My Favorite Tastes in Germany, Austria and Slovakia
The German food I've sampled living here in Alabama (and while visiting Helen, Georgia) has been very good, so my expectations were high on our trip to the origin of that cuisine. I was not disappointed.
SAUSAGES, SAUERKRAUT AND POTATOES
Sausages were EVERYWHERE in Germany!! All colors, shapes and varieties -- pink, black, brown, soft, hard, fat, long, skinny. You name it, I probably saw it. At one corner bistro we found near our hotel in Munich, I tasted the best sauerkraut ever. It was fresher and sweeter than I've had before. Nothing like what you find among aisles of canned goods back home. And, potatoes are very prevalent -- potato salad, small fried potato cakes, large potato pancakes, even pommes frites (good ol' French fries, Belgian-style).
We had an exchange student who lived with us for the 1992-93 school year when he was in high school. The thing he missed most that year, food-wise, was the bread. NOW, I understand. There are so many types of bread, all baked fresh daily, with no preservatives added. Ecuador is very similar with bakeries on practically every street, but the options were not quite so wide. In Germany, the bread could almost be considered a health food, since it is packed with good grains and often lots of seeds and nuts.
Technically, pretzels should be included in the bread category, but somehow they stand out all by themselves. They appeared on every breakfast buffet, in baskets (with sweet mustard) in restaurants and in many tents throughout the markets. Pretzels will never take the place of a light, fluffy biscuit in my ideal breakfast scenario, but they were an interesting and delicious part of mornings during our trip.
Forget your idea of the pinwheel cookies you can buy here at home. These have a rich cookie on the bottom topped with a giant mound of soft, creamy marshmallow (like eating a sweet cloud), then topped with vanilla, lemon, chocolate, etc. etc. Steve and I shared a chocolate one and loved it.
LEBKUCHEN (similar to gingerbread)
Lebkuchen is a lot like gingerbread in that it is flavored with cinnamon, cloves and such, but it goes much further. There is a denser, fruitier texture to Lebkuchen. Sometimes you find it covered in a very thin glaze, but it is sweet enough by itself. Nuremberg probably has the best-known bakery for Lebkuchen, because it specializes in Elisenlebkuchen -- which is an elevated product. It uses very little flour and instead is filled with ground almonds and hazelnuts, which accounts for the fact that it stays moist for weeks. Steve and I shared one of these treats. I wish I'd taken time to make a photo of the one we shared, but it was just too temmpting.
When you cross the border from Germany into Austria, many dishes are similar, but generally you trade sausages for schnitzels. Several varieties of meat can be "schnitzelized", but the most common are veal, turkey, pork and chicken. The meat is pounded into thin pieces, breaded and fried. The breading is light, and it didn't taste at all greasy. I bet my granddaughter Megan would have liked it, if Heinz ketchup had been nearby. :)
HOT DOG AND KINDERPUNSCH
Notice the hot dog bun in the photo below. It is a long roll that has a hot dog-size hole bored into it. The ketchup and mustard are squirted in first, then the hot dog (or whatever sausage you prefer) goes next. It is a genius example of German/Austrian efficiency and ingenuity, don't you think? And about the kinderpunsch. Gluhwein (mulled wine) is the popular beverage of European Christmas markets, and with the cold temperatures, I can understand why. But, Steve and I long ago made the choice to not drink alcohol. We were thrilled to discover that the gluhwein booths also offer kinderpunsch, literally a mulled cider for children or for adults who prefer their warm drinks without alcohol. It was WONDERFUL. Imagine a blueberry cider with tinges of cinnamon and cloves on a cold day. Another interesting custom in the region is to keep the cup in which you are served the punch. If you don't want the cup, you can return it to the person at the stand and half of your money will be refunded. I, of course, wanted to keep mine as a souvenir.
PALACINKY (Slovakian Crepes)
The Christmas market in Bratislava, Slovakia was different from the ones we browsed in Germany and Austria. Here, food was the star of the show. Crepes were extremely popular. Some were filled with vegetables, others with meat, cheese or fruit. Some topped with nuts, others with a heavy dose of poppyseeds. We opted to share one filled with chocolate. (I bet you didn't know my Silver Fox is a chocoholic, as is our daughter Julie). The day was cold and damp. The crepe was hot and delicious.
I bet Steve is STILL dreaming about it. It was so good, we had it TWICE during our morning in Slovakia. Around here some chocolate powder (think Nestle) is added to hot water or milk. There, a small amount of milk heats up then a large amount of quality chocolate is added then melted and blended until it is smooth, rich and extremely decadent. And, yes, he did bring some of that chocolate home.
I guess the presence of baked beans on the breakfast buffet was the biggest "what in the world?" food sighting. Our guide in Vienna said that a typical menu changes every two to three months based on seasonal availability of products. She said, "This time of year we all need food that will keep us warm." For those of you who have a chance to visit during other seasons, I'd love to hear about the favorites you find.