German food culture
It’s not all sauerkraut and sausages
What do people eat in Germany? Where do they buy their food? What’s it like for vegetarians and vegans? Read on to find out all you need to know about food and eating in Germany.
According to a 2022 report put out by Germany’s Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture, 46 percent of the population cooks every day, and a still very respectable 34 percent cooks three to four times a week.
German food culture
It’s not all sauerkraut and sausages
Most people, when they think about German food, tend to think of sauerkraut and sausages – or possibly something big, hearty and Bavarian. But in reality there’s no such thing as a single ‘German’ cuisine, and what qualifies as a traditional dish varies enormously from region to region. But one thing is for sure: Germans like their home cooking.
Mealtimes: When and what do Germans eat?
People in Germany generally have three or four meals a day: breakfast, a midday meal, an evening meal, and possibly Kaffee und Kuchen (we’ll get to this in a minute) in the afternoon. Typical breakfast foods include muesli, bread, yoghurt and fruit, washed down with coffee, tea, fruit juice, cocoa or just a glass of water.
Germans commonly have a hot meal in the middle of the day, eating at their campus dining hall or work canteen, or heading out to a café, fast food outlet or restaurant near their office. The evening meal is often referred to as Abendbrot (‘evening bread’) because it traditionally consists of bread (the real sort, from a proper bakery) with various spreads, cheeses, cold meats and other fillings – although it is not at all uncommon for families, friends and flatmates to get together in the evening for a cooked meal.
No experience of German food culture is complete without Kaffee and Kuchen. ‘Coffee and Cake’ (not that the translation does it justice) is a much-loved tradition, typically reserved for the weekend and special occasions like birthdays. If you don’t fancy making the cake yourself, you can meet your friends at your local bakery (there’s always at least one nearby), where you will find a mouth-watering selection of cakes and pastries. While you’re there, you can also pick up some of that world-famous German bread for your Abendbrot or for tomorrow’s breakfast.
Shopping for food: Supermarkets, farmer’s markets and discounters
In Germany, there are lots of different places you can shop for food. The big supermarkets offer a wide range of groceries, and in most cases they also have counters where you can buy fresh meat and cheese by the gram – a sensible way to shop if you only need small quantities. Many also have international departments with an impressive range of foreign goods. Generally speaking, the big supermarkets are the place to go for sheer range, although they are more expensive than the discount supermarkets.
Both the big supermarkets and the discounters sell organic products, and it’s becoming more and more common to find locally grown fruit and vegetables on the shelves. If you want to save money, you can always stick to the store-brand products, which are generally cheaper than the name-brand products but still good quality. Most supermarkets and all discounters also have weekly specials, so be sure to keep an eye out for these deals when stocking up on essential supplies.
It’s also a good idea to find out whether there is a regular farmers’ market in or near your neighbourhood. Farmers’ markets are the place to go for fresh, local produce, much of it organically farmed. While not necessarily cheaper than supermarkets, they do offer the opportunity to buy directly from local farmers. The produce is fresher, and the meat and cheese stands offer specialities that you just won’t find in supermarkets. Many of these markets also feature , making them an attractive destination if you want to turn your shopping trip into a little outing.
Germany also has its fair share of international eateries. Most towns and cities are well served by Italian and Turkish restaurants, cafés and fast food outlets, for example. The all-presence of these two cuisines owes its origin to Germany’s immigration and economic policies of the 1950s, when the country began recruiting Gastarbeiter (temporary workers) from abroad in large numbers to fill gaps in its labour market. The majority of these workers came from Italy and Turkey, and many ended up settling permanently. Hence Germany’s enduring love for Italian and Turkish food.
The bigger cities naturally offer a greater range of international dining options, including restaurants specialising in Thai, Indian, Japanese and Middle Eastern cuisines, to name but a few. In many cases, you’ll find the cuisine has been adapted to suit the German palate – so don’t be surprised if your favourite dish doesn’t taste quite the same as how you remember it from your home country.
Anna from Italy is quite sceptical about traditional German food. But that’s not a problem in Leipzig. Like most other German cities, Leipzig has food from all over the world. Anna also misses Italian food and makes one of her favourite meals with a friend. See what Anna has to say about food in Germany in the following video.
Ayo’s cooking experiments
If you want to cook international dishes at home, the ingredients can sometimes take a bit of finding. This was certainly Ayo’s experience, although he was pleasantly surprised by what he discovered in Berlin: “On the third week of my arrival, I dashed out to search for the African store Nigerians in Berlin had earlier informed me about. I arrived at the address given to me but it was an Indian store to my surprise.” But once inside, he found a lot of the ingredients he was looking for – okra pods, stockfish, groundnuts, yams, and much more. So, he began combining Nigerian foods with German ingredients – and was very pleased with the results.
Many large supermarkets offer a selection of international ingredients. A lot of places in Germany also have Asian and Turkish food shops that offer a wide range of products. And, as Ayo discovered, these shops often also stock ingredients from countries and cultures other than those named on the sign outside.
44 percent of people in Germany are ‘flexitarian’
According to the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture report mentioned above, 44 percent of people in Germany are ‘flexitarian’ – they eat meat from time to time, while striving for a largely plant-based diet. Seven percent are vegetarian, and 1 percent are vegan.
What about vegetarians and vegans?
Figures collected by Germany’s Federal Statistical Office show that production of vegetarian and vegan meat substitute products in Germany has increased steadily in recent years, while meat consumption has fallen. That’s good news if you don’t eat meat or animal products, because it means your dietary needs are increasingly better catered for at supermarkets and restaurants.
Foods like tofu and vegan alternatives to yoghurt, cheese and other dairy products are fairly easy to find in Germany and are even stocked by many of the discounters. If you’d like to try that most quintessentially German of dishes, Currywurst, you’ll be pleased to know that some fast food outlets offer vegan versions – and you can buy vegan sausages at the supermarket. These days you can even get vegan gummi bears with no gelatine. Similarly, many restaurants now offer a wider range of vegetarian and vegan dishes. Even if you don’t see a non-meat option on the menu, there’s a good chance the chef can whip up a vegetarian or vegan alternative, so it pays to ask.