Boy Mestizo’s food adventures in Munich
It’s that time of year again. You know the one I’m talking about: where you get jealous of colleagues and friends who take a cheeky weekend (or even cheekier weekday) flight down to Munich to partake in Oktoberfest and get wonderfully merry/horrifically drunk. Cue lots of photos of men in lederhosen and girls in dirndl. I’ve already overheard two conversations about Oktoberfest this week *sigh*. (Yes, I did start writing this back in September… it has been a busy month)
Well, I did get a taste of it the other Friday, when I arranged for some friends to go to the London Oktoberfest in Kennington Park. With a Groupon deal, each of the eight of us paid £5 and got a ½ pint, a pack of crisps, two sausages and a plate of chips in return – a wonderful way of easing us into an evening of, er, ‘socialising’… Suffice to say, a lot of actually decent specially-brewed-for-London-Oktoberfest beer was had by all, for some, maybe too much (no names, but you know who you are!). And it was so much fun, that I organised for some work colleagues to hit up a Thursday session in Millwall Park… but the less said about that, the better.
But it’s all made me think: what does the actual person think of Munich outside of the context of Oktoberfest (does the place even exist at other times of the year??)? We all think of beer and German sausage (ooh err), but there is a lot more for the average food-lover to appreciate there.
To set the scene, I visited Munich earlier this year in May for a few days to see a friend and take some much-needed time off between client projects. I was there to party, sight-see, sit in biergartens and eat and drink!
But what I did not realise was that May is asparagus season in Germany, and I must say, I have never seen a nation so obsessed with asparagus as the Germans. But the asparagus – spargel – that they are all stark-raving mad about is the white asparagus, which has been grown under soil and so has been denied sunlight. You can find them everywhere: there are special spargel menus in restaurants and cafés; there are stalls in the markets that sell nothing but spargel; and households are stocked with spargel. It has a milder flavour than the green stuff we are familiar with in this country, and I would also say that there is a slight creaminess about it as well. I was very fortunate in that I got to try it in a very traditional manner: lightly-steamed, served with ham, boiled potatoes and doused in Hollandaise sauce. Simple and tasty – I can see why it is much-loved, but I don’t quite think I share their obsessive national appreciation of spargel.
I do, however, appreciate a good amount of German sausage (oooh errr), but surprisingly I only had it twice when I was out there. My friend introduced me to an absolute winner of a breakfast item: weiβwurst. These big, fat, meaty veal sausages are boiled thoroughly until they are juicy and soft. Once done, the skin is peeled off (however, I am told it is edible) and then the delicately-flavoured sausage is served with a special sweet and mild mustard (weiβwurstsenf) on hunks of lightly-salted bread (brezn) – a mix of different tastes that match together very well. It is a hearty meal that makes for a rip-roaring start to the day.
The second instance of sausage fun times was some currywurst I had in a restaurant on the way up to Neuschwanstein. I was reliably informed by my friend that the Berliner version is far superior, but as an ignorant foreigner I didn’t know any better. The version I had was contextually amazing: the cold drizzle had swept down from the Alpine foothills and the temperature had correspondingly dropped, all of which was unfortunate because I seemed to be the only tourist there who hadn’t brought a thick coat. So, having freshly-cooked wurst swimming in spicy and thick curry ketchup over some really crunchy chips was a real life-saver.
So if I only had sausage twice over the course of four days, what else did I eat?
Der Wintergarten in Schwabing
Elisabethplatz 4 b, 80796 München, +49 89 27373134, http://www.wintergarten-schwabing.de/
No visit to Munich is complete without a trip to the local biergarten, and as it was a gloriously hot and sunny day (30c+), my friend was more than willing to oblige and take me to one. Ending up at Der Wintergarten in Schwabing, he introduced me to the radler, or as we in the English-speaking world know it, a shandy. Except, of course, that drinking shandies in Germany is perfectly acceptable for manly men like my good self. Seriously though, mixing up some good German beer, ideally wheat beer, with lemonade is extremely cooling and refreshing. I refuse to be judged for drinking a shandy (please don’t judge me, I have very thin skin).
To accompany my radler, I went for the Münchner Tellerfleisch mit Kartoffelsalat und frischem kren (Munich ‘plate meat’ with potato salad and fresh horseradish), more out of curiosity than anything else. “What is ‘plate meat’?”, “What is kren when it’s at home??” Even my German friend was not able to answer these questions. What I got was essentially cold cuts of cured pork, ham if you will, served with a creamy potato salad and a tart Bavarian horseradish pickle. A cooling and filling meal for a hot, hot day, but not quite the big fat hunk of hot meat (ooooh errrr) I was hoping for.
