Wednesday, May 23, 2012

My Trip to Deutschland: Heidelberg, Germany

I had the grand fortune of spending 10 days with a good friend in beautiful Heidelberg, Germany. It was my first trip to Deutschland, and it will not be my last. When one thinks of German cuisine, bratwurst, sauerkraut and potatoes come to mind, and this would be accurate; however, there is so much more to it than just that. My excellent tour guide explained the differences between German and American dining, and with food this good, I am still in awe of how Europeans stay so trim.

Traditionally, Germans start their day with a cold breakfast consisting of cheese, meat and broetchen – a delicious bread baked fresh daily. Croissants, pretzels and pastries are also popular options for breakfast. Germans eat a hearty, filling meal to keep them energized and saturated during the day. Though at first I was desperate for scrambled eggs and fruit, by the end of my trip, I was craving liverwurst and brie first thing in the morning.

Around noon or so, a slice of Kuchen (cake) is enjoyed with a cup of coffee. Americans have been taught that such delicacies are dangerous to our diets, but the natural, unprocessed ingredients used in German cuisine makes it more acceptable to dine this way. That, and the fact that Europeans walk or ride their bicycles EVERYWHERE. I enjoyed K√§sekuchen, German cheesecake, and found it rich, but not nearly as sweet as American cheesecake. The crust was a buttery sugar cookie, and the filling had a slight almond flavor. I could get used to this for lunch every day. Also, don’t be alarmed if you see people enjoying a gelato sundae and a cup of coffee around 3pm (an activity I chose to partake in multiple times.)
The largest meal of the day is served around 5 in the evening, and my first German dinner was the traditional brat, kraut and potatoes. We dined at Vetter’s, and everyone was kind enough to get something different so I could sample more than one dish! Vetter’s is also home to the strongest beer in the world, which to my surprise, wasn’t unbearable. Luckily, they offered an English menu – in other restaurants I wasn’t as lucky, in which case, my friend served as a perfect translator and ordered for me. Other standouts here include the Cheese Spaetzle, essentially Germany’s Macaroni & Cheese. Noodle-like dumplings are coated with a creamy cheese sauce, and topped with bites of bacon or caramelized onions. Without a doubt, this tops American Macaroni & Cheese – it was nearly impossible for me to stop eating off my friend’s plate. 
Another dish representative of German cuisine is Jagerschnitzel. It’s essentially a fried pork chop, covered in a sensational, velvety sauce, topped with mushrooms. A variety of potatoes are offered as the side: french fries, boiled potatoes, or fried kroketten, which I chose. Schnitzel varieties are endless, and I also sampled Garlic Schnitzel (best consumed not on a date). There are over one hundred more varieties at the Schnitzelhaus! It took me some time to narrow down my decision, but I went for #96, a Schnitzel covered in a brandy sauce with pears, Roquefort cheese and cranberries. Scrumptious! So you don’t feel incredibly guilty from the Schnitzel, a starter salad of Bibb lettuce is presented, adorned with corn, pickled cucumbers and kraut; a nice change from standard American salad toppers. 

Each May, Germans go crazy for Spargel, known to Americans as white asparagus. We dined at the Brauhaus in Schwetzingen, a town right outside of Heidelberg. I enjoyed a gratin of Spargel, in a thick cream sauce, which was served with a Potato Crepe. This was the first time I had tasted white asparagus as opposed to the green, and it had a less pungent flavor and was perfectly tender in the sauce. 

This post wouldn’t be complete without paying tribute to a few specialty items I discovered and subsequently fell hardcore in love with. First of all, Nutella is yesterday’s news. The new most addicting spread in the world is Speculoos, a Belgian-made Gingerbread/graham cracker cookie spread. I was told to help myself to the jar – big mistake. Thankfully, I can satisfy my withdrawal since I found it at the Fresh Market by my apartment back home.

I’ve also discovered the best yogurt in the world. I mean it. I’ve never been more excited about yogurt. If you ever come across Movenpick (made in Switzerland), call me, and then stock up immediately. It tastes like buttercream frosting.

Lastly, my favorite cocktail was the Aperol Spritz – a concoction of Aperol (a bitter orange aperitif), Prosecco, Soda Water and garnished with an orange. It was crisp, light and refreshing.

I could ramble on for hours about how much I enjoyed my trip (and the food!) but I thought I would share the highlights. To my tour guide and friend, thank you for putting up with me and feeding me so well for ten days. I’d love to turn back time and re-live every moment. Check back soon for my Barcelona post!

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