While the various regions of Germany were independent and autonomous communities until relatively recently, it is not surprising that they also developed special regional foods. There is a common factor: almost everywhere, these regional foods are based on the country’s favorite staples of beer, pork, potatoes, and cabbage, yet they are different in the technique of cooking, seasoning, or the way they are served. In general, there are three main divisions of German cuisine: Central, Northern, and Southern.
The Central region also includes hearty meals and foods, especially the famed Westphalian ham and dark heavy pumpernickel bread. Pork is important here and many dishes favor a heavy touch with freshly ground black pepper. Gravies are thickened with dried bread crumbs more often than with flour. Pannhas is a thick, simmered porridge made from buckwheat and may be eaten hot or cold and sometimes sliced and fried. Pannhas may have been the origin of New England “scrapple,” with cornmeal rather than buckwheat used in the United States. Frankfurt is known for a special herb-flavored green sauce, grune sosse, which is similar to the pesto alla genovese based on basil.
One cannot think of Thuringia without images of fluffy round dumplings, for here is the home of the feathery klosse, made only from potatoes and flour – the best made even without the leavening help of eggs. The foods in Saxony are similar but they take even more pleasure in sweets: schnitten, stollen, and fruit kuchen in delicious variety. Apple cider in different alcoholic potencies is a familiar drink throughout this region.
The Northern region, influenced by its proximity to the Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands as well as by the damp, cold climate, is characterized by thick soups, pickled and smoked meats and fish, dried fruits, smoked bacon, sour cream, and many dishes with goose and eels. Most interesting is the traditional North German meal of labskaus: a one-dish meal of meat and fish plus vegetables which became a sailor’s specialty and earned the name lobscouse. Schlachtplatte or slaughter plate is also a Northern specialty of a variety of meats and sausages – the byproducts of a slaughtering day – served with bread and pickles.
Berlin, considered part of the Northern cuisine district, is famed for its ground meat dishes: strammer max, a snack of buttered rye bread with a thick slice of ham and two fried eggs resting on top; Berliner pfannkuchen, luscious plump jam-filled doughnuts (the inspiration of those in other countries); and baumkuchen, rich eggy Christmas layered logs glazed and browned with chocolate. Here too, kummel (caraway) as a flavoring and as a liqueur is important and beer is taken with schnapps to accompany most foods. Occasionally beer mit schuss indicates a shot of raspberry syrup in the beer for a change. Every Berlin bar carries a good supply of Kurfurstlicher Magenbitter, a bitter potent cordial said to do wonders for the stomach.
Southern German cuisine has a characteristically lighter touch. Wine is more prevalent than beer, due to the grape cuttings planted by the Romans almost 2,000 years ago. Here, dumplings are called knodel, and some very special potato dishes are prepared: puddings, pancakes, diced potatoes and bacon and the famed himmel und erde: equal amounts of pan-fried sliced apples and potatoes with crisply fried slices of blood sausage, aptly translated as “heaven and earth.”