Foods of Germany
German Cuisine varies greatly from region to region. The southern regions of Bavaria and Swabia share many dishes among them and with their neighbors to the south, Switzerland and Austria.
(Frühstück) commonly consists of bread, toast, and/or bread rolls (Brötchen, Semmeln, Broodje, Schrippen, Wecken or Rundstücke) with jam, marmalade or honey, eggs, and strong coffee or tea (cocoa for children). Deli meats, such as ham, salted meats and salami, are also commonly eaten on bread in the morning, as are various cheeses. A variety of meat-based spreads such as Leberwurst (literally liver-sausage) can be found during breakfast as well. Müsli and cereals such as cornflakes are also popular.
Traditionally, the main meal of the day has been lunch (Mittagessen), eaten around noon. Dinner (Abendessen or Abendbrot) was always a smaller meal, sometimes consisting only of sandwiches. However, in Germany, as in other parts of Europe, dining habits have changed quite radically over the last 50 years. Today, many people eat only a small meal in the middle of the working day and enjoy a hot dinner in the evening. Breakfast is still very popular and may be elaborated and extended on weekends, with friends invited as guests.
Pork, beef, and poultry are the main varieties of meat consumed in Germany, with pork being the most popular by a substantial amount. Among poultry, chicken is most common, although duck, goose, and turkey are also well enjoyed. Game meats, especially boar, rabbit, and venison are also widely available around the year. Lamb and goat are also available, but are not very popular. Horse meat is regarded as a specialty in some regions but consumption is sometimes frowned upon.
Meat is usually pot-roasted; pan-fried dishes also exist, but these are usually imports from France. Throughout Germany, meat is very often eaten in sausage form. There are more than 1500 different types of sausage in Germany. Certain families may also make their own sausage for personal consumption.
Trout is the most common freshwater fish on German menus, although pike, carp, and European perch are also frequently served. Seafood was traditionally restricted to the northern coastal areas — except for pickled herring. Today many seafish like fresh herring (also as rollmops), sardine, tuna, mackerel, and salmon are well established throughout the country. Prior to the industrial revolution and the ensuing pollution of the rivers, however, salmon was so common in the rivers Rhine, Elbe, and Oder that servants complained about being served salmon too often. Nowadays, thanks to tight environmental control, rivers are cleaner than they were a century ago and the fish population of Germany's rivers is gaining back its territory. Freshwater fish are often served grilled.
Other seafood is not often served as part of a traditional meal, but mussels and North Sea shrimp — which today are expensive compared to imported shrimp — can sometimes be found.
Vegetables are often eaten in stews or vegetable soups, but can also be served as a side dish. Carrots, turnips, spinach, peas, beans, and many types of cabbage are very common. Fried onions are a common addition to many meat dishes throughout the country. Potatoes, while a major part of the diet, are usually not counted among vegetables by Germans. Asparagus, especially white asparagus known as spargel, is particularly enjoyed in Germany as a side dish or as a main meal. Sometimes restaurants will even devote an entire menu to nothing but spargel, when it is the right season (late Spring). Spargel season is traditionally set to the time before St. John's Day.
Noodles are usually thicker than Italian pasta and often contain egg yolk. Especially in the south-western part of the country, the predominant variety of noodles is Spätzle which contain a very large amount of yolk. Besides noodles, potatoes and dumplings (Klöße or Knödel) are very common, especially in the south. Potatoes entered German cuisine in the late 18th century and were almost ubiquitous in the 19th and 20th centuries, but their popularity is currently waning somewhat in favour of noodles and rice. Potatoes are most often served boiled in salt water, but mashed and fried potatoes also are traditional, and French fries have now become very common.
Beer is very common throughout all parts of Germany, with many local and regional breweries producing a wide variety of beers. In most of the country Pils is predominant today, whereas people in the South (especially in Bavaria) seem to prefer Lager or wheat beer. A number of regions have a special kind of local beer, for example the dark Altbier around the lower Rhine, the Kölsch of the Cologne area, which is light but like Altbier uses a more traditional brewing process than Pils, and the very weak Berliner Weiße, often mixed with fruit syrups, in Berlin. Beer may also be mixed with other beverages; pils or lager and lemonade, known as Alsterwasser or Radler, is a popular example. Krefelder is a pils mixed with Cola, Russ a wheat beer mixed with Cola.
