A Romance with Bavarian Food
It was a brisk early spring evening in Munich. So early that the trees were yet bare. Still, Munchens flung to the streets to celebrate this first break in weather. The beer gardens and sidewalk cafes teamed with life and laughter. We commandeered a table for two on the sidewalk in front of Paulaner Im Tal. The waiter noticed us from across the sidewalk and asked if we wanted two beers. We nodded in approval. Moments later he arrived with two mugs of Helles. There was no discussion as to the type. This was our welcoming beer and only a Helles would do. Its clean finish would open the palette for the feast to come.
I dined on roasted duck with dumplings and red cabbage. The skin of the duck was perfectly crisp and the meat moist. The sauce was a red wine reduction that was ever so sweet, a necessary balance to the salt from the fat of the duck. The cabbage was both sweet and spicy. Hits of fragrant cloves accentuated what is normally a very sweet side dish. The dumplings were gelatinous tits of potato which seems to be served with every meal in Bavaria and I never quite understood the purpose. The meal was accompanied with a bock. I originally ordered the Hefe-Weissbier Dunkel, but was informed by the waiter it was too sweet for the dish. Something with a crisp finish was necessary. He was right. As I slowly savored my meal and this first night in Munich, I thought that this very well could be the best meal I have ever eaten (the gelatinous tit of potato aside).
Fast forward two nights later to Kachelofen, a traditional Franconia* restaurant in Bamberg. The restaurant was charming with blue and white checkered table clothes and dark wood walls. Each table was delicately finished with a candle and yellow flower. The place was so quaint that halfway through dinner another couple was seated at our table. While we didn’t speak each other’s language, we exchanged smiles and Prosts.
I feasted on roasted pork belly with sauerkraut and more of those frickin’ potato dumplings. The meat was succulent, falling apart with touch of my fork, and the fat was perfectly crisp. I paired the dish with an original Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier. The smokiness of the beer and the savory of the pork belly was like deconstructed bacon in my mouth. The sauerkraut was a harmonious blend of sweet and sour, with hints of the meat it was most likely roasted with and caraway. No single flavor overpowered the other. Between the food and the ambience, this very well could be the best meal of my life.
On night two in Bamberg, we settled in for a late dinner at Klosterbrau, a stop on our self-guided Bamberg brewery tour. We split plates of garlic sausage with sauerkraut and spetzel with cabbage and cheese. The garlic of the sausage was pronounced as was the vinegar in the kraut. While both were strong on their own, they paired well together. The sausage was served with a creamy horseradish sauce that added welcome elements of spice and texture. The spetzel was cooked perfect with an sharp blend of cheese and soft cabbage. Paired with the brewery’s famous Schwarzla beer this very well could be the best meal I have ever eaten…well, at least the best meal today.
Two days later we found ourselves at Barenwirt in Salzburg as recommended by our hotel. I feared a tourist trap but was pleasantly surprised to the opposite. The joint screamed traditional (read not tacky) Bavaria, and was a favorite of the locals. The walls were stark white with coves of wooden benches and tables built into them. Plates and utensils were stored in traditional cupboards. And they served beer freshly brewed by the monks around the corner at Augustiner Brau.
I supped on pan fried pork medallions with a creamy pepper sauce served with sautéed vegetables and potato cakes. This meal still lives in my memory from the ambiance to the textures and flavors of the pork – crisp crust, sweet cream, spicy peppercorns. But that was only a lead up to the potato cakes perfectly fried in bacon fat. The veggies were okay. Fresh but bland. I was just happy they weren’t more boobs of potato gelatin. I truly think this could have been the best meal of my life (or was it the roasted pork belly in Bamberg….).
The weather in Vienna was warm and sunny. Spring was continuing to break over our two week stay. Like the locals, we made the most of the sunshine and flocked to Vienna’s largest outdoor market, Natschmarkt. We perused the rows of food artisans and farmers– locally raised meats, fresh produce, more varieties of kraut that I imagined existed, and even more varieties of vinegar. We bought a few locally made cheeses and wines for our room.
After shopping we were hustled to eat at one of the many restaurants that line the market by a man who oddly reminded me of The Rock. He promised me the best wienerschnitzel I have ever tasted. The meat was perfectly tenderized with no chewy bites. The breading was just right. Not too much and not too little. It was fried crisp without a speck of oil residue remaining. This very well could be the best…wienerschnitzel I have ever eaten.
The truth is that everything we ate in Bavaria was one of the best things we have ever eaten from the grand dinners described above to the street sausages to the varieties of simple roasted foods and the various potato salads to the surprise potato and cheese sandwich we discovered at a market in Salzburg (This really was the best thing I have ever eaten, ever.). Then there were the pretzels. Oh the pretzels. Remind me why we don’t eat more pretzels in the States? Is Hot Sam still in business? We ate them plain, covered in apple strudel, and sliced down the center and buttered. Hot Sam, if you are out there, you must add the latter to your menu. Brilliant!
And remind me why we don’t have more German restaurants in the United States? I live in Charlotte. We were populated by Germans. Yet, only one German restaurant exists while there’s a Mexican or a Thai restaurant on damn near every corner. Do we still have a stigma from World War II? If that’s the case, then why is sushi so trendy? I’m pretty sure Italy wasn’t on our side either. And if a stigma does exist, why are brats acceptable at nearly every tailgate and cookout? Why isn’t German food more readily available in the United States? It has been a year since the trip and I long for the cuisine of Bavaria!
*While Bavaria considers Franconia to be a part of their culture, Franconia doesn’t reciprocate this feeling of belonging. For the purpose of this blog, I am tying them together.