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Germany 

German food sticks pretty much to its roots and a typical dish will consist of meat with some form of potatoes and gravy, accompanied by vegetables or salad. However, the modern German cuisine has been influenced by other European countries such as Italy and France and gets a bit lighter. Dishes show a great local diversity and it might be interesting to discover those. Since most bigger employers have a canteen for their employees, you will find fewer sandwich shops and takeaways than in the Anglo American world and therefore the eating out culture in Germany is dominated by the Gasthaus/Gasthof and Restaurants to have proper food. Putting places to eat in 6 categories gives you a hint about the budget/taste. Starting from the lower end, these are:

Imbiss

'Schnellimbiss' means quick snack, and is what you will see on the sign of German stalls and small shops that sell primarily sausage (Wurst) and fries (Pommes Frites). Sausages will include Bratwurst, which is fried and usually a boiled pork sausage. A very German variant is Currywurst: sausage chopped up and covered in spiced ketchup, dusted with curry powder. Beer and often harder liquor are available in most. 'Döner Kebab' is Turkish lamb or chicken stuffed into bread, similar to Greek Gyros and Arab Schawarma. Even though considered Turkish, it's actually a speciality which originated in Germany.

American fast food giants like McDonald's, Burger King and Pizza Hut are in most towns. Nordsee is a German seafood chain, they offer 'Rollmops' - pickled herrings - and many other fish and seafood snacks. However, many independent seafood snack-bars (most common along the German shores) offer slightly better and slightly cheaper seafood.

Bakeries and butchers

Germans have no tradition for sandwich shops, but you will find that bakeries / butchers sell quite nice take away food and are serious competition for the fast food chains. Even the smallest bakeries will sell many sorts of bread or rolls, most of them darker (for example, using wholemeal or more rye flour) than the white bread popular around the world and definitely worth a try. Even if they don't already have it prepared, almost all butchers will prepare a sandwich for you if you ask. Some butchers even prepare meals for you.

Biergarten

Here you will get the obvious drink and in Bavaria you can bring your own food. Most places will cater simple meals.

Brauhaus

Microbreweries sell their products straight to the customer and sometimes you will find some nice food there as well.

Gasthof/Gasthaus

Probably 50% of all eating out places fall into this group. They are mainly family-run businesses that have been owned for generations, comparable to taverns. You can go there simply for a drink, or to try German food (often with a local flavor). Food quality differs significantly from place to place but the staff will usually give you an indication of the standard.

Restaurant

Germany has a wide range of flavors (e.g. German, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Indian, Italian, French, Spanish, Greek, Turkish) and almost all styles of the world are represented.

Note that most Chinese and many Thai restaurants rather offer quite a "special" kind of cuisine certainly inferior to the one you might be used to from the U.K. or from the U.S. (in fact, many Chinese / Thai people aren't used to it either), you can easily recognize them titled "China-Spezialitäten-Restaurant" or similar (this might not necessarily be true for every restaurant titled this way). Only in cities with a major Asian population like Dusseldorf, a few restaurants are offering real Chinese cuisine, real Thai cuisine is more common, but only in major cities either.

Turkish cuisine in Germany ranges from simple "Döner" shops (not really Turkish as "Döner" was invented in Berlin) to mostly family-run restaurants offering a wide variation of usually very cheap (in relation to German price levels) Turkish home cooking.

You will rarely find restaurants catering for special needs within Germany (e.g. kosher restaurants are only common in cities with a notable Jewish population like Berlin, organic restaurants only in rural areas), although the most expensive restaurants might prepare special meals for you (mostly at an extraordinary price, of course).

In most restaurants in Germany you can choose your own table. You can make reservations (recommended for larger groups and haute cuisine on Saturday nights) and these are marked by reservation cards. Only in few restaurants, usually the expensive and outstanding restaurants in larger cities will you be expected to make reservations and will be seated by the staff.

