27 November, 2013

Some thoughts on German food

The theme for today's post is something that I encounter many times throughout my day: food! I won't be providing in-depth information about traditional German food, mostly because I just don't have extensive knowledge about that, but I will share some of my observations about food in Germany, new things that I've eaten here, and things that are eaten less often than in the United States or not at all.

BREAKFAST, LUNCH AND DINNER

Meal times here are typically around the same time as in the United States, perhaps a little bit later (but not as late as, for example, in Spain). Breakfast, obviously, is eaten when one gets up in the morning, which varies depending on the person and their schedule. My host family eats breakfast around 6:45-7am, whereas I eat breakfast anywhere from 9-11am (this will change next week when I switch to a morning German class). We typically eat lunch between 12:30 and 2pm, whenever the girls get home from school, and dinner is usually around 6:30 or 7pm, depending on what time one or both parents gets home.

A typical German breakfast consists of bread or rolls, either with something sweet like butter and jam or honey, or with sliced cheese and meat. My family tends not to have rolls much so I usually have either toast with butter and honey or cereal.

Lunch is usually the biggest meal of the day and is typically always a hot meal. I cook lunch for myself and the girls every day, and from the offerings in my host family's fridge and cabinets I make things like steak and potatoes, chili, pasta with tomato sauce (the girls LOVE tomato sauce!), chicken and rice, scrambled eggs, and usually some variety of vegetables, usually whatever frozen kind is in the freezer.

Dinner varies, at least with my host family. Most of the time one of the parents will cook something or bring home something pre-cooked, like chicken and French fries, but other times it's more casual and we each eat what we want. Dinner often includes a salad.

BREAD

Germans have very different ideas about bread than Americans. For Americans, anything from Wonderbread to dark pumpernickel to fancy French baguettes are referred to simply as bread, with clarification added only if desired or if one is talking about two different kinds of bread in the same sentence and needs to distinguish them. Here, the typical loaf of soft square bread that you would make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with is not considered "real" bread. It's called toast bread (or Toastbrot) and is used only for toast. The bread that is actually called bread is typically denser, darker, and often includes wholes grains or seeds. This is considered much healthier (probably because it is) and is not to be used for toast. This type of bread is often eaten for breakfast, in the manner described above. When I first got to Germany I was hesitant about this dense, dark, grain-filled bread, but now that I've gotten used to it I quite enjoy it.

MEAT

I mentioned sliced meat and cheese already, but they deserve another mention because they are everywhere! There are never fewer than 3 types of sliced meat and at least 1 type of sliced cheese in my host family's refrigerator at any given time, and there are so many available options for sliced meat that I can't even keep them straight. Going into a supermarket with a vague idea that you want sliced meat can turn into a ten minute staring contest with the contents of the refrigerated section while you ponder your endless options. The variety of options ranges from salami- and pepperoni-type meats, to thinly sliced smoked meat that looks a bit like bacon but doesn't taste nearly as good, to the overly processed pink deliciousness known as Lyoner. Then of course there is actual bacon, but somehow it just doesn't seem to be super popular here, at least not as anything more than an addition to other dishes. Occasionally there is sliced turkey meat, but generally when I say meat here I'm referring to red meat.

Then there's the Wurst (sausage). There's some Wurst that seems just like your typical American hot dog, but the possibilities just explode from there. Small and large, different types of meat and flavor, some that you peel the skin off before eating, some that come wrapped in plastic, etc. To add to the confusion, sometimes the Wurst is sliced and sold in packages, like the Lyoner I mentioned above, so the Wurst and sliced meat categories are not completely separate entities. Two of my favorite kinds of Wurst that I've had so far are Weißwurst (white sausage) and Leberwurst (liverwurst). Weißwurst, as the name suggests, is white and is delicious with honey mustard. The Leberwurst that I've had here is way better than the stuff I've had in the US, and, contrary to popular (American) belief about sausage, it's soft and spreadable. (I think there may also be kinds that are hard and are cut into slices.)

Also, Schnitzel is delicious. It's breaded and fried meat, what's not to love?

