Food Culture and Tradition

Food, People and Culture Resources

German Meals and Customs


Early risers, the Germans like a light breakfast of bread or rolls with butter and preserves and coffee with canned milk and sugar. Children may be served a porridge of oats or rice flavored with raisins and cinnamon. But since that first meal of the day is served before the real German appetite has fully awakened, most people take a few sandwiches of meat or cheese to work or school, to be eaten around ten o’clock as the second breakfast or snack. In some areas a few sausages with beer fill the hunger “pocket.”

Traditionally the noon meal is the largest of the day and many try to eat at home with the family, although this is becoming increasingly less feasible with more and more women working outside the home. A hearty soup, a meat and vegetable eintopf, and a dessert (susspeisen) make up the midday meal.

Since supper is customarily served around 7:30 p.m., an afternoon snack of “coffee and a sweet” helps tide one over. A light evening meal frequently comprises soup and a dessert, a selection of cold meats, sausages, and cheese with bread or rolls accompanied with salad is served. Occasionally a late evening hunger pang may be assuaged with sausages and beer or a thick goulash-type soup. Restaurants serve every variety of food in generous portions and eating out is almost a form of sport to many Germans.

One can understand the delight in eating out with only a glance of what is offered: good eating places have special names such as gasthofe, ratsheller, weinstuben, bierhallen, restaurants, schnellimbiss-stube (quick lunch counter), milchbars for cool milk or milkshakes, eissalons for refreshing ices and ice creams of all types, konditoreien for pastries and coffee, summer beer gardens, and even special cafeterias at places of business to provide that hot midday meal. And there is a wurstlerei just for beer and sausages. Increasingly, Turkish, Italian, Thai, and other ethnic restaurants in the cities provide delicious alternatives to traditional German fare.

Entertaining at home is enjoyed with close friends, family, and the children’s friends. In fact, for most Germans, the friends of their children are not only welcomed as family, they are often considered as extended family. Many Germans retain the old traditions and formal etiquette associated with entertaining in the home. These include punctual arrival, some hand kissing is still customary, and almost always, a bouquet of flowers will be proffered to the hostess. Handshaking is a definite point of etiquette, and reputedly, more handshaking goes on in Germany than in many other countries.

Entertaining for business purposes or with casual friends takes place not in the home but in the many types of restaurants and cafes. Should it be necessary to bring people into the home to discuss business, the hostess rarely serves anything.

Family and close friends coming for dinner or lunch will always be served with the best linen, and if possible any fine treasured pieces of china, especially coffee sets. Rhine and Moselle wines or a punch bowl accompanied with appetizers of small salted pastries and nuts will be offered first. The more sophisticated may sip Scotch, bourbon, or brandy, but generally cocktails are not in the German entertaining tradition. Home dinner parties are usually prompted by some special family occasion such as a confirmation or engagement. Often a lengthy evening may conclude with the hostess serving casually prepared sandwiches or plates of sausages with beer.

A particularly delightful custom is that of presenting children with a huge gaily decorated cone filled with sweets for their first day at school. Perhaps this sweet beginning adds pleasure to learning.

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