German Cuisine (Deutsch Küche) – Local history and global fame

German Cuisine (Deutsch Küche)

The culinary background in Germany is affected by the varied geography which includes coastal plains, high-altitude mountains and thick forests. Early farmers had to grow what is suitable to the land, which limited their choices since they didn’t have the flexibility to rotate crops the way growers in more forgiving regions could. The long winters and the short harvest seasons put a significance on hearty grains including barley and wheat which led to brewing beer activities in around 800BC.

The abundance of water both from snowmelt in the Apls and a network of rivers working their way through the land towards the North Sea make it suitable for grazing animals. Domestic livestock including cattle and goats supplemented their early diet until more advanced farming and irrigation methods were introduced and a wider variety of crops such as potatoes are accessible.

At the height of the Roman Empire, several settlements cropped up as far as north as the Danube River, which crosses the southern portion of modern-day Germany. This opened up important trade routes that introduced spices, fruits and vegetables that until then were exotic to the area.

Modern German food indicates these early influences with a significance still on basic, hearty meals such as the meat and potatoes of European fare. This is particularly true in the northern region. In the south, influences from Italy and France have influenced German cuisine where pasta is often substituted for potatoes.

Typical German dishes include Currywurst, Brezel and Zwiebelkuchen.

  1. Currywurst


There are two stories behind the creation of the Currywurst. (Source:

One story dates back to September 4, 1949, when Herta Heuwer claims to have created the first version of the Currywurst in her small fast food stand (Imbisstand) in Berlin. She pan-fried a boiled wurst, then topped it with a sauce made from tomato paste, curry powder, Worcestershire Sauce, and additional seasonings. Her creation was an instant hit. In 1959, she patented her sauce and gave it the name “Chillup.” Business improved so much that she had to move to a larger location to accommodate her customers. Kraft Foods learned of her success and tried to purchase the recipe and rights to her Chillup sauce. However, Herta refused to sell. Today, at the original location of her fast food stand, is a plaque honoring her and her beloved creation.

The other story is found in a book by Uwe Timms (“Die Entdeckung der Currywurst”) which claims that Lena Brücker created the first Currywurst in Hamburg in 1947. Lena Brücker, however, is a fictional character that is supposed to represent “one of wonderful women that helped to rebuild the country after WWII.” Uwe Timms bases his story on his memory of his childhood, when he first ate a Currywurst in Hamburg in 1947. He states that the first Curry-Sauce was first created by accident. Lena Brücker, owner of a fast food stand in Hamburg, was carrying big bottles of curry powder and ketchup. While walking up a flight of stairs, she tripped and dropped both bottles. This accident caused the items to get mixed together. In the process of cleaning up the mess, she licked some sauce off her fingers and discovered that the curry-ketchup mixture was quite tasty. The first Curry-Sauce was invented. The author claims that even though the name of Lena Brücker is fictitious, his story is authentic.

Since the 1980’s, the Currywurst has gained in popularity throughout Germany, but especially in Hamburg, Berlin, and in the Ruhrgebiet region. Despite its fast food competitors, namely Doner-Kebabs and Hamburgers, the Currywurst has become Germany’s favorite fast food.

Link to the recipe:


  1. Brezel or Pretzel


A common origin story of pretzels is that they were created by a monk around 610 in Italy. According to The History of Science and Technology, the monk baked strips of dough that he folded into a shape resembling a child crossing its arms in prayer. He would give these treats, which he called “pretiolas” or “little rewards,” to children who had memorized their prayers. Unfortunately- and not surprisingly- there’s no documented evidence from the 600s to confirm this story. Other similar stories star a monk from France and bakers held hostage in Germany.

While any one of these stories might have some modicum of merit, what we do know for certain is that the earliest recorded evidence of pretzels appeared in the crest of German bakers’ guilds in 1111. Later, in 1185, an illustration of pretzels appeared in the Hortus Delicarum. The manuscript was compiled by Herrad of Landsberg at an abbey in Alsace, then a region of Germany. However, it’s very likely that pretzels existed long before either of these instances.

In a prayer book used by Catherine of Cleves in 1440, there was a picture of St. Bartholomew surrounded by pretzels. By this time, pretzels were considered a sign of good luck and spiritual wholeness—possibly due to the three holes in the common pretzel shape touted to represent the Holy Trinity at this point. The “good luck” connotation carried the pretzel to other holidays, including New Year’s Day, when in Germany children hung pretzels around their necks; pretzels hung on Christmas trees in Austria in the 16th century; and parents hid little pretzels on Easter for children to find, an early version of an Easter egg hunt. In Switzerland, the pretzel shape was used as a marriage knot, and couples would each pull on a side of the pretzel on their wedding day. The larger half brought prosperity to the marriage—it was kind of like a doughy wishbone tradition.

Pretzels have long been integrated into the Christian faith. By the 16th century, it had become tradition to eat pretzels on Good Friday in Germany, and Catholics once considered them the “official food of lent.” Earlier laws of the Church stated that only one meal a day was to be eaten during lent and the food couldn’t come from an animal. Yet another origin story says that pretzels were developed as a food for lent. Whether or not this is true, pretzels did become a popular staple during the holiday because it was easy to make and fulfilled the Church’s guidelines.


Link to the recipe:


  1. Zwiebelkuchen


Zwiebelkuchen is an onion tart that originated in Germany. It is an integral part of the fall tradition in the Black Forest area of the country. In addition to onions, the tart has a dough, and contains ham and sour cream. Texturally, the filling is similar to that of a quiche.

In German, the word zwiebel translates as onion, and kuchen as cake or tart. A tart can contain as much as three pounds (about 1.4 kilograms) of onions. In its finished form, the onion tart shares features with both pizzas and quiches.

Basically, the tart base is a dough of white flour that gains bulk through a yeast addition. Also present in the dough are salt, sugar and milk. Butter and eggs, either separately or together, are also featured in recipes for the dough that forms the base and the sides of the zwiebelkuchen. It is the filling that contains the zwiebeln, or onions. Suitable onions can be either white onions or red onions, which must first be softened in butter.

In addition to onions, the filling typically contains meat, usually ham or bacon. The meat is cooked before the tart goes into the oven, sometimes with the onions. Eggs and sour cream also go into the filling, to give the tart its quiche-like texture. Optional flavorings include nutmeg, marjoram or pepper. Often, the tart has no dough covering, and has the filling open, but sometimes it has decorative top layers such as lattice designs from interlinked dough strips.

Zwiebelkuchen are associated with the Black Forest region of Germany. The traditional time of year for inhabitants of the region to make the tart is at the beginning of fall, after the summer glut of onions. Rather than a dinner dish, the tart is a lunch specialty.

One option is to eat the tart by itself, but other foods are also associated with the tart. Before eating the zwiebelkuchen, some Germans partake of some beef broth, called rindesuppe. A traditional accompaniment to the zwiebelkuchen itself, is a glass of new, young wine, known as Neuer Wein in the country.

Variations to the traditional zwiebelkuchen include a vegetarian option. This version simply omits the ham or bacon. Cooks can also use pork sausage meat instead of ham or bacon. Sliced mushrooms or cabbage can also suit the tart. Fat from the bacon can cook these ingredients down, and the cabbage can also undergo steam cooking before going into the filling.


Link to the recipe:

By Selly Faraein Binti Mansyur


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