Here, Eat This: A Beginner's Guide to German Cuisine
Spaetzle and knödel
Photo by Mark H. Anbender
Germans love potatoes as much as they love rye bread and cabbage. They're in everything from warm potato salad (Kartoffelsalat) with bacon to knödel: potato dumplings. These dumplings can be incredibly basic -- from round balls of barely more than grated potato, flour, salt and egg -- to fancier dishes that range from savory to sweet. Spaetzle are another common dumpling, but these egg-based dumplings are far smaller and are often, in fact, referred to as simply "egg noodles." Both spaetzle and knödel are common side dishes from meatier main courses.
Photo by Josef Türk Reit im Winkl Chiemgau Sauerbraten and knödel.
Sauerbraten is one of those typical meat entrees, often referred to as one of German's national dishes. If you ate pot roast growing up, you ate sauerbraten. Although the name literally translates to "sour roasted meat," sauerbraten isn't necessarily sour. It's simply a tough cut of meat -- usually a rump roast -- marinated in anything from wine and vinegar to buttermilk, as long as it's an acidic blend that will help break down the meat before roasting. As with any good roast, the juices are saved and thickened up with flour to make a creamy, meaty gravy that's served on top along with vegetables, sauerkraut/red cabbage and dumplings.
Photo by Tim Lucas
Germans like their fast food as much as we do, and currywurst is one of their proudest (and perhaps weirdest) examples of traditional German food gone fast: fried sausage covered in curried ketchup with a side of french fries. The dish dates to 1949, when a devastated Germany was attempting to rebuild its bombed-out cities after World War II. Currywurst cropped up as a cheap, filling snack that could be sold on the roadside to lunching construction workers. The Worcester sauce and curry powder came to Germany by way of British soldiers, with the curry itself coming from India, and currywurst became fast fusion street food 60 years before it was cool. If you find any in Houston, LET ME KNOW.
Döner kebab and Türkische pizza
Germany has a relationship with Turkey that's not too dissimilar from our own with Mexico. At the risk of simplifying complex international relations, I'll leave it at that. As a result, Turkish food has cropped up over the last few decades as some of Germany's most popular fast-casual food. The Wall Street Journal recently claimed "there's nothing more German than a big, fat juicy döner kebab," citing the 720 million servings sold each year. With a Turkish population reaching 2.5 million, Germans have embraced other Turkish foods as well, including what it calls Türkische pizza: döner kebab wrapped in lahmacun.
Germans have been brewing beer since at least 800 B.C. By 200 A.D., beer was already being traded commercially in the region that would eventually become Germany, and before its official repeal in 1987, the famed Reinheitsgebot -- a regulation concerning the production of beer -- was the oldest food-quality regulation in the world. First conceived of in 1487, the Reinheitsgebot maintained standards for all German beer and mandated that the only ingredients allowed in the brewing of beer were water, barley and hops. To this day, German influence is felt in the Texas beers we still drink. Both the Pearl and Spoetzel breweries were created by Germans, while other breweries such as the Franconia Brewing Company in McKinney are run by German brewmasters. If you love beer, thank a German.
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