Think of German cuisine and you probably think of sausages, sauerkraut and beer. But Germany's central location in Europe has made it a melting pot of culinary influences, from Italian pasta to the popular Döner kebab invented by Turkish immigrants.
by Lothar Tubbesing
When somebody thinks about Germans and eating, it is mostly the masses of Sauerkraut and Bratwurst one is thinking of. Probably Eisbein, maybe Spaetzle, but all the rest? Not existing? If one thinks of going to Germany, he thinks Heidelberg, Munich and Oktoberfest. Liters or gallons of beer. Is that Germany?
If a German thinks of America, which always equals the United States, he thinks of all the millions of hamburgers, that all Americans drive at least 3 cars, surf on the beaches and run around shooting guns trying to secure themselves of all the crime and the Bonnie and Clydes of today.
Would you think this is correct? Would you believe that Germany is a country with a population of 80 million people, all eating sauerkraut all their lives long? No, the times have changed. Changed towards a more lighter cooking, towards lighter Grande Cuisine. There are movements towards a new revival of the regional cuisine in Germany. The Germany that is a very small country, with a lot of differences. The North is near the stormy North Sea with the Frisians, speaking a complete different language (at least some of them), and eating different things like "Labskaus," a mix of corned beef, potatoes, beet roots, herring and such, or gravied fishes; "hamburger eel soup" which doesn't contain eel at all, and so on. Or it is the Germany of the South, with Bavaria and the Alps. They eat differently: Nice crusty "Braten" and they have "Brotzeit" a late breakfast with those wonderful brown breads and "Wurst."
But all of this is not German cooking of today. German cooking today is much more a regional-based, light kitchen style. Like Joerg Mueller in his star-awarded restaurant on the Island of Sylt, the most northern island of Germany, where he prepares "Tomato Aspic with Langostinos" or his "Mousse of Three Different Paprikas." Or from the south, the highest rated German chef, Harald Wohlfarth of the Traube Tonbach Hotel in the Black Forest, presents his "Salad of Asparagus Tips with Slices of Sweetbread" or "Rabbit in a Morels Sauce with Spinach Noodles." We also do modern German cooking in the Restaurant Lachswehr with a "Poached Filet of Beef on a Mustard Sabayone with Apple-Celery Purée" or the "Sauerkraut-soup" (here we go again, watch it—we are Germans!).
But all of these are just bits of German cooking today. When I think of the United States, I think of all the great German chefs that are over there doing their job successfully, but where are their roots, their knowledge of what their mothers have been cooking for them?
Let's come back to the point. What has changed in German cooking? We still use masses of real cream, we still use tons of real butter, just the way nature gave it to us. But to that, we leave out the starchy things. Due to the knowledge that one can eat as much butter and fat as he wants and he will not put on weight unless he is having starch with his meals. Fat can't be burned by one's body unless there is the starch that helps. We eat lighter. We take more time for our meals, Germany today is not a country on welfare; even the average worker earns enough to spend at least two times a year abroad. He is entitled to 23 working holidays a year. He gets around, sees different countries and recognizes different tastes in the world of ours. So when he is back home, he wants the light, fancy style of Italian kitchens, but with the goods he knows. He wants the long lasting French meals to impress his fiancee, but in his favorite restaurant at home. So kitchen tasks are changing constantly.
Note: Lothar Tubbesing was the chef-owner of Restaurant Lachswehr in the late 1990's, a restaurant which originated on the same site in the 12th Century.
If you would come to my restaurant here in Luebeck, Northern Germany, what would I serve to you? What is typical German? Is there something that could be called "typical German"? First of all, I must state that there is no such thing as typical German food. There is North German food, there is South German food, there will be food from the Black Forest or food from the Saxons near the Polish border. But let's start our little excursion.
Imagine you come to North Germany. You arrive at Luebeck, an ancient medieval town, which has as much world heritage as the United Nations. You stroll around the city, visit the Dome of Luebeck built in 1188 by Henry the Lion, you feel hungry, and start thinking of where to go.
You find a place, you ask to eat something German, and get served as follows: Variation of herring on a potato-pancake with sour cream, followed by cream soup of turnips; next to follow is roasted saddle of lamb with a brown beer sauce, and the north German variation of semmelknoedel the "rundstueckkloss" as main course. The whole menu is going to be ended with a parfait of Williams pear with a beetroot-sabayone. This is German, but not a German menu in general—it is north German, from the coast of the Baltic Sea.
If you have been inspired by the novel-writing Mann brothers, Thomas and Heinrich Mann, you might want to get the feeling of a Nobel-prize menu. You can get it. And what is it like? The menu is taken out of the novel "The Buddenbrooks"—the decline of a family—and it has been served since November 1870 at their new house at the Mengstrasse in Luebeck. It still is served in Luebeck and here it is:
To start, all the guests gathered around in the patio of the house until father Johann Buddenbrooks asked them to take their seats in the dining room. The first course was served with Cream Soup of Herbs with Roasted and Buttered Croutons. This was followed by the fish—rolls of sole filet in two sauces, one made from mushrooms, the other from lobster. Then it is time for the main course. Here it comes with a huge roasted ham, with a sugary-mustard-glaze and a sweet and sour onion sauce, a bowl of vegetables, filled to the top and small roasted potatoes. If you made your way through this, the "Plettenpudding" will be served, a glass bowl filled with layers of raspberries, "pletten"—a sort of almond shortbread and vanilla bavaroise, or Bavarian cream.
With the meal the following wines would be served: It starts with a wine from the Rhine, and then as a tradition of Luebeck, a red Bordeaux imported from the house of Tesdorpff, wine merchants since the 15th century; it is still family owned, always passed on from father to son. The dessert will be accompanied by "Malvasier" a wine from the Island of Madeira.
This again seems to be a typical German menu, but that's not completely true. Thomas Mann has used the cookery books of his grandmother, and she was a native of Argentina. So her kitchen was influenced by her South American youth.
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This page modified January 2007
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