This past summer Joanne and I took a food fact-finding trip to Germany.
After all, this fall, SALUT will do a major promotion on Alsace Lorraine, the region of France that borders Germany. We’ll celebrate the classic Franco/German dish, Choucroute, and of course Apple Strudel, as well as regional wines, namely Reislings. And I’m sure you’ll agree: It would have been irresponsible of us not to conduct some firsthand research.
Answering the call of duty, I cleared our schedule and booked a trip to…Munich and Bavaria (not exactly Alsace Lorraine, but close enough).
After researching and triangulating Munich’s most representative restaurants, we landed on a great one in the heart of the city: SPATENHAUS.
A property of the Spaten Brewery, situated directly across from the Opera House, it’s a Brunhilda-sized restaurant…. two floors, each with grand dining spaces. The classic, casually styled first level, where we ate, is right out of central casting for a traditional German restaurant. It features only Bavarian food, and the all-female serving staff is dressed in Dirndls (the traditional feminine dress worn in Austria, South Tyrol and Bavaria). The second floor, on the other hand, has two large dining rooms that are much fancier with menus featuring more haute, culinary diverse, and I might add more expensive, dishes.
That wasn’t for us.
Comfortably installed in the large, but comfortable street-level dining room, we began our meal just as you’d expect: with a bread basket of giant soft pretzels and two enormous steins of beer. Appetizers also featured Beer Cheese Soup for pretzel dipping (and diner, beware – the bread spread might be lard! Tasty, TASTY lard).
Joanne started off with the Seared Goat Cheese, while I had the Spaetzle – dense little German noodle bites loaded with cheese and bacon, and generously topped with crispy fried onion straws.
Schnitzels abound…from the Classic Veal Weiner Schnitzel to a similar thinly pounded and breaded Chicken Schnitzel, followed by a pork version with mushroom sauce titled Jaeger Schnitzel. The mother of ‘em all is, of course, Schnitzel ala Holstein: breaded veal garnished with a fried egg, capers and anchovies.
An array of Teutonic treats followed, including a toothsome rendition of Roasted Bavarian Duck and Zweibelrosbraten, a strip steak showered with deep-fried onion straws and a hearty brick of Kartoffpuffer, a close kin of our hashbrowns (similar also to the Swiss national side dish, Rosti). However, even though German recipes call for the shredded potatoes to be fried in butter, I think that these were fried in duck fat, butter’s big brother (no wait, marrow is butter’s big brother. Duck fat is butter’s first cousin).
As good as all this was, one has to reckon with the fact that German food is HEAVY. It’s CALORIC. It’s BIG. It revolves around pork & beer, pork & beer, and pork & beer.
And I LOVE IT!
Traveling through Bavaria, you’ll experience perhaps the best sausages of your life and pork treated to as many delicious variations as your taste buds and stomach can stand. A national dish that we enjoyed and sampled often was Choucroute Garnie – sausages, weenies, smoked ham, sauerkraut and steamed new potatoes, all served up with thick and grainy, potent Germany mustard (just wait ‘til you try it at Salut this fall).
Time for A CARNIVORE’S DREAM: Schweinshaxen, or pork shanks. This is a tough cut that demands a long, slow braise or, better yet, a few hours on the rotisserie, allowing the decadent outer pork rind to develop into crispy, fatty, addictive cracklings that encase the entire shank. It’s fall-of-the-bone hearty, with a deep porky flavor, and is fatty as hell. But as we all know: FAT IS FLAVOR.
The restaurant HAXNBAUER seems to be the rotisserie gold standard for Crispy-skinned Schweinshaxen in Munich, but the one that I had at Spatenhaus was as good as I’ve ever had. It came with steamed root vegetables as well.
Apple Strudel is a must. Spatenhaus does it well…very well. Don’t bother with anything else.
A final thought: If you should eat your way through Germany as we did, be prepared and understand that a pair of sweatpants awaits you when you return home. German food is NOT POLYUNSATURATED ANYTHING!!!
So my advice is to go with the flow…and EAT HEAVY…but DRESS COOL!!!