I love traditional German food.
Seriously. I’ve visited Bavaria twice now, and the whole time was spent tracking down food, like some kind of demented hunting trip. You cannot imagine my level of excitement when I realized that my hotel was next to a full-sized supermarket, and you also can’t imagine how overweight my suitcase was at the airport. Who’d have thought that giant bottles of curry ketchup could be so heavy?
But what is German traditional food? What’s it look like, and how does it taste? Is it going to overcome your unaccustomed taste buds with unwelcome overtones of fermented cabbage?
Spoiler: no. If you’re the kind of person who gets anxious about trying new foods abroad (and if you are, you should totally check out my guide to eating new foods when travelling, because it really will help), you’ve got nothing to worry about. There’s nothing outlandish about German food and drink. It’s cooked simply, but with the right combination of flavors to get your mouth watering.
Traditional German food you must try in Munich and Nuremberg!
Although the German food list is a mile long, I’m going to keep this to foods you should specifically try if you’re visiting Munich (located in Bavaria), and Nuremberg (in slightly more-northerly Franconia). Both cities have culinary specialities, which can taste completely different if you sample them in the other location. There’s certainly enough to see in the area for even ten days in Bavaria – plus both Munich and Nuremberg are awesome, so you should definitely be visiting them anyway!
Okay, here we go – get ready to start craving some German goodies!
Even as a committed fan of German sausages, I’d never tried these little beauties before my trip to Nuremberg.
OMG, HAVE SOME.
One taste of these, and my boyfriend and I were raiding the trusty supermarket for ones to bring back home (yes, we found them, and yes, they probably looked like Semtex on the x-ray scanner). As you’ve probably guessed from the name, these are a Nuremberg specialty – they’ve been making them in the town for an almighty 700 years, and are governed by strict laws to preserve their awesomeness.
They’re never more than 9 centimeters long, are spiced with mace, pepper and marjoram, and are usually served with a delicious side of German potato salad. Which is probably quite different from the kind of potato salad you’re used to, but is gorgeous in its own right – little slices of spud in a light vinegar-ish dressing, with chives on top. The sausages themselves are lovingly cooked over a roaring beech wood fire, with a little dash of rosemary.
Order in quantities of 6, 8, 10 or 12, and try to stop yourself from dribbling over the platter when it arrives (especially if you’re sharing with someone else).
When anyone thinks of traditional German food, and Munich food in particular, bratwurst are probably the first item that comes to mind. Fair enough, they’re pretty darn awesome. But for me, the quintessential German dish just might be the rather underrated roast pork.
Calling it “roast pork” is actually doing it a bit of a disservice. Being a Brit, “roast pork” conjures up images of uninspired Sunday roast dinners, and thin slices of meat with a dollop of apple sauce on top. Not in Germany, mein freunden! Here, roast pork is done right. Here, roast pork is a nice thick slab of a slice, cooked in a rich, magical-tasting gravy which is truly the work of witchcraft. It’s so tender that it slices with minimal effort, and you’ll be eagerly turning your forkful so that the meat gets covered in yet more gravy. Pop it in your mouth, and it just melts.
There will be a little bit of crackling perched on top, which you should eat even if you don’t normally like crackling – trust me on this one. Plus, roast pork is traditionally served with a potato dumpling on the side (warning: these things are way more filling than they look), though I have seen them listed with mashed potatoes for the little ‘uns. Add a small dish of red cabbage, and you have got the perfect accompaniments to the perfect Bavarian dish.
I’ve now eaten pork knuckle all over Europe – Austria, Hungary, and one that almost broke me in Poland. Holy cow, that thing was big. But they’re an absolute mainstay of German cuisine.
Definitely to be treated as a main course (did I mention that they’re pretty big?), pork knuckles are da bomb. Similar to roast pork in that they’re often served in that delicious, divine-tasting gravy, they should also be equally as tender. They’ll be coated in a protective shell of crispy, mouth-watering crackling – chip through, and you’ll find perfectly roasted pork which will just fall off the bone. It’s a vegetarian’s worse nightmare, but carnivores will absolutely love it.
It won’t come with a ton of side dishes, because German chefs are wise, and know that you just won’t need them. Go for a salad if you really want something on the side; otherwise, just pair up with a beer, and a lot of empty stomach space.
By the way, some places might advertise a “whole pork knuckle” and a “half pork knuckle” on the menu. A half is more than enough for one person – only go for the whole knuckle if you’re planning to share!