Typical dishes

Rinderroulade mit Rotkraut und Knödeln: this dish is quite unique to Germany. Very thin sliced beef rolled around a "pickled gherkin" until it looks like a mini barrel (5cm diameter) flavoured with tiny pieces of onion, German mustard, ground black pepper and salt. The meat is quick-fried and is then left to cook slowly for an hour, meanwhile red cabbage and potato dumplings are prepared and then the meat is removed from the frying pan and gravy is prepared in the frying pan. Knödel, Rotkraut and Rouladen are served together with the gravy in one dish.

Schnitzel mit Pommes frites: there are probably as many different variations of Schnitzel as there are restaurants in Germany. They have in common a thin slice of pork often covered in egg and bread crumbs that is fried for a short period of time and it is often served with fries (that's the Pommes frites part). Variations of this are usually served with different types of gravy: such as Zigeunerschnitzel, Zwiebelschnitzel, Holzfäller Schnitzel and Wiener Schnitzel (as the name suggests, an Austrian dish – the genuine article must be veal instead of pork, which is why most restaurants offer a Schnitzel Wiener Art, or Viennese-style schnitzel which is allowed to be pork). In the south you can often get Spätzle (pasta that Swabia is famous for) instead of fries with it. Spätzle are egg noodles typical of south Germany – most restaurants make them fresh. It is very common to find Schnitzel on the menu of a German restaurant, it might even be the most common dish in German restaurants.

Rehrücken mit Spätzle: Germany has maintained huge forests such as the famous Black Forest, Bayrischer Wald and Odenwald. In and around these areas you can enjoy the best game in Germany. Rehrücken means venison tenderloin and it is often served with freshly made noodles such as Spätzle and a very nice gravy based on a dry red wine.

Wurst “sausage”: there is no country in the world with a greater variety of sausages than Germany and it would take a while to mention them all. “Bratwurst“ is fried, other varieties such as the Bavarian “Weißwurst“ are boiled. Here is the shortlist version: “Rote” beef sausage, “Frankfurter Wurst” boiled pork sausage made in the Frankfurt style, “Pfälzer Bratwurst” sausage made in Palatine style , “Nürnberger Bratwurst” Nuremberg sausage – the smallest of all of them, but a serious contender for the best tasting German sausage, “große Bratwurst”, Landjäger, Thüringer Bratwurst, Currywurst, Weißwurst ... this could go on till tomorrow. If you spot a sausage on a menu this is often a good (and sometimes the only) choice. Often served with mashed potato, fries or potato salad.

Local specialities

Starting from the north of Germany going south you will find a tremendous variety of food and each region sticks to it origins. The coastal regions are fond of seafood and famous dishes include “Finkenwerder Scholle”, going south to the region of Cologne you will find Sauerbraten (a roast marinated in vinegar), if made really traditionally it's from horse meat. Labskaus is a dish from the north and the opinions about this dish are divided, some love it, others hate it. It is a mash of potato, beetroot juice and cured meat decorated with rollmops and/or young herring and/or a fried egg and/or sour cucumber and/or beetroot slices on top. The north is also famous for its lamb dishes, the best type of lamb probably being "Rudenlamm" (lamb from Ruden, a small island in the Baltic Sea; only a few restaurants in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania serve this), the second best type being "Salzwiesenlamm" (salt meadow lamb). Be aware that a lot of restaurants import their lamb from New Zealand though because it is cheaper. Crabs and mussels are also quite common along the German coasts, especially in North Frisia.

A specialty of Hamburg is "Aalsuppe" which - despite the name (in this case "Aal" means "everything", not "eel") - originally contained almost everything - except eel (today many restaurants include eel within this soup, because the name led tourists into confusion).

