Published: June 20th 2006June 16th 2006
A friend asked me to tell her about the food in Germany, so I thought I'd write a blog about it and tell the whole world about the fascinating topic of German food. I do not eat pork or beef
The above heading is more of a disclaimer than an announcement. Since I don't eat pork or beef, about 75% of the German diet is untested by me, and thus any statements made about it are pure observation. Stated otherwise, Germans eat a LOT of pork and beef. If you are a pig or a cow, you are not safe here. When we first came here, we spoke very little German. We had a German-English dictionary, but when you're pregnant (as I was) and hungry, you don't want to bother looking up every word on a menu before deciding whether or not you'd like to eat at a particular restaurant. Having been in Germany before, I did know of one food item that was meat-free: käse spätzle. It is like German mac and cheese - way better than the American version. It's basically homemade freeform noodles with tons of butter and emmental cheese, topped with browned or
Produce Stand at Isartor
This is a pretty typical produce stand. Note the bicycle in front: bicycles are a very common form of transport here, and this "old fashioned" type is the most popular, apparently.
fried onions. As you can tell from the description, it's a bit on the heavy side, but it has no meat. So, when we were first here, I could only eat in restaurants that had käse spätzle on the menu. Kaan is definitely part käse spätzle. When we were here looking for an apartment, I ate a lot of käse spätzle. One day, very tired of eating it, I wanted an alternative. I was exhausted and hungry and not in the mood to use my dictionary, so I was very relieved when Levent pointed out a German restaurant in which we could read the menu: a döner shop (where I proceeded to have falafel). Döner
For those of you familiar with Turkish food, you may protest: but döner is not German, it's Turkish! Everyone keeps stealing our food and calling it their own! First, the Greeks took it and called it Gyros, and now the Germans?! Well, the Germans may acknowledge the Turkish origin of döner (after all, they use the Turkish name for it), but it appears to be as big a part of German fast-food cuisine as hamburgers are in American cuisine. Just as we say "as
It's almost the end of the spargel (white asparagus) season.
American as apple pie (which isn't at all American)", Germans may one day say "as German as döner". In fact, they may already be saying it. I'll tell you as soon as I understand enough German to know... Run - Shopping for food
Yes, they have grocery stores in Germany. They are just like American grocery stores... in miniature (there are big ones, but miniature ones are more common here in Munich). The carts are smaller, and the aisles are way smaller. Try shopping in a grocery store with your baby in a giant German pram (more about those in another blog). You barely fit down the aisle, and God forbid somebody should have to pass you. There is none of the "pardon me, excuse me, can I get by?" business of Britain and the US. People just grunt and push by. In one particularly disheartening event, I was standing in line with two or three items to buy, and Kaan getting very cranky in his pram. I was second or third in line. A new cashier headed towards an open register, and the 40-something man behind me in line, who had a full cart, started rushing toward the
open register as I turned my pram and waited for the person in front of me to go before me- as is custom in the States. Fed up, I wasn't going to allow this man to break the rules of etiquette and cut in front of me, the mother-with-crying-baby and two items, the one with priority. I elbowed him and pushed in front of him to the new cashier. When I got home, I asked my sweet German friend, who I am sure never cuts in line, what the "rule" is here about new cash registers opening. The rule, she told me is, "run". Survival of the fittest, I guess. It was I who was breaking the rules, not the man behind me in line.
Most cashiers here are mean. Apparently, working as a cashier in a grocery store in Germany (or at least in Munich) is some sort of punishment, like community service after someone has committed a crime. Cashiers here are grumpy people, like customs agents at US Immigration. You hope they let you out through the gate. It has made going to the grocery store, which I used to LOVE, into a very unpleasant task, after
I don't know what this dish is really called. Looks like 3 hot dogs to me, but it might have a very special name.
which I need a strong cup of tea (after all, I am half English), if they don't confiscate it because there's something wrong with my papers. Fruit and veggie stands
It seems as though every corner in Munich has a fruit and veggie stand. Some specialize in what's in season and thus have only a few different products at any time (the most recent combination, for example, was spargel
(giant white asparagus) and erdbeern
(strawberries). Others carry a variety of produce, all of it looking truly beautiful and tempting as you walk by or pass by on a tram. Usually, your purchases are wrapped up in paper cones - it's still very charming to me. For whatever reason (and perhaps because of the unpleasant shopping experience to be had at most grocery stores), Munich has an abundance of produce stands and mom-and-pop butcher shops, cheese shops, and bakeries. Cheese and bread
Right about now, I am realizing that food is a big deal here. There is way more to write about than I thought at first... France seems to be world famous for its cheese and bread, but German bread and cheese are both amazing. In addition,
Another fruit/veggie stand
This one is in the Marienplatz area
one has access to a wide variety of French, Italian, Swiss, and just about every other kind of world-famous cheese here (though I have yet to see any American cheese). If you are a cheese lover, forget about France and come to Germany - you won't be disappointed. Are we in Italy?
