I’ve spent the last two weeks in my home country, Germany. We took a little family holiday before Christmas, and split the time between my hometown, Hamburg, and Munich. Despite everything else I adore about the German lifestyle, it’s the food – and both its quality and variety – that truly settles me back into my German-ness.
I – contrary to popular opinion – love the nippy mornings, and wrapping-up in proper woolen jumpers. I live for the efficiency of the public transport system, and I find the German aesthetic of wood, fireplaces, industry, and “elegant schmutz” the most exhilarating thing, but its still the German cuisine that sends my senses into over-drive.
Sauerkraut, vegan Currywurst, Döner, Pfeffer-Makrelenfillet, Marzipan, Apfelstrudel, Kartoffelpuffer, Apfelmus… the list is seemingly endless. That said, one food variety that you can’t really understand until you’re actually in Germany is the empire of carbohydrates – specifically, bread.
“Bäckereie” are commonplace in Germany, and are found on street corners, in supermarkets, next to supermarkets, at airports and bus stations, and in residential areas. The bakery is practically a holy sanctuary, and Germans would shudder at the quality and scarcity of bread in some other countries.
Where Denmark and Belgium are home to pastries, and Great Britain the ever-versatile “spud,” Germany is mad about its bread. Volkorn und Rye, Fransbröchen und Bretzel… Each kind has its own baking method, its own shape, and its own occasion. You really can’t go wrong.
What’s more – and this only became apparent to me now that I’m privy to the grocery-shopping involved in going overseas with your family – is that Germany has such a marvelous variety of things to put on your bread! And, well, I mean duh… right? Like, you can’t have a world of bread without anything to put on it, obviously.
My proudest find this time around was a Kichererbse (chickpea) und Ingwer (ginger) spread, which was all-vegan, all-gluten-free and tasted almost like a curry paste spread, but nuttier. And, with it, I had a slice lactose-free cheese (yeah, people with allergies and dietary difficulties are, needles-to-say, very well-catered for here). It was such a unique combination, and would be a completely new flavour with a different kind of bread, or a different brand of cheese.
Brot und Brötchen (sandwiches) are also eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as for sit-down meals at home or take-away munchies while exploring markets or going to work. They are so versatile, but only because Germany lets them be. You can mix and match the type of bread with the topping so much that you almost never have the same sandwich twice.
Hamburg is a harbour city, and I couldn’t not get a Brötchen with Bismarckherring (a pickled, sweet-and-sour herring). These are usually served on a crunchy crusted white roll, with either lettuce or simply raw onion – and you have no idea how amazing and satisfying such a simple combination is. Once you get over the smell on your fingers (or you learn after the first time, as I did, to use a napkin), then this sandwich is an absolute bomb.
Another common sandwich is – mit Gemüse, which is a vegetarian Saltz (salted) or Volkorn (seeded brown) sandwich stuffed with any and all seasonal vegetables. Again, so simple, but so perfectly satisfying.
“Uhm. All this bread, all these carbs… Don’t you get really, you know… chubby?”
Surprisingly, no – and this totally debunks all that “low-carb” fad-diet nonsense (although, in such a cold country, is chubby really such a bad thing?).
Firstly, you’re eating proper, fresh, homemade, good quality bread, and not that highly-processed rubbish we get, so you’re left feeling pretty full after one sandwich. Secondly, its high-fibre and low-GI, so you probably won’t continue snacking until your next meal.
Then, thirdly, with all the toppings and varieties to choose from, you’re very likely to get a well-balanced meal. Take my fish sandwich, for example: bread will give me the starch I need, the fish will give me omega oils and vitamins, as well as some acidity from its marinade and obviously protein, and then onion/lettuce is my portion of vegetable.
This “sandwich formula” is not only common in Germany, but is actively pursued by people in order to cram in as much goodness as possible between two slices of bread. It’s brilliant, and oh-so-tasty.
Germany has a lot of perks, but I have to admit: whether it’s the crusty baguette I dip into my soup, the warm, salted pretzel I bite into while wandering the Christmas markets, or the dark Pumpernickel I coat in peanut butter and banana, it’s the smell of freshly-baked Brot that will – without fail – lure me back home each and every time.