Adventures in German Cuisine

Sunday January 24, 2010

My favourite Bavarian cookbook is subtitled 100 Rezepte zum Schlemmen und Schmecken.  While that might sound like a whole lot of gobbledygook to you, the words themselves sound like a watering mouth, and translate to "feast and taste".  German cuisine is everything the experts tell us is bad: carbs, salty kraut, and yeasty beer.  In other words, homey and filling.  (And anyway, what do experts know?)

In these chilly winter months, you need a little something to warm you through and through.  And while your vision of a typical German probably includes a chubby lederhosen-clad fellow swaying to oom-pa-pa, you couldn't be more wrong.  Germans are a fit and healthy folk who enjoy their food, not just eat for sustenance.

Like other European countries, Germany is a mix of distinct groups that evolved mostly independently for centuries until consolidation during the last 200 years.  Travel but 20 miles in any given direction and you will find a new dialect and menu.  It does a disservice to the topic to try to represent typical German cuisine without tipping my hat at the regional differences.  And so, it is with a generous nod to the north and east that I take you on a selective gastronomic adventure through the west and south where we spent several years working and studying.

Breakfast

The most important meal of the day it is indeed, and the Germans know it.  You will start with buns fresh from the baker's oven (forget about buying Day Old fare - no self respecting baker will sell that hog's breakfast) that you picked up just around the corner.  Top it with deli meats that are made without preservatives and must be eaten within a day or two of preparation, then slide a warm soft-boiled egg, fruit dish, and sliced tomatoes alongside your hearty morning coffee.  Hint: if the spoon doesn't stand on its own in the cup, it isn't strong enough.  Cheerios?  They haven't heard of such a thing.

With a proper breakfast in you, the right start to the day is made and you have plenty of energy to walk or cycle to work.

Sausage, kraut, potatoes, and red cabbage (Photo credit: LowerEatSide)

Lunch

The main meal of the day is often taken at home with the family.  German children are usually dismissed from school shortly after noon, and expect a solid lunch of meat, potatoes and veggies awaiting them.  That's right: potatoes.  There must be 800 different ways to cook a spud, and the Germans know most of them.  Serve them beside sauerkraut that has been sauteed with onions to take the sting out, leaving simply a delicious tang that blends perfectly with a lean slice of pork roasted under apple slices.  On the side, you might try rotkohl - cooked sweet red cabbage often served with raisins.  The obligatory soft pretzel takes up half your plate, but it's so worth it.

Stuffed to the gills, you might be tempted to nap but are better advised to walk it off.  Leave your guilt from the overindulgence at the table, since from now until bedtime you will only get a light supper to tide you over the midnight hours.

Dinner

After a productive day's work, a light dinner is called for.  Germans will often stop in the biergarten for a few hours for drinks with friends.  A cold plate of meats and cheese might accompany a large salad, often featuring asparagus or tomatoes.  A light ale or brown wheaty beer is a given - but only from the local producer.  If you ask for a national label or (heaven forbid) import, the waiter will serve it with a certain politely veiled disdain.

(from left) Pilsner, 1-meter beer, Weizen beer

Proper beer dispensing is an art form.  Like the variation in victuals, there are many types of beer and to every one belongs a particular glass.  We don't swig out of the bottle here.  Herby yeast beer is only served in a tall top-flared glass or krug with a full head of foam; pilsner comes in a slender glass with a regionally-determined quantity of foam.  Kölsch, the beloved beer of Cologners, is often ordered by the meter: a meter-long wooden shell fitted with holes large enough to hold 10 or more small glasses filled with the smooth local brew.  Not an open invitation for a frat party - a meter of bier is meant to be shared with friends (and yes, also for frat parties).

So what about the stereotypical bratwurst, you wonder?  You pick these up from a street vendor and eat them in a mini baguette with curry ketchup.  Even better are the Munich white sausages - weisswurst - which are only sold at the butcher until lunchtime on the day they were made so they won't spoil.  Locals only eat them in pairs, but don't ask why.  Half the customs go back to the Dark Ages, and a German will simply reply "because that is how it's done, friend."

How can Germans eat all this and still remain reasonably fit and healthy?  Their national obsession with orderliness and quality extends beyond sensible cars and efficient appliances to food safety and a love of a daily constitutional.  This table fare you will not find at the McDrive, and even those are few and far between.

by Claire Rahn

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2 Comments

on Jan 30, 2010  Agaphmou  773 said:

I also loved germany,the countryside is beautiful and the people are interesting.It is also the only time in my life my cabby pulled over and stopped the meter so that he could thoroughly check his map to frind briandring in sachsenhausen to get me there.I was amazed

on Jan 28, 2010  Ali de Bold  STAFF said:

Haha! This was very amusing. One thing I'd like to add is that the portions in Germany are gargantuan. Even bigger than U.S portions, which I find absurdly huge. Better bring your appetite!

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