One of the more flavorful aspects of German culture is its cuisine. It is often all to easy to fall back to the familiar…particularly when it comes to food. While there are many international restaurants in Germany, you should also make an effort to seek out German cuisine. Try the traditional regional dishes, and please do go beyond Wienerschnitzel.
Traditional German food is a hearty and often heavy affair. While the dishes of the Baden region in the extreme southwest often show swirls of refinement, as does the New German Cuisine which became popular in the 1990s, most German dishes, including the top Hessen favorites, do tend to weigh in on the heavy side.
Many German standards also play major roles in the local Hessen kitchen, such as Sauerkraut; boiled, mashed or fried potatoes; and Schnitzel, or pan-fried meat cutlets. Plus, some favorites originally associated with other German regions, like Sauerbraten or Maultaschen - the Swabian take on ravioli - are widely available here.
Pork is the preferred meat of many Germans, and it takes center stage in two very popular local dishes, Haspel and Frankfurter Rippchen. Haspel is basically a large chunk of pork knuckle (or trotter), on the bone, enveloped in a thick layer of fat. It is typically served with Sauerkraut and potatoes. Rippchen, not quite as fatty, is a juicy pork rib chop, cured, then steamed (preferably in Kraut), and invariably teamed up with mashed potatoes and Sauerkraut.
But perhaps this region's most famous pork item is the Frankfurter Würstchen, or sausage. The noble role-model for the American hot dog, the Frankfurter is a long, slim, lean, lightly smoked and seasoned pork sausage. When served correctly, it is never boiled, but steeped in hot water for eight minutes.
It is always plated in pairs, joined at the top. Frankfurter locals like to eat their Frankfurters with their fingers, dipping the sausage into a dollop of mustard or horseradish, accompanied by bread and/or potato salad.
Those who favor beef over pork will probably be more drawn to another local favorite, Ochsenbrust, or beef brisket. This fairly lean brisket is boiled and served with either a warm horseradish sauce or Frankfurt's true signature dish, Grüne Soße (sometimes rendered in the local dialect as "Grie Soos").
The German term means green sauce', which is a literal and fitting translation. The green comes from a medley of herbs, while the sauce is made from either sour cream neat or combined with mayonnaise. Almost every cook's version of Grüne Soße is different, although custom dictates it contain at least seven different herbs (drawn from an approved list that includes chives, chervil, borage, cress, dill, tarragon, parsley, sorrel, sweet basil and lovage).
Grüne Soße is not only used as a tasty cover for beef brisket, but is frequently served over a pairing of boiled potatoes and halved boiled eggs. Never cooked, the Soße is always served at room temperature or slightly cooled. As herbs are the key element in this sauce, it was once available only in spring, summer and very early autumn. Now, many places turn to frozen and dried herbs to make a Grüne Soße all year round, but aficionados of the form insist that the winter version doesn't measure up to this delight in season.
You'll soon discover that all kinds of cheese are greatly appreciated here, but there are two local cheese dishes that the Greater Frankfurt area is famous for. The more famous and widely available is Handkäs mit Musik. This features Handkäse, a local, strongly flavored cheese in a dressing of oil, vinegar and onions. This has become a popular light meal at local Apfelwein pubs, as it goes splendidly with the beloved Frankfurt apple wine.
Not seen quite as frequently, but still available in traditional apple wine pubs, is Schneegestöber -- Camembert cheese mashed, then mixed with butter, egg and onion, often further flavored with paprika and pepper, and finally served with thin pretzel sticks spearing the top. Like the Handkäs, Schneegestöber is generally served with slices of dark Bauernbrot, or farmers bread.
One of Hessen's leading agricultural products is apples, so it's not strange that they turn up in many forms on local tables. Of course, desserts and cakes are the most typical form. At dessert time, you're liable to find thick pancakes studded with apple slices. These delights go under the name of Apfelpfannkuchen. You'll usually see them dusted with cinnamon and sided with vanilla ice cream and/or whipped cream.
Apples are also used in local takes on apple pastries, of which there are many, including apple cake, apple crumb cake, apple turnovers, etc. These cakes can be found throughout Germany, but one unique to this area is apple-less: the Frankfurter Kranz, a multi-layered butter cream cake with crushed nuts on top and in some of the filling.
Getting back to apples, we mentioned just above the Apfelwein pubs that are so popular here (especially in parts of Frankfurt like Sachsenhausen, Bornheim and Seckbach). These are beloved gathering spots where often you can't get any beer, only what we might call the national drink of Frankfurt: Apfelwein, or apple wine. This quaff, beloved by locals, bears little taste resemblance to either hard or soft apple ciders which you may be familiar with. This Apfelwein is actually somewhat sour. Its many devotees attest to its refreshing qualities, while conceding that it's an acquired taste, which novices only acquire after downing a third glass.
Locals often mix their Apfelwein with sparkling water (sauer gespritzt) or even with lemonade (süß gespritzt). So consider ordering a bottle of water with your pitcher (Bembel) of Apfelwein.
Something closer to traditional apple cider is Süsser, an earlier, only mildly fermented stage of Apfelwein. This one is sweet and has low alcohol content. It will probably appeal more quickly to most tastes, but unfortunately, it's only available in autumn, right after the late apple harvest.
Speaking of sweets, a peculiarity of German dining is worth noting here. Germans very rarely eat cakes and pies for dessert. These goodies are reserved for their own showcase, Kaffee und Kuchen, the so-called fourth meal of the day, served in mid-afternoon. Today, most Germans only enjoy this fourth meal on weekends and holidays, but when they do, it is truly enjoyed, with three to five different types of cakes and pie being served up. There's your fair introduction to the fare of the region. Now, as the Germans say, Guten Appetit!