German food culture is rich, flavourful, and varied. It is a reflection of its diverse history, influenced by the cuisine of its neighboring countries, recent immigration, and its Christian roots.
In this article, we will try to explore what we mean by typical German food, showcase regional dishes of German cuisine, and find out how the food culture has changed in recent years. Below you can click on links of the German recipes to find out more about each dish.
Meals in Germany
Deutsches Essen (German Food) consists generally of three daily meals. Breakfast (Frühstück), Lunch (Mittagessen) and Dinner (Abendbrot).
Breakfast generally consists of Müsli, bread or bread rolls, jam, sliced meat, and cheese. On a Sunday also often a boiled egg. Mittagessen is the main meal of the day and is a warm, hearty dish consisting of meat, salad, and side dishes such as potatoes dumplings, rice, or pasta. A typical German evening meal is served cold and consists of bread, cheese, sausages, and a cup of herbal tea.
Kaffee and Kuchen (Cake and Coffee) generally take place between 3-5 pm, and mostly at weekends.
Of course, habits have changed over the years and Germans also have cereals for breakfast and might eat a warm evening meal with the family, but this is how the traditional setup was.
Traditional Types of German Food
German Potato Dishes and Recipes
Potato (Kartoffeln) is one of the staple ingredients of traditional German cuisine. It was introduced in Germany in the 17th century by Friedrich the Great. Because it's easy to cultivate and inexpensive, it quickly became popular, especially amongst the poor.
You will find them boiled or baked in the oven as potato casserole or baked potatoes. They are also fried as Bratkartoffeln or potato pancakes (Kartoffelpuffer served with apple sauce), grated as potato dumplings or mashed as Kartoffelbrei. A very popular German dish is the Kartoffelsalat (German Potato Salad), where you can find various recipes across Germany.
Typcial German Potato Dishes
German Bread, Bread rolls and Pretzels
Without a doubt, Germany loves their bread and it is an integral part of German food culture. We love it so much, we named a whole mealtime after it "Abendbrot".
Typical German Breads
German Meat Dishes
Germans love their meat, but recent studies have shown that meat consumption has also declined in recent years. Pork is the most popular meat in Germany (think pork sausages and pork knuckle), followed by poultry and beef.
In areas with a lot of woodlands, venison and boar are also popular meat. You can also find horse meat in Germany, but these have to be sold by specialized butchers and are not that common anymore.
Traditional German Meat Dishes
Sausages have a long tradition in Germany and again you will find a lot of regional diversity. There are around 1,500 different types of German sausages. From beef to pork sausages, they are grilled, fried, boiled, steamed or spread on bread.
Some of the most iconic regional sausages are "Weisswurst" a white sausage from Munich, "Frankfurter Sausages" - smoked Sausages from Frankfurt, Pinkel, a sausage popular in Northern Germany. German Bratwurst is a general term to describe various types of German sausages, typically they are meant to be fried or grilled.
Types of German Sausages
Spaetzle, Pasta and Dumplings
Spaetzle, soft egg noodles, is a very popular dish whether served as a side or main as cheese spaetzle. Germany also loves their pasta. Especially since the 1950s when many Italian guest workers arrived, it became increasingly popular. Today it is an integral part of German culture. You can find pasta in the German Pasta Salad or in a popular comfort food dish called "Schinkennudeln".
German dumpling recipes
German Vegetable Dishes (Soups, Salads and Sides)
Traditional German fare is very seasonal and you will find many German vegetable dishes. Cabbage is a very popular food item. The sweet and sour red cabbage may be one of Germany's most iconic dishes. Creamed cabbage, cabbage soup, cabbage salad, and cabbage rolls filled with ground meat have their home in German cooking.
Kale (Grünkohl) is a firm favorite in Northern Germany and is eaten during the coldest times of the year. It is cooked with ham (Kassler) and sausages such as Pinkel and Metwurst, in a hearty stew.
German Cabbage Recipes
Cakes and Desserts
Germany has a great selection of traditional German cakes. From Creamy Cakes such as Frankfurter Kranz, Bienenstich, Donauwelle, and German Cheesecake to seasonal fruit cakes such as German Apple Cake, Plum Cake (Zwetschgenkuchen), and Red Currant Cake.
Especially during holidays such as Christmas and Easter, some special recipes come to shine. Like the famous German Stollen, and an array of German Christmas Cookies, or, at Easter Rüblikuchen (Carrot Cake).
Drinks - German Beer and Wine
Beer is without doubt Germany's national drink. About 25 different categories of beer are brewed here, and up to 6000 different types of beer. German Pils is the most popular kind. There are so many regional variations, that there is something for every taste bud.
Germany is also a nation of wine drinkers. It is mainly produced along the river Rhine. The best known are Riesling, a white wine, Dornfelder and Spätburgunder red wines, and Sekt the local name of Sparking wine.
If somebody offers you a glass of "Liebfrauenmilch" - politely decline. It is a mass-produced semi-sweet wine, that is cheap and to blame for Germany's mixed wine reputation.
Modern German Food
German dishes have evolved in the last 100 years. Mainly to thanks to the influence of so-called guest workers and other immigrants. The invention of currywurst sauce was made possible because the British brought over tomato sauce, curry powder, and Worchester sauce after the 2nd World War.
Italians made pizza and pasta very popular dishes and an Italian immigrant also invented in Germany the famous Spaghetti Ice Cream.
The emergence of convenience food in the 70s and the possibility of imported fruits gave birth to new dishes such as German Toast Hawaii.