Wine is also popular throughout the country. German wine comes predominantly from the areas along the upper and middle Rhine and its tributaries; the northern half of the country is too cold and flat to grow grape vines. Riesling and Silvaner are among the best-known varieties. Traditionally, white wine was more popular than red or rosé (except in some regions), and sweet wine more popular than dry, but both these tastes seem to be changing.
Coffee is also very common, not only for breakfast, but also accompanying a piece of cake in the afternoon, usually on Sundays or special occasions, like birthdays. It is generally strong and similar to the Italian style espresso. Tea is more common in the Northwest. East Frisians traditionally have their tea with cream and rock candy ("Kluntje").
Apfelsaftschorle apple juice mixed with sparkling mineral water, is a common beverage.
Spezi is a soft drink made with cola and lemonade. In Southern Germany and Austria, Spezi a generic term for a mixture of cola and Fanta (or a similar orange soft drink). In some regions (Emsland) spezi is a mixture of cola and schnapps.
Germans are unique among their neighbours in preferring strongly carbonated bottled waters to non-carbonated ones.
Spices & Condiments
Mustard is a very common accompaniment to sausages and is usually very hot. In the southern parts of the country, a sweet variety of mustard is made which is almost exclusively served with Bavarian specialties such as Weißwurst and Leberkäse. Horseradish is also commonly used as a condiment.
Garlic was long frowned upon as "making one stink" and thus has never played a large role in traditional German cuisine, but it has seen a rise in popularity in recent decades due to the influence of French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Greek, and Turkish cuisine.
Generally, with the exception of mustard for sausages, German dishes are rarely hot and spicy — the most popular herbs are traditionally parsley, cardamom, thyme, laurel, and chives, the most popular spices are black pepper (used in small amounts), juniper berries and caraway. Other herbs and spices like basil, sage, oregano, and hot chili peppers have become more popular in recent times.
A wide variety of cakes and tarts are prepared throughout the country, most commonly made with fresh fruit. Apples, plums, strawberries, and cherries are used regularly on cakes. Cheesecake is also very popular and almost always made with quark. German doughnuts are usually balls of dough with jam or other fillings inside, and are known as Berliner or Krapfen depending on the region. Pfannkuchen are quite similar but flat and baked like Omelettes and served covered with sugar, jam, syrup etc.. In some regions Pfannkuchen are filled and then wrapped.
A popular dessert in northern Germany is "Rote Grütze", red fruit pudding, which is cooked from black and red currants, raspberries and sometimes with strawberries or cherries. It is traditionally served with cream, but also common with vanilla sauce, milk or whipped cream. "Rhabarbergrütze" (rhubarb pudding) and "Grüne Grütze" (gooseberry fruit pudding) are variations of the "Rote Grütze".
Ice cream and sorbets are also very popular. Italian-run ice cream parlours were the first large wave of foreign-run eateries in Germany, becoming widespread in the 1920s.
With regard to bread, German cuisine is more akin to Eastern than to Western Europe. The country boasts at least 300 different types of bread, ranging from white wheat bread to grey bread (Graubrot) and "black" (actually dark brown) rye bread (Schwarzbrot). Most types of bread contain both wheat and rye flour (hence Mischbrot, mixed bread), and often wholemeal and seeds (such as linseed, sunflower seed, or pumpkin seeds) as well. Pumpernickel, a Westphalian black bread, is not baked but steamed, and has a unique sweetish taste.
Bread is a big part of the German diet, and usually eaten for breakfast and as sandwiches in the evening, not as a side dish for the main meal. The importance of bread (Brot) in German cuisine is also illustrated by words such as Abendbrot (supper, literally Evening Bread) and Brotzeit (snack, literally Bread Time). In fact, one of the major complaints of German expatriates in many parts of the world is their inability to find acceptable local breads.
Bread rolls, known in Germany as Brötchen, Semmel, Schrippe, broodje,Rundstück or Weckle/Weckli depending on the region, are common in German cuisine. They are typically cut in half, and spread with butter or margarine. Cheese, meat, fish or preserves is then placed between the two halves, or on each half separately, known as an open sandwich.
