With few exceptions, travelers find food fatigue at its highest in Germanic countries. With starch, starch and more starch on the menu, it’s hard to find a wide variety that’s flavorful and healthful when traveling here.
While regional dishes vary slightly, food throughout Germany tends to feature a whole lot of meat and potatoes. If you’re not into a frankfurter, fries and sauerkraut, you may be out of luck.
That is, unless you know what to look for on a traditional German menu. Sometimes “pork with mushrooms” will come back battered and covered in gravy. Other times, an item that seems off limits will turn out looking better than expected. The trick here, since a lot of German menus aren’t fabulously translated for anglophones, is to know the German name for the dish. If you’re looking for dishes in the German language, you’re less likely to wind up with a surprise as the result of a bad translation.
While traveling through Austria and Germany last Christmas, I was completely fed up with traditional German food. Feeling bloated and greasy, I scanned an English menu for a dish with less fat and more vegetables. What I chose came back smothered in milk-based gravy. I simply couldn’t eat it – being lactose intolerant – and decided that in the future, I’d be researching healthy dishes in the native language before setting out on a trip.
Here, you’ll find some of the best and worst among the classic German dishes I’ve come across in my research. Whether you have food allergies like me, want to eat healthy or simply need variety in your diet, this guide will serve you well on your next trip to the land of beer, babes and bratwurst.
A typical German breakfast isn’t what most North Americans expect to find, and sometimes the plates full of sausages and cheeses are a little too rich for the average stomach.
Germans love a hearty breakfast omelette. A typical savory omelette is called bauernfruhstuck, and usually contains eggs, tomatoes, potatoes and ham. This will provide you with lot of energy to tackle your day, sans-grease.
I have to say, sweet omelettes, although not as healthy as their savory counterparts were probably my favourite food in Germany.
If you’re looking for a sweet omelette with fruit, order kaiserschmarrn, but keep in mind that this often contains sugar, although apple sauce is sometimes used in its place, so it shouldn’t be your everyday option.
Sausages, rich cheeses and bread
This is a typical breakfast spread in Germany. While delicious to the taste, it’s a dense breakfast that will be hard to digest and will probably cause stomach upset if you aren’t used to it. The richness of the sausage combined with the creamy cheese might not be the best option before a day of sightseeing.
Besides, you might end up with few options later in the day, and sausage for both breakfast and lunch won’t leave you feeling up for much.
It’s too easy to opt for a quick sausage with french fries at any number of snack shops in Germany. Instead, look for this alternative that’s usually on offer there, too.
While Germans are known for their plentiful varieties of soup, not all of the options will be healthy ones. If you’re looking for healthy options, choose Rote Linsensuppe, a red lentil soup that is often served vegetarian but sometimes with a bit of ham. Ask if the soup is vegetarier if you need a meat-free option.
For a fully vegetarian dish, go for the Spargelcremesuppe, a cream of asparagus soup that will be available in spring and summer months. Carrot soup or Mohrrübensuppe is another great option, but usually includes meat.
Bratwurst with fries
If it ends in -würste or -furter, steer clear of it. While there are a ton of varieties, most of the sausages you’ll find in Germany will be high fat and processed meats. To top it off, most will come with a batch of fries, called pommes, frites or fritten depending on your region.
This meal is sure to make you feel tight in the waist and won’t give you the nutritious energy found in hearty German soups.
After your omelette breakfast and lunch of hearty soup, you may want something light for supper.
Called salate in German, this should be an easy item to remember. The cucumber salad or gurkensalat is a refreshing traditional dish, often seasoned with dill. Since this isn’t the heartiest of dishes, you may want to pair your gurkensalat with kartoffelsalat – potato salad.
There are so many differentiations on the potato salad throughout Germany. To avoid surprises, opt for the nutritious kartoffel und heringsalat, potato and herring salad, or the kalter kartoffelsalat, a traditional cold potato salad with hard-boiled eggs.
If you want to add a bit of protein and omegas to your dinner, look for geräucherte forelle, smoked trout that is commonly eaten on bread or with salad.
Offered in many varieties, schnitzel is sure to make an appearance on just about every menu in Germany. This traditional meal consists of meat – again, many varieties available – that’s been battered and deep fried. Usually paired with fries, this meal is a nightmare for your digestive tract and your waistline.
If you want an authentic experience, try some schnitzel and beer on a night out. Just don’t expect to be up for much touring after your meal!
German desserts are notoriously delicious and come in a ton of varieties. Know what to look for if you want to keep things light.
Called Rote Grütze or Rode Grütt in German, this sweet berry dessert is a must-try while traveling. A great gluten free option, this dish is generally light but often comes with milk. If you’re lactose intolerant, ask for keine milch – no milk.
Called windbeutel in German, these desserts may look familiar. They’re puffed, fried pastry filled with cream and covered in powdered sugar. By that description, you shouldn’t wonder why this is on the “avoid” list. While they’re tasty and traditional, they won’t be easy to digest and, after a heavy German meal, these little puffs will send you into food-induced lethargy.
German pastry is truly delicious, so why not indulge in one of two if you don’t have too much moving around to do? On your average night, though, keep this off your plate.