Anyone who’s been to Germany, or has German ancestry, knows there are a few foods you absolutely need to try whether you’re visiting the country for the first time or the hundredth time: a giant doughy pretzel with sea salt dipped in spicy Dijon mustard, grilled Bratwurst sausages with a side of Sauerkraut or green sauce, chicken or veal schnitzel, apfelstreusel for dessert, (no, it’s not apple pie, but we’ll forgive you for thinking so), and of course, wash it all down with a frosty glass of Erdinger, or any other German beer on tap.
Germany's vast culinary offerings are highlighted in a brand new marketing campaign called "Follow the Taste." Two food and wine experts, Ursula Heinzelmann and Anne Krebiehl, take turns showing visitors to Germany the wonderful offerings that are located throughout the country.
Food in Germany varies depending on which part of the country you visit-in the north, where Germany touches the North Sea, fried fish is plentiful, given the abundance of fresh fish. Down in central Germany, that's where you'll find classic street food like sausages stuffed in pretzel buns, or restaurants serving up dumplings or currywurst.
Much like how Canadians don’t live on a palette that only responds to poutine, maple syrup, and peameal bacon, German cuisine is incredibly diverse, and that’s a direct reflection of the country’s thriving multiculturalism that’s present in the smaller wine regions like Wiesbaden and booming city centres like Frankfurt. In fact, given that one fifth of Germany’s residents have a migrant background, it’s no surprise that you’ll likely pass a shwarma shop before you stumble upon a restaurant serving up authentic German cuisine.
Wine on the Rhine
Germany has 13 wine regions, and although the country excels at producing white wines, like Riesling, it’s quickly mastering its fair share of reds, too, given the abundance of grapes and vineyards throughout the country. Württemberg, located in the southwest of Germany, is the country’s third-largest territory and where 80 per cent of Germany’s red wine cultivation and production takes place. Germany's largest wine-growing region in general is Rheinhessen, with 65,340 acres reported in 2008. As a country, Germany currently has around 80,000 wine producers covering 102,000 hectares (252, 047 acres) of land. So, although Germans do love their beer, wine is arguably an even bigger deal.
The soil that grows on the banks of the Rhine River is fertile and organic, and the temperatures are ideal for growing grapes. Hundreds of vineyards dot the Rhine, and wine tours are increasingly popular throughout Germany, especially for cruise passengers making their way through Germany. In each of the country’s 13 wine-growing regions, tourists are accompanied by one of 500 qualified wine tour guides, who promote active tastings that generally involve local sightseeing prior to stopping at the vineyards.
Craft Beer Lives Here
Germany has celebrated beer for centuries. Oktoberfest is perhaps the best-known festival devoted to sipping (or sloshing) back a brew or two, but the history of beer in Germany goes back hundreds of years. In fact, there's actually a law around the production of German beer-Reinheitsgebot, or 'The Purity Law' was put into effect in 1516, and states that in order for a beverage to be classified as a true German beer, only three ingredients were permitted: barley, hops and water. When the importance and practicality of yeast for brewing was discovered, that became the fourth and only ingredient to be accepted.
Now, Germany excels in several different styles of beers, and although Bavaria is still home to more than half of Germany's brewhouses and production sites, smaller cities are starting to see the value in the craft beer scene. Wheat beers, pale ales, dark beers, and unfiltered beers are all popular choices. Whereas beer in North America is generally capped at an ABV (alcohol by volume) of 4.0 to 6.1 per cent, German beers can come with an ABV of up to 16 per cent, making them higher in concentration than a glass of wine! So, before you yell Prost! one more time, remember that different ales come with different ABVs.
Germany currently has approximately 1,300 breweries, and more than 5,000 brands of beer. North of Munich, the oldest brewery in the world is still standing-called Weihenstephan, and it's been producing beer since 725! There are several very old pubs and ale houses still operating in Germany, and part of the fun is sitting at the bar, knowing that ales were poured under the same roof back in medieval times.
Traditional Food with a Modern Twist
Germany has its classic staple dishes, but it’s also proving to be quite the foodie destination. With the third most Michelin stars in Europe, Germany has 300 top-notch restaurants that carry the Michelin designation, and the modern German restaurant scene blends everything from Mediterranean and Asian flavours to Turkish tastes.
Long-time favourites continue to be reinvented in Germany - on a recent trip to Weisbaden, I sampled chicken schnitzel smothered in gorgonzola cheese, as well as "Hawaiian Schnitzel" - pork schnitzel with grilled pineapple, a fun take on the popular Hawaiian pizza.
And, though at one time it may have been difficult to practice vegetarianism and veganism in a country with such a love for sausages, there are hundreds of restaurants throughout the country that are completely devoted to creating healthy, gourmet veggie dining options.
No matter where you go in Germany, your tastebuds won't be disappointed.
To learn more about Germany's food scene, visit http://www.germany.travel/en/ms/culinary-germany/culinary-germany.html.
To view the Follow the Taste video, click here.
To stay up-to-date on the latest food festivals, and other events taking place in Germany this year, visit http://www.germany.travel/en/index.html.