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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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?