Traditional German food doesn’t seem to be casting as extensive a shadow on the culinary world as Italian, Japanese, or even the recently-popularized Korean food does these days.
A shame, indeed! German dishes, while relatively straightforward, are a festival of complex flavors due to the heavy use of spices and sauces. If you give German cuisine a chance, it’s quite likely it’ll soon become one of your favorites.
Want to delve into traditional German flavors? Here are 14 items you need to pay attention to when visiting a German grocery store:
Anyone who knows a thing or two about traditional German food knows there’s no bigger signature item in German cuisine than sausages. Over 1,500 varieties of wurst (that’s sausage in German) are made in Germany from all types of different meats.
Bratwurst is the most popular type of German sausage. Usually short and thick, bratwurst is mainly made with pork and seasoned with ginger, caraway, coriander, and nutmeg. Sometimes the pork is mixed with beef or veel, and less commonly, the sausage is made entirely of beef and veel. Frankly, it depends on the region because there are over 40 regional varieties of bratwurst alone.
Traditionally bratwurst is served as a hot-dog-like snack, in a soft bread roll with mustard, or as a complete meal with potatoes and sauerkraut. In Berlin, it’s the main ingredient of currywurst: a (now) traditional fast food. Currywurst is simple pork bratwurst served with curry catchup and mustard powder.
But the sausage you should purchase at a German grocery store is weisswurst, a Munich-style white sausage. If you know about it, it’s probably due to the original visuals. Weisswurst should definitely be on your grocery list as its flavors significantly differ from most other sausages. It’s heavily seasoned, with seasonings usually including parsley, lemon, ginger, cardamom, and various other ingredients. Traditionally they’re served freshly boiled with mustard and pretzels.
Here’s a tip: get a variety pack or sampler box if there’s an option.
Sauerkraut is another traditional German food that has long become a signature of German cuisine. Mainly made by fermenting finely chopped raw white cabbage, it usually has a sharp sour flavor and intense aroma. Sauerkraut is traditionally served as a side to a meat-heavy dish. Unsurprisingly, it’s one of Germany’s most popular side dishes, along with potatoes.
Another lesser popular type of sauerkraut is fermenting red cabbage, often with raisins and fruit like apples, to make a milder, sweeter version of the dish (though the flavor retains characteristic sour undertones).
German manufacturer Kuhne has a large selection of traditional German fermented products, including both types of sauerkraut.
Blends and Fixes for Traditional German Food
Authentic flavors of German cuisine depend a lot on the seasonings and sauces. German dishes can be relatively straightforward. Many of them are simply surmised as “meat got stewed, smoked, fried, etc.”. What makes something like Schweinebraten (Bavarian-style pork roast), Sauerbraten (German pot roast made with marinated beef or veel), or even more modern Currywurst authentically German, is that it’s not just cooked according to the recipe but seasoned the right way.
Luckily, large German manufacturers have been doing the job for newbie or swamped home cooks for years. For example, there’s a large selection of sauces and fixes from Knorr for traditional German food, as well as ready-to-make soups and stews popular in Germany (goulash, Zürcher Geschnetzeltes, mushroom and potato cream soups, etc.).
Using ready-made blends and fixes might seem like a hack, but hacking cooking is what a person short on free time does in modern times. And it yields excellent results with authentic flavors, so why not! Baking the iconic Black Forest Cake will be much easier with a box mix’s help. And you don’t have to worry about what the result will taste like!
German Pancake Mixes
While we’re on the subject of ready-to-make mixes, definitely add some pancake mixes for traditional German pancakes to your cart if you find yourself at a German grocery store.
Pancakes are not a big breakfast dish in Germany, but they’re uber-popular as a dessert or a light snack.
You can find some of the most popular varieties in our Dr. Oetker selection, including:
Pufferchen or classic fluffy pancakes;
Pfannkuchen, the German-style crepes, a bit thicker than their French counterparts, served with sweet or savory fillings;
Kaiserschmarrn, the Bavarian-style thick pancakes, are traditionally served shredded into bite-sized pieces. Kaiserschmarn is actually Austrian in origin (they were named in honor of Kaiser Francis Joseph I), but over the years, they’ve become a staple of Bavarian cuisine. Kaiserschmarrn pancakes are typically dusted with powdered sugar and served with some kind of fruit preserve or sauce on the side.
Mustard is undoubtedly the most popular condiment in Germany. It’s heavily used as a garnish, dressing, and dip.
Despite its popularity, German mustard isn’t really a thing. There’s Bavarian sweet mustard that’s deep yellow or light brown and typically has a more fruity flavor than classic mustard. It’s heavily spiced with allspice, cloves, and nutmeg and is often used as a condiment for weisswurst.
But the most popular mustard in Germany is similar to classic yellow mustard. It comes in various types, with mellow or sharp flavors and spiciness levels varying from mild to extra hot. German mustard does, however, typically have a more complicated flavor profile than classic American yellow mustard due to the heavy use of spices.
Jager sauce, or hunter’s sauce, is a traditional German brown sauce made mainly with butter, cream, and mushrooms. Some recipe variations include swapping butter for oil, adding herbs such as thyme and parsley, and a bit of tomato paste (which gives Jager sauce darker, brownish color).
