24 October 2011

On eating vegetarian in Germany

John Scalzi is back from Germany, and he says he's happy that I was not a vegetarian. In comments, someone agrees.

There's a pervasive myth that German food consists entirely of meat, notably in the form of sausage. I can assure you it doesn't. It's true that a lot of the traditional recipes are based on meat, and there are a lot of sausages, but there are a lot of other options. Yes, even in traditional restaurants.

I've been vegetarian since 1993. I spent my junior year of college (1996-97) living in Germany. I had, frankly, a much easier time eating vegetarian there than I did in my college's dining hall in Pennsylvania, or than I do eating here in North Carolina -- where even the vegetables have meat in them (often in the form of a hambone thrown in, or bits of bacon), at least in traditional Southern restaurants. Germans caught on to the organic food thing much earlier than Americans. I had probably the best soy sausage in my life while I was living in Marburg, picked up at a Bioladen (organic food shop) and grilled for Canada Day (one of my neighbors was Canadian).

When in Germany, if I'm staying in a pension (akin to a B&B), I eat the traditional breakfast: rolls, cheese, butter, jam, Nutella, quark, muesli, soft-boiled eggs. Everything except the cold cuts. If I'm in a hotel, I'll pop over to a bakery or cafe and get a pastry or two: nut-nougat croissant, pretzel roll, cheese roll. Left to my own devices (with a kitchen and grocery store), I eat the same thing I do here: cereal and milk.

For lunch, there's always falafel or vegetarian döner, pizza, sandwiches from the bakery (or your own kitchen), or whatever sounds interesting. For dinner, you can sit down anywhere. I've had really good Indian food in Munich, a nice Mission-style burrito in Berlin, vegetarian Maultaschen (also in Berlin), spinach strudel, baked pasta casserole, South Asian fusion (also in Berlin), amazing brown butter tortellini (in Berlin), delicious cheese spaetzle in Vienna...

I think you get the point by now, and I'm not the only one who's had a relatively easy time eating as a vegetarian in Germany. The folks at Happy Cow have a section for Germany to help you out, and I've found that Lonely Planet guides are good at pointing out places that have veg*n options as well as listing some straight-up veg*n places. (They're my favorite guide books, and they've never steered me wrong.)


Anonymous said...

Just a heads up: It's very easy to eat vegetarian in Berlin. Out in the country, it becomes harder (though not impossible).

CD Covington said...

Anon, I lived in Marburg an der Lahn for a year. It's not exactly a booming metropolis, though it's a university town, so it's also not exactly auf'm Dorf. I had an awesome vegetarian döner there, casserole, pizza, whatever.

I've been to all the places Scalzi visited on his tour, and even some quasi-rural touristy places (St Goar am Rhein, Füssen), and I had no problems there. I ate fine in Leipzig (at an all-potato restaurant, where you could get your potato baked and stuffed with herb quark, tzatziki, or sausage, among other things). In Lutherstadt Wittenberg (which has very little to recommend it, unless you're keen on the Reformation) I ate pizza. (I happen to enjoy pizza, and I could happily subsist on it and falafel for dinner for several weeks. Longer than that, and I hope I'd have my own kitchen.)

The Happy Cow listing includes some ruralish places, not just big cities, so people going somewhere other than university towns or metropolises can use it as an assist.

Vanades said...

I'm always surprised when people say that food in Germany is all meat and potatoes.

Maybe it's because I'm living in the South of Germany and our way of cooking is strongly influenced by the French, but even traditional dishes often have either no meat at all (often everything that once upon a time was considered poor people food) or offer a vegetaian option. Most of what people consider typical German today is what people used to eat on Sundays or holidays.

LOL, if people asked me to cook typical, traditional German dishes, they probably would be surprised by the number of meatless dishes I would serve ;-). Or where meat was optional.

CD Covington said...

Right? A friend asked me for something German & vegetarian she could take to a family picnic. I gave her my improvised spinach strudel recipe (using frozen puff pastry dough), and it went over quite well.

You can also make potato salad without meat (though I'd wager most restaurants add bacon and/or use chicken broth. That's why it's good to ask.)

I think people have a stereotype of German food (well, that's sort of the point of this post...) that doesn't reflect reality. Germans have taken a liking to pizza and falafel and Indian, so it's not like all you can eat in Germany is "German food."

And if you have a kitchen & grocery store, you have access to fruits, veggies, pasta, bread, and cheese. (Butterkäse...yum.) Maybe not exotic things like tofu ganz auf'm Dorf, but mushrooms are full of protein and ubiquitous over there.

Being vegan would be harder, yeah, especially in the most rural places, but that's hardly different from being vegan in the rural US, eh? And now, there's internet shopping. You can order tofu from Amazon.de! That won't help you if you're vacationing there, but it's a help if you're living there.