Specialties by Region
• Snail soup
• Brägele - sliced potatoes pan-fried in lard
• Knöpfle - similar to Spätzle, but thicker rather than long
• Schupfnudeln - pasta made from potatoes and flour, often served with Sauerkraut
• Flädlesuppe - broth with thin strips of German-style pancakes
• Bibbeleskäs - cottage cheese
• Weißwürste ('white sausages') — a specialty from Munich (München), traditionally eaten for second breakfast. Always accompanied by sweet mustard, pretzels, and wheat beer.
• Weizenbier/Weißbier - wheat beer
• Knödel - dumplings made from potatoes or white bread
• Schweinsbraten - pot-roasted pork
• Leberkäse - a type of sausage baked in a mold and cut into slices - usually eaten in a bread-roll with mustard
Bremen & Lower Saxony
• Kohl und Pinkel - kale, very slowly cooked, with bits of rather salty sausage; a typical winter dish
• Heidschnucke - a type of sheep
• Bratwurst - Beef, pork or veal sausages, served fried or grilled with sauerkraut or potato salad and mustard, or simply in a bread roll (Bratwurstsemmel). They vary greatly in size and seasoning from region to region. The best-known sausages are from Nuremberg (Nürnberg).
• Klöße - Large dumplings made from bread dough or mashed potatoes. The best friend of pot-roasted meats or mushroom ragout.
• Schäuferla - Pot-roasted pig shoulder with a crunchy crust, seasoned with salt, pepper and caraway. Served in a dark sauce, made from the roast stock, meat broth, dark beer, onions and carrots. Accompanied by dumplings and sauerkraut or red cabbage.
• Hochzeitssuppe ("wedding soup") - A spicy meat broth with bread dumplings, liver dumplings and finely sliced pancakes.
• Lebkuchen (gingerbread) - The most famous German gingerbread is, again, from Nuremberg.
Frankfurt am Main & Hessen
• Green Sauce - Made from minced and an abundant amount of seven fresh herbs namely borage, sorrel, cress, chervil, chives, parsley, and burnet. Served with boiled potatoes and hard-boiled eggs
• Frankfurter sausage - a smoked sausage made from pure pork, which is eaten hot and usually accompanied by bread and mustard. Not to be confused with the American hot dog "Frankfurter".
• Apfelwein (dialect: Äbbelwoi) - wine made of apples, somewhat comparable to Cider and French Cidre though much stronger and tastier. Best enjoyed in traditional "Äbbelwoi-Lokalen". Served in a special mug (the "Bembel"), drunk with a special glass ("the Gerippte").
• Sauer Gespritzer - apfelwein mixed with sparkling water. Very refreshing, usually served during summer.
• Handkäs mit Musik - a strong cheese made from curdled milk served in a dressing (the "music") from vegetable oil, vinegar, caraway, salt and pepper and sliced onions. Usually served with rye bread and butter.
• Labskaus - made from corned beef, herring, mashed potatoes, and beetroot, served with a fried egg and a gherkin.
• Birnen, Bohnen und Speck - literally "pears, beans and bacon", cooked together in a stew.
• Aalsuppe (literally "eel soup") - a sweet and sour soup of meat broth, dried fruits, vegetables, and herbs, but normally without eel.
• Jükääg - a cabbage roll popularized by the Plattdüütsch-speaking minorities of northern Germany.
• Saumagen - Pork stomach
• Rheinischer Sauerbraten - (from sauer sour + braten roast meat) is a roast from Rhineland, Saarland, Silesia, and Swabia. Rhinish Sauerbraten is sweetish and contains raisins and gingerbread. Sauerbraten was originally made from horse meat, but today beef is more commonly used, except by traditionalists. For the Rhinish version the meat is marinated in vinegar, a sweetening agent such as sugar beet syrup, apple syrup, or sugar, and seasonings containing juniper cones and cloves, and then braised. The sauce contains raisins and often a kind of gingerbread. The town of Eschweiler has a long horse butcher tradition, and sauerbraten is one of its culinary specialties.
