What is traditional German food?
Published on October 26, 2022 / Updated on January 9, 2024
Germany may not be held in high esteem for its food culture — unless your idea of a culinary delight is potatoes and pickled cabbage — but modern day Germany has come quite a long way in its culinary journey. Today, the country has something for every taste. While beer, bread, sausage, and schnitzel remainstaples of the national cuisine, each region has its own unique specialties and twists on popular dishes. Here is a quick dive into the most popular and delicious German food. Guten Appetit!
Traditional German cuisine has a reputation for being heavy and meaty — but this isn’t always the case. While popular dishes of the past included Sauerbraten (marinated, braised beef), roulades, Eisbein (stewed knuckle of pork) and Schweinshaxe (roast pork joint), German food nowadays looks very different thanks to international influence. Indeed Turkish döner kebab, Vietnamese pho, Russian Soljanka and Greek gyros are now as popular throughout much of the country as any old-fashioned German dishes.
In the past few years, a cooking fever has broken out in Germany and people love to cook at home and with friends. As many Germans are adopting vegetarian and health-conscious diets they are also reinterpreting those traditional German dishes that were heavy in meat and dairy, and leaning more towards meat alternatives and flavorful salads.
There are many kinds of Würste or Würstchen in Germany. Some estimate the number is more than1200. We can’t cover them all in one article, so here are a few types that you’re sure to come across at a summer Grillabend (BBQ party), your local Imbiss (food stall) or in an Oktoberfest Bierzelt.
Bratwurst – made from pork, beef, marjoram, caraway, garlic, and other spices that vary by region.
Blutwurst – blood sausage made from congealed pig or cow’s blood, pork, beef, animal fat, bread or oatmeal, and spices — eaten cold.
Bockwurst – veal sausage containing a little pork and various other meats, salt, pepper, and paprika— often available at Oktoberfest, served with mustard and a Bock beer.
Leberkäse – liver cheese, a Bavarian sausage containing neither liver nor cheese. It’s similar to meatloaf, made of corned beef, pork, onions, marjoram and various spices, baked in a pan, developing its own crust. It’s served either hot or cold.
Leberwurst – similar to French paté, liver sausage is made from pork and, yes, pork liver, and it has two variations. Kalbsleberwurst is made with veal and pork liver, while Braunschweiger is the same recipe but smoked and spreadable.
Teewurst – this sausage is left to ferment after being air-dried or smoked. It’s made up of pork, bacon, and beef, however, the other ingredients are a well-kept secret. It’s often eaten at tea time on open-faced sandwiches.
Weißwurst – white sausage; a Munich specialty, is a thick sausage consisting of veal, pork, some fat and herbs. It really is white and is served in a small porcelain pot swimming in hot water! The green specks you can clearly see are the parsley and there is even some ginger and cardamom in the sausages too.
To get some of the best french fries in Germany, visit your local Imbiss, any kind of fast food stand or stall. French fries are called Pommes, which is of course the beginning of ‘pommes frites’ in French, but it is pronounced ‘pom-iss’ in German. Schnitzel (thinly rolled and breaded veal or pork) with Pommes is a very popular everyday meal.
Another common potato dish is Rösti. Originally from Switzerland, Rösti are potato patties made by shredding potatoes and then frying them so they are crispy on the outside.
Similar to Rösti, but more likely to be on offer at Christmas markets is the Kartoffelpuffer, though these potato patties are deep-fried and served with applesauce or garlic sauce. Gorgeously brown Bratkartoffeln, or fried potatoes, are also very popular, especially when studded with little bits of onion and bacon.
Kartoffelklöße (potato dumplings that may be plain or filled, though the filling varies widely by region) are traditional potato dumplings made from grated raw potatoes and steamed. Thüringer Klöße are the most famous and are often served with the above Rindsrouladen and Rotkohl (red cabbage cooked with apples, sugar, vinegar and spices).
While Italy might have the best reputation for pasta, Germany has some tasty pasta dishes of its own. The most popular of these is surely Spätzle (little sparrows) a pasta of Swabian origin which derives its name from the Italian word spezzato (“torn into pieces”). The most popular Spätzle dish is Käsespätzle which is Spätzle mixed with shredded cheese and fried onion, like a German macaroni and cheese. It is also prepared in soups and stews or as an accompaniment to another main dish.
Another popular pasta dish is Maultaschen, similar to ravioli, are square dumplings with a savory filling of minced meat, spinach, onions and bread crumbs, which can be served in a soup or dressed with melted butter and onions.
Everyone knows Germans love their baked goods. You can scarcely throw a stone in Germany without hitting a bakery. So if you’re visiting you have to try a few of the many types of bread you can pick up in your local Bäckerei, and test your pronunciation skills by ordering a Sonnenblumenkernbrötchen (sunflower seed bread roll) or a loaf of Roggenbrötchen (rye bread) or some tasty Zwiebelbrot (onion bread).
As for satisfying your sweet tooth, you can find a good few pastries in your local Bäckerei, like Apfeltaschen (a strudel-like pastry pocket filled with apple), a Franzbrötchen (a pastry similar to a cinnamon roll that may contain raisins) or a Berliner (a jam donut, not a resident of Germany’s capital).
Most famous of all is Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (Black Forest Cherry Cake” or “Black Forest Gateau”). Made from layers upon layers of chocolate sponge, lots of whipped cream and cherries soaked in Kirschwasserlikör (cherry brandy). Who could resist!
Of course, as we approach Christmas, the list of specialties is endless, especially when it comes to cakes and Weihnachtsplätzchen (Christmas biscuits).
Lebkuchen – Germany’s famous gingerbread comes in the shape of Herzchen (little hearts), Sternchen (little stars) and more. Oftentimes, people even use them to decorate their Christmas trees.
Spekulatius – These thin crunchy shortcrust biscuits are also traditional in the Netherlands.
Stollen – Germany’s most precious Christmas delicacy, this traditional sweet yeast bread is dotted with nuts and dried fruit. Dresdener Stollen is considered to be the best and it is available with or without a roll of marzipan in the center.
Alongside the time honored classics of German cuisine, Germany’s food culture continues to evolve. Especially in Germany’s big and bustling cities you will find a wonderful mélange of traditional cuisine, foreign foods from all over the world and intriguing modern fusions of the two. Even so, German classics are classics for a reason, and they’re sure to stick around through the ages.