German cuisine has evolved through many centuries of social and political upheaval. Pork, beef and poultry are the main meats consumed, with pork being by far the most popular, though game, especially boar, rabbit and venison, are also widely available all year round. And the average German citizen will eat a whopping 61 kg of meat in the course of a year.
Meat is generally braised although several cooking methods used to soften often tough cuts of meat have evolved to become national specialties such as Sauerbraten (sour-roast) which involves marinating joints in a vinegar marinade for several days and then cooking slowly over several hours, even overnight.
The southern states, including Bavaria and Swabia, share many dishes and traditions with neighbouring Austria.
It has been estimated that there are over 1,500 different types of sausage (würst) produced in Germany. The majority are still made by traditional butchers (Metzger, Fleischer or Schlachter) using natural casings derived from pork, sheep or lamb intestine.
The most common are the Bratwürst, usually made of ground pork and spices, while the Wiener (Viennese), are made from finely minced pork, beef which is smoked and fully cooked in a water bath.
Blutwürst (blood sausage) or Schwarzwürst (black sausage) are made from blood (most often pig but can goose can also be used). Literally thousands of types of cold cuts also are available around the country in the shops and butchers and the Brotzeit Teller is a mainstay of many regional bars and restaurants.
Regional specialties, such as the Münchner Weißwürst are popular in Bavaria while the Currywürst (depending on region, either of pork or venison spiced up with curry ketchup) is popular in the more metropolitan areas of Berlin, Hamburg and Munich. Another metropolitan speciality would be the pickled herring, (often served in a Fischbrötchen), as Rollmops or Brathering
Alaskan pollock is the most common saltwater fish while trout, carp, pike and perch are. popular freshwater fish. Seafood traditionally belongs to the northern coastal areas, although many sea fish, such as fresh herring, tuna, mackerel, salmon and sardines, are now well established throughout the country.
Prior to the industrial revolution and the subsequent spoiling of the rivers, salmon were common in the rivers Rhine, Elbe, and Oder.
Vegetables, such as carrots, turnips, spinach, peas, beans, broccoli and many types of cabbage can be found in soups and stews across the country. Fried onions are a common addition to many meat dishes throughout the country.
Asparagus, especially white asparagus known in German as Spargel, is a common side dish or may be prepared as a main dish. Spargelzeit or Spargelsaison traditionally begins in mid-May and ends on St. John’s Day (24th June).
Noodles, made from wheat flour and egg can be found as Spätzle and as Maultaschen, reminiscent of ravioli.
Potatoes entered German cuisine in the late 18th century, and soon became ubiquitous. Most often they are boiled (Salzkartoffeln), mashed (Kartoffelpüree) and pan-roasted (Bratkartoffeln) In the south of Germany dumplings (Klöße or Knödel) and potato noodles (Schupfnudeln) are also popular.
Mustard (Senf) is a very common accompaniment to sausages and can vary in strength, the most common version being Mittelscharf (medium hot), which is somewhere between traditional English and French mustards in strength. Düsseldorf and the surrounding area are known for its particularly spicy mustard, which is used both as a table condiment and in local dishes such as Senfrostbraten (pot roast with mustard). In the southern parts of the country, a sweet variety of mustard is made which is almost exclusively served with the Bavarian speciality Weißwurst.
With the exception of mustard, German dishes are rarely hot and spicy. The most popular herbs are traditionally parsley, thyme, laurel, chives, black pepper, juniper berries and caraway.
Cardamom, anise, and cinnamon are often used in sweet cakes or beverages associated with Christmas time, and sometimes in the preparation of sausages, but are otherwise rare in German meals. Other herbs and spices, such as basil, sage, oregano, and hot chili peppers, have become popular in recent decades.
Horseradish is commonly used as a condiment either on its own served as a paste, enriched with cream (Sahnemeerrettich), or combined with mustard. In some regions of Germany, it is used with meats and sausages where mustard would otherwise be used.
A wide variety of cakes and tarts are made throughout the country, most commonly from fresh fruit. Apples, plums, strawberries and cherries are used regularly. Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (Black Forest cake, made with cherries) is probably the most well-known example of a wide variety of typically German tortes filled with whipped or butter cream.
German doughnuts (which have no hole) are usually balls of yeast dough with jam or other fillings, and are known as Berliner, (only in the Berlin area), Kreppel or Krapfen, depending on the region.
Eierkuchen or Pfannkuchen are large, and relatively thin pancakes, comparable to the French crêpes. They are served covered with sugar, jam or syrup. Salty variants with cheese, ground meat or bacon exist as well, but they are usually considered to be main dishes rather than desserts. In some regions, Eierkuchen are filled and then wrapped; in others, they are cut into small pieces and arranged in a heap. The word Pfannkuchen means pancake in most parts of Germany.
A popular dessert in northern Germany is Rote Grütze which is made with black and red currants, raspberries and sometimes strawberries or cherries cooked in juice with corn starch as a thickener. It is traditionally served with cream. Rhabarbergrütze (rhubarb pudding) and Grüne Grütze (gooseberry fruit pudding) are variations of the Rote Grütze.
Italian-run ice cream parlours were the first large wave of foreign-run eateries in Germany, becoming widespread in the 1920s. Spaghettieis, which resembles spaghetti, tomato sauce, and ground cheese on a plate, is a popular ice cream dessert.
Breakfast (Frühstück) commonly consists of bread, toast, and/or bread rolls with cold cuts, cheese or jam (Konfitüre), marmalade or honey, eggs, coffee, tea, milk, cocoa or fruit juices.
Traditionally, the main meal of the day has been lunch (Mittagessen), eaten around noon while dinner (Abendessen or Abendbrot) was always a smaller meal, often consisting only of a variety of breads, meat or sausages, cheese and some kind of vegetables, similar to breakfast, or possibly sandwiches.
Smaller meals added during the day bear names such as Vesper, Brotzeit (bread time), Kaffee und Kuchen (coffee and cake), or Kaffeetrinken. However, in Germany, as in other parts of Europe, dining habits have changed over the last 50 years and the traditional way of eating has become less common, except maybe for the more rural areas.
In more recent years the Sunday brunch has begun to grow in popularity, as in most European countries, especially in city cafés.