I have been wanting to write this post all year. Before I die, I would like to contribute to calling attention to German food. German cuisine does not have a great reputation. I can’t say it’s maligned because that would imply that people think about. I suggest, rather, that it is more or less ignored. We Americans have a certain image of German food, and we never thought more about it. If you ask one of us, “What do Germans eat?” they will probably say bratwurst, sauerkraut, and pork. Those items do appear more often than they do in the US, but if you ask me, one item dominates the German diet: bread.
On my first trip to Germany, I never really paid attention to the bread. My attitude was Why would anyone enter a bakery and not purchase a pastry? I was so young, so stupid. German bread is wonderful. Delicious. Amazing. And nobody knows it. Common knowledge tells us that German bread is dark, heavy and probably made of rye, and that it is mostly Pumpernickel. There is dark, heavy rye bread, and there is Pumpernickel, but that is the tip of the tasty iceberg. In Germany, there are bakeries everywhere: street corners, train stations, airports, grocery store lobbies, etc. Those bakeries are filled with the most incredibly delicious and varied assortment of bread you can imagine. Grains like wheat, rye and spelt are standard features, as are sesame, pumpkin and poppy seeds. This is not a health food trend; they have been doing this for a very long time. These are also not rock-hard loaves of tasteless hippy bread. This is fresh, healthy, delicious bread that is 1/3 the price of a loaf of Pepperidge Farm or Ezekiel bread.
The French get a lot of credit for their bread, which is admittedly delicious. From my perspective, though, making something delicious out of white flour isn’t so difficult. How about flaky, buttery, seed-studded, whole-grain croissant? Now you’re speaking my language. Which other bread products can you find in German bakeries? Loaves of bread are terrific things, but German bread reaches its highest expression in a.) the Brötchen and b.) the pretzel.
The Brötchen, lit. “little bread,” is a roll about the size of a hamburger bun. If I explain it, it is really just what it sounds like: a tiny loaf of bread. Tasting one, however, is an out-of-body experience. The outside is crispy and the inside is chewy. It doesn’t matter if you get white, whole wheat, pumpkin seed, sesame seed, poppy seed, rye, spelt, or, my personal favorite, the Weltmeister (world champion); they are all delicious. The Brötchen is typical German breakfast fare. Cut it in half, slather it with butter and top it with jam, cheese, cucumber slices, cold cuts, liverwurst, Krabben, smoked salmon, quark, meat salad, egg salad, etc. (Yes, these are breakfast items). Eat. Repeat. Be thankful you are alive.
The pretzel is another of the best German bread products. We Americans need to rethink our stance on the soft pretzel. Note that I said bread and not snack food. This is not some spongy junk product to throw in the microwave and dip in liquid cheese. It deserves butter, jam and love. We have to take the pretzel seriously! Another thing about pretzels is that they come in many forms here. Pretzels get their characteristic color and taste by being soaked in lye solution (Lau) before they are baked. Hence the modifier “Laugen-” that appears at the beginning of all pretzel-y products. Since nearly anything can be dunked in a lye solution, you’re not limited to the standard twist shape. Anything can be lauginated: croissants, rolls, bagels, even whole loaves of bread. It is a wonderful, wonderful thing.
I hope I have convinced you that German food may be a bit more interesting than you thought. Maybe my photos can convince you even if my words did not.