Germany and its culinary tradition

From frankfurters to Maultaschen, including Spaetzle as well as Schweinshaxe; discover all the flavours of German cuisine, region by region

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Perhaps it is lesser known and celebrated than other countries, but Germany also boasts a wealth of regional culinary specialities and traditional dishes. And if you consider its Haute cuisine offering, Germany has many high-level venues, some of the best in Europe. Beyond cross-contamination, starting with Turkish and Slavic influences, German gastronomy is generally simple and tasty. A typical meal begins with a starter, a low/medium-consistency dish, usually soup, followed by the main dish, which is almost always meat-based.

Weißwurst, white wins

It is the most famous speciality of Bavarian cuisine, in particular in the capital: the classic white sausage which is served during Oktoberfest with sweet mustard, Pretzel and wheat beer. Traditionally prepared early in the morning, it is boiled and served as a mid-morning snack. According to the traditional recipe, these sausages are made with veal, but many butchers have their own secret recipe.

Legend has it that the Weißwurst was invented in Munich in 1857, when the Bavarian army were short of pork gut to make sausages and had to replace it with the intestines that could not be fried, but only slightly cooked. To this day, this white sausage needs to be ‘peeled' before being eaten, but it retains its typical soft consistency. Although you will have no difficulty finding good Weißwurst, to enjoy these sausages in just the right environment, reserve a seat in the legendary Hofbrauhaus (founded in 1859) or at the Weisses Brauhaus or the Hirschgarten.

They like it spicy in Berlin

Frankfurters are a strong point of German gastronomy, with a variety of specialities. Along with the Weißwurst, the most popular sausage is probably the Berlin Currywurst. Here too, its invention is linked to a story: Herta Heuwer, a vending cart cook in post-war Germany, tried to spice up a frankfurter with sauce made with tomato paste and curry brought over by the English. It was a resounding success, which turned her into an entrepreneur: ever since, this dish proves popular all over Germany and the Currywurst has become part of German culture in its own right, so much so that it deserves its own museum: the Deutsches Currywurst Museum, in Berlin of course.

The traditional version is prepared with Bratwust, dark sausages which are first boiled and then sprinkled with the tasty and spicy tomato sauce and ketchup and finally dusted with abundant yellow curry. It is served on a paper or plastic tray, to take away, usually accompanied by a slice of bread or chips.Here are three venues to enjoy this dish in Berlin: Bier's Kudamm 195, Curry Baude and Curry & Chili.

The land of the Maultaschen

These are ravioli typically served in Baden-Württemberg and Swabia, but they are well-known throughout Germany. Just like tortellini which come from Emilia but are served throughout Italy. These are square pouches of pasta. The traditional filling is made of minced meat, veal Bratwurst, spinach and parsley, but there are many variations: with mushrooms, with vegetables, with salmon.

The cooking method also varies: fried, cooked in broth or seasoned with butter or lard. Incredible but true, the Maultaschen are also linked to a legend: they were supposedly invented in Maulbronn - a beautiful abbey in Baden-Württemberg - by Cistercian monks who did not want to give up eating meat during Lent and so, despite their fear of God, they invented a dish  that apparently did not contain any.It is certainly substantial and, in generous portions, and can even be served as a whole meal. They are worth being tasted at Herr Kächele Maultaschen und mehr in Stuttgart, Lehners Wirtshaus in Karlsruhe, Martinsbräu in Freiburg.

Tasty Spaetzle

They are considered a first course in the whole of Central Europe, because you'll find them on the menu in Tyrol as well as in Switzerland, in Alsace as well as in Alto Adige. But in actual fact, Spaetzle originate in southern Germany and in particular Swabia: these irregular-shaped and sometimes elongated dumplings are made of wheat flour, eggs and water. 

This is the ‘white' version, but the green one which incorporates spinach into the dough is also readily available. They can be served as a first course seasoned with cheese and diced bacon, but they are often found as an accompaniment to meat dishes in lieu of classic bread. The word originates from the Swabian dialect and derives from "Spatzen" which means “birds” owing to the similarity of the dish to a sparrow's nest. To try them, sit down at Berghof in Augsburg, Wirtshaus Zum Spätzleschwob in Stuttgart, Zum Schwabentörle in Freiburg.

A matter of knuckle

In Germany, the most popular pork knuckle dish is the Bavarian-style one, referred to as Schweinshaxe, which is usually oven baked or roasted. Rich and juicy, it is served with sauerkraut and potatoes, but also the above-mentioned spaetzle. However, Eisbein - typically served in northern Germany and Berlin - is also very appealing. In this recipe, the pork knuckle is marinated previously, then cooked slowly. 

Vegetables and herbs are added to the water: this method softens the meat and introduces a more intense flavour despite the skin and the layer of fat that surrounds it. The typical recipe from the capital is to serve it with a pea pudding, in Franconia with mashed potatoes and sauerkraut, and in Bavaria with mustard and horseradish. 

Curious fact: the word "Eis-bein" means “leg of ice” and it dates back to the time when bone was used to make the blades of ice skates by hand. Our tips on where to try it: Manns Bräu in Bayreuth, Maximiliams in Berlin, Haxnbauer in Munich.