Pfälzer Saumagen: known for a long time in Palatinate, but difficult to find outside of this area. The dish became well known to the general public in Germany as then-Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s favorite dish, especially when this was enjoyed by him and the Russian president Mikhail Gorbatchev on a State visit in Germany in Deidesheim. Pictures of the feast are shown in the restaurant “ Deidesheimer Hof” in Deidesheim. Literally this is pig stomach filled with a mash of potato and meat, cooked for 2-3 hours and then cut in thick slices often served with sauerkraut.

Swabia is famous for Spätzle (a kind of noodle), "Maultaschen" (noodles stuffed with spinach and mince meat, but lots of variations, even veggie ones, exist) and at the coast there's a variety of fish dishes.

In Bavaria this may be Schweinshaxe mit Knödeln (pork's leg with knödel, a form of potato dumplings), "Leberkäs/Fleischkäse mit Kartoffelsalat" (kind of meat pie and potato salad), "Nürnberger Bratwurst" (probably smallest sausage in Germany), Weißwurst (white sausages) and "Obatzda" (a spicy mix of several milk products).

The south is also famous for its nice tarts such as the "Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte" (tart with lots of cream and spirit made from cherries).

A delicacy in Saxony is Eierschecke, a slices with a covering of eggs and cream.

A specialty of the East is "Soljanka" (originating from Ukraina, but probably the most common dish in the GDR), a sour soup containing vegetables and usually some kind of meat.

Seasonal specialities

White “Spargel” (asparagus) floods the restaurants in April/June all over Germany and it is delicious especially in and around Baden-Baden and the small town of Schwetzingen ("The Spargel Capital"), near Heidelberg, in an area north and north-east of Hannover (Lower Saxon Asparagus Route"), as well as in the area southwest of Berlin, especially in the town Beelitz. Many vegetables can be found all around the year and the are often imported from far away. Whereas asparagus can be found only for 2 months from mid April to mid June and is best enjoyed freshly after harvest it stays nice for a couple of hours or till next day. The asparagus is treated very carefully and it is harvested before it ever is exposed to daylight and only then it remains white. When exposed to daylight it changes its color to a green and it might taste bitter. Therefore, white asparagus is considered to be better by most Germans.

The standard Spargel meal is the spargel stalks, hollandaise sauce, boiled potatoes, and some form of meat. The most common meat is ham, smoked preferred; however you will find it teamed with schnitzel (fried breaded pork), turkey, beef, or whatever is available in the kitchen.

White asparagus soup: one of the hundreds of different recipes that can be found with white asparagus is soup. Often it is made with cream and has some of the thinner asparagus pieces.

Lebkuchen: Germany has many nice Christmas biscuits and gingerbread. The best known are produced in and around Nuremberg.

Stollen is a kind of plaited bun during the Advent season and yuletide. Original Stollen is produced only in Dresden, Saxony, however you can buy Stollen everywhere in Germany (although Dresdner Stollen is reputed to be the best (and - due to the low salaries in Eastern Germany - comparatively cheap)).

Around St. Martin's day, roasted ducks and geese ("Martinsgans") are quite common in German restaurants, usually served with "Rotkraut" (red cabbage) and "Knödeln" (potato dumplings).

Miscellaneous

Germans are very fond of their bread, which they make in many variations. This is the food that Germans tend to miss most when away from home. Most people like their bread relatively dark and dense and scorn the soft loaves sold in other countries. Bakeries will rarely provide less than twenty different sorts of bread and it's worth trying a few of them. In fact, many Germans buy their lunch or small snacks in bakeries instead of takeaways or the like. Prices for a loaf of bread will range from 0.50 € to 4 €, depending on the size (real specialities might cost more).

Vegetarian

Most restaurants have one or two vegetarian dishes, but there aren't many places which are particularly aimed at vegetarian or vegan customers, except some places in big cities like Berlin. Vegetarian restaurant guides can be found at http://www.vegan.de/guide/restaurants/ (german) or http://www.fleischlos-geniessen.de (VEBU restaurant list, the restaurants are not necessarily vegetarian in general)

However, there are usually organic food shops ("Bioladen", "Naturkostladen" or "Reformhaus") in every city, providing veg(etari)an bread, breadspreads, cheese, icecream, vegan cream topping, tofu and saitan. The diversity and quality of the products is great and you will find shop assistants that can answer special nutritional questions profoundly.

