Introduction to German Food

From schnitzels to spaetzle, German cuisine has a lot to offer

German Food

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Germany is a land full of culinary delights. Located in the middle of western Europe, it’s at the same latitude as Newfoundland, which means the summer nights are long and inviting while wintertime is cold and snowy.

The Christian calendar is a map for German social events and there is always a celebration happening somewhere, with food specialties, presents, and homemade entertainment. Cozy gatherings with food and drink are the essence of German Gemütlichkeit (comfort and coziness).

German Food's Boring Reputation

German cuisine often has been labeled as stodgy and fatty, which can be attributed to the lack of variety in the rural German countryside until the last 200 years. Germany has benefited from a close association with Italy and France and adopted many of their spices and cooking methods, always with a German twist.

German Cuisine Varies by Region

Regional cuisines vary according to the geography (mountains, plains, and seas are all represented) and their proximity to waterways, where transportation and trade historically took place. Old World techniques of food preservation through salting, smoking, curing, or pickling is still a common way of preparing fish, meats, and vegetables. If you look at the popular dishes of matjes (pickled herring), sauerbraten (roast beef cured in vinegar and wine), or sauerkraut, you will find ancient cooking methods still in use today.

Oldest German Foods

In prehistoric times, German fare was likely bland. Unlike the Mediterranean countries, the growing season limited the people to early forms of wheat, barley, and pasture land for livestock. Sheep, cows, and goats were used for milk, butter, and cheese and occasionally meat products, which were served most often during feasts. The earliest spices in German cuisine were parsley, celery, and dill, which are still used today. The Romans introduced fruit tree cultivation and grapevines. Oats and rye were also added as agricultural methods became more sophisticated. The areas around Cologne were especially rich in fragrant spices and food due to its location and status as a trading city.

German Cuisine in Modern Times

Today, Germans still fall back on their rich heritage, serving wild game, lamb, pork, and beef with old and new ways of preparing them and their side dishes. Popular spices are mustard, horseradish, and juniper berries, which are found, for instance, in the Luneburg Heath. Still, modern German chefs have started to create newer, lighter fare, incorporating traditional foods into their menus.

Recipes for Traditional German Dishes

Germans love their meats, especially roasts. Some of the most common traditional meat dishes include roasted pork hocks (Schweinshaxe), braised pork roast with cabbage (Schweinebraten und Kohl), and Sauerbraten. Another well-known traditional dish is schnitzel, a German way of preparing meat, usually cutlets. There is a wide variety of preparation styles and sauces including Wienerschnitzel, Jagerschnitzel, and Zigeunerschnitzel.

It's pretty easy to make spaetzle (German dumplings) at home and if you're really feeling adventurous, you might try your hand at making German soft pretzels. Finish any German meal with common dessert recipes such as Alsatian apple cake, German rice pudding (Milchreis), or German streusel cake with cherries.