• Reibekuchen - Potato fritters with black bread, apple syrup, sugar beet syrup or stewed apples
• Blutwurst - Blood sausage - crude or fried
• Himmel un Ääd (literally Sky and Earth) - mashed potatoes with stewed apples and fried blood pudding (Köln)
• Halve Hahn (literally Half Rooster) - actually not a rooster at all but a cheese sandwich with onions, the name is based on a wordplay (Köln)
• Rice pies, apricot pies and pear pies in Eschweiler
• Dibbelabbes - A potato hash prepared from raw grated potatoes, bacon and leeks, and baked in a Dibbe, or pot
• Geheirote (lit. "Married ones") - Potatoes and dumplings made of flour served with a creamy bacon sauce
• Schwenker or Schwenkbraten - pork steaks, marinated in spices and onions and broiled on a grill that hangs on a chain over a wood fire
• Baumkuchen - Known as the "King of Cakes", the Baumkuchen is a kind of layered cake, known in many countries throughout Europe. When cut, the cake reveals the characteristic golden rings that give it its name, Baumkuchen or translated literally, "Tree Cake". To get the ring effect, a thin layer of batter is brushed evenly onto a spit and allowed to bake until golden. The most skilled baker will repeat this process numerous times. Some bakers have been known to create 3 foot long Baumkuchens consisting of 25 layers and weighing over 100 pounds (45 kg).
Baumkuchen may be covered with sugar or chocolate glaze.
• Leipziger Allerlei - consisting of peas, carrots, asparagus, and morels. There are numerous variations to the basic recipe. According to legend, the dish was invented in Leipzig after the Napoleonic Wars to protect the city from beggars and tax collectors: in storing the more sustaining and more expensive meat-based dishes, and serving vegetables instead, city officials hoped to encourage beggars and tax collectors to move on to neighboring cities.
• Maultaschen - A distant relative of Italian ravioli
• Zwiebelkuchen -onion pie
• Käsespätzle Spaetzle -a kind of noodles with fried onions gratinated with cheese
• Wibele - sweet biscuits
• Gaisburger Marsch - a stew
• Thuringian Bratwurst - red to grey in color, stuffed in a natural casing of pig intestine, unlike the white Franconian variety
• Klöße - dumplings made of raw potatoes
• Mutzbraten - pound of pork, roasted on open birchwood fire, served with sauerkraut
• Delicious cakes - favorites among the locals are Mohnkuchen (poppyseed cake) and Quarkkuchen (quark cake).
• Pickert - potato pancake
• Grünkohl und Kohlwurst - curly kale and cabbage sausage
• Westfälischer Schinken - smoked ham
• Möpkenbrot - bread, which is made of rye flour, pig-blood, milk, eggs, fat, salt and pepper
• Rumpsteak - rump steak
Other Famous Dishes
• Hasenpfeffer - peppered hare
• Königsberger Klopse, from the East-Prussian city Königsberg, now Kaliningrad - consisting of meatballs in a white sauce with capers.
• Schweinshaxe - pork hock
• Spanferkel - a grilled whole young pig
• Speckpfannkuchen (large, thin pancakes with diced, fried bacon)
• Sauerkraut - pickled shredded cabbage
• Spaetzle - hand-made noodles used extensively in southern Germany and Alsace
• Stollen - a bread-like cake with dried citrus peel, dried fruit, nuts, and spices such as cardamom and cinnamon, usually eaten during the Christmas season as Weihnachtsstollen or Christstollen. The best-known Stollen is from Dresden and is sold at the Striezelmarkt Christmas market, which derives its name from the cake.
• Bratkartoffeln - fried potatoes, often with diced bacon and/or onions
• Currywurst - warm sausage cut into slices and seasoned with ketchup and generous amounts of curry powder, usually served with French fries — a popular snack originating in early 1950s Berlin. Boiled sausage is used for this in Berlin and northern Germany, Bratwurst in the Ruhr Area and southern Germany.
• Kartoffelsalat - potato salad, which comes in many varieties, for example in a cream or mayonnaise dressing or even in meat broth. Often served as a side dish to bratwurst or boiled sausages.
• Pfefferpotthast - pepper-beef stew
• Rindsroulade - beef roulade, thinly pounded sirloin steak, rolled around mustard leaf and a pickle, then baked
With the rising influx of foreign workers after World War II, many foreign dishes have been adopted into German cuisine — Italian dishes like spaghetti and pizza have become a staple of German cuisine. Turkish immigrants have also had a considerable influence on German eating habits — Döner kebab, a meat sandwich invented by Berlin Turkish immigrants, is Germany's favorite fast food, selling twice as much as the major burger chains put together. Chinese and Greek food are widely available and popular. Indian, Thai and other Asian cuisines are rapidly gaining in popularity. Many of the more expensive restaurants used to serve mostly French dishes for many decades, but they are increasingly turning to a more refined form of German cuisine since the 1990s.