Schnitzel might be at the very top of my list of traditional German food. I adore this simple, tasty dish. If it were possible to marry a schnitzel, I would totally do it. My entire time spent in Munich and Nuremberg was pretty much a never-ending quest to find the perfect schnitzel.
If you’re not entirely sure what a schnitzel is, it’s basically a pork fillet which has had the bejesus beaten out of it, until it’s flat and thin. It’s then spiced with some salt and pepper, rolled in some breadcrumbs, and fried. The result is a crispy, delicious slice of heaven which is perfect with some French fries or a salad. The taste of the pepper will fizzle across your tongue, as the tender pork and crispy crumbs melt in your mouth. For ultimate flavor, squeeze a lemon segment over it until it’s thoroughly doused in juice.
As you’ve already seen, schnitzels are generally made out of pork, but there’s also the wiener schnitzel which is made from veal. Fancy something completely different? You can get chicken schnitzels, and even vegetarian schnitzels!
You’ll find schnitzel on the menu pretty much everywhere in Munich and Nuremberg – if you don’t see it on the menu, then you’re probably in an Italian restaurant, and may want to continue your quest for traditional German food elsewhere.
3 in a bun (“3 im Weckla”)
Okay, we’re revisiting our old friend here – the Nuremberg sausages. If you’ve already tried them, then you’ve probably already fallen in love with them – but did you know that there’s a handy, on-the-go way of eating them?
Yep! If you don’t have the time to curl up in a cozy German restaurants (and goodness, German restaurants are just the coziest and most wholesome places on Earth), you can get a “3 in a bun”. You’ll see a few sit-down restaurants offer it as a takeaway option, but my favorite place to buy one was the market square at the Hauptmarkt. Order one, making sure to specify whether you want sauerkraut with it, and you’ll have one pressed into your hands in double-quick time. The vendors in the square have a constant supply of sausages grilling over an open fire, and they taste just as good as one from a restaurant!
Served in a fresh roll, you can plop a bit of German mustard on if you wish, perch on the steps of the Schöner Brunnen fountain, and have a delicious snack whilst you watch the world go by. Quick food options don’t get much better.
The name of this Franconian dish, made from a pig’s shoulder, literally means “pig’s shoulder”. There’s few languages more literal than German, folks.
Although it’s very similar to the pork knuckle, schäufele is definitely worth adding to your list of traditional German food to try as it’s different enough. Very much a Franconian specialty (so give it a try when you’re in Nuremberg for the ultimate in authenticity) , the meat is cooked by dunking it into a casserole dish full of salt, pepper, caraway, onions, veggies, and beer, and popping it on the heat for three hours. After that time, it’s so tender that the meat just falls off the bone.
This was the first thing that I ate in Nuremberg, and it certainly set the bar high! If you love roast pork, then you should definitely try this – it’s got a unique flavor which is subtle, and never overpowering. It’ll usually be served with a potato dumpling and some red cabbage, and you can expect to roll back to your hotel afterwards.
If the idea of schäufele intrigues you, pop along to the Hausbrauerei Altstadthof. If you walk through the arch into the beer garden / courtyard, you’ll be able to smell the schäufele cooking in the kitchens. Have a glass of their signature red beer for the perfect accompaniment!
Franconian braised beef (Sauerbraten)
Fancy some meat? Fancy some meaty German meat? (phwoar!) Then you want a sauerbraten!
Sauerbraten is a German national dish, consisting of a large chunk of braised beef. What makes it special? Well, said chunk of beef is marinaded for up to ten days before being cooked. Yup, just imagine how deliciously soaked with flavor that sucker is going to be. Imagine how it’ll just fall apart, and how all the flavors will dance in your mouth like a tiny rave. Oh yeah. It’s good.
Although it’s popular all over Germany, certain regions have their own variation – and one of those is Franconia! So this is yet another dish that you definitely want to try if you’re in Nuremberg (you can get it in Munich, but it’s not quite the same). Franconia scoffs at the traditional recipe of a white or red wine marinade, and instead opts for a heavily-spiced vinegar. Plus, because this is the home of awesome gingerbread – see the entry on Lebkuchen below – Franconian chefs chuck a bit of that in too.
The result is a slab of beef which will assault you with all kind of flavours… all of them good! It’s super tender, cooked to perfection, and you’ll be marveling at the taste all the way through!
Bavarian sausage platter
Ahh, where would a list of German main dishes be without a bit of sausage? Stop smirking, there.