Jager sauce is traditionally served with game meat such as rabbit or venison (hence the name). However, these days the most popular pairing for Jager sauce would be schnitzel. Schnitzel served this way is called Jager schnitzel (hunter’s schnitzel).
Overall, the sauce goes well with most roasted or fried meat dishes.
Rahm sauce (Rahmsosse) is another traditional German cream-based sauce reminiscent of a thin gravy. Made with cream, butter, stock, and a bit of tomato paste, It’s basically the base for Jager sauce, so if mushrooms aren’t your thing, you can skip that sauce for this one if you find it browsing at a German grocery store.
Similar to Jager sauce, it’s traditionally served with meat-based dishes. Rahm sauce is a more common pairing for poultry than jager sauce, though schnitzel remains the most popular pairing, of course.
German Potato Dumplings
German potato dumplings are old-school German comfort food, often called Kartoffelknodel or Knodel dumplings.
Kartoffelknodels are pretty straightforward. It requires mixing thinly grated or ground potatoes (preferably riced to expel extra moisture) with wheat flour, some starch, and then beaten eggs. To achieve the right texture, the ingredients need to be folded gently, then carefully separated into small balls before cooking. Good Knodel dumplings are firm and chewy but not gummy.
Despite the recipe’s simplicity, they can be quite labor-intensive to make, so it’s better to buy them at a German grocery store if you don’t have a lot of free time on your hands.
German Bread Dumplings
German bread dumplings (Semmelknödel) are another Bavarian comfort food. The main difference from other dumplings is that the main ingredient - bread - isn’t raw. Semmelknodel is traditionally made with (stale) Kaiser rolls mixed with hot milk, herbs like parsley, salt, and egg. After the dough is kneaded together, the dumplings are simmered in hot water for 15-20 minutes and then served.
Bread dumplings can be served as a side for meat dishes like Sauerbraten or on their own with a sauce (Jager sauce is a classic!).
Quark is a traditional German dairy product similar to cottage cheese. But don’t call it that in Germany. Germans don’t even consider quark and cottage cheese to be the same type of product. Cottage cheese is a variety of fresh cheese, while quark isn’t a cheese at all.
In Germany, quark is often separated into three types: skimmed at less than 10% fat, regular at about 20% fat, and creamy at over 40% fat.
Quark is a versatile product used in cooking (typically baking) and eaten on its own, usually with muesli and fruit. Käsekuchen is a famous German-style cheesecake made with quark.
Spaetzle Egg Noodles
Spaetzle literally means “little sparrows.” They’re short and thick noodles made with wheat flour, eggs, and salt. Spatzle originated in the first half of the 18th century in Swabia, Bavaria. It’s one of Germany’s biggest culinary pride and a big part of Bavarian culinary identity. In 2012, Swabian Spaetzle was awarded the EU quality seal for “Protected Geographical Indications.”
Spatzle are as versatile as other egg noodles. They can be served as a side (usually with some kind of sausage) or as an independent, savory, or sweet dish.
Popular savory spaetzle dishes include Käsespätzle (with grated Emmentaler cheese and onions), Krautspätzle (with butter, sauerkraut, spices, and onions), and Spätzle mit Käse überbacken (with cheese and paprika).
Sweet spaetzle dishes typically include some kind of fruit. Kirschspätzle (with cherries) and Apfelspätzle (with apples) are considered traditional German desserts.
Most popular German snacks these days might not be very traditional, but trust us, they do deserve a place on this list.
The most traditional German food served as a snack is pretzel - the iconic knotted bread with crunchy salted skin. Germans typically snack on them on their own or serve them with some kind of dip. Dry cracker-like pretzels are also popular.
The less traditional but more popular option would be potato chips and salted nuts. Often the three (potato chips, pretzel crackers, and nuts) are served together as a mix. They’re considered a good beer snack contributing to their popularity, but even Germans who are strictly off alcohol love a pack of Lorenz potato chips.
German sweets, unfortunately, rarely get the respect they deserve. It seems like Germany has become so strongly associated with sausages and sauerkraut that traditional desserts have slipped the mind.
But German sweets definitely deserve your attention if you have a sweet tooth. Black forest cake is a heavy-hitter, made with chocolate sponge cake, whipped cream, and maraschino cherries.
Or you can always enjoy Lebkuchen (German gingerbread cookies) if you want something lighter.
For those who prefer lighter and not overly sweet desserts, there are traditional German puddings, like Griessbrei (semolina pudding) or Milchreis (rice pudding). They’re best freshly made and warm, so you’ll likely find pudding mixes at a German grocery store.
And, of course, we can’t skip German chocolate. Germany is rarely associated with chocolate, even though some of the most popular chocolates are produced in Germany. Did you know, for example, that Milka chocolate, while originally Swiss, has been made in Germany for over a century?
But as iconic brands go, Ritter Sport chocolate is probably the best-known German chocolate in the world (even though most people don’t know where Ritter Sport chocolate is manufactured).
For over a century now (since 1912), Ritter Sport chocolate’s unique square bars have been one of the most recognized candy bars in the world. And it fully deserves all the hype.
Obviously, if you’re shopping at a German grocery store, you’re practically contractually obliged to add a bottle to your cart. It’s not even a question.