German cuisine has left its mark all over the world, being a country with a rich culinary heritage. But German foods are not just limited to sausages, sauerkraut, and potatoes – there are so many German dishes of all different types to try. German food is generally rich and full of flavor – here’s a list of some of its best.
- Traditional German Food
- Berliner eisbein
- Königsberger klopse
- Himmel un ääd
- Zwiebelkuchen and federweisser
- Pinkel mit grünkohl
- Schwarzwälder kirschtorte
- Dresdner stollen
- German beer
- German wine
Traditional German Food
It will probably come as no surprise that traditional German food includes a lot of “wurst” (sausages) that come in many shapes, sizes, fillings, and flavors. In fact, there are over 1500 different types of sausage made in Germany.
The most popular by far is the traditional bratwurst, of which there are over 40 varieties. This thin pork sausage is originally from Nürnberg and is popular nation-wide – a staple of every German barbecue. Bratwurst is usually served with side dishes such as sauerkraut, potato salad, or fried potatoes, or as street food with bread and mustard.
Elsewhere sausages are thicker and fattier, such as those from Frankfurt, or bloodier, such as the blutwurst (a bit like a black pudding), or the Bavarian bacon sausage called weisswurst.
Currywurst deserves a section all to itself because of the place it holds in many a German’s heart! This is a pork sausage served with a ketchup curry sauce, invented in 1949 by a Berlin woman called Herta Heuwer.
The first example of this German street food classic was produced by Heuwer after she got hold of ketchup and curry powder from British soldiers in Germany. She sold them from a street food stall in the Charlottenburg district of Berlin, to construction workers who were rebuilding the war-stricken city.
There’s even a museum dedicated to this popular food of Germany in the capital city of Berlin, and apparently, 800 million are consumed every year.
If you’ve ever eaten Scottish haggis, you might have an idea of what to expect from Saumagen (which translates as “sow’s stomach” in English). This German meaty delicacy is made with the stomach of a pig, stuffed with a mixture of pork, carrots, potatoes, onions, nutmeg, white pepper, and marjoram.
This is then sliced and either roasted in the oven or fried on the stove. It’s popular in the Palatinate in southwestern Germany and usually served with sauerkraut.
Although this is not under any circumstances to be called pasta, spätzle is basically the German equivalent. Essentially, it is made of egg noodles (created by combining flour, eggs, salt, and sometimes fizzy water to add fluffiness), and usually served as a side for meat dishes.
Spätzle is also a popular German dish for vegetarians as it’s often offered in restaurants as the main meal itself. There’s a cheesy variant called Käsespätzle which is rather like American mac and cheese.
Also known as German Fries, Bratkartoffeln is a delicious, rather calorific side dish made from fried sliced potatoes. Flavors, spices, and extras such as bacon and onions are often added to this tasty accompaniment.
Every season is the season for reibekuchen in Germany. They are fried potato pancakes that have many different names and variations. You might see these traditional German pancakes on the menu as kartoffelpuffer, reibekuchen, reibeplätzchen, grumbeerpannekuche, reiberdatschi, and other names.
It’s a true street food favorite, and although it is popular all year round, the German Christmas markets always offer fantastic potato pancakes, often served with sour cream and apple sauce. Other versions are prepared with treacle or black pumpernickel rye bread.
When asked “What are popular foods in Germany?”, many locals would be quick to suggest Sauerbraten, which is a popular national dish of Germany. It was traditionally made with horsemeat, but nowadays it’s mostly beef or venison.
This tender and soft meat specialty is created by slow cooking beef that has been marinating in vinegar (which tenderizes it), herbs, and spices for several days.
Sauerbraten is usually served with potatoes of some sort, or spätzle, along with some red cabbage and sauce. There are many different regional variations of Sauerbraten – whether the marinade uses wine or vinegar, and other nuances.
Now for something a bit more unusual. Maultaschen is a kind of ravioli pasta – basically, an egg-based dough stuffed with meat, spices, and sometimes vegetables.
