People travel to Germany for the sights and cities, but also for good German food. If you are a foodie and about to embark on a journey through Germany, here are the must-have German dishes you have to try in your travels.
From German food markets to beer gardens to wine festivals to mouthwatering German restaurants, here is the best of Germany’s varied cuisine.
Roasted pork knuckle is exactly what you think of when you think of hearty German food. Served in hulking proportions with crackling skin, it is often paired with a knödel or klöße (bread or potato) dumpling and a generous portion of sauerkraut, finished with a mass (liter of beer).
You can't talk about German food without talking about the wurst (sausage).
The beloved bratwurst has a history in Germany dating back to 1313 and is the perfect street food, served sticking out both sides of the bun. There is also the surprisingly spicy currywurst which was the creation of an inventive German housewife who traded alcohol for curry powder after WWII. Combining it with ketchup and Worcestershire, this unique sauce is splashed over a fried sausage and served sliced with a roll or pommes (french fries). Another favorite sausage is the southern weisswurst, or "white sausage". Traditionally, it is served no later than noon in a pot of warm water with a hefeweisen for weißwurstfrühstück or Bavarian breakfast.
Döner kebab, the street food you can find just about everywhere, started in Berlin. This crossover between Turkish immigrants and German palates is a meal symbolic of the multicultural nature of Berlin.
If you have never had one before, you will be drawn in by the massive cones of meat in the window. Upon ordering, the spit is moved closer to the heat and shaved off in salty strips. The meat is then placed in a hearty triangle of Turkish bread with a generous helping of salat (salad) and soße (sauce).
Want a true taste of German culture and cuisine? Then explore Germany’s rich history of century-old beer making.
There are many ways to educate yourself in German beer culture, which is educational and a great time! There are many places you can take a brewery tour in Germany, or just sample on your own at the many German biergartens or beer festivals.
German wines are experiencing a renaissance. With vineyards dating back to Roman times, fine German wines are now enjoyed around the world.
Germany has 13 wine growing regions, most of them concentrated in the west and southwest, making it the 8th largest wine-producing country in the world. The largest German wine growing region is Rheinhessen (Rhenish Hesse), followed by the Pfalz (Palatinate). Due to Germany's climate and its vineyards, which are some of the most northernmost in the world, the majority of German wines are white; some of the best ones are Riesling and Müller-Thurgau, both whites, as well as the red and elegant Spätburgunder (German for Pinot Noir) and the full-bodied Dornfelder.
And all forms of German bread are revered, with none more identified with German food than Bretzel. Sold fresh and hot at stands everywhere, it can also be covered in cheese, served with mustard, or split and filled with things like schmalz (fat) or butter.
You can't walk but a few feet at Oktoberfest without seeing a brezen, but it is not limited to the festival. They are sold in chain stands in train stations, sit down restaurants, or the best might be found in Munich's high-end bakeries like Zöttl, Wimmer, and Karnoll's Backstandl in Viktualienmarkt.
International Cuisine at City Markets
It isn't all meat and pretzels in German cuisine. Its cities, particularly Berlin, feature the best international cuisine in the country.
Many of the best food stands are offered in the city's markets. Berlin's Markthalle IX in Kreuzberg is one of the few remaining market halls in the city. Along with daily fresh market offerings, there are exciting events like Street Food Thursday, cheese festivals, and dessert markets.
Germany's love of fish might be most apparent in its coastline in the north, but seafood can be enjoyed throughout the country. One of the best places to indulge in fresh fish is Hamburg's 300-Year Old Fischmarkt. Open every Sunday morning, this is where 36,000 tons of fresh fish are sold each market day and 70,000 visitors walk the stands.
Favorite fish dishes include fischbrötchen (fish sandwich), although crab or shrimp filling is also popular, as well as steckerlfisch which is marinated, skewered and then grilled to perfection.
Often compared to mac-n-cheese, this meal roots from Swabia but can be found everywhere.
It is made by grating a ball of dunstmehl (dough) against a specialized wooden chopping board (Spätzlebrett) into boiling, salted water. When finished, the spätzle rise to the surface and can be topped with fried onions or spinach (or minced pork liver (leberspätzle) for the meat-lover). One of the most common versions is käsespätzle where it is mixed with cheese.
This is just one of the German dishes that is vegetarian-friendly and commonly found...unless speck (bacon) is added.
An East German version of meatballs, Königsberger Klopse are named after the Prussian capital of Königsberg (now Kaliningrad). Covered in a creamy sauce with capers and lemon, they are usually served with boiled potatoes.
For more daring diners who want something very East German, try Sülze, Schwartenmagen or Presskopf; a jellied meat loaf flavored with pickles or vinegar in East Germany.
These East German favorites - and more - can be found at the best Ossi (East) restaurants like Zur letzten Instanz or Wilhelm Hoeck 1892 in Berlin.
Almost as beloved as its bread and beer, cheese is a German essential. Besides the ever-present gouda, bergkäse, and curiousity of quark, there is the southern favorite of obatzda. This tasty spread is a blend of a soft cheese, like a Camembert, a little bit of beer, and then spices like paprika and garlic. Pair it with brezen, pickles, and onions to go full German snack mode.
While it springs from Bavaria, southern style restaurants are popular around Germany and will usually have it on the menu. For example, the Hofbräuhaus has locations in most big cities and is the perfect place to order obatzda.
Few East German products outlasted the fall of the Wall, but the Spreewald pickle was one of beloved Ostalgie items that was good enough for reunited Germany. The Spreewaldgurken is not just a source of briney enjoyment, but a point of pride for the unique region of the Spreewald south of Berlin.
The pickles are served from barrels in an assortment of flavors from senf (mustard) to honig (honey), both at the touristic villages of the Spreewald and fancy grocery stores.
Coffee and Cake
Kaffee und kuchen is a necessity on free afternoons or family-friendly Sundays in Germany. A break between lunch and dinner with coffee (or tea) and cake is a welcome respite from the business of day-to-day life.
Some German cake classics:
- Apfelkuchen: Apple
- Schokoladenkuchen: Chocolate
- Käsekuchen: Translated as "cheese cake", this dessert is a little different from the American version
- Rübelitorte: Carrot
- Schwarzwalder Kirschtorte: "Black Forest Cake" has decadent layers of chocolate sponge, whipped cream, and sour cherries.
- Gugelhupf: Light sponge cake topped with fresh fruit and sweetened whipped cream.
- Zwetschgenkuchen: Thin sheet cake covered with pitted plums (Pflaumen).
Going into any bäckerei (bakery) and they are sure to have an assortment of freshly baked confections.