Some Observations of German Cuisine

by Jan


Guten Tag and willkommen to some observations of German cuisine. Similar to the caves of Lascaux and north western Australia, cave paintings have been discovered in Germany depicting vats of fermented cabbage, and of fermented hops. Waves of invading hordes liked what they were ravaging and pillaging, and wanted more of it. The Romans, not to be outdone, surpassed this fermentation by adding fermented grapes, especially Riesling.

In fact, German cuisine really took off with Roman occupation. They were very good at building town walls and roads. The slaves needed fuel to build nations, so agriculture and roads to markets were also built.

Germany has not had many waves of colonisation except perhaps Vandals, Goths and Romans, and therefore their cuisine has not changed much over the centuries. The Roman Empire fell to hordes of Franks. After a hard day’s oppressing, they needed some of these fermented products to keep their strength up. When German unification happened in 1848, some foodstuffs became unified too. Everyone made Sauerkraut, beer, bread and cheese, but these varied per region. Such items were available in the local Bier Keller, Stube and Hofbrauhaus. These venues were frequented by huntsmen, boofy sportsmen and beefy Prussian military types with large moustaches.

In the days pre refrigeration, cabbage was probably one of very few green vegetables and therefore had to be preserved to last through a long and freezing winter. Potatoes may have been about the only tuber, so presumably they had to vary the cooking methods. Dumplings are mashed potato with flour, just like gnocchi. No discernable seasoning which means that if one is going to leave food on the side of the plate, it will most likely be a dumpling.

More recent waves of immigrants opened restaurants such as Italians, Turks and some Asian cuisines which created a little more variety for the dining public.

Conventionally portions are enough for two people. But snack foods are available: the most popular fast foods are currywurst, or a slice of pizza. You can also get a bread roll, with Wurst and mustard. There are many different types of Wurst and they are better than currywurst and pizza.

I ordered some of these in faltering school German which is now more like point and click international esperanto of fast food retail.  The portions are not too large, so you don’t need to feel like Mr Creosote.

At the local Markt you will see a colourful variety of vegetables but strangely they rarely appear on restaurant menus.

The typical fare at a beer hall is simple ingredients treated simply. Huge varieties of meat, Wurst, breads and cheeses, maybe with a traditional condiment such as mustard or horseradish. There’s a restaurant in Berlin called Restauration 1840 (Hackescher Markt, Mitte), and there I had meat balls with caper sauce, mashed potato with celery, and a beetroot salad. It was washed down with a glass of Riesling, the main grape in Germany. It was delicious, plentiful and I would go back for more.

The plain food from Bier Keller, Stube or Hofbrauhaus is the equivalent of our pub or RSL fare. But Germany has more to offer than this.

Our tour group was treated to some beautiful lunches and dinners. Lohspeicher at Cochem is a prize-winning restaurant whose food is based on French classical methods, and uses seasonal and local produce. Many restaurants in the autumn serve chanterelle mushrooms and red currants.

As a tour group, we sometimes had our own dining room, usually traditional dark and heavy-beamed. The predominant tipple, apart from beer, is a local Riesling which was often slightly different and always palatable.

At Wurzburg Palace restaurant for lunch I had a potted pork (rillettes, really) beetroot salad, roast potatoes and green salad. Delicious and not too heavy.

Munich has an equivalent of Fortnum and Mason, Dallmayr, the ground floor of which has many counters selling luxury foods eg. choux pastries, confectionary, charcuterie, teas, coffees, fish, preserves etc. Upstairs in the classy Café-Bistro Dallmayr.  A set menu was organised for our group: lobster and cognac soup, ravioli stuffed with chanterelle and leek with a foamy cream sauce, and summer berries in peach soup with yoghurt ice cream.

The place was full of the local bourgeoisie ordering a la carte. There was quite a queue waiting for a table, so they must be doing something right, including not overcharging.

The Hotel Messerschmidt (Bamberg) offered a more traditional menu: duck consommé with mushrooms, roast pork with smoked beer sauce, Sauerkraut and potato dumplings, sorbets and fresh fruit. The duck consommé was real. A doubting Thomas in our tour group thought it was made of stock cubes. I was forced to educate her: I could tell by the taste of the consommé, and the fact such an upmarket place would not use stock cubes.

Kafers Reichstag restaurant in Berlin is on top of this famous building with layers of security to gain entry, and caters to tour groups. Our lunch menu was traditional fare prettied up: pumpkin tart brulee with chanterelles and green salad, wild pork with brown sauce, cabbage and white sauce, dumplings, miniature pear with red currant coulis. For dessert they served chocolate ice cream with berries and Anglaise.

Before leaving Berlin, I found a restaurant called Oxymoron in Hackescher Hofe, which is an architecturally interesting apartment block. There are courtyards with interesting shops and cafes – definitely worth a visit. The restaurant advertised a lunch special which was pretty special. And something one is likely to be offered in Sydney: tomato and mussel soup, duck breast with black venere rice, cabbage in salvia white sauce, nougat mousse with spiced plums. The wine was pinot noir rose Qba trocken Weingut Winter, from Dittelsheim, Rheinhessen. This menu was probably the pick of the bunch.

It is easy to make assumptions about a cuisine based on appearances, ie. from recent television programs.  But these assumptions don’t help. Taking yourself on a food adventure around a Germany city such as Berlin is much more interesting.