Friday, December 16, 2011

Feeling Ripped Off at the Christmas Market 2011

Just back from the Vancouver Christmas Market set up on the plaza at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre downtown. It ends on Christmas Eve.

I was curious about some of the "Traditional German Market Food and Beverages" mentioned on the Christmas Market website, but was wholly unprepared for the prices. $8 sausages? $9 waffles? My expectations were high. If it were a free event like Greek Day on Broadway, I might have toned down expectations. But this event seemed to be touted as being an authentic German import, and on top of any costs was $5 per adult in admission fees.

My dining buddy and I started with a big savory waffle from Das Waffelhaus, supposedly made with spices mixed in ($7.50). For $1.50 you could have bacon bits (real bacon, not bacon bits with artificially reddish orange fake "bacon" you can find in supermarkets) mixed in, bringing the total to $9 for a waffle just over 1 centimeter thick and maybe 6 inches wide.
It was surprisingly bland. If anything was even slightly savory, it would have to be the bacon bits, which cost extra. At $9? Pass.
There are also sweet waffles as well, which we didn't try. But at the prices they are charging at the Christmas Market, get the 10% off coupon if you're going to try anything at all.

Artisan Bake Shoppe on Urbanspoon
Next up, Artisan Bake Shoppe Ltd's Winzerschmaus ("winemaker's feast"): Organic Ciabatta bread topped and baked with a mixture of sour cream, cheese and ham. For $4.50 you got half a Ciabatta bun (about the surface area of a playing card and just under a centimeter thick). It's better hot, so definitely say yes if they offer to oven it for you, but before you walk away, test the cheese to make sure it is actually hot (ours wasn't). The taste was predominantly sour cream and some cheese, which for me flattened all the other tastes. Concept is good, tastes better hot, but was it worth it for $4.50?

Dussa's Ham and Cheese on Urbanspoon
Next we went by Dussa’s Ham & Cheese to check out their raclette -- tasty raclette (a type of cheese) melted on fresh baked focaccia bread served with cornichons (pickled gherkins) and bündnerfleisch (seasoned air-dried beef). A sample plate was on display, showing a small bun cut in half and covered with melted cheese. The bun was about the size of a dinner roll cut in half. Just two slices of bündnerfleisch and two cornichons. For this, they wanted $10.
The cheese smelled good, but we quietly gave it a pass.

We also skipped Das Deutsche Nudel Haus, which offered a "German Pasta". It didn't look or sound as interesting as the online blurb, so we basically didn't see what was special about it to command the prices advertised, especially when I saw the size of the bowls. Still, the Schupfnudeln at least sound interesting and you may want to give it a go: "Schupfnudeln are traditionally made from a special type of wheat flour called Weizendunst or rye in combination with eggs and several spices that give them their delicious taste. They are traditionally given their distinctive shape (similar to an elongated American football) through a process of hand shaping and rolling. They are then served in different ways: as savory dish with sauerkraut and bacon, or sweet with sugar and cinnamon. If really hungry, you will also be able to enjoy the noodles with a hot bowl of soylanka soup or hot apple cider or tea."

We were looking for something more filling for our money and decided to try an $8 sausage-in-a-bun from I think it was Black Forest Meat & Sausages. There were four types of sausages on the grill. Two white, two red. We tried to suss out the difference between them, but all we got was that one of the red ones was predominantly beef, the rest were "traditional German". Oookay. It randomly choose the Weisswurst, here served up like a hot dog (grilled) rather than boiled. It was then popped into a bun and topped with fried onion and surprisingly bland sauerkraut. Even the sausage was bland. Tender, and nicely prepared that way. But bland. For $8. Packs of 6 sausages were being sold frozen for $12.

The last thing we tried was a pork knuckle sandwich from Hendl & Haxn Rotisserie. The multi-tiered rotisserie showed beautifully crispy whole chickens and pork knuckles, and it smelled wonderful. I was considering a whole pork knuckle ($12) but in the end we opted for a more presented and balanced presentation with the sandwiches. It's two slices of bread with no crust. Topped with assorted veggies you might find in Subway. And -- I kid you not -- maybe two (2) tablespoons worth of meat. Not even heaping tablespoons.
Yes, that little meat.
If you pulled out the meat, you would discover it is moist and tender, very well done. But for $6? Really?
Get the whole chicken or whole pork knuckle. That way you'd get more meat, a HOT meal, and some crispy skin/fat.

Something I really liked about the Christmas Market set up was the many sheltered tables where you could stand around and have some where to put down your plate for a moment. On each table are directions to the nearest recycling station as well. This means saving on chair space, plus people eating can be herded aside to keep the human traffic moving along. Plus, the sheltered space also means if it's a rainy day, you can eat without getting wet.

We ended the evening at the rather interesting Käthe Wohlfahrt, Germany's top Christmas ornament and decor company. You can ask the staff there to relate the story of how the curious inconvenience around looking for a music box for American friends led to starting a company that is Christmas year-round. Some of the prices in there will astound you -- like a furry little brown bear, small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, with a $63 price tag. But a lot of the items, especially the Christmas Tree decorations, nutcrackers, and glass bird are just plain beautiful.

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