Your menu has a dirty mouth, and you might not even realize it. That spicy pasta – spaghetti alla puttanesca – literally means “whore’s spaghetti.” In the U.K., you’ll find “spotted dick” on store shelves. In Alpine Europe, double-baked rye bread is called “Negerbrot.” (The last part of the word means “bread,” and you can probably figure out the first part.) They’re all legitimate food items, but Austria is hoping some of these names have caused offense for the last time.
The country routinely serves up traditional dishes whose names point to a time far past. “Zigeunerschnitzel” is a typical pork cutlet topped with a sauce made of peppers and onions. But when you order it, you’re asking for a plate of “Gypsy steak.” “Mohr in Hemd” is a dessert made with chocolate cake and whipped cream. Translated, its name means “Moor in a shirt,” a nod to the North Africans that have migrated to Europe throughout the centuries.
“Discrimination is no laughing matter, even when it happens unwittingly or because of tradition,” Alexander Pollak, a spokesman for Austrian equality organization SOS Mitmensch, told the Tiroler Tageszeitung. And Austria’s national catering association says these politically incorrect dishes would taste just as sweet if they were named “chocolate cake with cream” and “very dark bread.” That’s why the organization is looking to strike all negative names from the nation’s menus, based on a recommendation in its most recent newsletter. “Are discriminatory food labels really necessary?” they ask, recommending that chefs and maîtres d’hôtel consider changing the dishes’ names.
But is this request taking political correctness too far? Harald Ultsch of the Tyrol Chamber of Commerce says that these are traditional dishes that are “absolute classics.” He worries that this sensitivity over a cultural name like the Moors could force the renaming of other traditionally-named foods including the Hamburger and Frankfurter. While this is simply a recommendation from Austria’s catering association, it comes from a presumably high level, so perhaps some restaurants will heed its naming advice. This raises the age-old dilemma: should civility trump custom?
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