3 German foods that taste better than they look (and 3 that don’t)

I bang on a lot about fresh, seasonal vegetables and local, organic meat, but we all know that this isn’t the food that Germany’s famous for.  Those dishes mostly comprises pork and pickled cabbage, and though we’re all familiar with Schnitzel and Sauerkraut, there are plenty of other, more unappealing-looking dishes that many of us would rather not familiarise ourselves with.  Surprisingly enough, however, some of these lesser known German specialities actually taste rather good, despite their somewhat challenging aesthetics.  Less surprisingly, some of them don’t.  Look away now if you’re of a sensitive disposition…

1. Saumagen (stuffed pig’s stomach)

Saumagen
Stuffed pig’s stomach with potato salad

A variation on a Scottish haggis theme, Saumagen is sow’s stomach stuffed with vegetables, herbs, spices and pork or beef, boiled, crisped up in the oven and then served in thick slices alongside potatoes and Sauerkraut and washed down with a glass of white wine.  It’s extremely popular in the Pfalz region of Germany, and though it’s hearty and rather unattractive-looking fare, it’s flavoursome and moreish and considerably tastier than it looks.

2. Weisswurst (white sausage)

Weisswurst, pretzel and sweet mustard
Bavarian veal sausages with a pretzel, sweet mustard and a large beer

A greyish-pink, slightly sickly looking Bavarian speciality, Weisswürstchen are mild-tasting sausages made from pork, veal and a selection of seasonings including parsley, lemon and onions.  They’re traditionally eaten as a second breakfast, in pairs, with a pretzel, sweet mustard and a Weizenbier (wheat beer).  Before you snigger, “a second breakfast?  Oh, the Germans”, it should be pointed out that these little grey sausages need be to be eaten in the morning because they’re made first thing and don’t contain preservatives, so they just wouldn’t last a whole day.  Though come to think of it, that doesn’t explain the beer.

3. Blutwurst (blood sausage)

Blutwurst
Smoked and dried blood sausages | Image credit: Rainer Zenz

As a long time satisfied consumer of the British version of blood sausage, black pudding, I’m a little biased on this particular matter, but for something so very tasty, Blutwurst couldn’t look much more revolting.  Or sound it.  Made from congealed blood, Blutwurst can be eaten as part of a platter of cold cuts or served warm, in thick, fried chunks, for example as in Cologne, where it’s dished up with mashed potatoes and apple sauce and called Heaven and Earth (Himmel und Erde).  And in east Germany, they mash it up and call it Dead Grandma (Tote Oma).  Which makes it sound even more appetising.

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I like to think of myself as an adventurous eater, having tried all sorts of “interesting” dishes all over the world (fermented mare’s milk, anyone?), but there are several German dishes I’ve sampled that will not be passing my lips ever again (4 and 5) and one or two I can’t bring myself to try at all (6):

4. Handkäs’ mit Musik (marinaded hand cheese)

Handkäs mit Musik
Sour milk cheese with onions, caraway and vinegar

I love cheese.  Hard cheese, soft cheese, fresh cheese, stinky cheese, you name it, I’m not unhappy to have a little nibble.  Here in the state of Hessen, however, I’ve discovered a cheese to say no to, and cheese is Handkäs’.  It’s a sweaty, almost luminous little puck made from sour milk, traditionally shaped by hand, marinated in chopped onions, caraway seeds and vinegar and served with rye bread and a glass of Apfelwein (apple wine).  It’s the most eye-wateringly pungent foodstuff I’ve ever had the misfortune to sample, and if the foul taste’s not bad enough, you only find out post digestion what the “music” refers to.  Lethal.

5. Leberkäse (pork liver meatloaf)

Leberkäse
Sliced pork loaf

Translating Leberkäse directly, it couldn’t sound less appealing.  “Liver cheese” is a very rich, loaf-shaped corned beef and pork liver pâté, commonly eaten in slices as a hot or cold sandwich filling or pan-fried, topped with a fried egg and served with potato salad.  Take a bite and you think to yourself, do you know, it actually tastes much more pleasant than it looks.  Keep going, however, and you’ll soon start imagining your arteries are clogging up.  Leberkäse: avoid it if you’re not keen on nausea.

6. Sülze (brawn)

Sülze
Sliced brawn, headcheese, pig’s head in aspic.  Call it what you will; I’m not eating it.

It’s probably unfair to include Sülze on this list as I’ve never actually tried it, but I am fairly confident it’s not going to make it onto my last meal wishlist.  Having seen it on various menus and at the butcher’s, I was curious to find out what exactly it was.  Well.  English translations for Sülze include ‘brawn’ and ‘head cheese’ and the terrine, usually served in thin slices, consists of the flesh of a pig’s head (not including eyeballs or brain – well, there’s a relief – but sometimes incorporating the animal’s heart or feet) set in a savoury jelly.  So, there we are.  I rather wish I hadn’t looked.

Have you tried any of these?  Would you?  Anyone fancy a slice of head cheese?