Drink

Legal drinking age is 16 for beer and wine (14 if accompanied by a parent) and 18 for spirits. Non-alcoholic drinks are acceptable for all ages.

Beer

Germans consider their beer to be the best in the world. And although other nations may disagree, the brew is usually very good and superior to the bland stuff from the "international" brands. For centuries, beer-making in Bavaria has been governed by the Reinheitsgebot (purity law) that was made national policy with the unification of Germany in 1871, which states that German beer may only be made from hops, malt and water. The Reinheitsgebot has come down with the European integration, but traditional breweries continue to stick with it.

Specialities include Weizenbier (or Weissbier in Bavaria), a refreshing wheat beer which is popular in the south, Alt, a kind of dark ale and Kölsch, a special beer brewed in Cologne. There are also seasonal beers, which are only made at different times of the year (such as Bockbier in winter and Maibock in May, both containing a greater quantity of alcohol, sometimes double that of a normal Vollbier). Beer is usually served in 200 or 300ml glasses (in the northern part) or 500ml in the South. In Bavaria, 500ml is a small beer and a litre is normal. Except for Irish pubs, pints or pitchers are unusual. For Germans, a lot of foam is both a sign of freshness and quality; thus, beer is always served with a lot of head. Additionally, Germans are not afraid anymore to mix their pure beer with other drinks. Beer is commonly mixed with Sprite (usually 2:1) and called "Radler" (cyclist) (or "Alsterwasser"/"Alster" (after the lake in Hamburg) in the north); "Cocktails" of Pilsener/Altbier and soft drinks like Fanta, Cola and so on are also very common but seem to have a different name in every town.

Pubs are open in Germany until 2 in the morning or later. Food is generally available until midnight. Germans typically go out after 8pm.

Cider

Undisputed capital of "Apfelwein" cider in Germany is Frankfurt. Locals love their cider and it is very popular around here. It is often served in a special jug called "Bembel". The taste is slightly different from Ciders in other countries and tends to be quite refreshing. In autumn when apples are turned into cider you might find "Frischer Most" or "Süßer" signposted at some places. That is the first product in the chain of "Apfelwein" production; one glass of it is nice, but after two or three glasses you will have a problem unless you enjoy spending lots of time on the toilet. In Trier "Apfelwein" is called "Viez" and very sour.

Coffee

Germans drink lots of coffee. Coffee is always freshly made from ground coffee or beans - no instant. However, persons coming from countries with a great coffee tradition (like Italy, Portugal, Turkey, Greece or Austria) might find the coffee that is served in normal restaurants a bit boring. A German specialty, originating from North Frisia but nowadays also common in East Frisia, is "Pharisäer", a mixture of coffee and a spirit, usually rum, with a thick cream top. A variation of this is "Tote Tante" (dead aunt, with coffee replaced by hot chocolate).

Glühwein

Visiting Germany in December? Then go and see one of the famous Christmas markets (the most famous taking place in Nuremberg, Dresden, Leipzig and Aachen) and this is the place where you find Glühwein (mulled wine), a spiced wine served very hot to comfort you in the cold of winter.

Spirits
“Kirschwasser” literally means cherry water; it certainly tastes of cherry but on the other hand it is not regular drinking water. There is a long lasting tradition in making spirits in Baden, and “Kirschwasser” is probably the flagship product and it might encourage you to taste other specialities such as Himbeergeist, Schlehenfeuer, Williamchrist and Apfelkorn.

“Enzian” Bavarians like their beer as well their Enzian. A spirit high in alcohol that is best as a digestive after a hefty meal.

