If you are asked to think of European cuisine, Germany is perhaps not the first place you think of. Italy conjures up images of pasta and pizza and France cheese and wine, but Germany also has a lot to offer, as I found out on my recent trip to Berlin.
The day begins with breakfast (Frühstück), a proper meal in Germany, rather than a quick snack grabbed on the way out of the door. Cold meats, cheeses and small bread rolls (Brötchen) make up the basis of the meal with jam, honey and eggs also popular choices. This is usually washed down with coffee, a breakfast essential. In a sort of gastronomic symmetry, the evening meal (Abendessen) is similar, with sausage to accompany other meats. However, it’s the food during the day which I was really interested in.
Lunch (Mittagessen) is traditionally the main meal of the day, and although longer working days have changed that slightly, it is still commonplace for people to eat a large meal at midday. I decided to embrace this tradition one lunchtime by ordering Schnitzel (a large, bread-crumbed piece of meat, traditionally veal but pork is also popular) with potatoes and bacon (Speckkartoffel) and a German beer. Although excited for my German feast, I wasn’t quite prepared for how big the schnitzel would be. It covered the majority of the plate and was definitely much larger than my usual 1pm sandwich. This filling and extremely tasty meal was definitely enough to sustain someone through the rest of the day, and I soon understood why dinner was a smaller affair. However, my lunchtime schnitzel was not to be the last food before the evening.
Another tradition in Germany is afternoon coffee and cake (Kaffee und Kuchen), something I was extremely keen to try – who wouldn’t be? After trudging through the snowy streets for a while, I managed to find a small bakery, which not only offered the warmth I needed, but also a wide range of cakes. Apfelstrudel (apple strudel), Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (Black Forest Gateau), Streuselkuchen (crumb cake filled with cream or fruit), Prinzregententorte (sponge cake, buttercream, dark chocolate glaze) to name but a few. After deciding on a classic Apfelstrudel with hot chocolate (Kakao), I sat down to enjoy my mid-afternoon treat. And what a treat it was. The typically large portion of apple strudel was filled with warm spiced apples and the puff pastry was perfectly light and flaky. However, although the food was excellent, my experience was made much more enjoyable thanks to the friendly and authentic atmosphere. This tradition has not been monopolized by tourists and the bakery certainly hadn’t. A group of German women and a couple enjoying their afternoon treat were enough to pack out the rest of the small shop. Refreshingly the people behind the counter did not try lure me in with promotions and ‘special offers’, simply letting their food do the talking. And after devouring this sweet treat I could see why. I was suitably content and definitely felt like I would want no more food for the rest of the day – the Germans certainly are very generous with their portion sizes!
The following day I skipped the large lunch in favour of another popular German tradition: Currywurst. This classic German sausage (Wurst) is sliced and served in spicy curry-ketchup with a bread roll. Although not a large meal like the schnitzel, the spice of the sauce is just what you need on a cold spring day. And for people who would find the complete alteration of meals too radical or simply don’t have time to sit in a restaurant in the middle of the day, it’s a great option.
So, no matter whether you try Currywurst sold from street stalls around the city or choose schnitzel in one of Berlin’s many restaurants, you are unlikely to be disappointed. Both lunches are comforting, warm and above all tasty. If you’re still unsure, at least take time to enjoy my favourite German food tradition: Kaffee und Kuchen. You won’t regret it.