Guten Appetit!

As a general rule, German people look like Americans and eat like us as well. This
is not surprising, I guess, since nearly 17% of the U. S. population claims to be of German descent. Many of our “typical American foods,” in fact, (such as hot dogs, hamburgers, and potato salad) have roots in the land of those ancestors. Our trips to different parts of Germany over the years have exposed us to regional specialties and have given us a real appreciation for their cuisine.

First of all, Germans are, like many in this country, big meat-eaters; they’re especially fond of pork in many forms, including a favorite of my husband: fried pork knuckle! The breakfast table at our hotel in Erfurt amazed us by the amount and
variety of meats offered. There were wurst (sausage), salami, bacon, and ham, as well as eggs, cheese, fruit, bread, juice, and coffee. Wurst, which comes in as many as 1500 varieties according to some estimates, is available throughout the day and is omnipresent—anywhere from outdoor food stalls to nice restaurants. Currywurst, served with curried ketchup, was created in Berlin after the second world war; Thüringer bratwurst, a popular big white spicy sausage on a small bun, originated near Erfurt over 700 years ago. One classic main dish, Schnitzel, is thought to be an import from Austria. It can be made with thinly sliced veal, Wienerschnitzel (“Viennese cutlet”), or with pork, Schweineschnitzel, and is often served with French fries. Another variation, Jägerschnitzel (“Hunter’s cutlet”), comes with a mushroom cream sauce. Whatever the variant, it’s very easy to make: Put salt and pepper on a thin cutlet, dip in flour, raw eggs beaten with a little water and then fine bread crumbs, and pan fry. Serve with lemon wedges. We had schnitzel several times on our latest visit and loved the grüne sosse in Frankfurt, a creamy green herb sauce, which was apparently great German author Goethe’s favorite dish. Finally, around Erfurt there is a scrumptious meat dish called Thüringer Rost Brätel. For this you take thick pieces of boneless pork and marinate them for at least 24 hours in a mustard-onion sauce with a little beer, garlic, salt, and pepper. Then grill the chops over hot coals—delicious!

Another thing Germans do very well is starches of all kinds—from potatoes to pasta. Kartoffelsalat (“potato salad”) varies widely from area to area, even from one family to another. A recipe I have calls for boiling a pound or so of potatoes in a mixture of chicken broth, a little sugar, a tablespoon of white wine vinegar, and salt. You mash half of the cooked potatoes with a little of the cooking
liquid. Then add in the chunky potatoes, a couple of teaspoons of Dijon mustard, a bit of oil, some chopped red onion, and sliced French cornichon pickles. It becomes very creamy and tasty and has no calorie-filled mayonnaise in it! Germans are also big on noodle dishes. One finds Späztle (a small pasta) and Maultauschen (a type of meat and spinach ravioli) in southern areas of the country; in Thüringia there are the strange-looking, but tasty Klöße. The latter are snowball-sized potato dumplings with croutons inside, which are great for sopping up gravy. The Swiss grated potato pancake, rösti, which is similar to hashbrowns, is found on many menus as well.

Last but not least in this quick overview of common German food items, is the Döner kebab. Because of the prevalence of many Turkish immigrants, small Döner places dot the German food landscape especially in large cities. Similar to the Greek gyro, this terrific sandwich usually consists of roasted lamb inside pita bread topped with lettuce, tomatoes, and onions. Supposedly the addition of pita was developed by a Turkish immigrant to Germany who thought, correctly, that it would be more easily portable that way. It is quite delicious and costs about three euros.

So there you have a small sampling of what’s to eat in Germany. Obviously I’ve left
out a lot. How they use many fresh herbs in their cooking, how we had a delicious steak and German red wine at Alte Meister in Dresden, how the Gemüsestrudel (vegetable strudel) at Zum Goldenen Schwan in Erfurt was worth going back twice for! There’s so much to discover and enjoy in German cooking! Next week we'll take a look at their beer and wine.

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