In just a few short weeks it will be the season to enjoy one of my favourite German drinks – Glühwein (mulled wine)! Aside from beer, it’s probably one of the better known German beverages, mostly due to the popularity of the Christmas markets. But there’s a lot more to German food and drink than just Glühwein and the stereotypical beer and sausages. So what else is worth knowing about Germany’s culinary offerings? Let’s take a look…
1. Seasonal food is celebrated
Before moving to Germany, I never really paid much attention to what was in season when. As long as what I wanted to buy was available in the supermarket, I was happy. Moving to Germany, I was quite surprised at the extent to which seasonal produce is celebrated and enjoyed. For example, from the middle of April until the end of June it’s Spargelzeit – asparagus season. During this time, supermarkets are stocked with piles of both green and white asparagus, displayed alongside potatoes and packs of hollandaise sauce – the standard asparagus accompaniments. Little stands pop up all over the city selling white asparagus directly from local farmers. Many restaurants and cafés offer at least one asparagus dish, and some even have special asparagus menus. This really is a celebration of seasonal food and it doesn’t stop at asparagus. From pumpkins to strawberries, apples to chanterelle mushrooms, it seems that there's always something in season to enjoy!
2. It's surprisingly vegetarian and vegan friendly
Pretty much everyone thinks of sausages and schnitzel and other hearty, meaty food when they think of Germany. And in your standard, traditional German restaurant that is exactly what you'll find. However, Germany is also a surprisingly good place to live as a vegan or vegetarian, with more and more meat-free and plant-based foods becoming available all the time. In most supermarkets you'll find a choice of plant-based milks and products like vegetarian or vegan sausages and meat-free burgers. Berlin is often referred to as the most vegan-friendly city in the world, and even smaller cities often boast at least a handful of vegetarian- and/or vegan-friendly restaurants. In Frankfurt, for example, there are three fully vegan restaurants and countless other places that offer a good array of plant-based dishes, too.
3. There are a lot of organic supermarket chains
If you asked me to name an organic supermarket chain in England, not much would come to mind. In Germany, however, off the top of my head I can quickly think of three: Basic, Denn's and Alnatura. All of these are pretty common and you'll find at least one or two of them in most cities. I would say that Germany is quite health conscious, and this array of organic supermarkets certainly suggests a large interest in eating good, healthy food. The organic supermarkets are also great places to find a wider range of vegan products – I recently noticed that one of our local organic supermarkets now stocks frozen vegan pizza. Happy days!
4. Germany produces great red wine
Everyone knows that some pretty good beer comes out of Germany. Most people have heard of Oktoberfest and know that beer is drunk there by the litre. Equally, many people have sampled a glass or two of white German Riesling (pronounced Ree-zling, not Rye-zling, if you please!) – but German red wine seems to get much less international exposure. Germany has 13 official wine-growing regions and produces a lot more red wine than you’d think. Common red grapes are Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) and Dornfelder and, with wines ranging from sweet to dry, there’s sure to be a German red out there to suit everyone – vegans included!
5. There are lots of regional specialities and they’re not always a kind of sausage!
There are lots of regional specialities in Germany – and no, I’m not just talking about Frankfurters, Nürnbergers and other kinds of sausages named after cities! Specialities here in Frankfurt include Handkäse (literally ‘hand cheese’ – an unusually rubbery kind of cheese served with raw onions and caraway seeds), Apfelwein (a kind of cider) and grüne Soße (green sauce – a cold, creamy sauce that gets both its colour and its name from the seven herbs it’s made with). A speciality from Aachen is Printen (a kind of gingerbread), from Bavaria comes a particular kind of sweet mustard, and Hamburg boasts the Franzbrötchen, a sweet cinnamon pastry that I need to try to veganify! I really love this about Germany – no matter where you are in the country, there’s something new to discover.
6. There are hundreds of different kinds of bread
I love German bakeries, especially on weekend mornings when the world and his wife (or her wife!) are out buying fresh bread and rolls for their breakfast. But with so many kinds to choose from – literally hundreds across the country – the process of deciding what you want can be a bit overwhelming, especially as a non-German. Do you want bread made from rye, wheat or spelt? How do you feel about poppy, sunflower or sesame seeds on top? Do you want rolls or a loaf? If you want a loaf, would you like it sliced or whole? And so it goes on. It really is best to go to a German bakery well-prepared and ready for the decisions that lie ahead!
7. You'll find weekly farmers' markets everywhere
Pretty much every town and city across Germany has its own weekly farmers’ market – in larger cities like Frankfurt, you’ll find a market once or twice a week in every different part of town. My favourite Frankfurt one not only has a great array of fruit and veg, it also has a couple of olive and antipasti stands, a flower stand, a bakery stand and (perhaps most importantly!) a wine stand that sells vegan wine and Federweisser! It’s great to know you’re buying local produce, and it’s lovely to take your time doing so whilst soaking in the hustle and bustle of the market.
8. There are some very popular fizzy drinks
Sparkling water is pretty popular in Germany – but sparkling water combined with apple juice? Well, that’s a national institution and it’s called Apfelschorle! Whether you buy it ready-mixed in a bottle or mix it yourself, it’s fruity and sweet and, for me, about as stereotypically German as it gets! Another popular fizzy drink is made from mixing cola with orange lemonade – the result is known as Spezi. This is the original brand name – there are lots of other, similar products on the market as well, such as Mezzo Mix and Schwip Schwap. Despite its cloudy appearance and the somewhat unusual flavour combination, it’s pretty popular here!
So there you have it – eight things you (probably!) didn’t know about German food and drink. The next time you’re in Germany, I hope you’ll keep your eyes and ears open for regional specialities, red wine, farmers’ markets and bakeries!