“Moulding Surprise” was a stomach-churning concoction of pasta, ketchup, shredded cheese, vinegar, and spices. It probably had other ingredients, too, but I can’t remember anymore. Though I never sampled the dish (which was named for the inventive missionary, not for the British spelling of “molding”), several of my companions ate it regularly.
The mention of Jim’s “Philosophy of Food” course and Greg’s link to “an appreciation of a man who has fed thousands of missionaries” (i.e., the “ramen noodle guy”) has caused me to reflect on missionary food. We had other, more appetizing, traditions than Moulding Surprise in Austria. For breakfast, we made our own muesli, which we smothered in yogurt. Or, on days when we needed a hot breakfast, I would prepare GrieÃŸ (cream of wheat) or Haferflocken (oatmeal) with cream and honey.
For lunch, we were usually away from the apartment, and we often stopped by a local grocery store, where we could order a sandwich to go. This was great fun for a boy from Osseo, Wisconsin who had never seen a deli. The bread was a Semmel (aka “BrÃ¶tchen“), and we selected the meat and cheese from a vast array, sliced to order. The mustard in Austria was nothing like that yellow stuff of my youth, and I have never been satisfied with French’s since my mission. On many days, I drank 500 grams of yogurt to wash the sandwich down, then finished the meal by eating a Milka chocolate bar.
Strangely, I don’t remember much about the dinners, except when we were invited to eat with members. We ate lots of soup in the apartment, more than I ever had eaten growing up. My first companion, a native German, taught me to eat topfen (aka “quark“) with jam on fresh bread. I learned to love apricot jam on my mission. I wonder why most Americans eat so little apricot jam.
The one dinner that was infamous in the Austria Vienna Mission was Cordon Bleu from Gasthaus Schmidt in the 8th District. For some reason, this little restaurant went by the name “Herb’s” among the missionaries, though I could never understand why. In any event, the Cordon Bleu was huge, at least a foot in diameter. And cheap. For a mission conference, we ordered something like a hundred of them. When my mission president saw the ensuing debauchery, he felt ashamed. The missionaries, on the other hand, reveled in the cultural immersion.
When I returned the U.S., the eating habits that I established on my mission faded quickly. The yogurt is different here, and topfen is hard to find. Plus, I like the idea that my Austrian food memories are linked to a place that is so important to me. Though I occasionally buy a small jar of apricot preserves or a Milka bar (which are easy to find in our new global markets), most of the time I reserve those treats for my memory. And the always-hoped-for return to my second home.