German cuisine is a particularly accessible aspect of German culture. When it comes to eating, we often find foreign cultures quite hard going. But even though there are many international restaurants in Hessen, you should definitely try the local cuisine.
Traditional German cooking is a rich and savoury affair. Many German specialities are found in Hessian cuisine, including sauerkraut, boiled or mashed potatoes, fried potatoes with schnitzel, and roast meats.
Pork is popular with many Germans. If you prefer beef, you should look out for Ochsenbrust or Rinderbrust (beef brisket). This is cooked and served either with warm horseradish sauce or with the characteristically Hessian Grüne Sosse (green sauce, ‘Grie Soss’ in the local dialect). Grüne Sosse consists of sour cream (sometimes combined with mayonnaise) and various herbs. Traditionally these are chives, chervil, borage, cress, dill, tarragon, parsley, garden sorrel, basil and lovage. Most cooks have their own special recipe, so Grüne Sosse will never taste quite the same in any two places. It is not only great with Rinderbrust, but is also frequently served with boiled potatoes and egg halves. The sauce is not cooked, but served at room temperature or slightly chilled. As the herbs provide the focus of the sauce’s taste, it was once only made in spring, summer and very early autumn. Nowadays, frozen and dried herbs are also used, although connoisseurs will swear that fresh ingredients are essential to the sauce’s distinctive taste.
You will quickly notice that all kinds of cheese are highly valued in Hessen. Two cheese specialities in particular are popular and well-known: One of them is ‘Handkäs mit Musik’. Handkäse is a very tangy cheese served with a dressing made from vinegar, vegetable oil and onions. It is served as a light meal in the local cider taverns.
‘Schneegestöber’ – snow flurry – is not quite so well-known but just as tasty. Camembert is pureed with butter, egg and onions, and spiced with paprika, pepper and chives. Both ‘Handkäs’ and ‘Schneegestöber’ are usually served with dark farmhouse bread.
Apples are one of Hessen’s most important crops, so they feature prominently on the local menu. Apples are of course most common in cakes and desserts such as apple pancakes (pancakes with apple slices). They are usually served with cinnamon, vanilla ice cream and/or whipped cream.
Pureed apples also play an important part in regional cuisine. They go into apple cake, apple crumble cake, apple turnovers and much more.
Apple juice is used too, to make the popular Hessian apple wine for instance.
Apple wine is something of a national drink in Hessen. It is drunk ‘süss’/sweet (mixed with lemonade), ‘sauer gespritzt’/with a sour dash (with mineral water), or neat. Apple wine is not served in bottles, but in a jug known as a ‘Bembel’.
‘Cidre’ is rather sweeter than apple wine, and is also called ‘Süsser’ locally. It is less alcoholic and perhaps a more accessible drink initially. ‘Cidre’ produced in the region is unfortunately available in autumn only, immediately following the apple harvest.
It is worth mentioning a local peculiarity regarding sweet dishes: In Germany it is comparatively rare to have cake as a dessert; rather, it is served with coffee as a fourth meal around teatime in the afternoon.
This introduction to Hessian cooking will hopefully have whetted your appetite, and encourage you to try the local dishes – enjoy your meal!
German wines – an echo from the past or a good choice for the modern palate?
The labels of the first wines exported from Germany were often thick with armorial crests, gothic fonts and drawings of castles or vineyards – labels such as Piesporter Michelsberg, Zeller Schwarze Katze and Niersteiner Gutes Domtal. The grape variety was rarely specified and the wines were sweet and served chilled. This picture has characterised perceptions of German wine since the 1960s; for many people it continues to do so.
Quality-focused German winegrowers are less widely known, but they have been producing highly individual wines for generations, reflecting the best of each grape variety and vineyard. As production volumes were always comparatively low, many of these wines were only exported in limited quantities. But the winegrowers have found their market niche and German Rheingau Riesling now reaches higher prices than the famous Bordeaux; today more than ever, German Rieslings fetch record prices at auction.
So much on history. The motto of German wine institutes – ‘If you think you know German wine, try it again’ – is a good one. Today’s German wines – dry and classical grape varieties – are in high demand on the shelves and on restaurant menus. They are packaged using modern techniques, their labels are quite minimalist and the wines themselves are affordable. The premium wines – Großes Gewächs and the rare Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese and Eiswein – are the connoisseur’s choice for special occasions.
Next to the Rheingau, the Hessische Bergstrasse is also famous as a wine region. It is located on the western slopes and northern reaches of the Odenwald. The wine-growing region extends from Seeheim-Jugenheim and Alsbach, with few vineyards, in the north, to the Hessen–Baden-Württemberg state boundary south of Heppenheim. The largest expanses of vineyards are concentrated between Zwingenberg and Heppenheim.
German wine labels have long been criticised for being cryptic or confusing,
because detailed information on the wine is reduced to a minimum. But understanding the information provided is quite easy.
In Germany, the information to be displayed on wine labels is prescribed by law: the region, the name of the producer and ripeness. Further information, such as the grape variety, vintage and style (dry or semi-dry), is to be specified if certain criteria are met. Unfortunately this information does not have to be displayed in any particular sequence, and is therefore not always in the same place. But the most important thing is to know the difference between information deriving from the vineyard and the cellar, that is to say, the difference between ripeness and style.
The most important information is summarised below: