I personally never cared much about food. I ate because it had to be done. Of course, there were dishes I liked more than others, but that was pretty much it. My appreciation for food grew as I got older and started to travel to countries with new and unfamiliar tastes, different from what I was used to. By learning about foreign food and diverse flavours, I became more aware of the food I grew up with – South-German countryside food. My parents aren’t big fans of cooking, so I grew up with mainly freestyle meals. Although they might not have provided me with typical German food, I still got to experience it whenever I went out.
Before I start listing German food, you need to know that Germany is a country with various traditions and culture. So - food that I personally call ‘typical’ may not be ‘typical’ elsewhere in Germany. Be aware that this could create heated debates amongst Germans! Also, I want to point out that some of the mentioned dishes might not be originally German but are eaten a lot and can be found everywhere within Germany.
1. Wurst: Schwarzwurst, Blutwurst, Bratwurst, Bierwurst, Obatzda, Lyoner, Weißwurst, Wurstsalat, Leberkäse, Leberwurst, Salami, Currywurst
Germans love all kinds of animal products in general. Supermarkets and butcher offer a vast range of different sausages. As there are so many, it doesn’t make sense to explain what they all are, but most of them are made from pork or beef. I advise you just to look up some pictures. Nevertheless, there are three specific types of sausages I find worth mentioning: Wurstsalat, Leberkäse and Currywurst. Germans love their sausages so much that they decided to make a salad out of it - the so-called Wurstsalat (Sausage salad). Therefore they slice sausages, add onions, pickles or cheese and mix it with vinegar and oil - et voilá your sausage suddenly sounds like a healthy thing. Usually, this is eaten as a main along with some bread for either lunch or dinner. Often, this is a meal which is prepared for special occasions, e.g. when you have a group of people over. Sometime people would also just buy it to have a quick dinner. The second sausage is the Leberkäse (Swabian, Bavarian, Franconian)/Fleischkäse (Saarland, Swiss), also perfect for a lunch break or as an after-work snack. It consists of corned beef, pork and bacon and is then baked in a bread pan. You can buy it freshly prepared from the butcher, still warm, in a bread roll. Fun fact: We (Swabians) shortened the term Leberkäsweckle (Leberkäse in a bread roll) by making use of its acronym LKW, which also means truck (Lastkraftwagen). And last but not least the Currywurst - a Bratwurst (sausage) swamped with Ketchup and Curry-powder. It is often seen as *the* German food. But let me tell you one thing: A Currywurst does not count as a full meal but is instead eaten as a snack. It’s only eaten out and bought from, well, food places that look a little rough around the edges. It is easy food on the hand and Germans love it. Nowadays you can even find vegan Currywurst.
Kartoffelsalat is a huge thing in Germany. It is often eaten as a side with something meaty like bbq or Rouladen. We usually prepare it ourselves, but I have heard of people who need it so much in their lives that they even buy it from the supermarket. But here is the thing - there are two really different ways of preparing Kartoffelsalat, and that is where the south and the north of Germany separate. We from the south eat the sliced potatoes with a mix of broth, oil and some vinegar and the north dunks them in mayonnaise. This often causes big rivalries between both parties!
Those are all pasta like things which form my personal diet. They mainly appear in the south of Germany and Austria. Spätzle is pasta with eggs, and we eat it either plain with cheese (Käsespätzle) or as a side with lentils and sausages. I personally always buy them, but many people make them themselves - either scrape them from a chopping board or press them through a Spätzle squeezing machine.
Schupfnudeln have the size of chips but have pointed ends. They are made from potatoes and are similar to Italian Gnocchi. We eat them mostly during winter, and you can find them at every Christmas market, fried with sauerkraut and bacon cubes.
Maultaschen are squared dumpling filled with minced meat, vegetables and fancier restaurant versions contain pumpkin or salmon. We either eat them in a soup with broth, fried in a pan (either plain or with cheese) or as a casserole once again with a lot of cheese. Maultaschen can be self-made, bought from the supermarket and in Swabia, you also find them in traditional German restaurants. Maultaschen are undoubtedly my favourite. I eat them all day every day. They also make the perfect post-party dish when coming home after a long night out and you have a chilled one in your shared flat kitchen. But be aware, to reach the perfect degree of deep-frying you need to be patient. Personal recommendation: Have it with some creme fraiche.
There is this rumour all over Germany that the Döner was invented by Turkish Immigrants in Berlin. Although this might not be the whole truth, Berlin definitely had a strong influence on today's Turkish-German Döner. The meat is typically put in Pita bread with salad, onions, corn, chillies and yoghurt-garlic sauce. Besides the Döner, something called Dürüm is also well known. Here, the fillings are put into a wrap. But as Germany always has different terms for the same things, most people call this wrap Dürüm, but I grew up with the name Yufka.
In Germany, it's all very confusing. We call the Döner shop/place 'Döner', e.g. Ich geh’ gleich zum Döner. The Dönermann is the person who sells the Döner, but 'Dönermann' can refer to the place in which the Döner is sold.
Once, during a night out in Berlin (must have been around 2 am), I dared to ask the Dönermann we also just call what the difference between the terms is and why there are two different names. Unfortunately, I've forgotten the answer.
Nevertheless, Döner places are a huge thing and can be found in every German town. I’d argue that every person living in Germany has their personal Dönermann who of course makes the best Döner ever and who can prepare you a Döner without even taking your order. Sort of like going into your local in England: “the usual please, mate.” Germans have a term these people: (der) Stammgast (noun).
5. Pfannkuchen/Eierkuchen und Flädlesuppe
Watch out - this is a tricky one.
So, Germans do eat pancakes. They are something in between the thick American breakfast pancakes and the thin French crepe. They are kind of like inbetweeners. An optimist would call them the best of both worlds. We eat sweet ones with sugar and cinnamon, Nutella or Apfelmus (apple sauce) (preferably self-made) or salty ones with bacon cubes, mushrooms and cheese or just anything your heart desires. We usually have them for lunch. As those pancakes are neither thick nor thin, you can eat a proper amount (about 5-12 I guess), but as you can never be 100% sure about how many you will need in the end, Swabians just cook a huge number. The rough ones will be saved for the next day, sliced and processed into a soup consisting of Flädle (sliced pancakes) and broth. We call this Flädlesupp’. The secret for this is not to add any sugar to the pancake dough as the sweetness won’t match with the salty broth.
SO, what are pancakes actually called in German? I call them Pfannkuchen, but the people from Berlin call them Eierkuchen. To them, Pfannenkuchen is different sweet baking (dough filled with jam, preferably eaten during Carnival). To me, that would be a Berliner. See - it’s confusing. Sigh.
6. Bread rolls: Laugengebäck (Ley rolls) / Brezel (Pretzel)
Due to my background, Bread rolls are undoubtedly one of my favourite things to eat. Germans love their bread rolls for breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea. But that’s where it gets complicated: All over Germany there are different terms to describe bread rolls: Brötchen and Weckle in the Southwest, Semmel in Bavaria, Schrippe in Berlin etc.
Laugengebäck (ley rolls) is a subcategory of bread rolls and is made by immersing the dough in a lye solution before baking. It can come in any shape, but the most famous ones are the Brezel and the Laugenbrötchen. We eat it either with salty (with cheese, salami or sausage) or sweet toppings (Jam, Nutella, Honey). The Pretzel is mostly consumed with Butter, and especially in the south of Germany, it can be found in every Bakery. Laugengebäck is for us what the pizza is to an Italian or Baklava to a Turkish person: There’s good and bad Laugengebäck, and we’re really picky about where we get our bread rolls from.
Besides bread rolls, we do love our bread in general. German bread can rarely be found anywhere else in the world. I don’t really know the secret behind it, but what I know is that it is far from what the British call bread. German bread is really diverse using different flours, seeds and doughs. But one thing they all have in common is the crispy crust and the soft parts inside. Warning: we feel humiliated if people call toast bread and we can be extremely sensitive when it comes to this topic. This is also one of the things that will most quickly make us feel homesick. Just in case you haven’t understood yet: never ever try to have a discussion about bread with a German person, I swear it will ruin your night no matter how much fun it was before.
Plätchen is one of our many Christmas traditions. In late-November or the beginning of December people spend a lot of time in their kitchen. During the Advent time we usually bake and eat Christmas cookies. There are different types in terms of shape, ingredients and taste, but what they all have in common is that they are sweet. Many contain almonds, coconut, vanilla, chocolate, jam etc. We eat them for tea time, which in Germany is often instead an afternoon coffee. Plätzchen is definitely something that has to be homemade, and in turn gets you into a cosy Christmas vibe.
9. Schwarzwälderkirschtorte and Kuchen in general
The Schwarzwälderkirschtore is, besides the abnormal length of the word, one of the cliche dishes. But we actually do eat it a lot. It is a rich cake with chocolate, cherries, cream and Kirschwasser (cherry liqueur). You can either prepare it yourself or get it from a confectionery. Usually, we have it for special occasions (we meet family members or birthdays). I can only recommend trying this if you make your way to Germany. But be warned the real one looks nothing like the black forest cake they sell at Sainsbury's.
Cakes are a little bit like bread to us: We have many of them, they are really different from all the other cakes in the world, and we love them. We differentiate between Kuchen and Torten. Kuchen is more basic and often consist of fruits and are made from yeast dough. In contrast to that, Torten (like the Schwarzwälderkirschtorte) are usually really rich, made from a lot of cream and alcohol and are much more challenging to bake. Many of my friends’ mums still bake one cake a week, to eat with afternoon coffee. Especially on Sundays, it is common to have friends over for Kaffee und Kuchen. Even younger people do this because cakes are just too good to not eat them regularly.
10. Sahne (Cream)
Sahne has to be mentioned as it is the main ingredient in the German kitchen. We basically add it to every dish. Especially, for sauces and gravies, it is an obligatory component. Approximately 90% of my body mass consists of salmon pasta in cream sauce. In our opinion, the cream just makes everything sweeter. This should also demonstrate to you that German food mainly consists of rich comfort food.
Of course, the list does not end here, there are dishes such as Fischbrötchen and Königsberger Klöpse that are known internationally.
But, if you want to learn about those, I have to pass you on to another German from another region.
To me, those are the ten most relevant specialities that represent southern German eating behaviour.
And just in case some of you (definitely non-Germans) might think: But what about Apfelstrudel? This is one of the biggest myths that exist about Germans. We do NOT eat Apfelstrudel unless the monopolies at McDonald's are on and we win a free Apfeltasche, which (to me) is like a smaller version of Apfelstrudel. But, seeing as I NEVER eat Apfelstrudel and don’t really know what the dough consists off or looks like, do not trust this fact.