Modern Germany has 16 states, much like the United States' 50, but for culinary purposes we can divide them into five or so regions.
Bavaria is well known in America due to the large numbers of GIs stationed there after World War II. Famous for its hospitality and Alps, Bavaria introduced the world to beer gardens, soft pretzels and potato dumplings. When we think of Germany, we typically think of this Southern state.
Franconia, a wine region on the Main (river) is not only a land of beautiful hillsides, this region’s Müller-Thurgau, Bacchus, Silvaner and other white wines are considered by many German-wine drinkers to be the best. They are not well known in the US, because over 90% of Frankenwein is consumed right there in Franconia! Still, wineshops in larger cities will carry a small selection of Bochsbeutel (a distinct bottle shape) for you to try. Lamb, fresh fish and wild game are also all specialties of this area.
The Black Forest is the inspiration for many Brothers Grimm tales. Its countryside now has beautiful hiking trails, and inns serving noodle dumplings called spaetzle, pancake soup, and the Farmer's Plate (a wonderful assortment of sausage, cheese, bread and pickles served on a wooden platter). Or try "Lentils, Saiten and Spaetzle".
This area is also home to Lake Constance, bordering Switzerland, with many fresh-water fish specialties and is heavily influenced by Alsace.
Although it’s French territory, many people living in Alsace speak a German dialect and eat German foods.
Thuringia, Saxony, Brandenburg. Long behind the iron curtain, this area still boasts wonderful regional specialties such as roasted Thueringer sausage with caraway, majoram and garlic, Meissener porcelain (the first porcelain made outside of China in the 18th century), and the Dresdner Christmas Stollen, a yeast cake with raisins, orangeat and almonds.
In Berlin, once an outpost of Western civilization and now the capital of Germany, you will find almost anything to eat that your heart desires, including cabbage rolls, Strammer Max (a fried egg dish), or Berliner Chicken Fricassee. You can wash that all down with a Berliner Weissbier.
Nordrhein-Westfalia and northwards is where much of the wine grapes are grown along the banks of the Main, Rhine and Mosel. The small towns have wonderful wine festivals in the summer and fall, and cook wonderful dishes such as Sauerbraten, Heaven and Earth (Himmel und Erde, mashed potatoes and apples mixed with meat or blood pudding) and potato pancakes.
Hamburg and East Friesia: where the coastline influences the cuisine. After a walk in the brisk sea breeze you may find yourself brewing a pot of East Friesian tea, eating Hamburger Labskaus (corned beef and herring hash), or starting cocktail hour with a Pharisäer (coffee, rum and whipped cream).
Germans love to vacation on Sylt and other North Sea islands. When then do, they make sure to visit the Krabbenbude (crab shack) for a snack of little, tiny North Sea shrimp or go digging for mussels at low tide.
Also related to Germany through a shared history and culture are
- Austria and
both with their own specialties. Austria, the home of Salzburg and Vienna, also boasts Wiener Schnitzels (the real ones, not the hot dogs!) and Linzer Torte. Coffee was introduced to Europe by the Turks in Vienna and the good summer weather invites you outdoors to one of the many wine gardens.
The city of Linz is home to the Linzer Torte, and the original recipe is top-secret. Many bakers have put there best efforts into copying it, though. It’s a spice and almond cake and best served with whipped cream.
Switzerland and its great ski resorts has amazing cheeses which are the stars in many fireside dinners. Gruyere melts nicely on top of a noodle and onion casserole while raclette (a Swiss cheese) slides across boiled potatoes and is eaten with various pickles and salads.
And let us not forget that the Swiss gave us cheese fondue!
Air-cured hams and bacon can still be seen from many a Swiss farmhouse today, and it’s a wonderful feeling to walk the streets and feel like you are walking back in time to a simpler way of life.
Learn more about German regions through their recipes.