread in the shape of a half moon (Kipferl) and a star (Semmerl), the symbols of the Ottoman empire. Along with it they sipped liters of that devilish black stuff that the Turks accidentally forgot in front of the gates of Vienna. Kipferl, Semmerl and our famous Viennese coffee. Here you have Austrian history in a gulp and a bite. They also say that Marie Antoinette later brought the Kipferl to France, where they insisted on re-christening it croissant….
Despite its Turkish roots, Semmerl is what any proper Austrian will eat for breakfast today. It is our staple food here. This, however, confounds our German neighbor up north. They just don’t get it. ‘Cause they insist on calling our Semmerl a “Brötchen!” This will make any Austrian shudder and cringe down to their very core.
Next time you come visit us in the Village, I dare you to go to our local baker here and ask for “Brötchen”. You’ll probably get driven out of The Village pelted with stones. The Semmerl versus Brötchen conflict can cause a bloody brotherly feud, a war of the roses, a North versus South civil war, mind you.
Ah, these lovely linguistic and cultural differences over food!
And now, pass that Kipferl, please.
What foods are unique to your culture? What foods do you feel strong associations with? What are the foods that you are making sure your children are familiar with?