The authentic German recipe is stuffed with minced meat (pork or beef), bacon, ham, onions, spinach, and breadcrumbs, with plenty of seasoning, herbs, and spices such as nutmeg, parsley, and marjoram. These large stuffed dumplings are then either boiled and served with a creamy sauce, or pan-fried with butter.
There is a legend in Germany that tells the tale of the monks of Maulbronn monastery using maultaschen to sneakily disguise the fact they were eating meat when it was forbidden. Whether this is true or not, who knows, but in 2009 these delicious dumplings were noted as an important part of the cultural heritage of Baden-Württemberg.
A Berlin delicacy, eisbein is cured pork knuckle or ham hock usually served up with sauerkraut and pea purée. The cured pork is simmered in a flavorful stock with juniper berries, onions, garlic, and the all-important German beer.
This is one of the most tender and succulent of German foods – the curing intensifies the flavors of the meat, while the slow cooking makes it fall off the bone. The name eisbein (“ice-bone”) refers to the bone that runs through the meat, which used to be used as the blade for ice-skaters! In the South of Germany, there is a similar dish called Schweinshaxe.
Less of a meal in itself and more of a lunchtime or daytime snack, German leberkäse is a kind of meatloaf made from salted beef or pork and onions which is minced and baked. This crusty meat block is then sliced and served up with bread, or with pickled gherkins, or sometimes as a main dish with a potato salad or fried egg.
It’s a pretty old recipe, first invented in 1776 by a Bavarian butcher. Its name translates as “liver cheese” (which doesn’t sound very appetizing!) and according to German food law, a minimum of 4% of the dish has to be made of liver. Today, leberkäse is popular in the South of Germany, where it is considered a delicacy.
Another one of the most famous traditional German foods is schnitzel, which can be found in many different iterations not just in Germany but throughout Europe too. Schnitzel is a thin boneless cutlet of meat coated in breadcrumbs and fried.
The most well-known of the schnitzels is the Wiener schnitzel, made with veal, but there is also (confusingly) the Schnitzel Wiener Art which is pork. You can also find schnitzel made from chicken breast, and even soy or cheese.
It is often served in Germany with a good ladling of sauce, such as Jägerschnitzel (with mushroom sauce), rahmschnitzel (with cream sauce), or zigeunerschnitzel (with red pepper sauce). In Hamburg, the schnitzel is served with onions and fried eggs, while in Spreewald it is spread with horseradish, gherkins, and baked cheese.
As the name might suggest, this delicacy involves rolling! It’s a fiddly German dish to prepare at home but a delicious one. Rouladen is created by making a filling of bacon, mustard, pickles and onions, and wrapping it up with a thin slice of beef or veal.
These stuffed rolls of meat have a really unique flavor. They are really popular in western Germany, and are best served up with red cabbage, and the classic potato dumplings or mashed potato.
When does a dish truly become part of a country’s heritage? Gulasch (or goulash) originates from Hungary but it has been absorbed into many nearby European nation’s cultures and menus. The people of Germany eat gulasch a lot – a hearty and rich traditional meat stew that is the perfect comfort food on a wintry day.
The German take on gulasch is with venison, pork, beef, or wild boar. It’s a spicy stew or soup that is served with potatoes, dumplings, rice or noodles, and found in restaurants and homesteads throughout the country.
Königsberger klopse is a traditional German national dish named after the former city of Königsberg, the once-capital of East Prussia. Another meat dish with a twist – Königsberger klopse are meatballs in a creamy caper sauce.
The meatballs are molded from minced veal (although you can make a cheaper version with beef or pork) together with onions, egg, spices, and breadcrumbs. The traditional German dish also has anchovies in. These meatballs are then simmered, and their broth is mixed with cream and egg yolk to create a silky sauce, topped with capers. Served up with boiled potatoes and beetroot, this makes a delicious and different dinner.
Historically popular in northern Germany, Labskaus is a strange looking dish created from potatoes and meat – and all importantly, beetroot (which gives it a fantastic color!). These ingredients are mashed together creating a pink dollop of Labskaus, garnished with pickled cucumbers and rollmops.
This colorful specialty was apparently particularly common with the seafaring folk of the Baltic and North Sea – an easy meal for sailors and fishermen on the great ships.
