All About Abendbrot - Spreading the Butter

The German Dinner

German Abendbrot
Manfred&Barbara Aulbach/Wikimedia Commons/CC 3.0

Since Germans traditionally eat their main hot meal at about 1 o'clock in the afternoon, the evening meal is not a grand affair. As a matter of fact, if you take a sandwich to work with you, you may go days without cooking anything. But that doesn't matter much in the land of great sausage and cheese. Because the necessities of life can be picked up on the way to the train station (fresh bread, cheese, sausage, ​and tomatoes) there is no need.

Abendbrot, or evening bread, is usually set out and eaten as a family, with everyone assembling his or her favorite open-faced sandwiches from the choices available at the table.

How to set an evening table for Abendbrot

At the supermarket or deli, you should buy at least three kinds of cheese and three types of sausage or cold cuts. Choose different styles of cheese, hard like Edamer and soft like Brie, or even a cheese spread. The cold cuts are hams, both air-dried and cured, any type of sausage, or even wurstsalat.

Make sure you have butter, pickles, tomatoes and mustard at home or buy them too.

At the bakery, the "Feierabend Brötchen", or going home rolls, are just coming out of the oven. They are white flour, hard rolls often found at breakfast too and are very tasty when fresh. Otherwise, fresh bread (Landbrot, Mischbrot or Vollkorn) is usually served at dinner, along with Knäckebrot or other crackers in a napkin-lined basket.

Set the table. The Germans are just the best for eating together as a family and setting the table every time. They would never think of disposable napkins or plates unless they were camping without a trailer.

Everyone receives a plate, knife and fork (as opposed to breakfast, where you only have a small plate or wooden board and a knife) and their napkin.

Glasses are set for beer, wine, or hot tea. The cheeses are unwrapped and set on a serving dish with a cheese knife handy and the meats are handled the same way. Wash a bowlful of tomatoes and set them out, along with pickles in another dish. Add any leftover salads you may have from lunch. Put the butter and mustard on the table and get the drinks out of the cellar. Abendbrot is ready.

Eating Abendbrot

Choose your bread as it is handed around. Spread with butter (always, even if your next choice is liverwurst). Cut off slices of cheese or sausage and lay them on top to cover. Germans don't usually layer cheese and meat on the same piece of bread. Spread mustard if you like. Eat the open-faced sandwich with a knife and fork. Take a tomato from the bowl and cut it up on your plate. Salt and pepper as you wish. Ditto with the pickles, radishes or any other fresh food that is on the table. Repeat until satiated.

Drinking

Although alcohol is often involved at dinner, it is just as often watered down, as in a Radler (beer plus lemon soda) or a wine spritzer. Apple juice and carbonated water are another good combination.