CHEESE

The cheese options aren't quite as overwhelming, but there are some types of cheese here that I had never heard of before. I think this comes from an American tendency to misname an entire group of cheeses as "Swiss cheese." Lots of cheese comes from Switzerland so one name for all of them just doesn't quite cut it. One type that my host family has a lot is Emmentaler, which I'm pretty sure is what usually passes as Swiss cheese in the United States. Another type of cheese I hadn't heard of before coming here is Bergkäse, which means "mountain cheese." It's a hard cheese with a fairly strong flavor and is the closest thing to sharp cheddar that I've found here. Cheddar is conspicuous by it's absence, and the only cheddar I've had here was mild and orange. I would do so much for some Cabot extra sharp cheddar!

Also, the American distinction between "regular" mozzarella (the kind used for mozzarella sticks) and "fresh" mozzarella (the soft kind that comes in balls and is packaged with water to keep it moist) doesn't exist here. There's the moist kind and that's that.

QUARK

This is something else I'd never heard of before coming to Germany. Even after eating it I still can't tell you exactly what it is. It's a dairy product, of that much I'm certain, but how it's made or why is beyond me. It seems to be a cross between yogurt and cottage cheese, and the few times I've eaten it it's been mixed with raspberry jam.

DRINKS

I've already discussed beer, so that doesn't need much more discussion. Regarding non-alcoholic beverages: hardly anyone drinks tap water. If they drink water it's usually sparkling water purchased in 1.5 liter bottles, or in the case of my host family, cases of 1.5 liter bottles. This seems a bit unnecessary to me, since fresh, drinkable water comes right out of the tap, but as long as the bottles are being recycled I can't really complain. My family also drinks lots of orange juice and apple juice, to the point that I think it would make things much easier if they just bought it by the keg. As far as I know soda is not that common as an everyday drink.

THINGS EATEN MORE OFTEN

Obviously, as my remarks about meat made clear, Germans love meat, specifically if it comes from a cow, a pig or a lamb. Bread is also eaten often on its own. Also, in true European fashion, Nutella seems to be a staple of most people's diets.

THINGS I CAN'T SEEM TO FIND

Other than good cheddar cheese, peanut butter and ranch dressing come to mind. There is also a distinct and saddening lack of sandwiches. I guess the concept of a sandwich as a meal never really took off here. The closest thing to a sandwich that is commonly found in Germany is...

DÖNER!

As promised in another post, I will now describe the majesty that is a döner. Döner, or döner kebab, is a pita/flatbread filled with roasted meat, vegetables such as lettuce, cucumbers, cabbage and tomatoes, spices, and a sauce which I think is yogurt-based. It's basically a German spin on a Turkish dish, similar to Greek gyros, but fast-food style. It's ridiculously popular and delicious, and I have no idea why this idea hasn't caught on in America. Döner restaurants are usually small, family-owned business where you can get food to go or eat there. Think of Subway, but not a huge corporate chain and with much better food. They also often serve other things like pizza and wraps, and are often open late into the night to attract the post-party crowd. (More info on the döner kebab can be found here.)

Those are my thoughts on food for the moment... and now I really want döner!

4 comments :

  1. I really hate this comment box.

    I have nothing interesting or insightful to put. All I have to say is that while there is a lot of really good food here, I DO miss American dinners. I have never been a big mid-day eater (I usually eat a sandwich or a salad), but I love BIG, HOT dinners. Don't get me wrong, I like bread and butter, but at the end of the day it's so unsatisfying.

    Also, I really miss ranch. I currently have pulled my sources in America and have Hidden Valley Ranch packets (just add buttermilk), cornbread mix, and Mexican spice mix packets en route. I'll share the wealth!

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    1. OMG, you have ranch on the way? Brilliant!

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  2. This is great, we were wondering why we couldn't find cheddar vintage cheese! I did bring some Vegemite however

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    1. Bringing along your own Vegemite is a good idea, as most Germans have probably never heard of it. I as an American had never heard of it until recently when my Australian friend brought it up in conversation. I'm still not entirely clear on what it is even after her explanation, haha!

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