Every time I talk about "German" stuff in a general sense, please keep in mind that the only place I've been in Germany is Bavaria, and so my perception of German things is heavily influenced by things that are really Bavarian. In fact, I don't know the difference. So if you are a Germanophile and know better, don't say I didn't warn you... Now, that being said, I am not sure if we are in Germany at all. German seems to be the language of choice around here, but about two thirds of the restaurants here are Italian. I am not exaggerating or making a joke here. I am not sure where people eat German food outside of biergartens, but in restaurants they appear to eat Italian food - and quite good Italian food. We are, of course, not far from Italy here - in Munich, we
I couldn't resist taking this picture - the man in the foreground is eating knodel
are closer to Venice than we are to Berlin. So, if you are vegetarian and in Germany, count on Italian restaurants to fill your tummy. Organic Chimneys
One of the biggest contradictions I have seen here is the combination of a proliferation of organic products and of smokers. Apparently, a quarter of the German population smokes. We're not talking about a quarter of adults, but one in four Germans of any age. 20 million out of 80 million. (A super article about smoking in Germany can be found here
.) And yet given the number of organic grocers and organic products in all grocery stores, I deduce that Germans think it's good to eat organic food. Perhaps they're hoping to make up for all the awful stuff they're breathing in? I have never been a person to worry whether my food is organic - in the States, I bought organic milk and eggs because, as a woman, I have enough hormones in me already and so I tried not to add more (for Levent's sake), but I think it's an obsession with Germans. That and genetically engineered food. Whether you know it or not, lots of products in the US
Munich is a very cosmopolitain city. You can find food from all over the world. Germans seem to really embrace international cuisine.
are genetically engineered. We were particularly fond of genetically engineered tomatoes while we were in the States, but we can't find them here. A prescription for Knödel
I grew up loving matzo ball soup. For those of you who are not from the East Coast and have not been exposed to this amazing delicacy, matzo balls are dumplings made out of matzo, which are basically crackers. Christian people eat chicken noodle soup, Jewish people (and anyone else who discovers it) eat chicken mazto ball soup. Given that many of the Jewish people in the US are Ashkenazi (Jews who came from Eastern Europe), it is not surprising that a lot of the food known to American Jews is Eastern European food. Matzo balls are no different. Here, they have similar dumplings of all sorts - only they're not made of matzo. They are made of all sorts of different things and they are called knödel
. To be honest, I did not find them at all appetizing when we were first here. They just look like giant matzo balls but were not as good; the ones I tried at restaurants, in the beginning, were quite heavy and sat in heavy sauces.
Skip ahead 8 months. I was sick, very sick. I had three friends here in Munich, all of whom were out of town(note to self: make more friends). Levent was in Israel for business. It was May, but raining and only about 45 degrees outside. I had a fever and congestion and, worse, was extremely lonely for the first time since moving here. I had no voice, from my cold, so I couldn't even call friends or family in the States or in Turkey because talking was extremely painful. I was miserable. Our adoptive Aunt Judith came all the way from Wessling (a small town outside of Munich) and brought with her spargel
and homemade knödel
with wild garlic("bärlauch"
). She also brought an amazing mystery sauce, made by her brother. She prepared the spargel, knödel, and sauce, and we sat together in the kitchen and ate. It was DELICIOUS. The sun came out. Her presence was of course what really made me feel better, but spargel and knödel will go down in my memory as my German comfort food. No knödel will probably ever taste as good as it did that day, but in case you are ever sick and lonely in Bavaria (I think knödel are more Bavarian than German), try some. It worked for me. The End
I haven't run out of things to talk about, but this blog is already way too long, so I'll end it here. If you want to learn more about German food, you'll have to come and visit!