I’m so full that I can hardly bear to sit down and write an entry on food, but I have no choice: today’s letter demands it. I totter over to a low divan and recline against a pile of pillows like a denizen of ancient Rome, sipping herbal “detox” tea, with my laptop on my outstretched legs.
German food, as eaten in this North German city of Bremen, is my subject for today, a story I will tell through pictures with a minimum of accompanying text, sapped as my energy is following a blow-out meal, with all the blood rushing to my stomach.
We haven’t necessarily been eating typical German food, at least, not all the time, because for one thing my friend and host is on a diet and avoiding bread and sweets and for another, we both love fresh fruit and vegetables. Nevertheless, she knows that it’s my first time in Germany and wants to make sure that I have the full experience. The bounty overflows from the shelves and baskets of every local supermarket, fruit and vegetable stand, and delicatessen. So much of it, and in so much variety, that it can be overwhelming just to look at. But I have a strong stomach and take pride in being a good trencherwoman, so I am trying my best to do justice to the task. Forgive me if I don’t have the energy for cross/trans-cultural commentary today, but I have to conserve my energy so as to be equal to the next meal. Depicted below are just a few of the foods and dishes that seem to be specialties, some of Germany at large, others of this particular region.
Note to vegetarians: I will try not to offend your sensibilities with too many pictures of meat, but please be forewarned that meat is a staple of German diet—and especially here in the North, so is fish.
Bread and Beer
German bread, even the white bread, is dense and substantial—a real staple—not the fluff that the Wonderbread generation got used to in the United States. This is a loaf topped with pumpkin seeds that we picked up at the local supermarket. It goes down well with cheese, accompanied by that other German speciality, beer. My host was shocked to see that I hadn’t chosen to photograph a local brand, especially when the globally-known Beck’s beer is brewed right here in Bremen, so I am inserting another photograph to make up for my lapse.
I have never seen so many varieties of cheese before. This bewildering array was photographed in a supermarket, never mind a delicatessen or cheese shop. (Bio, by the way, means organic.)
Meat (especially salami)
I am no expert in this department, so I’ll just let a couple of photos do the talking.
Here I’ll mention a few regional specialties that I have tasted: Heringsalat (shown at top right made with beets), and Nordseekrabben, described as a kind of brown shrimp, but which my friend insists is not shrimp. Whatever it is, it’s delicious. And then there are tasty little sprotten, or sprats, one of which I had for lunch today. (Remember the “kegs of salted sprats” in The Pied Piper of Hamelin?)
Milk, buttermilk, and yoghurt
Leaving the meats with a sigh of relief, we return to the dairy products. The shelves are laden with a staggering variety of milks, buttermilks, yogurts, kefirs, and more.
White asparagus (spargel) and new potatoes
There was a stand outside the supermarket, selling new potatoes and a strange-looking vegetable I couldn’t identify. My friend told me that the short spargel season was just beginning and that I had a treat in store. Apparently spargel or carefully cultivated white asparagus, served with lavishly buttered new potatoes, among other things, is eaten ceremoniously each year to herald Spring.
Germans are coffee drinkers, although decent tea can be found here, particularly in Bremen, which is home to Tee-Handels-Kontor, the oldest tea importers in Germany. Here’s a photo of our after-lunch espressos, served in my friend’s mother’s beautiful espresso cups.
There are two important chocolatiers in Bremen, one of which is Hachez. The chocolate displays in this city go on for aisles and aisles, especially at Eastertime, so here is a stack of Kinder eggs, world-famous for the ingenious little toys that children find inside and assemble for themselves, and a Hachez chocolate bearing an illustration of The Bremen Town Musicians, a Grimm’s fairytale beloved in this city for obvious reasons. Milka is another German chocolate I’ve fallen in love with, particularly because in the U.S. these days everyone seems to think that dark chocolate is superior, and I’ve always secretly preferred milk.
After each meal I am certain that I will never be able to eat another morsel ever again;
until I am tempted by just one more piece of chocolate.