Regional delicacies in Germany – there's something for everyone

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, characterised as it is by strong regional differences that have developed over time. Recipes are often handed down from generation to generation within families.

A survey of regional German cuisine from 2009 (in German only) revealed that the most frequently identified dish among Germans themselves is Königsberger Klopse (cooked meatballs in white sauce with capers from the former East Prussian town of Königsberg, now the Russian city of Kaliningrad), with 93 percent of those surveyed having tried them. Enjoying an almost equal level of recognition is Bavarian Weisswurst (white sausage), a fact which is no doubt related to it being a typical dish at Munich's popular Oktoberfest beer festival.

Typical south German cuisine: Maultaschen and Schupfnudeln

While Bavaria's rather hearty cuisine is influenced by its proximity to Austria, dishes in the south-west German state of Baden-Württemberg, which has a particularly high number of gourmet restaurants, reveal contributions from neighbouring France and Switzerland. Meat delicacies such as Schäufele (pork shoulder) are important elements in the regional diet, as is the famous Black Forest Gateau, but it is pastry-based dishes that feature most prominently. Maultaschen (Swabian ravioli) and Schupfnudeln (long, rolled noodles) are the third and fourth most recognisable delicacies in Germany. Fifth and sixth place are occupied by two north German dishes.

German cooking for beginners: Swabian ravioli

North German delicacies: Grünkohl mit Pinkel and Labskaus

The kale season begins after the first few cold nights of autumn when delicacies made using this healthy winter vegetable are served at numerous kale festivals. Kale is traditionally eaten with Pinkel, a type of smoked sausage. Bremen boasts the oldest kale festival, dating back to 1545, while the kale academy (Grünkohl-Akademie) in neighbouring Oldenburg has been organising an annual kale dinner  in the German capital (originally in Bonn, then Berlin) for over 50 years. High-ranking politicians are invited to the dinner and sometimes even crowned as 'Kale King', as happened to EU Energy Commissioner and former Minister-President of Baden-Württemberg Günther Oettinger in 2012.

Labskaus, on the other hand, is an old sailor's dish now popular on dry land. Historically, this purée of mashed potatoes and beef was easily edible by sailors, whose long voyages at sea left them with bad teeth.

German cooking for beginners: Labskaus

Regional German delicacies enjoy popularity far and wide

One particular delicacy from each region is usually exported further afield with great success, for example, the Thüringer Rostbratwurst (Thuringian sausage) and the Leipziger Allerlei (a vegetable dish consisting of peas, carrots and asparagus). Dresden is home to the world-famous Christmas cake, Dresdner Stollen. And then there is the Spreewaldgurke, a particularly savoury gherkin from the German state of Brandenburg, which surrounds the city state of Berlin. This gherkin was praised by German poet Theodor Fontane back in 1870.

Regional delicacies with confusing names

It usually takes someone with good regional knowledge to avoid being misled by the names of certain German delicacies. For example, those ordering a Halve Hahn (sounds like 'half a cockerel') in the Rhineland region will not get half a chicken, but rather a rye bread bun with cheese. Similarly, the Kalte Hund (literally 'cold dog'), originating from Saxony, is not a meat dish, but rather a cake with alternating layers of chocolate cream and crushed biscuit. Bread is very much a staple of the German diet, both regionally and nationally. The country has so many different types of bread that the Association of German Artisanal Bakers (Zentralverband des Deutschen Bäckerhandwerks e. V.) is seeking to have German bread added to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list.

Regional delicacies promote sustainability

There is one further aspect of regional delicacies that has become increasingly important in Germany over the last few years. Wherever possible, individuals who care about the environment and sustainability in relation to food take particular care when shopping to buy groceries that are produced locally. Food sold in organic shops in particular is labelled with precise information about its origin. German consumer organisation Stiftung Warentest published a study on this topic in July 2013 (in German only). Of the individuals surveyed, 80 percent said that, when it came to fruit and vegetables in particular, they favoured local produce.

The benefits are obvious; short delivery routes allow costs to be kept down and reduce environmental pollution. In addition, many consumers feel more able to trust local bakers, butchers and vegetable growers than large, faceless food production firms.

While it is unlikely that Germans will give up bananas, mangos and oranges all together, intentional efforts on the part of consumers to buy regional products have to be a significant step towards greater sustainability.

Discussion about German cuisine in the Community

Join us in the 'Eating and Drinking' Community group to discuss Weisswurst and Sauerkraut and let us know your favourite delicacies. Do you have a favourite German dish? Do you ever cook it at home? Share your recipes for German delicacies with us and other alumni in the 'Eating and Drinking' group.


Author: Elena Krüskemper 

October 2013

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