"Korn", made of grain, is probably the most common spirit in Germany.

In North Frisia, "Köm" (caraway spirit), either pure or mixed with tea ("Teepunsch", tea punch), is very popular.

"Eiergrog" is a hot mixture of egg liquor and rum.

Tea

Tea is also very popular, and a large choice is readily available. Especially the region of East Frisia has a long tea tradition.

Wine

Germans are just as passionate about their wines as they are about their beer. The similarities don't stop here, both products are often produced by small companies and the best wines are consumed locally and only the remaining ones are exported. The production of wine has a 2000 year old history in Germany as learned from the Rheinisches Landesmuseum Trier, but of course this was a roman settlement at this time. Sunshine is the limiting factor for the production of wines in Germany and therefore the wine production is limited to the south. White wine plays a main role in the wine production, but some areas produce red wines (Ahr, Baden Württemberg). White wines are produced from Riesling, Kerner and Müller-Thurgau grapes (there are a lot more, but to name them all would be too much), and produce generally fresh and fruity wines. German wines can be rich in acid and are quit refreshing. It is generally accepted that Riesling grapes produce the best German wines, but they demand a lot of sunshine and they grow best in very exposed areas such the Mosel, Rheingau, Bergstrasse, Kaiserstuhl and Pfalz.

The best way to learn about wines is go to the place where they are grown and taste them on the spot. This is called "Weinprobe" and is generally free of charge though in touristic areas you have to pay a small fee. Good wines usually go together with good food and therefore it is well worth it to visit some of those places.

Wine producing areas are:

Ahr Ahr is the paradise of German red wines. Half of the production is dedicated to red wines and it is densely populated with “Gaststätten” and “Strausswirten”. A saying goes: Who visited the Ahr and remembers that he was there, hasn’t actually been there.

Baden With approx. 15,500 hectare of wine yards and a production of 1 mn hectolitre Baden is Germany’s third biggest wine growing area. It's the most southern German wine growing area and is Germany’s only member of the European Wine Category B together with the famous French areas Alsace, Champagne and Loire. Baden is more than 400 km long and is split into nine regional groups: Tauberfranken, Badische Bergstraße, Kraichgau, Ortenau, Breisgau, Kaiserstuhl, Tuniberg, Markgräflerland and Bodensee. The Kaiserstuhl and the Markgräflerland are the most famous areas for wine from Baden. One of the largest wine cooperatives is the Badischer Winzerkeller in Breisach (English site).

Franken: Franconia is in the northern part of Bavaria and you can find there very nice wines. Some wines produced in Franconia are sold in a special bottle called "Bocksbeutel".

Hessische Bergstrasse: located on the slopes of the Rhine valley it is a quiet small wine producing area and wines are usually consumed within the area in and around Heppenheim.

Mosel: the steepest vineyards in Germany can be seen when driving in the Mosel valley from Koblenz to Trier.

Pfalz: biggest wine producing area in Germany. Has some excellent wines to taste and a lot of nice villages embedded in vineyards. Tasting wine in Deidesheim is a good idea and several prime producer of German wine are all located on the main road. Want to see the biggest wine barrel in the world then go to Bad Dürkheim.

Rheingau: is the smallest wine producing area, but it produces the highest rated Riesling wines in Germany. Visit Wiesbaden and make a trip on the Rhine to Rüdesheim.

Rheinhessen

Sachsen: One of the smallest wine regions in Germany, nestled along the Elbe River near Dresden and Meissen.

Württemberg As it was mentioned before, here the rule, that the wine production is consumed by the locals, strictly applies. The wine consumption is twice as high as in the rest of Germany, regardless of whether it's red or the white wine. The specialty of the region is the red wine called Trollinger and it can be quite nice by German standards.

Saale-Unstrut: located in the state Saxonia-Anhalt at the banks of the rivers Saale and Unstrut it is most northern wine area in Europe.


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