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Cuisine and Dining Out in Germany

The Germans are about as sophisticated in their dining as anybody on earth. The "sausages, sauerkraut and beer " stereotype is downright insulting.

However, most people coming to Germany like to try the traditional specialties, which we present here.

On the Baltic and North Sea coasts seafood is the word; clams in dough, fish soups, crayfish pastries, and all kinds of smoked fish, with emphasis on herring and salmon (Lachs). Wild (game) is something else the Germans prepare well, particularly in the forested areas of the south. Venison and boar are always a good bet, as is quail, wild duck and other game birds, with stuffings made of such things as truffles and savoy cabbage.

Other meat dishes that retain their popularity include the Schnitzel (cutlet) which is commonly served breaded, but has numerous other variations Jägerschnitzel with gravy and mushrooms, and the Zigeunerschnitzel with spicy vegetables. The basic meat in a Schnitzel is usually veal, but pork is also used. Roast pork also remains very popular, and is eaten with gravy and those giant, almost chewy dumplings that have long been popular. Still another pork specialty is the Rippchen, a juicy cured pork chop. It goes nicely with sauerkraut and mashed potatoes.

Beef is often used to make Tartar; raw ground meat into which can be mixed raw eggs, anchovies, capers and the like. Steaks and chops are by no means a rarity in Germany, but the consumption of meat by the slice is considerably lower than in the States. The Germans are more likely to stretch their meat by mixing it with other things.

Sometimes this is done with stews. Spicy Gulasch (goulash) is a favorite. Germans also use pieces of meat in preparing vegetable dishes, but the main way of stretching meat is the ubiquitous sausage.

Germans are world masters at the production of these Würste, and the variety of them is great. The most popular types with Americans are the ones you get, among other places, from the vendors at the festivals and other outdoor events: Bratwurst, Bockwurst and Rindswurst. The Bratwurst is mainly of pork and served roasted. The Bockwurst is the one most similar to the American hot dog, though it is usually longer. The Rindswurst, sometimes called the Knackwurst, is usually of coarsely ground beef and is fatter and stubbier than the other two. All three are eaten with the fingers and usually dipped in mustard. You often get a Brötchen (roll) with them.

The standard type of German bread is similar to what we call rye bread. Second in popularity are the whole grain breads, including pumpernickel. These are heavier and the slice is thinner. Brötchen are also very common, from white or rye dough, plain or with poppy seeds, sesame seeds, onion flavoring or cheese flavoring.

Among the egg dishes the Bavarian Bauernomelett, is popular. Potatoes and onions are mixed in with it.

You'll find few surprises among the vegetables Germans eat. A favorite here is Eintopf, literally "one pot," which is made with beans, peas or lentils, to which is added pieces of sausage, potatoes, carrots and spices.

And then there are the pastries, made with chocolate, marzipan, honey and anything else that is good and calorie-laden.

The classic area for cheeses in Germany is the Alpine Allgäu region, south of Ulm. Its products are eaten frequently for breakfast, and also as an accompaniment to Germany's celebrated white wines. Rhine wine goes nicely with soft cheeses, such as the Allgäu's Limburger. Mosel goes with butter cheeses, and Pfalz wine with Emmentaler. The last-named is better known to you as "Swiss cheese," but it is also made in Germany.

Much of the food we have described goes well with the famous German beer. There are roughly 1,500 breweries in Germany today making about 6,000 beers of nearly 140 different types. Styles vary throughout the country and finding one's favorite requires experimentation.

Restaurant Etiquette

If you want a hot meal in Germany you'd better time your restaurant visit for "meal times," from around 11:30 to 2 and 6 to 9. Germans don't eat at all hours as do their cousins across the Atlantic. Breakfasts, though, have become the rage of late, and many restaurants serve them at all hours.

You have an opportunity to "shop around" for a restaurant. The law requires each establishment to post a copy of the menu outside.

Once inside, just pick out a table and have a seat. It's rare for anybody to show you to a seat. If there's no empty table, it's all right to ask people already seated if you can share their table. They'll usually agree.

You'll get no glass of water from the waiter unless you ask for it. And if you do ask be sure to specify Leitungswasser (tap water) if that's what you want. If you don't do this, the waiter will assume you want mineral water, and you'll find a fancy price for it on your bill.

The tap water will cost you nothing extra, but that's about the only thing that's free at a German restaurant. There's no "free second cup" of coffee. Each cup you have will be a separate item on the bill.

It's usual when the waiter comes to order a drink, and then peruse the menu while he's getting the drink. The well-ingrained American notion of a "dinner" - including soup, salad, entree and dessert all for a single price - is very uncommon in Germany. You usually pay for each item separately.

Sometimes, at better restaurants, the waiter will pour a small amount of wine from a newly served bottle into the host's glass. This is a charming custom dating from the old days. But nowadays the host really doesn't have the option of refusing the wine, unless it's spoiled or clearly not what was ordered.

There are no set rules for tipping. In most cases a service charge is included in the price of meals in restaurants. Tipping can vary from place to place and, depending on the quality of service, can range from rounding up to the next euro to 10 percent of the total bill. Always tell the waiter or waitress how much you want to pay. If, say, the bill was €11.70, say "12 euros, please." The practice of leaving money on the table is all but unknown.

Credit cards are not so well established here. You'll usually be able to use yours at pricey international establishments, but if you're just going to the neighborhood Gasthaus you'd better take along enough cash, just in case.