If you have ever walked through a German town, especially in the Provinz, you might have encountered signs with gaily smiling pigs that either wear a chef’s hat or ein Lätzchen (a bib). No, these signboards do not signify that your little pet pig is welcome to shop here for doggie, I mean piggie treats–quite the contrary: they are advertisements for Metzgereien, butcher’s shops, and occassionally restaurants. Which is quite funny–imagining that a pig is happy to tell you “Yeah, just come on in and buy parts of me in the form of pork! That makes me so happy! Especially the fact that most of my Artgenossen (conspecifics) were born, grew up, fattened, and then slaughtered in a mass-industrialized system! Yay! You want some Schnitzel?” Sarcasm aside, most Germans love Fleisch. Of course vegeterians and vegans do exist, but they are somehow Randgruppen, minority groups. In a restaurant, a vegetarian usually would have the choice of a) salad or b) some side dish like noodles or Bratkartoffeln (home fries)–which most likely still might have some crumbled Speck (bacon) on them, even if it is not advertized as such on the menu. And vegans? What do I know about living without any animal produce! As much as about gluten-free living, lactose intolerance, or being allergic to peanuts (mein Beileid–I pity you and your food allergies [Lebensmittelallergien]. My allergies stem from other Zivilisationskrankheiten [lifestyle diseases] … )
So which kind of meaty food comes first into your mind when you think about Germany? Most likely Wurst. Indeed, Germans are crazy about sausages–all kinds of them. Cooked, roasted, smoked, dried, sliced, just the Brät (sausage meat), … My favorite is possibly the Bratwurst. But beware–Germans like to classify things, and a Bratwurst is not simply any Bratwurst. The most well-known kinds are the Nürnberger and the Thüringer. Bratwürste are roasted (gebraten, get it?), most preferably over hot charcoal, and they can be somewhat spicy–some more, some less (there are for example also Chilibratwürste). Where I grew up, the Pfälzer Bratwurst reigns supreme–it is thicker than the Nürnberger and Thüringer as well as grob (the meat’s texture is chunkier). In Swabia, people are crazy about the Rote–a sausage that is usually supposed to be cooked (a Brühwurst like a Wiener Würstchen) but they grill it in Schwaben. In Frankfurt, though, a Rote is made from beef and not pork (most Bratwürste are made of pork).
Which brings me to something sehr deutsch: regionalism and localism. Many Germans would say that they are Bavarians or Hessians first and only then Germans. They are proud of where they come from–that’s their Heimat, and food is a big part of its identity. Which can be pretty confusing at times, especially in terms of–terms. When you are raised by Hochdeutsch (Standard German)-speaking parents with a slight Westfalian tinge, a Frikadelle (German variety of hamburger–made from Hackfleisch halb und halb or gemischt [ground pork and beef meat] with actual spices [sorry my American friends, just a Hauch, a whiff of salt and pepper does not cut the cheese–you need to work on your seasoning skills], egg, and bread crumbs) might also be known to as a Gehacktesbällchen (ground meat ball), but to all your friends you grew up with, they are simply Frikadellen. Schon recht, fair enough. Only 70 kilometers to the east, though, people in Swabia call them Fleischküchle (meat cakes in the diminutive). And a further 70 kilometers east, Bavarians name ’em Fleischpflanzerl (meat plants? Come on!). And in Berlin? Bulette. (Also, don’t order a Berliner, a jelly donut with powdered sugar on it, in Berlin–they call those Pfannkuchen. A pancake, though, denotes something completely different to me, which Berliners and eastern Germans call an Eierkuchen … ) Blame it on German history. Localism, regionalism, federalism, …
As an Ausländer, especially from the States, caveat emptor when ordering a steak. Because a steak in Germany musn’t be a beef one–it can very well be a pork one, especially when you get a Steakbrötchen at some kind of Volksfest.
If you sleep over at a German friend’s house, you will most likely be invited to join the Frühstück the day after. Unless you stay with me, which means that you will only get a rather Spartan breakfast of … some kind of cereal, you will see that the stereotypical German breakfast can be very hearty as well. Sure, there’s Marmelade and Nutella–but there’ll also be different types of sliced cheese and (processed) meat, from Bierwurst to Salami to Schwarzwälder Schinken. Or even some Leberwurst (liver sausage) to spread on your Brot. I am not a big fan of all of this–you have to be into cold meat to like it. Aside from the fact that most of these pre-sliced meat products bought at a Supermarkt are full of sugar, preservatives, and verpackt unter Schutzatmosphäre (packaging gas) … I’ll take another Brötchen (bun) with Nutella, thanks. Or an English breakfast with sausages and bacon–or a Southern breakfast with bacon–anything with bacon, actually. Guten Appetit!