Himmel un ääd
Some common German food names are really great – such as himmel un ääd, which translates as “heaven and earth”. It’s authentic German food that has been around since the 18th century, and prepared with black pudding, mashed potatoes, and fried onions with a delicious apple sauce.
Supposedly, the German name is in reference to the ingredients, and the two different types of apple. The apples from the trees (the sky) and the apples from the earth (the potatoes). This dish is popular in the Rhineland, Westphalia, and Lower Saxony regions of Germany.
Zwiebelkuchen and federweisser
The best way to describe German “zwiebelkuchen” is as a bit like a quiche. It’s a traditional onion tart made with rich cream, fluffy eggs, fried onions, and bits of bacon. It is often paired (and with good reason) with “federweisser” – a fermented sweet freshly pressed grape juice that literally translates as “featherlight”.
It’s a traditional German food pairing that is perfect on hot summer days and widely found throughout the villages, towns, and cities on the river Mosel.
Pinkel mit grünkohl
Pinkel is a traditional German sausage popular in northern Germany and enshrouded in mystery – because the local butchers guard the secret of how to make it! It’s thought that its name comes from the German word “pinkelt” meaning little finger.
The sausage includes ingredients such as oats, bacon, beef suet, onions, pig lard, and seasoning. It’s traditionally served up with kale – “pinkel mit grünkohl” – and of course, some sort of potato side.
Spargel is white asparagus that is hugely popular throughout the country and served up in restaurants in many different forms. However, it’s only available for a few months a year. The season for “spargel” in Germany is called “spargelzeit”, and runs from mid-April to the end of June (the official end of spargelzeit is the 24th of June which is St John the Baptist Day).
These tender and sweet vegetables are served traditionally with butter and potatoes, but sometimes they are presented with hollandaise sauce or scrambled egg. Like elsewhere in Europe, these revered nutritious stalks are known colloquially as “white gold”.
Rollmops are often seen as a garnish or snack in Germany, but they are pretty often served up as a side dish or even a breakfast in themself. Pickled herring is wrapped around a savory filling of pickled gherkins or olives. Believe it or not, this is a typical German breakfast cure for hangovers!
One of Germany’s finest dessert exports is the famous “Schwarzwälder kirschtorte” – also known as the Black Forest gateau. This rich cake is a sandwich of chocolate sponge, whipped cream, and sour cherries, adorned with whipped cream, chocolate shavings, and maraschino cherries.
This famous traditional German cake was invented in 1915 by Josef Keller in Bonn in Rhineland. Some say it gets its name from the colors of the traditional costumes of the people who live in the Black Forest (white, brown, and red), but most think it’s named after the regional cherry liquor – Schwarzwälder kirsch.
German cheesecake (Käsekuchen) is a light and fluffy version of its western counterpart. This is because it’s made with quark or Greek yogurt instead of cream cheese. Egg white is added to fluff up the filling, often together with a dash of lemon for freshness.
Unlike the cheesecakes of other countries, Käsekuchen is not normally made with a feature fruit – but of course, there are regional varieties throughout Germany.
A novelty dessert to make you look twice! Spaghettieis is a popular sweet specialty in Germany. Rather unusually, this is vanilla ice cream molded to look like spaghetti and topped with a bright red strawberry sauce, intended to look like tomato sauce. It is then decorated with white chocolate shavings to resemble parmesan cheese.
The end result is a surprisingly realistic impression of spaghetti bolognese, especially popular with German children. It was invented by the son of an Italian immigrant, Dario Fontanella, in Mannheim in Germany, and he says that he had fun tricking children into believing it was a plate of spaghetti!
Translating literally as “one-pot”, Eintopf is a very simple affair created by pretty much anything and everything you have to hand. This traditional German food is a stew-like soup formed of vegetables and some sort of meat. Anything goes here!
Kartoffelsalat is Germany’s famous potato salad. German cuisine is widely credited with the invention of this now popular European delicacy, usually made from boiled potatoes together with mayonnaise, mustard, and lemon juice dressing.
