If you’re looking to relocate to Germany or are already a local, you can’t help but think of German food and be transported to an Oktoberfest cliché; complete with sausage stalls and everyone head to toe in Lederhosen with a beer stein in hand. Although sausage and beer are very much German food staples, especially if you’re a tourist, here’s what’s more likely to hit the plate of the average German.
German Breakfast Food Traditions
Breakfast (or das Frühstück) traditionally includes plenty of hearty breads (Brot) or Brötchen (rolls), and with a Bäckerei or Konditorei on every street corner, freshly-baked rolls are often bought for breakfast every day. These are often topped with cheese or meats such as Leberwurst (a type of liver sausage) or mett which is raw, spiced, ground pork with onions. If you’re after mett in a more creative form, then you should ask for a Mettigel which is mett in a hedgehog shape!
In Bavaria a favorite is Weisswurst (literally white sausage!) that is served in a small pot of warm water, typically with a soft pretzel and sweet Senf (mustard).
The Second Breakfast (Zweites Frühstück)
Usually served around 11am, this mid-morning snack between breakfast and lunch is common and it translates to “second breakfast”. In Bavaria, it’s known as Brotzeit (aptly named ‘bread time’). The food traditionally eaten is pretty similar to the bread and meats eaten at breakfast but varies by region; in some it’s as simple as a pastry, in others, it’s a full-blown meal – complete with silverware – and washed down with beer.
Those working in an office may even be appointed as Frühstücksdirektor. This person is the ‘breakfast director’ who is solely responsible for organizing this snack for colleagues.
German Lunch food traditions (Das Mittagessen)
If you’ve worked up an appetite since your Zweites Frühstück, a typical lunch plate might consist of Kartoffelsalat mit Würstchen (small sausages) or Frikadellen which is a potato salad with sausage or meatballs. Another traditional German lunch item is Schnitzel which is a thin slice of meat (usually veal) coated in breadcrumbs and fried.
Meat is a huge part of German food tradition so don’t be shocked to see it served at every meal. For vegetarians or those wanting to increase their vegetable intake, look out for grüne Bohnen (green beans), Möhren/Karotten (carrots), Erbsen (peas) and Kohl (cabbage) which are commonly served at lunchtime. Potatoes are also a German favorite and come prepared as either Salzkartoffel (boiled & salted), Knödel (dumplings), Bratkartoffel (fried potatoes), Krokette (croquettes), Kartoffelpüree (mashed potatoes) or, of course, Pommes Frites (french fries).
German Dinner / Supper Traditions/Supper (Das Abendessen/Abendbrot)
Abendbrot’s literal translation is “evening bread” and, you guessed it, consists of yet more of the fresh bread enjoyed at breakfast. Did you know there are over 3,000 types of German bread? It’s such an integral part of German food culture they have even applied for UNESCO recognition.
Supper is lighter than lunch and eaten between 18:00 and 19:00 where brot, cheese and meats are served alongside mustard and pickles. In winter, this is usually served with hearty warm soup (Suppe).
Dining out in Germany – the top traditional dishes
Here’s the beginner’s guide to eating out at a restaurant in Germany or a little recap of some of your favorite childhood dishes if you’ve lived in Germany your entire life.
Contrary to the article so far with all the meat-focused delicacies, spätzle is a vegetarian dish made of eggs, flour, salt and a hint of fizzy water (which makes it extra fluffy). Not dissimilar to pasta, the most famous way of serving it is to top it with a huge amount of cheese which you’ll see on a menu as Käsespätzle.
Legend has it that this dish was created by monks to ‘hide’ the meat from God during fasting. To do this they covered the pork or beef in pasta dough and it was either boiled or fried. To this day the process is remarkably similar and one of the most delicious, comforting traditional German dishes.
With Berlin as its birthplace and even a whole museum dedicated to the currywurst, this is a great sausage-based snack loved by locals and tourists. Cut into thin slices, the sausage is covered in a mix of ketchup and curry powder and accompanied by some french fries or plain white bread.
It’s a common joke in Germany that residents sometimes are referred to as potatoes or ‘Kartoffeln’ because they eat them so often! Bratkartoffeln are an excellent way of serving the much loved, humble potato. They are simply sliced boiled potatoes which are then fried in oil, perhaps with bacon, until dark and crispy.
Sauerbraten is a very traditional dish that requires a high-quality piece of beef and plenty of time to prepare and cook. The meat is slow cooked in an oven in wine, vinegar and honey for several hours. Much like any family recipe, the cooking ingredients vary from person to person; some people even add fruit or ginger snap biscuits to the gravy.
German Dining Etiquette – learn the language
You’re going to want to show your gratitude at the table so saying “Guten Appetit!” before a meal is polite and wishes your dinner companions an enjoyable meal. Another common phrase before eating is raising a toast to good health (“Zum Wohl”).
During and after the meal you can exclaim the food is lecker (delicious) or “Das schmeckt!” (it tastes good), or finish with a word such as “Wunderbar!” (wonderful).