“Himmel un Ääd” – A summary of my culinary highlights in Cologne

Typical German dishes – what is distinctively German cuisine?

We find it much easier to name typical Italian, French, Greek or British dishes than to describe typical German cuisine.

The common cliché of German cuisine is that it is hearty, fatty and meaty and not particularly refined. Abroad it is often reduced to Bratwurst mit Sauerkraut. To be honest, when I imagined German cuisine, potatoes in all varieties were the most common. Apart from that, I didn’t imagine the culinary differences between Switzerland and Germany to be very noticeable.

According to the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture, the Germans’ favourite vegetable is not cabbage or sauerkraut, but tomatoes.

Compared to other, more Southern countries, German cuisine really is rather rich. Many dishes contain beef or pork, and the most common side dish really is potatoes. Yet, by the way: According to the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture, the Germans’ favourite vegetable is not cabbage or sauerkraut, but tomatoes. But there are big regional differences and you really can’t put everything together.

For example, I was really amazed at the wide range of vegetarian and vegan dishes and products. In the larger supermarkets there is a huge selection of alternative dairy products, vegetables and meat substitutes in all variations that I haven’t seen in Switzerland before. Even vegan raclette and fondue can be found here. Where cheese is concerned, I unfortunately did not find really good cheese here. I didn’t really get along with the – pardon –  “rubbery” cheese that is sold here. Finding good grated cheese was an expensive undertaking that led me to Italian parmigiano cheese (sorry Germany). Since I quickly made friends with my Italian roommate, who had imported a huge block of parmigiano, I can sometimes get a piece of cheese from him to satisfy my longing for good cheese.

The cafeteria at the university sells waffles every day –  this is really a thing here – with chocolate sauce or hot cherries – the whole floor smells delicious. In my opinion I think we should introduce those in Bern, too. There is also an incredible variety of other pastries: At “Merzenich” – a local bakery – there are delicious Berliner, curd pastries and a huge assortment of pretzel sticks with melted cheese on top.

In general, the huge selection in the supermarkets makes my culinary heart rejoice. Near where I live, there is a huge Kaufland, which I feel is about as big as my hometown. I really like to browse around and see what’s there. Near where I live there is also a Russian supermarket, where I like to go to buy my favourite Russian products or to discover new ones.

I found it amusing that, as in Switzerland, there is a difference between the various major distributors. My German fellow students define themselves by their favourite brand: Some prefer Aldi, others Lidl and few Rewe, because it’s a little more expensive. And everyone is convinced that their distributor is the best.

Despite some similarities, there are small but subtle differences between German and Swiss cuisine. I attend a Russian course and we had to describe what we eat in Switzerland for Christmas: I looked at ten questioning faces after saying Fondue bourguignonne. Embarrassed silence. Then I had to explain, and my lecturer said “Ooooh filet, expensive, well, like Switzerland”. Somehow, I hadn’t realized that Fondue bourguignonne was something typically Swiss.

In all regions, heaven and earth therefore consists of apples and potatoes

Another difference I noticed quickly is that although it is quite a niche product, the Germans don’t use saffron. I love cooking Risotto Milanese and immediately started the (endless) search for saffron. But I found “nothing” – only 100 mg for an incredible 4 Euros at “Rewe”. Sure, saffron is also an expensive pleasure in Switzerland (100 mg = 90 Rp.), but not as much as here.

Whether in Westphalia or the Rhineland, the origin of the name Himmel un Ääd is the same: The sky refers to the apples that are particularly close to it on the tree, and the earth refers to the potatoes, the Erdäpfel. In all regions, heaven and earth therefore consists of apples and potatoes; in Westphalia, mashed potatoes and applesauce are preferred. In addition, there is fried blood sausage, bacon or liver sausage as well as crispy roasted onions.

In summary, I can say that my prejudices from before the stay are clearly refuted, because I found a huge selection of different dishes and restaurants, which certainly do not do justice to the clichés. In Cologne you can basically eat whatever you want: You can choose from Döner to potato salad to Mettbrötchenstand to Belgian fries to pizzerias to Maultaschenbude to Vietnamese to Spätzle: you really can have everything. And I haven’t tried everything from traditional Cologne cuisine for a long time yet. And: I didn’t have to eat potatoes very often. Oh, but: a word about the traditional Reevkuiche: fried, grated potatoes with apple sauce – heavenly.

Marilena Albin

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