There’s Something about German Food and Wine
When I originally posted the German Dumpling Guide people asked me to write more about German food in general. I’m not an institution on German food but I can cook it extremely well and of course, judge it! In fact, I am an expert at judging German food and so is G. Over the years, despite being spoiled with an extraordinary choice of foods, we’ve always returned to German food for comfort. Here’s a list of favourites and inspirations for all those who ever plan to visit Germany or those who are already here and don’t know where to start their culinary adventures. I’d say, start with a glass of wine….
This is a topic close to my heart and therefore gets to be first: I was born into a wine-making family. I spent many childhood autumns harvesting grapes in my family’s vineyards near the river Rhine in Southwest Germany. And I always knew and appreciated the specialness of being able to witness and give to the process of turning grapes into a magical bottled liquid. Even then it already felt like some sort of magical and secret knowledge.
As a child I played in-between the rows of vines and carried on eating grapes until I was sick. The most outstanding memory is the scent of the earth, a very fertile volcanic soil. I also had much fun playing with the dog and stalking wild rabbits. I even built tree houses and occasionally filled one or two buckets with grapes along the grown ups.
I never got to taste the wine and when you’re legally not allowed to consume the end-product it’s hard to understand the appeal. But with legal age came an undying love for wines from my region.
German wines are no longer sweet and way too easy on the tongue, an association that can be traced back to ‘Liebfrauenmilch’ or ‘Blue Nun’, two horrendous products that swamped the world in the 70s and 80s, giving all German wines a bad name. Today, I know of sophisticated and complex German wines that can blow your mind. They’re made with tons of traditional wisdom about wine-making. And this, you can taste!
With pride comes the obligation to focus on wines from my home, the ‘Kaiserstuhl‘. The wines from this region have an outstanding reputation. Most villages have winemaking cooperations. The bottles carry the names of the towns, instead of private estates or wineries. These in return have smaller harvests but sometimes more time and expertise to specialise.
One of the best coop-wines I’ve ever tasted comes from a small, picturesque village called ‘Koenigschaffhausen’.
A so-called ‘Spaetburgunder‘ or Pinot Noir: A 1997 Spätburgunder red wine barrique “Steingrüble” Auslese dry 0,75l.
The colour is a pomegranate-red, a scent of wild berries, smoke, cloves, leather and bitter almond with a slightly animalic note.
(I borrowed the description from the town’s winemaking coop website, I would not be able to come up
with a description of ‘leather’ or ‘animalic notes’ myself….unfortunately). To me, this is the perfect bottle of red.
Another regional gem is the private wine estate ‘Huber’ in Malterdingen.
I’ve been lucky to taste these wines regularly and their flavours are outstanding.
If you come across German wine in countries other than Germany, do me a favour and steer away from the Liebfrauenmilch and chose something more reputable. Here are my three favorite German wines of all times:
I love love love Spätzle. In Swabia this is the national dish and in my opinion deserves every title out there.
In Germany the Spätzle-making process can be simplified by using certain tools and ingredients entirely dedicated to the dish. Special Spätzle-flour is a prerequisite here, but it’s not a major problem if you can’t buy any wherever on earth you might be. A mix of flour and semolina can replace the product entirely. G. and I own a Spätzle-machine, which helps to spread the dough into the hot water. This is a super-useful tool that helps to make nice round Spätzle, also known as ‘Knoepfle’ which means ‘little buttons’.
In South Germany you can eat Spätzle in every Restaurant or Gasthaus. Usually they’re served with a rich gravy and some type of meat. Spätzle are re-fried in butter before served and if you’re lucky you get loads of them served in a separate bowl so that you can help yourself with seconds.
Here’s our Spätzle recipe:
400 g flour
100g semolina (durum wheat)
150 – 200 ml water
best: a potato press or professional Spätzle maker
alternative: a cutting board and a steel dough cutter or a knife with a very wide blade (cleaver)
bowl with cold water
pot with boiling, salted water
Combine all the ingredients and start mixing until the dough develops small bubbles. Traditionally, women use their hands to beat the dough into a bubbly mass, but a Kitchen Aid will probably do a better job. Use a spoon to test the dough’s density. If it drops off the spoon slowly, it has the right consistency. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and start spreading some of the dough on one side of the cutting board, about half a centimeter thick. Take a flat object, ideally a dough cutter and scrape off long strands, not too thick into the simmering water, let them rise to the surface before you strain them into ice-cold water so the Spätzle stop cooking.
Strain again before adding them to a pan with hot butter.
When you use the Spätzle machine, the end-product is slightly different in looks and size, as you can see on this picture here.
Asparagus is a strange vegetable. Phallic in looks and subtle in taste. It also makes your pee smell. In Germany white asparagus is equal to white gold. Treasured, prized and adored by everyone. It is the same as green asparagus but harvested before it gets to see the sun. This way, the stems stay snow-pearly white and more interesting in texture and flavour.
In Germany good asparagus comes from many regions, and all these regions claim to produce Germany’s finest. When I lived in London, white asparagus was expensive, hard to come by and stale in flavour, but I still bought it sometimes, it made me think of home.
White asparagus is simmered in hot water with butter, sugar and salt until soft, some people also add lemon halves. The special thing about asparagus in Germany is probably the ‘season’. The season starts at the End of April and last until the end of June. People tend to go crazy on the vegetable and eat so much as if to make sure the memory of its taste will last until next season. White asparagus goes infamously well with Sauce Hollandaise. This sauce must have been invented solely for the purpose of enhancing these delicate spears. Asparagus can also be turned into salads or soups. Right now, I’ve had my seasonal dose and am happy to wait another year until I am able to eat it again.
I figured, I’ll stop this post here and continue to post about German food more regularly from now on. The choice above is a pretty good introduction to what a German thinks is special about German food. There’ll be more on this soon. Promise!