For some people, perhaps, France is the land of wine, Italy of pasta, and Japan of sushi. But what of Germany and its culinary traditions? Eisbein with Sauerkraut? Or Weisswurst? Or Spaetzle? The problem is that such meals only present half the picture.
While German cuisine can be every bit as hearty as a hock of cured ham, there is, in fact, no such thing as standard German fare. Because of Germany’s diverse population, the country’s cuisine is in a process of constant transformation. What’s more, culinary traditions differ from region to region and are therefore every bit as varied as the assortment of beer and bread on offer here.
The Germans set great store by good bread. That’s one explanation for the huge variety on offer in Germany – there are around 300 different sorts, more than in any other country worldwide. Another lies in Germany’s past as a loose association of disparate duchies and autonomous cities. Each of these tiny territories had its own baking traditions. There are also more than 1,300 breweries in Germany. Together, they brew over 7,500 different types of beer. This, too, is unmatched by any other country. Yet before any misunderstandings arise: Germany is not the world champion in drinking beer!
Some maintain that the regional flavour of German cuisine is down to the fact that Germany shares borders with nine other countries and has adopted something from each. There is an element of truth to this.
In Saarland, for example, the French influence is unmistakeable. Take the recipe for Lyoner Stroganoff. This is a combination of French saucisson, cucumber, onions, mushrooms, and peppers. In Schleswig-Holstein and Hamburg, meanwhile, there are certain similarities with Danish cuisine: Labskaus, for example, which combines fresh or salted beef with potatoes, herring, onion, beetroot, and a fried egg. And a popular dessert in Bavaria is Palatschinken, an Austrian crêpe-style pancake with a sweet filling.
Ask Germans about their favourite food, however, and neighbouring countries no longer play a role. Topping the list of the most popular main dishes here are spaghetti bolognese and pizza.
Yet Germany has no border with Italy – nor with Turkey, the supposed origin of Germany’s favourite snack, a doner kebab wrapped in pita bread. According to the history books, the person who first served up pieces of spicy meat and salad in a sandwich-like construction was certainly from Turkey. Yet Kadir Nurman, the man credited with creating the first doner in 1972, launched this new era in fast food not in Istanbul, where he grew up, but rather in Berlin, where he had formerly worked as a printing-press mechanic.
German cuisine is, above all, diverse. In other words, there’s something to suit every taste.
What’s more, there is ample opportunity to sample all the different types of food in Germany. For Berlin alone, various web portals list almost 190 Italian restaurants as well as 64 French, 36 Indian, 30 Spanish, 29 Chinese, 26 Greek, 23 Thai, 10 Mexican, and eight Russian restaurants. And this doesn’t include the hundreds of eateries, cafés, and bars serving either German or foreign cuisine. All in all, there are some 125,000 restaurants, pubs, and cafés throughout Germany as a whole. With such variety, there is something to please everyone, and that includes connoisseurs of haute cuisine. The Michelin Guide – the gourmet’s bible – listed a total of 282 starred restaurants for Germany in 2015, more than ever before. Apart from France, Germany has more three-star restaurants than any other country in Europe.
Yet to eat well in Germany, there is no need to go to a restaurant. Good food at home, made from wholesome, healthy ingredients, is a more than adequate alternative. Organic foods are more and more popular in German supermarkets.
German consumers now have a choice of some 71,977 organic items, officially certified according to strict standards. This means that neither chemical pesticides nor genetically modified ingredients are used, and that all meat products come from animals reared in conditions appropriate to their needs.
While we’re on the subject of meat, some people maintain that the German national dish is the so-called Currywurst. This may well have something to do with the fact that some 800 million of these sausages topped with a curry-flavoured sauce are consumed in Germany every year. Yet there’s nothing typically German about the ingredients, even if the sausage is made in Germany. The curry sauce itself is based on ketchup or tomato puree, flavoured with a spicy Indian blend of coriander, pepper, and turmeric.