On a list of traditional German food, sausages surely have to be at the top. The whole stereotypical image of a Bavarian is that of a sausage-munching, beer-swilling guy in lederhosen (which is pretty unfair, because pretty much all of the locals I met in Munich were so fit and healthy that they looked like they spring up a mountain and back before breakfast). But it’s true that the area has an impressive record of sausage-inventing – Germany is home to 1,500 varieties of banger, and you can bet that a good number of them started life in the southern region.
Consequently, you’ll often find a Bavarian sausage platter being offered on menus. You can expect bratwurst, bockwurst, and knackwurst accompanied by some sauerkraut and horseradish – but you’ll also see them with the good ol’ Nuremberg sausages! I’ve generally found that Nuremberg sausages aren’t as good in Munich as they are in Nuremberg, but if you’re not heading up to Franconia, it’s a good way to try them out.
Okay guys, we’ve reached peak German sausage.
Currywurst may hail from northern Germany – the dish was invented by an enterprising lady in Berlin who managed to get some ketchup, Worcestershire sauce and curry powder from British soldiers after WW2 – but it’s now among the most ubiquitous of German dishes. It’s exactly as described above – the ketchup and Worcestershire sauce is mixed together, making it beautifully rich and tasty, and the curry powder is sprinkled on top. If you’re not a fan of super-hot curries, don’t worry. The powder really isn’t hot at all, and just provides a lovely tang more than anything.
Currywurst is particularly beloved of street food vendors, and a trip to Munich’s Viktualienmarkt is one of the best places to track down a juicy, delicious sausage. They generally come served on a bed of fries, and you will be dipping the fries into all that lovely sauce, in order to get every last drop. Then you’ll develop a terrible addiction to the stuff, and vow to visit Germany every year to stock up. I’m there with ya, friend.
If you want to take some currywurst goodness home with you, you can do what I did and buy bottles of curry ketchup from the supermarket – squirt it into a saucepan, lightly boil it, and pour over your chosen wurst.Bear in mind that they’re pretty darn heavy, though – you might be better off buying them from Amazon.
Where would traditional German food be without the humble sauerkraut? How many dishes would go without a tasty, pickled side dish? How many chunks of pork would get lonely on the plate, bereft of their chosen companion? I’m getting emotional just thinking about it.
Everyone’s favorite side dish is made with finely-cut raw cabbage, which then gets to luxuriate in a bath of vinegar for as long as the fermentation process takes. It’s probably completely different from the sauerkraut you’ve tried at home – speaking from personal experience, the stuff that you can get from UK supermarkets tastes like something else entirely. Good sauerkraut is light, tasty, and doesn’t have any flavor apart from a pleasant vinegar-ish taste. And because Germany is awesome, they often add little chunks of bacon to it. Everyone knows that everything is better with added bacon.
Fortunately, it’s extremely easy to try some sauerkraut when you’re visiting – it comes as a side-dish with pretty much everything. If you order any kind of meaty main course, your chances of getting sauerkraut (or red cabbage, sauerkraut’s prettier cousin) are pretty high. Although it’s not particularly specific to Bavaria or Franconia, you really can’t visit Germany without trying some!
Like sauerkraut, spätzle isn’t particularly specific to Bavarian or Franconian food, but it’s certainly become a traditional German food of note.
It’s basically German pasta, though not quite as you’d recognize it. Italian pasta comes in a variety of recognizable shapes; spätzle kinda looks like someone’s thrown wallpaper paste over popcorn. If that sounds just too darn weird, fret not! It definitely doesn’t taste like wallpaper paste. Or popcorn, for that matter. It tastes exactly the same as Italian pasta, depending on what’s put on it.
Spätzle is extremely flexible! It’s usually served with a cheese sauce on top, but you also get it served mixed with sauerkraut, submerged in a stew – or even sweet varieties. It’s just the gift that keeps on giving.
Give spätzle a try – keep an open mind, and don’t expect it to be exactly the same as an Italian dish, and you’ll most likely get a kick out it!
Is there a better bar snack than a pretzel? Not those little hard things – proper pretzels are soft and tasty, soaking up the alcohol in your belly, and salty enough to whet your appetite for another beer (hence why bar owners love them!).
