I recall that my time in Germany was mixed. I find looking back that there were many aspects to it I did not really pay much attention to at the time and perhaps I should have. Not a total loss though, because I remember enough to think about fondly, for the most part anyway. As I thought of where to start with this I was reminded of one simple thing, the best thing about Germany, aside from most of the people, is German Food. I know, there are other cultural and historical things all over the place, but the food is to die for, so that is where I am going to start. Just keep in mind, this was over thirty-five years ago. I have no idea what it is like there now.
There are way too many amazing foods over there for me to try to get into all of them, so I am just going to hit several of my favorites.
First, Käsekuchen! Yes, that is correct, cheesecake. Here, cheesecake is not really cheesecake, it is, very often, cream cheesecake. In any case, it is less cheesy and more sugary. In Germany, it is cheesier and much less sugary. It is a dessert staple there, and I have to say it is one of the things I miss most about Germany.
A real Käsekuchen has a more appetizing consistency than cheesecake as well. It has a somewhat spongy constancy that you would expect to find in most baked foods of this kind. Why it is different here I do not know, but I wish it were not. If anyone knows where I can get some real Käsekuchen this side of the Atlantic I sure would appreciate it. I would pay serious money to get a real Käsekuchen over here, but I have not found one anywhere, and believe me, I looked.
Bratwurst. I know, we have bratwurst over here, but it really is not the same. Not even close. Nowhere have I found, at least not here in the U.S., a place where I can get a plate with a puddle of mustard, a bread roll, and a brat that is a good two inches thick and well over a foot long. The brats we have are not bad, some of them even taste like they are supposed too, but none of them are of the dimensions that a proper brat is supposed to be. The true test of a brat is if it can stand on its own. No mustard, no nothing, just the brat. If you need, as opposed to want, mustard or whatever on it then it really is not as good as it should be.
The brats we had in Germany were excellent. Usually prepared on a grill or boiled, either way they were what you got when you went to a fair or a wine or beer fest. The best thing about them is they are perfect with any kind of beer, and in Germany, that is important! Beer and bratwurst made for a whole lot of great times and fond memories. Wish I had some right now.
Next on the list has to be Schnitzel. There are a lot of ways to prepare, serve and eat schnitzel, but me personally, I like just a strait up plain old pork or veal schnitzel with salzkartoffeln (boiled potatoes). Very simple and very good! As it turns out, there are a lot more kinds of schnitzel than I ever realized.
Of course, I knew about the pork and veal, what I did not know, and I am not sure why, is that schnitzel is also made with chicken or turkey. This is interesting, because while chicken is certainly as ubiquitous in Germany as it is anywhere else, I did not see or have a lot of turkey over there, except in the mess hall on post. Well, there was that one time I tried to put together a proper Thanksgiving dinner for my dear friends, the Gartner’s. As I recall, it did not turn out so well. Meanwhile, there are a lot of other things I was not necessarily aware of about schnitzel when I was over there.
Schnitzel with toppings. I was actually aware of the Jägger Schnitzel, a schnitzel covered in a (usually) very good mushroom sauce, but there are others. These seem to be to great extent regional. Looking into all this schnitzel is giving me ideas. Ideas like bacon and mozzarella schnitzel, or venison schnitzel. I can not wait until I can get back in the kitchen and start working on some of this stuff!
Speaking of chicken, Wienerwald! As I mentioned above, chicken is a ubiquitous in Germany as it is anywhere else. That said, there is one restaurant chain in Germany that makes the very best chicken I have ever had. Yes, it has been thirty-six years, but Wienerwald is still the best. I am not sure how they do it, but the way they season the chicken is simply beyond belief. Yes, it really is that good.
Wienerwald has other things on its menu these days, burgers, schnitzel and other various chicken dishes, but the mainstay of their menu is the chicken specialties. Back in the day there was only one offering from the rotisserie, a grilled chicken that was truly superb. As far as I know it still is, but now they have more offerings. They now offer a barbecue chicken, red pepper, a garlic chicken and an herb chicken. I have not had the opportunity to try any of those, but if they are anywhere near as good as the original grilled chicken they should be excellent. The chicken is served in half chicken portions in a basket with fries or some other side, or on a plate as a traditional meal. In either case, it is likely to be the best chicken you have ever had.
The last thing I want to talk about here is actually not a German dish. Pizza. The thing about pizza in Germany is really simple. Italian pizza chefs come to Germany to make pizza for two reasons, Germans, and Americans back in the day, eat more pizza than Italians. The other reason is, the available ingredients in Germany are of much better quality than in Italy. I was told this by Aldo himself, who ran Aldo’s Pizza just outside the gate of Robert E. Lee Barracks in Mainz where I was stationed.
His pizza was truly outstanding. We could call Aldo, order a pizza, walk out a half block from the front gate and pick the pizza up for five marks. That was about $2.75 at the time. The pizza was about the size of a Domino’s medium, but the quality was much higher. The pizza from Aldo’s was so good we would ask him not to cut it into slices. We would just take it back to the barracks, fold it in half, and just devour it. This is true of most of the pizza I had in Germany. If the pizzeria has an Italian name, it likely has an Italian chef, and the pizza is going to be excellent. Aldo’s is still there, but it is now called Pizzeria Da Salvo. The name is different, but the phone number is the same! 06131 42995. If you ever find yourself in Mainz Germany, check it out.
Outside of the mess hall on post and the home cooked food I had the pleasure of enjoying at the Gartner’s, these are the things I remember most about the food in Germany. The fact is, while Germany is not as popular as France or Italy in the food department, I actually like German food better. Everywhere I went in Germany there was good food to be had for not a whole lot of money. You can go to any restaurant or guest house in the country and get a really good meal. On top of that, there are regional differences. If you find yourself traveling through our around Germany, I recommend making the food a part of your adventure. You will not be disappointed. Gutten Essen!