Here, Eat This: A Beginner's Guide to German Cuisine
Modern-day Texans may not see much German influence when they look around, but the indirect effects of decades of German settlement still linger in large pockets of the state.
Photo by Troy Fields Johann Sitter offers German food and beer at King's Biergarten in Pearland.
The first waves of German immigration began in the 1830s ahead of the European Revolutions of 1848 that sent floods of Forty-Eighters -- German, Austrian and other Central European political dissidents -- to the United States. Over 180 years later, Germans are still the largest European ethnic group in Texas, and count as the third-largest national-origin group behind Hispanics.
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We can trace many of these immigrants back to Johann Friedrich Ernst, a gardener from Oldenburg who became the father of the German settlers in Texas after obtaining a land grant for 4,000 acres in Austin County in 1831 -- an area which would become known as the "nucleus of the German Belt" in Central Texas. Ernst wrote "America letters" to his countrymen describing the bounty of land, livestock, wild game and fish that made Texas "an earthly paradise."
And although those letters were more than a bit optimistic, Texans still view their state as an earthly paradise today -- in no small part because of fine food and drink such as our beer, our barbecue and our chicken fried steak. We have Germans to thank for all of that.
If you like the link sausages in Central Texas-style barbecue, you'll probably love bratwurst and the many other styles of sausage found throughout Germany. At its most simple, a bratwurst is a sausage made from finely ground pork, beef or veal, but there are at least 40 different varieties around Germany -- each made different by the blend of meats, herbs and spices and its individual preparation (grilled, fried, boiled, smoked, etc.) There's even a variety of bratwurst that's made with raw eggs and grilled over burning pinecones.
Sauerkraut is a wonderous food. It's full of vitamins, keeps your digestive system running smoothly thanks to plenty of lactobacilli and it's able to be preserved for long periods of time (i.e., German winters). No wonder the fermented cabbage came to be such a staple in the German diet, just as kimchi is to Koreans. There's even research to suggest that sauerkraut contains cancer-fighting agents. In case you've only ever had sauerkraut or its prettier, more perfumed cousin -- red cabbage, stewed down with cinnamon, cloves and allspice -- that comes from a jar, treat yourself to the homemade stuff at restaurants like Charivari. There, chef Johann Schuster cooks the cabbage down into a wonderfully balanced sweet-and-sour dish that's both creamy and tangy at the same time.
Photo by Chris Goldberg
Notice that we're not talking about just Wiener schnitzel here, but all schnitzel. At its most basic, a schnitzel is simply a cut of meat that's been pounded flat, coated with an egg wash, breaded with flour and fried. Sound familiar? It's the basis of chicken-fried steak (and milanesa, while we're at it). Wiener schnitzel is from Vienna (a.k.a. Wien, in its native language) and always made of veal cutlets. By comparison, other schnitzels like Jägerschnitzel are covered with a red wine and mushroom gravy, while Rahmschnitzel is topped with a creamier mushroom sauce.
Photo by ceiling
To my great surprise, it was cold cuts and cheese I ate most often while in Germany -- both at breakfast and at lunch -- not heavier meals of potato dumplings and schnitzels. Slices of what we'd call deli-style meat are incredibly common at both meals, and are eaten with thick slices of cheese, pickles, onions and mustards. While most of the cold cuts are sausages, these differ from the bratwurst and other hot German sausages in that they're meant to be consumed in cold slices, often in sandwich form.
R.W. Apple once wrote in the New York Times: "In Germany, I sometimes think, they don't care which side their bread is buttered on, or whether it's buttered at all, as long as it's made from rye." You'll find rye bread at every single meal, whether it's consumed with butter and jam at breakfast, cold cuts at lunch or coated with fresh schmaltz and eaten with soup and sauerbraten at dinner. And be careful that you don't mistake the schmaltz for butter the first time you eat at places like Charivari, King's Biergarten or even Kenny & Ziggy's; it's rendered chicken fat (which literally means "lard" in German). Schmeckt sehr gut!