Examples of modern German Food
German Regional Cuisine
Here is an attempt to give you insight into some of the traditional German dishes by region. Every part of Germany has its local dish, which evolved through history. Often the dishes are shared with their neighboring countries, as borders have changed over the centuries.
Northern German Food
Northern Germany lies on the North Sea Coast and naturally has many fish and seafood dishes. It also borders Denmark, so some recipes have been influenced by their Scandinavian neighbours. Northern German states are Lower Saxony, Bremen, Hamburg, Schleswig-Holstein, and Mecklenburg Vorpommern.
10 typical Northern German Dishes
- Grünkohl and Pinkel - A kale stew with sausage that is hearty
- Rote Grütze - A dessert made of red berries and served with German vanilla sauce.
- Bremer Klaben - a Stollen-like Christmas bread, that originates from the town of Bremen but is also common in Lower Saxony
- Scholle Finkenwerder Art - a dish from Hamburg. The pan-fried place is served with bacon and browned shrimp
- Fish Sandwiches - Fischbrötchen is the generic name for sandwiches made with fish. From German fish cakes to Matjes (lightly pickled herring), browned shrimp, and salmon. Small huts selling fischbrötchen can be found along the German coastline.
- Heringsalat - a salad made from potatoes, apples, matjes, and beetroot.
- Franzbrötchen - a small croissant-like pastry baked with butter and cinnamon. Very common in the Hamburg Area.
- Heidesand Cookies- a buttery cookie whose texture is supposed to resemble the sand dunes of the Lüneburger Heide.
- Hanseaten Cookies - it is decorated in the colors of the Haneasatic flag.
- Northern German Potato Salad - Northern German Potato Salad is traditionally made with mayonnaise and eggs.
West German Food
The west of Germany borders the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and France. It encompasses the states of Nordrhein-Westfalen, Hessia, Rhineland-Palatine, and Saarland.
Here are 10 typical dishes from the West German cuisine
- Frankfurter Grüne Soße - a cold green sauce made from seven distinct herbs and sour cream.
- Frankfurter Sausages - a thin-boiled sausage, made from pork and bacon.
- Frankfurter Kranz - a wreath-shaped cake, filled with German buttercream and decorated with caramelized nuts. The shape is meant to resemble that of a crown.
- German Waffles - waffles came to Germany through the Netherlands. A regional specialty from the Bergischen Land (in North Rhine-Westphalia) is the heart-shaped waffles.
- Sauerbraten - many regions of Germany have their version of Sauerbraten, but the marinated meat recipe from the Rhineland is served with raisins and gingerbread sauce.
- Flammkuchen - This is a dish from the Alsace region. It is shared with their neighbors in France and is a flatbread topped with onions, bacon, and sour cream.
- Schwenkbraten - a marinated pork steak from the Saarland. It is traditionally grilled over a swinging grill.
- Aachener Printen - a traditional German gingerbread from the town of Aachen that dates back to medieval times.
- Himmel und Erd - a dish of mashed potatoes and Apfelmus (apple sauce). often black pudding (Blutwurst) is served alongside it.
Southern German Good
Regional dishes from Southern Germany encompass recipes from Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg. Their cuisine is heavily influenced by their neighbors Austria, Switzerland, and the Czech Republic.
- Spätzle - these are noodle-like egg dumplings from Swabia and a very popular German side dish.
- Cheese Spaetzle - Also known as Käsespätzle. This is true German comfort food. It is spaetzle topped with grated cheese and served with caramelized onions.
- Bread Dumplings - known as Semmelknödel. They are a popular side dish but also served as a main with mushrooms.
- Vanille Kipferl - a typical German Christmas cookie that is also common in Austria. A vanilla-flavored, crescent-shaped almond cookie.
- Obatzda - a cheese spread made with ripe cheese and spiced with paprika and caraway seeds.
- Bavarian Pretzels - a traditional German bread, often salted
- Swabian Potato Salad - A typical potato salad made with a broth and oil dressing.
- Zwiebelkuchen - an onion pie or cake, filled with onions, bacon, and sour cream
- Weisswurst - the traditional sausage from Munich. Served with sweet mustard
- Krautsalat - also known as German coleslaw. Grated German cabbage with a sweet and sour vinaigrette.
East German Food
East German cuisine is heavily influenced by its neighbors Czech Republic and Poland. It encompasses Brandenburg, Mecklenburg Vorpommern, Saxony, and part of Berlin. As the former GDPR, (DDR) it also brings dishes from the former Soviet Union.
- Dresdner Stollen - the classic stollen recipe.
- Sausage Goulash - a comfort food that is popular in East Germany. A sausage stew which is often eaten with pasta.
- Königsberger Klopse - this dish originates from Königsberg, now Russia but is a very popular East German dish.
- German Pea Soup - pea soup is popular all over Germany, but particularly loved in East Germany, as it was cheap and yet nutritious.
- Strammer Max - a simple sandwich made with fried bread, and ham, which is usually topped with an egg.
- Venison Goulash - this is a typical dish from the Harz area and is a hearty venison stew cooked in red wine.
- Leipziger Allerlei- a traditional vegetable dish from Leizpzig that is also often served as a side dish
- Dresdner Eierschecke - a cake specialty from Saxony and Thuringia made with yeast and quark.
- Thüringer Kloße - a special type of potato dumpling, common in East Germany, made from a mixture of grated and cooked potatoes.
- Senfeier (Eggs in Mustard Sauce) - boiled eggs served in mustard and mayonnaise sauce.