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Sushi, not sauerkraut – International cuisine conquers Germany

Dumplings, stews and vanilla sauce are passé. These days you are just as likely to find pasta arrabbiata, curries or fresh, stir-fried wok dishes on the menu in German restaurants. International cuisine has arrived, not only in the restaurants, but also in Germany’s domestic kitchens, bringing big changes in terms of German eating habits. Where does this interest and the taste for exotic foods come from – and what’s happening to traditional German cuisine?

International cuisine has conquered the restaurants and domestic kitchens of Germany. For a long time now, the country’s larger towns have all offered more than just Italian, Chinese or Greek restaurants. On a night out in Munich, for instance, you can discover the culinary side of the Seychelles, Hawaii, Peru, Lebanon or Malaysia. In the home, too, Germans are becoming more adventurous in what they cook for themselves. It’s now possible to buy around 5,000 German-language cookery books containing international recipes at the German Amazon website. The German culinary platform www.chefkoch.de also offers any number of international recipes for its users to try out. Moreover, there are now entire food brands that specialise exclusively in international cuisine.

The Germans have been extremely keen travellers ever since the 1960s. And they like it when they can still enjoy the specialities they’ve discovered during their vacation after they get back home. That’s why the first pizzerias opened in Germany after the first major waves of tourism during the period of the Economic Miracle. These were followed by Spanish and Greek restaurants, and places serving Yugoslavian food – as it was still called at the time. The many Chinese restaurants in Germany are a different story, but one that also demonstrates the Germans’ willingness to experiment when eating out. Today, Germans travel the whole world for professional and leisure purposes, and that openness to the world is reflected in their eating habits.

Video: The Story of an Italian in Germany

International cuisine in your own kitchen

The international flavour is taking hold in domestic kitchens and larders too, not just in restaurants and bars. Where a few years ago you’d have found Maggi sauce and pearl barley, you now see coconut milk, dried chillies and fresh basil on the shelf. People are keen to experiment, follow recipes, and shop for authentic ingredients in Asian stores and at the market. The food industry recognised this trend more than 20 years ago. In 1993, Nestlé commissioned a study on ‘ethnic food’. It might be partly a consequence of that study that today the larger supermarkets have whole shelves filled with ingredients that enable Germans to prepare (almost) authentic sushi, borscht or souvlaki.

The pros and cons of ‘multi-cultural cuisine’

Yet there are also voices criticising this trend. Some critics complain that the authenticity of the dishes is lost amid this culinary experimentation. Indeed, it’s not hard to see that the meal served to us a ‘curry’ might seem rather strange to an Indian. Others fear that the growing taste for international cuisine is leading to the neglect of Germany’s own regional specialities, and that young urbanites now have a better idea of what a doner kebab is, or chop suey, than they do about the north German meat-and-potato dish ‘Labskaus’ or Bavaria’s cheese speciality ‘Obatzter’.

Regional delicacies in Germany

When people around the world are asked to name typical German delicacies, Sauerkraut, pretzels and beer are often top of the list. However, these are just some of the many delights that German cuisine has to offer.


International cuisine as an enrichment

Whichever side you take in the debate, there’s no longer any chance of halting the diverse international influences on German eating habits. But perhaps we can use the great variety of options to help address the upward trend in nutrition-related health problems in Germany. Perhaps some of the experiments in German kitchens will produce dishes that we can no longer categorise as coming from any specific country. And perhaps our curiosity for unknown ingredients will indeed cause us to forget a few old, familiar specialities – for a while at least, before we rediscover them later. At any rate, the creative use of new spices and cooking methods is fun, and it’s certainly preferable to opening up a tin of soup.

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Quentin Bouteiller
21 April 2020

Hi there,
Thanks for the great article.
I was wondering if you have information about what type of restaurants in Germany is the most common? (traditional german? kebab stores?) Do you have any statistics on this by any chance?
Would you also know where I could find information on the demographics of independent restaurateurs?
Thanks for your time and help.

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