Friday, June 23, 2006

Bacon slicers & kettles: a philosophical view

A lot of people here Switzerland own small bacon slicers.

They really are just like them soddin' big things that yer find in delicatessens, but, erm, smaller. Yer go to one of the Swiss 'white goods' outlets (Fust AG, which is a sort of alpine Comet) and there's usually rows of the bloody things, of all manner of size, power, thinness, thickness. Some are alloy, some are made of of stainless steel, most come in all sorts of colours, and (inevitably) there's a biege one with a wanky picture of a flower on the side. In fact, one has come to learn that the baby bacon slicer is an essential piece of kitchen apparatus, that no Swiss household could possibly live without.

Unlike the kettle.

No one has kettles in this country, apart from expat Brits and the odd Italian immigrant who bought one by mistake and now use it as a plant pot. When I finally persuaded my Swiss wife (after years of protracted negotiations) that a kettle would be a good idea, there was exactly one model available in the local Fust. One. In black. So we bought it. And then it sort of caught on, 'cos mother-in-law (Hanni Honey), sister-in-law (Sister), wife's-best-friend (Phwor! Slaver! Slaver! Down boy!), you name it, they all bought kettles.

And they're all bloody identical black ones, made by a Swiss company I've never heard of. One can only imagine that the owner of the manufacturing company must have ramped up production all the way up to two a week to meet the frenzied increase in demand.

Now if yer pop into a British outlet (the fore-mentioned Comet would do) then yer'll find just one bacon slicer offered (Black, Made in Switzerland), but row upon row of kettles. And they come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, specifications. They come in alloy, stainless steel, different colours, and also (inevitably) there'll be a beige one with a wanky picture of a flower on the side.

So, clearly we're getting close to identifying an important cultural difference between yer Swiss and yer Brit. Yer Swiss likes to slice stuff at home, and yer Brit likes to boil water. (I have a powerful urge to digress as the culinary reputations that said differences have earned the respective countries, but to be quite frank, I couldn't be arsed). Oh, and a minority, but an important minority of Brits and Swiss, want their kitchen apparatus to come in beige with a wanky picture of a flower on the side.

Hmm.

The thing is that these Swissy people don't use their bacon slicers for slicing bacon at all. (gasps from the audience). That's because yer Swiss buys bacon for one purpose, and one purpose only: for frying in tiny little pieces with onions and garlic to make their potato roesti taste more interesting. And it comes straight off the super-market shelves pre-chopped to save arduous labour in the kitchen. Therefore, buying bacon is not a nice experience for yer Brit abroad, and trying to assemble the little bits to make up a proper bacon sarnie is an experience that few repeat after the first desperate experiment. Bad enough having a slice of bacon fall out of yer bacon butty, imagine what it's like having a whole pile of little bacony bits tumbling out.

What about cooked meats?

Well, even a cursory glance at the deli counter in Switzerland will reveal a line of people explaining in exquisite detail how they want their cooked meats cut by the deli bloke behind the counter. And this being Switzerland, the deli bloke will cut that meat to weapon's grade levels of precision. Yer want 200g of cooked ham? You want it in 6 slices? You'll get 199.998g in 6 identically sized slices, no problemo. Ergo, the Swiss don't use their home bacon slicers for slicing cooked meats, either.

So what do the Swiss use their bacon slicers for?

Well, here's the thing. Yer average Swiss eats far more raclette than fondue. (more gasps) Tis true. Now bear with me, 'cos yer average Brit understands the concept of a fondue pot of melted cheese, but knows buggah all about raclette.

(ahem)

Yer traditional raclette is done as follows: take a whopping big, full raclette cheese (imagine a drum-shaped edam cheese of yer childhood dreams/nightmares) and then chop it in half vertically. Yer left with half a drum with an exposed flat bit, right? Right. The flat bit's the coal seam of the whole operation, if yer catch my drift. Anyways, this goes into a thingummy-jig, which has a grill heating element over the top which melts the flat bit that lies beneath. Yer leave it for a few minutes until it bubbles good and proper, and then skim the few millimetres of melted cheese off the top onto a passing plate. Stuff said cheese back under the thingy, and a few minutes later passing plate number two gets the next splodge.

Yer still with me?

Probably not, but one will soldier on regardless.

Anyways, needless to say the above operation's a serial process, and believe me the owners of plates three through to eight are now bitching like hell because their splodge lucky number hasn't come up. Worse still, the contents of plates one to two were wolfed down in seconds, so not only are the 'lucky ones' still hungry, but they also have to put up with the baleful glares of those still awaiting their grub. And nowt can glare like a glaring Swissy.

So, the Swiss being Swiss, and consensus and harmony being of paramount importance, they invented a sort of communal 'centre of table' raclette grill thingy. Everyone gets a small metal palette, onto which one chucks a sliced piece of raclette cheese. (Aha! Sliced!) And said grill thingy can grill up to eight (yes eight!) small palettes full of cheese in parallel, 'cos everyone gets their own grilly slot to play with. I usually claim Claudia's slot after she's no longer hungry, and keep two on the go. Ok, it's not particularly traditional, but it's a more sociable and equitable experience, resulting in far less forks being stabbed into the backs of people's necks.

Sliced! I said sliced! Aha! (smug) And so how exactly does one slice the cheese, eh?

Well?

Exactly! You've got it! Brilliant, you lot are. You saw it coming, right? Yes indeed, yer got to get up early to fool someone as insightful as yer good self, eh? Yes indeedy; in exactly the same manner as Swiss bacon comes pre-chopped, Swiss raclette cheese (non-traditional method) comes out of the supermarket perfectly pre-sliced, and perfectly pre-sized to slide onto a non-traditional raclette palette with no wasteful gaps around the edges.

So what do the Swiss use their bacon slicers for? I'll be fcuked if I know.

1 comment:

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