26 comments

  1. Carrie

    Oh, God. Handkäs’ is the one thing I tasted in Wiesbaden that, like you, I never want to eat ever again. I’m not generally a picky eater, and when my uncle-in-law described it to my husband and I, it sounded good. But oh my. Awful. So awful. I’m glad I’m not alone in my intense dislike of Handkäs’.

    I think I’ve tried weisswurst and enjoyed it. Gotta agree with you on the unappetizing appearance of all the others, though.

    • Eating Wiesbaden

      I like Weisswurst too, but I like to save it for special occasions ;) And although my husband enjoys the taste of Handkäs’, we tend to reserve ordering it for when we have guests to torture introduce to the local specialities. I pretty much have to sit at the opposite end of the table when it arrives, though ;)

  2. cliff1976

    Leberkäse just reminds me of hot dogs in less cylindrical format. Thanks for the Tote Oma — that brought a chuckle. Loved the Himmel u. Ääd in Cologne at Päffgen. Had the chance to repeat that about a week ago and this post is making me regret not doing so.

  3. Juliette

    My grandmother (in Australia) made brawn on a regular basis. I recall never trying it..or just the jelly bits. Its now quite out of fashion there, but in Germany seems its always on the menu!! Waste not want not? Hats of for using up everything in thier cooking. The Leberkase in Austria is a tad better, but its like McDonalds. You think you are going to like it and a few hours later regret the whole experience.

    • Eating Wiesbaden

      No, you’re absolutely right, nose-to-tail eating is highly commendable… I just prefer to steer clear of the noses and tails myself ;) But come to think of it, I have actually eaten brawn before: I shared a “Pig’s Head Terrine” at the wonderful Anchor & Hope pub in London – I seem to remember not really believing that it was really going to be actual pig’s head till it appeared, served in wafer-thin slithers, and I quickly discovered that it was really not my thing at all. Luckily we followed it up with a rare rib of beef, which most definitely is :D

  4. bevchen

    I love Saumagen! I’m not keen on Weißwurst though. Leberkäse is okay (Jan LOVES it) and I’ve never tried Sülze. Just looking at it makes me feel sick! I don’t even like the jelly in pork pies so I certainly won’t be putting any Sülze in my mouth!!

    • Eating Wiesbaden

      Haha – sorry, that probably wasn’t a good start to the day for you then, looking at this! B loves Leberkäse as well – until he’s eaten it, that is, and then he’s miserable for the rest of the day ;)

  5. bavariansojourn

    All of them look vile, but I do think weisswurst (when they are of a decent quality) can be nice, especially with a hot fresh brezen (or three) on the side and a weissbier of course!… I would really recommended Weisses Brauhaus in Munich as one of the best places to try them, just remember to take the skin off…. :D

    • Eating Wiesbaden

      Of course, I totally failed to mention the skinning – thank you! Because that process also makes them even more appealing ;) And thanks for the Munich tip, I shall scribble that in my recommendations book :) (Yes, there really is one.)

  6. Tom

    Handkäs mit gurn more like. Horrid. Had it at Apfelwein Wagner in Frankfurt and it almost, almost put me off the rest of my meal.

    • Eating Wiesbaden

      Hello! :D It stays with you, doesn’t it? Horrible, horrible stuff. I’ve no idea how anyone can like it! Maybe they just sink enough Apfelwein that they can’t taste anything anymore…

  7. Kathleen R

    Sülze is actually good. I can’t believe I am writing this to the whole world…meat jello is actually good. The trick is getting it from a Metzger that you like and trust. You take your own plates in. The Metzger then fills it with good cuts of meat with pickels and other veggies, and a vinegary yet savory gelatin. On a super hot and humid day, this is really delicious.

    • Eating Wiesbaden

      I’m not sure that calling it “meat jello” has made me any more likely to try it! ;) But if I did, you’re right, a butcher you can trust is definitely the only place to get it!

  8. Anne

    Goodness!!! Usually your food pics are so tempting, but this time I’m not so sure ;-) I haven’t actually tried any of the above foods yet and think that out of all of these, the first two may be the least scary!! I doubt I could eat a typical German hearty portion though… Unbelievable name for the Blutwurst: Dead Grandma!! I wonder how such a dreadful name developed for a food!!!!

    • Eating Wiesbaden

      Haha sorry Annie! I would agree that the first two are definitely the least scary, which is good because there’s no pressure to try them as although you can get them round here, they aren’t local specialities – so you can save them for road trips to Pfalz and Bavaria! ;)

  9. Erin Pade

    I actually like handkäs. Yes, it is a little foul tasting, but the sour, oniony flavor goes well with a nice cold beer. Of course I can eat almost any cheese, even the most rancid of them. I’ve had a really good mediterranean version of handkäs at Hockenberger Mühle. I guess it’s a matter of taste?

    • Eating Wiesbaden

      Well absolutely – and if I’m not eating it, that means there’s all the more for you! ;) I’ve not heard of the Hockenberger Mühle – I’m going to have a look for it now…

  10. Rachel

    I finally felt brave enough to read this (on an empty stomach) and except for Weißwurst, none of those will be on my plate anytime soon. The Germans are just way too literal – thus graphic – with their food descriptions. HAND CHEESE.

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