Residenzstraβe 9, D-80333 München, +49 89 2318120, http://www.zum-franziskaner.de/
I would get that big fat hunk of hot meat later that night, when I was taken to Zum Franziskaner for dinner. It’s one of the restaurants owned by the Franziskaner brewery, and it is admittedly a bit of a tourist spot: we had girls in dirndl, heavy wooden panels on the floors and walls, white-washed ceilings, and various Bavarian ornaments (antlers, heraldic devices etc.) scattered about. Atmospheric and decidedly Germanic – and priced for it too. To start, I had a glass of fine Franziskaner dunkel hefeweiβbier which was much-appreciated for its smoothness and depth of malty flavour.
And as for food… I was in it to win it, and my Niederbayerischer Krustenbraten in würziger Dunkelbiersauce mit Bayrisch Kraut unter Kartoffelknödel (Lower Bavarian roast pork in a spicy dark beer gravy, served with Bavarian cabbage and potato dumplings) was definitely a winner of a dinner. The gravy was deep and sweet and worked well with the tender and savoury pork, which was cooked just right. I’m always a fan of dumplings, and these were particularly fine ones, with a light crunchy crust encasing a nicely stodgy and smooth interior. A hearty meal – just what I like.
Theatinerstraβe 8, 80333 München, +49 89 20802120, http://www.hypo-kunsthalle.de/newweb/informationen/cafe-e.html
The second day of my trip started off a bit grimly: slightly hungover and definitely very tired after the previous night’s shenanigans partying it up with the InterNations crowd, it was a real struggle to get out and about and appreciate Munich, especially on what was looking to be a wet day. We eventually made it to the Residenz, the former palace of the Electors/Kings of Bavaria, but an afternoon traipsing around appreciating the residence somewhat took it out of us. We retired to the nearby Café Kunsthalle for a spot of coffee and a taste of a local dessert. If Vienna has its Sacher torte, Munich arguably has its Herrentorte, or ‘Gentleman’s cake’. It’s a finely layered creation of marzipan and dark chocolate – perhaps a bit too rich and cloyingly sweet for me, but still pleasant enough. Café Kunsthalle did a pretty decent version, though it left me struggling afterwards.
München Airport Center, Terminalstraβe Mitte 18, 85356 München, +49 89 97593111, http://www.munich-airport.de/en/micro/airbraeu/index.jsp
But let’s save the best for last. My friend had told me that there was a biergarten at the airport, which I thought would prove very useful in providing a decent alternative to the dreaded airplane food (not that Lufthansa was that bad, mind). So, determined to have a last beer and possibly even a plate of wurst, I settled into the attractive settings of the Airbräu. Even if you aren’t there for beer, you should definitely spend some time there – it’s all outdoors but covered by the gigantic glass roof that protects the giant courtyard in front of the airport. There are fountains, plants, flowers… it’s a veritable wonderland of alcohol and meat.
But it’s a wonderland that should come with a food coma warning.
Not quite knowing what I was getting myself into, I asked for the ½ gegrillte Airbräu-Schweinshaxe auf Ismaninger Faskraut und Semmelknödel, which is essentially half a roast pork knuckle served with cabbage and bread dumplings. What this translates to is a MASSIVE meal. Sooo much tender, tasty meat encased inside a crunchy and well-roasted exterior; such fine and soft bread dumplings that soaked up the more-ish gravy perfectly; and the Faskraut was tart in flavour and crisp in texture.
It was such a delightfully meaty and savoury send-off from Munich, one that I would heartily recommend. But do note that it very nearly KO’d me, almost preventing me from making my gate on time. So yes, do go there on your way out of Munich, but approach the Airbräu with caution.
So there you go: a quick culinary introduction to Munich and Bavaria. As you can see, there is a bit more to the place than just wheat beer and sausages. I could go on at length about leberkäse (a meatloaf-type of meat that goes particularly well with strong mustard and fried onions) and obazda (Camembert mixed with butter and spices, especially caraway seeds, that spreads wonderfully on bread), but I’m afraid that I might just make you all a bit too hungry. And then you’d have to go to Munich in order to buy some; I just don’t want to be responsible for the subsequent spending of moneys that you would have to undertake to satisfy these cravings.
And to think I barely scratched the surface (I’m thinking in particular of the Dallmayr delicatessen) – guess that means I’ll just have to go back to Munich soon *sigh*. Who’s with me?
Currently listening to: Therapy? – Femtex