A Gastronomic Guide to the Vaterland: What to eat in Germany

When you think of German food, I can bet that the first things that come into your head are sausages and sauerkraut, right? While this is in some parts true (there are sausages I didn’t even know existed and I’ve been to Germany many times), there are many other sides to German cuisine, not just Wurst.

Food shopping is in general very different here. On the whole, supermarkets are smaller and more similar to the likes of Tesco Express or the Co-op and they are certainly not places where you are meant to spend your time browsing or making small talk with ‘that lady from down the road’ or the cashier. Quite the opposite. The whole process is quite stressful and the idea seems to be to pay for your food and get out as quick as possible. The cashier quite literally whizzes your food through the till in record speed and I have had several occasions where I have just had to scoop up all my food (or push it all back into the basket – whichever seems more appropriate) and hand over the biggest bank note I have, in order to avoid the angry stares you receive from the queuing customers when trying to find the change to pay. There is no time to happily pack your bags, find the exact change or get rid of the annoying coppers that have been lurking in your purse for weeks. No, no..

In most German supermarkets, you also either bring your own bags or have to face the 10 cent charge of buying a plastic bag for your shopping. Also very very few supermarkets offer, what I have come to the decision is a luxury, self checkout tills, and if you find one you have scored gold! Along the same lines, Germans are also big fans of recycling. Every time you buy a bottled drink, be that coke, iced tea or just a bottle of water you have to pay an extra fee which is known as Pfand. For this charge (usually between 25 and 50 cent) to be returned to you, it is your job to return the empty bottles to the supermarket and feed them into machines. You then get a receipt which you can use towards your shopping.

More things that differ regarding to food and eating in Germany are the meals and what to expect. Let’s start with breakfast; think bread(rolls), cheese and cold meats. Toast? Cereal? Forget it! Lunchtime is the time for a cooked meal and then dinner, or Abendbrot as they call it, is much like breakfast.. bread(rolls), cheese, cold meats and if you’re lucky, a sausage. Another thing to expect is that every drink sparkles.. as in, is sparkling. They absolutely love bubbles, in water, apple juice (Apfelschorle) and even with wine.

All of this being said, I am actually a fan of German food.. yes, even the sauerkraut! Read on for some of my culinary favs..

Baked Goods

German bakeries are amazing! I have to admit, one of the things that I was most excited about this year were the bakeries. From pastries to the huge variety of breads, there is something for everyone!

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Shown below is my favourite bakery Hinkel in Düsseldorf’s Altstadt, which no matter what day of the week or time of the day, can always be recognised by the queue of people waiting to pick up a loaf of bread.

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Bretzeln

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You probably know these as pretzels and you may think they originate from New York, but there you are wrong. The Germans actually introduced them to North America. Pretzels are most popular in Southern Germany, particularly in Bavaria, and are usually enjoyed with melted cheese, buttered, or as above, slightly salted.

Spätzle

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Basically a type of egg noodle, this dish is particularly popular in Southern Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The name literally means ‘little sparrows’, apparently because before machinery, these were cut by hand and resembled little sparrows. Spätzle can be enjoyed sweet or savoury but is most commonly found in restaurants as Käsespätzle (with cheese) or as a side to meat dishes.

Flammkuchen

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Actually originating from the Alsace, a Flammkuchen is basically thin bread dough topped with creme fraiche, onions and lardons. Legend says, that the creators were Alemannic-German speaking farmers who used to bake bread every week and used the Flammkuchen to test the heat of their wood-fired ovens. Regardless, Flammkuchen is delicious!

Wurst (or Sausages)

Sausages have to be the most famous German food and with more than 1500 different sorts, this does not surprise me. Among the most popular are Bratwurst, made from pork and ground spices, the Wienner (Viennese) made from pork or beef but smoked and usually boiled  in a water bath, as well as Blutwurst or Schwarzwurst (the German take on black pudding).

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Bratwurst

However, different regions also have their own variations – in Bavaria, the Weisswurst and ridiculously popular up here in the Rhineland, Currywurst – normally Bratwurst, cut into pieces with a curry ketchup sauce.

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Currywurst

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Weisswurst

Meat

Broadly speaking, the most popular meat over here is pork although beef and poultry are also widely eaten. In my opinion the ‘most German’ meat dish would include Sauerbraten or Schweinshaxe – typically served with Rotkohl (Red cabbage) and Knödel/ Klöße (a type of boiled potato or bread dumpling).

Sauerbraten (as can be seen below) translates as “sour” or “pickled pork”. The meat, usually beef but sometimes also venison, lamb or pork, is marinated in a mixture of vinegar or wine, water, herbs, spices and seasonings.

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Schweinshaxe, on the other hand, is pork knuckle, which is poached or boiled to extreme tenderness, however still keeping the skin crisp and crunchy. Schweinshaxe is absolutely gigantic is absolutely gigantic! During my stay in Munich two summers ago many that I ate were at least the size (if not bigger) than my own head!!

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Vegetables

Fresh veggies don’t seem to be a big thing here, which took me quite some time to adjust to. The more usual thing is a salad, usually drizzled with a yoghurt based salad dressing, not particularly healthy but tasty all the same. Vegetables that are popular over here though include the Spargel (white asparagus) and of course, the famous pickled cabbage, Sauerkraut or Rotkohl (red cabbage).

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Spargel: usually served with a Hollandaise sauce

Kuchen and Sweet Treats

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These deserved their own special post – for delicious cakes and the like, click here

So that’s a whistle stop tour of German food for you, I have now started getting used to its ways and who knows, if you ever come to Germany maybe you too will be tempted to try some of the dishes that are offered throughout the Vaterland. If you have a favourite dish then maybe let me know what it is and why… Till next time 🙂