There are a myriad of different versions of this side dish served all over Germany and the wider world. Some contain meat such as bacon or ham, while some add scallions, chives, or other fresh herbs. Sometimes you might find a hard-boiled egg sliced up in the salad, or green beans.
Stollen is a delicious and filling sweet bread eaten at Christmas time in Germany. It has roots as far back as the 15th century and it has been a popular sweet food in Germany at Christmas markets ever since. It used to be called “striezel”, and this is why the Christmas market in Dresden is called Striezelmarkt today.
So what is Dresdner stollen actually made from? It’s a heavy bread baked with nuts, raisins, spices, candied fruits, and marzipan, dusted with a finish of icing sugar. Essential traditional German food for snacking on when the weather turns cold!
Believed to have endless health benefits, sauerkraut is one of the most popular foods in Germany. It’s created from fermented cabbage, a process carried out by the pickling of shredded cabbage leaves. The lactic acid bacteria created by the fermentation gives it a really distinctive sour taste.
Although it’s now an iconic popular German food, the history of fermentation of vegetables is much older. Some believe that it was brought to Europe by the Mongol emperor Ghengis Khan.
Flammkuchen is a kind of German pizza, using a covering of white cheese or creme fraiche rather than the Italian tomato base, and a smattering of fried onions and bacon lardons.
Flammkuchen has an interesting history. It was originally the “flame-cake” that was traditionally used to test the temperatures of bread ovens in the German-France border regions of Alsace, Baden, and the Palatinate. If the oven was up to the correct temperature, the cake would bake in just one or two minutes, and be crusty and crispy to eat.
Hare or rabbit is considered quite a common German food, and the main ingredient in Hasenpfeffer – hare stew. It’s a delicious tender stew of rabbit or hare in a flavorful marinade, cooked with a multitude of herbs and spices such as sage, thyme, bay leaf, and juniper berries.
As with a lot of food in Germany, the meat is made really tender by a lengthy cooking process. The marinade is traditionally thickened with the rabbit’s blood.
You can’t walk down a German street without spotting one of the country’s most celebrated baked goods – the famous pretzel. A decorative traditional German bread twisted into a knotted shape and sprinkled with salt, the pretzel <"brezel") is a delicious snack or accompaniment to a "bratwurst", and can be found all over Germany.
You might have gathered by now that potatoes are quite a big deal in traditional German cuisine. So here is another variation on the humble potato – potato dumplings!
Kartoffelkloesse are potato dumplings normally served up as a side for meat dishes, formed from mashed potatoes that have been remolded into balls before being boiled.
Apfelstrudel is a famous apple-based dessert eaten and cherished worldwide. Although it has its origins in Austria (dating back to 1696), it deserves a mention here as it has been a traditional German food for a long time and is served up throughout the country today.
“Strudel” is, in fact, a German word, meaning whirlpool – like the swirling shape created by the pastry and filling. Apfelstrudel is made with grated cooking apples, flavored with cinnamon, sugar, and raisins, wrapped in a buttery pastry jacket. The pastry is flakey and paper-thin, and the strudel is served in slices sprinkled with icing sugar.
Along with its traditional food, Germany is well known for its beer culture. The most popular German beer is a pilsner, a pale lager brewed in different variations in most towns.
Bavaria is a famous region for beer in Germany because of the abundance of hops of different varieties that grow there. This is where you’ll find hefeweizen or other wheat beers which are among the most popular of German beers along with the pale light lagers. Beer-drinking in Germany is a huge traditional export that goes back centuries.
Germany might mainly be known for its white wine (the Riesling grape variety being the most famous), but it is increasingly producing some excellent red wine too, such as the German Pinot noir called Spätburgunder.
Most of the vineyards are found in the west of Germany, near the river Rhine, and Germany is currently the world’s eighth-largest wine-making country. Its exports are mostly white wine, with only a third of all German wines being red wine.
So there you have it, a round-up of some of the must-try typical German foods. The only advice left to give you is… don’t try them all at once!
Don't make these mistakes when planning your next trip
Sign up for the newsletter and learn which mistakes you need to prevent when booking your trip - especially given the current circumstances.