Black bread, coffee, cake, and midnight soup
American expat Brintha Koether discovers that eating to a German rhythm helps her appreciate German cuisine.
When I first met my husband, my knowledge of German food was limited to sausages and schnitzel. Neither was to my fancy so I did not expect much from German cuisine. Being quite a foodie, my husband assured me that there was more to German food than the popular fare of Bavaria. Before we moved here, my husband used every visit to North Germany as a chance to introduce me to its food.
Over the years, I came to realize that it was not only the food that was differed from that in America but also the rhythm of eating: breakfast, lunch, ‘Kaffee and Kuchen', dinner, and midnight soup (on a party night). Let’s take a Sunday as an example. Breakfast is usually around 10am. It consists of lots of different types of bread. Heavy multi-grain, seeded and nut breads ranging in colour from black (very dense) to grey (more like American wheat bread) and just as wide a variety of seeded and nut rolls are served with a range of hard and soft cheeses, thinly sliced meats, butter, jams, and, in northern Germany, herring and vegetable salads.
The salads are my favourite. I love a Farmer’s salad with carrots and leeks and some herbs in a yoghurt dressing or Dilhappen with pickled herring and dill in a yoghurt sauce. There is, of course always yoghurt, muesli, eggs, lots of fruit and fruit compote. To drink, there is always fresh orange juice and plenty of coffee and tea.This is far healthier than the American breakfasts that I loved to feast on of spicy Mexican omelettes, stacks of blueberry pancakes, orange French toast, or waffles with pecans and syrup.
Whilst I often miss the sweet treats of the U.S., I feel much better throughout the day with a German breakfast to start it off.As an aside, a funny thing about Germans is their need for at least one warm meal a day. It seems they obsess over which meal--dinner or lunch--will be the warm one.
If a person has a sandwich for lunch then dinner must at least have a soup. And soup--I have never eaten as much soup as I do here. As I love lentils, a common ingredient in many German soups, I am quite content. Now back to our Sunday of eating German. After such a big breakfast (or brunch), a soup around 1pm would be the most preferred option. This also leaves room for ‘Kaffee and Kuchen' (coffee and cake) around 4pm.
Being Indian and having lived in the U.K., I am quite accustomed to tea time. Whilst in India and England afternoon tea usually includes sweet cakes, biscuits (cookies) and savouries such as cucumber sandwiches, the German equivalent does not. Instead, German afternoon tea includes a variety of light cakes: fruit cakes like apple and plum, cheesecakes with blueberries, or the classic butter cake (Tante Emma’s recipe is my favourite) topped with sliced toasted almonds.
Sometimes it includes ‘Berliner’ (jelly doughnuts) in summer and stolen (a light fruitcake) around Christmas.This afternoon time is also often the time when many people socialise; it’s not just for ladies during the week. On a given Sunday, it is quite common to have friends and neighbours by and it is not a huge burden on the hosts.
Bakeries are one of the few business that are allowed to be open on Sunday. Most of them make a variety of cakes (rather inexpensively) that are sold out well before closing time. Also, at weddings, this is often the time when the champagne is served and initial toasts are made to the bride and groom.
Coming back to our Sunday meals, let’s move on to the evening meal which occurs around 8pm. In general, it a satisfying meal of meat and vegetables, often with a green salad. In North Germany, this could be a baked fish with a rich herb sauce, roast beef with remoulade sauce or a seasoned baked chicken. All meat is served with braised or baked vegetables and potatoes.One curious meal that I was not introduced until we went to a few weddings was soup around midnight.
Germans like to enjoy a good party. Knowing that they will feel snack-ish around midnight, the hosts often provide a warm broth soup to satisfy the tummy and give some strength for further merriment.After a day full of eating to a German rhythm, one appreciates German cuisine a bit better.
Brintha Koether is an American expat based in Hamburg.
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