For most foreigners brand German cooking means Bratwurst (grilled sausage), assorted cuts of pork and, of course, Sauerkraut (green cabbage pickled in white-wine vinegar). German cuisine is indeed traditionally characterized by wholesome but hearty dishes and a vast array of sausages.
German pork dishes are served in a baffling variety of ways. There is breaded fillet (Schnitzel), roast pork (Schweinbraten), a huge crispy knuckle (Schweinshaxe), and salted knuckle or shin (Eisbein). And, of course, pork comes as sausages (Würste) – grilled, fried, boiled and baked.
Traditional beef dish is Sauerbraten, roasted and marinated in vinegar.
Game, usually venison (Hirsch) or wild boar (Wildschwein), sometimes hare (Hase), Lamb (Lamm), veal (Kalb), and chicken (Hähnchen) also provide respite from the pork-fest.
Fish dishes typically include salmon (Lachs), trout (Forelle) and pikeperch (Zander). Fresh seafood is always worth trying in the north coastal regions. Here herring (Matjes) and whiting (Rotbarsch) are common.
Vegetable side-dishes generally feature potato, either fries (Bratkartoffeln), or jacket potatoes (Ofenkartoffeln) or stodgy potato dumplings (Klösse or Knödel). The classic side-dish is, of course, Sauerkraut, which includes red-cabbage variety Rotkohl.
German desserts are represented by different kinds of cakes. Black Forest cake (Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte), a chocolate layer cake soaked in cherry Schnapps, with cherries, whipped cream, and chocolate shavings, is among the most popular.
Another favorite is the Bee Sting (Bienenstich), a layered sponge cake filled with cream and topped with crunchy honey-caramelized almonds.
By the way, the German tend to reserve desserts for the late-afternoon Kaffee und Kuchen (coffee and cakes). This traditional treat is equivalent to English five-o’clock tea and is observed religiously by an older generation in old-fashioned cafés at around 3 p.m. It might involve a simple cheesecake (Quarkkuchen), or creamy cakes topped with apples, rhubarb, cherries, or strawberries and whipped cream.
Might be surprising, but Germany is the country where fast food was invented: Hamburg’s meat rissoles became the hamburger, sausages in bread were exported as the hot dog.
Even the idea of a kebab in pitta bread with salad is a German invention. It would be a shame to visit Germany without trying this Turkish sandwich. Made from lamb, chicken, pork, or beef roasted on a spit then thinly cut into pita pockets with lettuce, chopped tomato, yogurt, and spicy sauce, the döner kebab is the indisputable king of snack food, available at almost any city corner.
In general, most quick snacks are served at Imbiss stands, typically located at transport hubs and market squares. These stalls offer a range of sausages, hamburgers, meatballs or a greasy Schnitzel. Some specialize in spit-roast chicken, which usually comes as a half-bird with mustard (Senf), ketchup and mayonnaise as an extra.
With the impact of immigration increasing, it doesn’t come as a surprise that most towns in Germany offer a wide selection of ethnic restaurants, usually including Greek, Italian and Turkish. What might perplex the visitors is the tremendous variety of regional cuisines.
States on the north coast, like Bremen, Hamburg, Schleswig-Holstein, and Westphalia, boast of sea-oriented cuisine. Cod, crab, herring, and flatfish are all common traditional dishes. Nordseekrabben, tiny North Sea shrimps, are also widespread. However, Labskaus, a traditional fisherman’s dish, is made from corned beef. The salty meal comes with fried egg, herring, pickle, and red beets.
Potatoes, cabbage, and rutabagas, served stewed or pickled, are typical side vegetables in the area. Aalsuppe, a piquant eel and vegetable soup with pear and prunes, is another dining option.
A traditional dessert, Rote Grütze, is a berry pudding often served with whipped cream. Try it with a cup of Pharisäer, coffee with a swig of rum and topped with cream.
North Rhine-Westphalia is known for smoked hams and dishes such as Himmel und Erde (translated as “heaven and earth”), which is a casserole of puréed apple, onion and potato with black sausage, or Dicke Bohnen, a fava bean stew cooked with a splash of vinegar.
In Cologne, influenced by neighbouring Belgium and Holland, there’s a traditional affection for horse meat, used in their local version of the pot roast, Rheinische Sauerbraten. You can also try Kölsche Kaviar, blood sausage with onions. Try washing these dishes down with the local beer, Kölsch.
When in Rhineland-Palatinate, go for Saumagen, which is pig’s stomach stuffed with cabbage.
Typical dishes of Saxony include marinated braised beef (Sauerbraten), sweetened potato pancakes (Quarkkeulchen) and cheesecake-like Eierschecke.
Dresden is renowned for a local Christmas cake − Christstollen.
A traditional dish in Lower Saxony is Grünkohl mit Pinkel, curly kale with spicy sausage.
Apfelwein, hard apple cider, is a specialty in and around Frankfurt. Follow the drink with Handkäse, traditional Hessian curdled milk cheese. A spicy variety of Handkäse with onions is called Handkäse mit Musik.
Another local dish is Frankfurter Rippchen, spare ribs served with Sauerkraut.
Baden-Württemberg, also known as Swabia, boasts a unique pasta-style like Spätzle noodles, coated in cheese or eaten pure as a side dish, and Maultaschen, like giant ravioli stuffed with meat, spinach, eggs or herbs.
Linsen mit Spätzle, which is egg noodles topped with lentils and a sausage, could be considered a Swabian national dish. Schwäbische Wurstsalat, a salad of sliced sausage dressed with onions, oil, and vinegar, is another regional dish.
The sausage capital of Germany, Bavaria, traditionally treats its visitors to roast knuckle (Schweinshaxe) and roast ribs (Rippchen). Other Bavarian specialties include liver cheese (Leberkäse), a meat loaf of pork and beef that can be eaten sliced on bread, and Knödelgerichte, or noodle dishes.
And finally, the most iconic taste of the capital of Germany, Berlin, is perhaps the Currywurst − a sausage cut in pieces and served with ketchup and curry powder, often with fries.
Berlin is also known for its pork knuckle (Eisbein), smoked pork chop (Kasseler), and Boulette, which is a kind of hamburger made of beef and pork.
So, go far beyond the gastronomic clichés concluding that German food is sausages and pretzels, schnitzel and roast pork with big mugs of foamy beer, and discover the baffling variety of the German regional cuisine!