Prior to my recent trip to Germany, my own perception of German food was that it was hearty, rich, filling, and about as subtle as an airhorn. After said trip, my perception really hasn’t changed all that much. There are little to no delicate flavors found in their food.
What has changed is my understanding that this approach is a feature, not a bug. Robust food has a long tradition here in the States as well, thanks in large part to those of us with British, Irish, and yes, even German heritage, so there is a familiarity found in German food. If Italian and French cuisine is transcendent, then German food is grounded in reality, the yang to their counterparts yin.
Now, in saying this, keep in mind that both Andrea and I stuck to pretty much the touristy areas of the country, so for all we knew, we were being sold the German equivalent of TGI Fridays. Still, some things stood out.
Take the picture above of Kaiserschmarrn, a pancake that is fried and ripped into pieces before being served covered with caramelized fruits, almonds, and topped with powdered sugar, with a side of either hot applesauce or plum sauce to cover the dish. I had ordered this on our last day in Munich, and it ended up being coveted by Andrea. This dessert came out on a dinner plate, and could have been a meal unto itself.
Staying on desserts and fruits, let me add that I fully support the Germans approach to cherries. While we in America love our cherries sweet, the Germans seem to have the opposite desire. Their cherries were exquisitely tart, which was a very pleasant and a very appreciated turn of events. No neon red Maraschino cherries here, these cherries were dark and could make a mouth pucker by simply looking at them. We need more of these in the States.
As for the meals themselves, what we came across was pretty much what we expected, with the below picture being fairly typical of the meals we had.
This is Hirschgoulasch with Spaetzle, also known as Red Deer Goulash with Spaetzle. Starches were fairly common, and I quickly learned that if you had a choice between a meal with a dumpling, or a meal with spaetzle, the meal with spaetzle would almost always be better.
Dumplings were huge and somewhat bland, about the size of a baseball, but only one was served with dinner. I equated them with our mashed potatoes. They were also often pared with sauerkraut and sausages. Spaetzle, on the other hand, tended to be served either alone topped/mixed with cheese (called Kasespaetzle), or pared with a dish that had a rich gravy associated with it, as pictured above. Dinner with spaetzle was always seemed to be better than one with a dumpling.
As for sausages, they were all quite good, but I loved the Klosterseufzer-Würstl, which were spicier than most.
The biggest surprise? Breakfast, hands down. My perception is shaped by the fact that our breakfasts were at hotel buffets, so I have no idea if what we saw was traditional or not. If you’re a fan of eggs or cereal, then you would appear to be in the minority. While eggs were available, both scrambled and hard boiled, what dominated the buffets were breads and pastries, as well as fruits and cold cuts. The picture above of a (fresh!) pretzel, caprese, meatball, and breaded veal medallion was typical of what we saw at breakfast from Cologne to Munich. Croissants, bananas, and yogurt were also popular. Eggs and bacon? These were shunted off to the corner and were for the most part ignored by the customers.
The best meal I had? It was a lunch in the shadow of Neuschwanstein Castle, and it wasn’t the meal per se that was memorable, but rather one aspect of it which resulted in a bit of a revelation.
This is Pumpkin soup, and very well made one at that. The revelation?
The next time you’re at a restaurant where pumpkin soup is on the menu, ask to see their beer menu. If they have a German Wheat beer available, by all means order one with the soup. German Wheat beers have traditionally a clove-like taste to them. It matches perfectly with pumpkin soup, doubly so for a well made one.
For me, eating in Germany will always be remembered for that particular revelation.