Of course, pretzels are traditionally German, and naturally they’re at their best when you sample them in their home. And where in Germany has the best pub / bierkeller scene? Munich, that’s where! Any Munich beer house serving pretzels is an ideal place to sample the finest of bakery products. Though Nuremberg also has it’s own claim to pretzel fame, as the Franconian region is now known as the home of pretzel baking. All this means is that you literally can’t get a bad pretzel, whether you’re in Munich or Nuremberg. Isn’t that reassuring?
Just… don’t call them a pretzel, unless you’re happy revealing yourself as a tourist extraordinaire. The locals call them breze – it’s a small linguistic difference, but an important one!
Oh my goodness, guys, you have to try lebkuchen!
If you’re thinking “what the heck is that? Is That Anxious Traveller trying to trick me into eating sheep’s toenails?” then noooo! I wouldn’t do that (unless you’re mean to small kittens, in which case I totally would). Lebkuchen is one of the tastiest, most festive, sugary treats you’ll ever pop on your tongue, as well as one of the most authentic German dishes.
Simply put, it’s gingerbread! But a very different, way better version of what you’re used to. It’s a specialty in Nuremberg – seriously, there’s multiple gingerbread shops there – and its German recipe means that it’s soft and toothsome. The ginger is strong without being overwhelming, and every Christmas you’ve ever experienced will flood through your memories as soon as you take a bite. You can also buy it in a number of varieties: lightly frosted, in dark chocolate, with almonds, or nut-free.
Nuremberg prides itself on being “Christmas City”, and lebkuchen is an essential part. Bring it home as a gift for your loved ones, shop for it in Christmas markets with your partner, or greedily devour it all by yourself. I won’t tell.
Candied almonds (Gebrannte Mandeln)
The first thing I did when I got home from Munich was to look up the recipe for these. They. Are. Amazing.
They’re actually pretty simple – just caramelized almonds (other varieties of nut are available), which are a staple of German Christmas markets. You’ll see plenty a seller with these, and you can either buy a cone for immediate eating, or a little plastic bag if you want to take them away as a gift. Which is actually pretty awesome, but they’d make an ideal stocking filler.
In Munich, however, the fun isn’t just contained to Christmas. Candied almonds have become a popular snack to eat during the city’s annual Oktoberfest celebrations (heck, why not have some sugar with all that beer?), and they seem to keep a presence in the city all the way through autumn and winter. Take a walk down Kaufingerstraβe and Neuhauser Strasse, and you’ll see plenty a sweet-smelling stall.
May I particularly recommend the candied macadamia nuts, which I would happily sell my soul for.
We’ve reached the last of our traditional German foods – and we’ve saved one of the most famous for last.
Who doesn’t love an apple strudel? Although it may be Austrian in origin, you’ll see it on many a dessert menu in Germany, thanks to legions of fans who can’t get enough of those delicate layers of pastry and delicious apple filling. It’s light enough that you can enjoy it without feeling stuffed, and a bit of whipped cream on the side just adds to the flavor.
There’s only one problem with apple strudel, and German desserts in general – the main courses are so flippin’ huge that the chances of you having any stomach space left is fairly remote. If you really want to have an apple strudel, exercise caution on your main course; you might want to consider ordering something a bit smaller in order to save space!
Where to eat in Munich and Nuremberg
It’s fair to say that you can’t go far in either of these cities without tripping over a quality restaurant. German food culture demands fine eateries, and neither city disappoints.
However, even in this high-standard field, the cream still rises to the top! Here’s a selection of my favorite Nuremberg restaurants:
Zum Gulden Stern: specialists in Nuremberg sausages, and almost unbearably cozy. Get there a bit before lunch to grab a seat!
Restauration Kopernikus: A Polish restaurant located on an island in the middle of the Pegnitz River, the schnitzel here is GIGANTIC.
Burgwächter: Located quite literally in the shadow of Nuremberg Castle, and excellent for pork knuckles and sauerbraten!
If, however, you’re looking for Munich, you can;t do much better than to follow the advice of my awesome friend Christina at Happy To Wander. Her Munich restaurants guide is in-depth and knowledgeable (she’s a city resident!), and I followed it religiously when I was in the city!
Already at home, and looking for German food recipes? Check out these ideas at Allrecipes!
We’ve reached the end of our German food odyssey. Sob. Cry. Noises of anguish.
Whether you’re researching in anticipation of a trip, or looking up your favorites now you’re home, it’s been a fun skip through German cuisine. Whilst we all snag schnitzel recipes off the internet, how about taking a moment to share this article? It’ll help out someone else who’s looking for the same thing! Just bop those buttons below, and share to a social media network of your choice.
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