Of farty nuns and rusty knights
Britain, with its jellied eels and bubble and squeak, has its fair share of quirky- and revolting-sounding delicacies, but in Germany you can dine out on anything from rusty knights to gassy nuns, with heaven and earth in-between.
Yes, you did read that right, for the unappetising-sounding Nonnenfürzle literally means ‘small fart of a nun’. Tempted? In fact you should be, because this is actually a very nice choux pastry traditionally eaten around Carnival in a number of German regions, and only in Swabia known as Nonnenfürzle. The dish was actually called Nonnenfürtchen from the old German word nunnekenfurt which simply means ‘best made by nuns’. Some joker thought Nonnenfürtchen could easily be turned into Nonnenfürzchen by substituting one letter (Fürzchen = small fart). Anyway, the dish has nothing to do with bodily functions and tastes very lecker.
Another very old recipe for a dessert is Rostige Ritter or Arme Ritter which translates as ‘rusty knights’ or ‘poor knights’ respectively. The main ingredients are old bread rolls softened in milk, and similar recipes can be found all over the world, including the UK’s ‘poor knights of Windsor’.
Moving on to some more hearty stuff, a peasant dish that had its moment in the limelight a few years ago is Saumagen, which literally means ‘sow’s stomach’. Let’s just say it’s the German version of haggis and, if well made, is absolutely delicious. It is local to the Palatinate (Pfalz) region and was made famous by former chancellor Helmut Kohl, himself a Pfälzer, who had the dish served, (albeit it in a very refined way), to all of his state visitors from Gorbachev to the Queen. And we’re not aware of any complaints so here we go.
Moving a bit further north, Cologne is another good place for local grub, including the bizarrely named Halver Hahn, which translates as ‘half a cockerel’ but is actually a bread roll with butter and Gouda cheese. There are all sorts of myths about the derivation, but they’re too long-winded to be worth repeating here. Equally odd is another Cologne favourite, Himmel und Erde (heaven and earth) or Himmel und Ääd in proper Cologne vernacular, consisting of potatoes and apples mixed together and eaten with black pudding, onions and bacon. Not heavenly at all if you are a dieting vegetarian.
While Himmel und Ääd can be understood even if you’re not from Cologne, there are some regions where you’re going to need to know the local vocabulary to unlock the menu. In the Saarland, for example, the delightful-sounding Dibbelabbes is dialect for the word Topflappen, which means oven cloth, and the dish it describes is a kind of hearty pancake.
In Frankfurt and the whole Rhine Hesse area they eat Handkäs mit Musik, ‘hand cheese with music’, another one that requires some explanation. The dish is a very specific local sour milk cheese that is marinated with onions. The music bit, allegedly, refers to the sounds that might be produced after digesting the onions; blame any nuns sitting nearby!
As in the UK, there’s been a recent trend in Germany to rediscover old dishes and recipes with young restaurateurs giving them a 21st century spin. In Berlin, the starting place for all things cool, the focus has been on regional products and reinterpreting German cuisine. At the Heinrich restaurant in Mitte, for example, the owners have researched old recipes from the 1920s and 1930s to put together a menu with dishes “we love from our parents and grandparents”. The bestseller is ‘Proud Heinrich’, fried sausage with mashed potatoes and a dark beer sauce. Yum, I’d have that. And a Nonnenfürzle for pudding.
More food -related Wunderbar links: German Wine Route (for sampling the Saumagen), culinary city tours in Speyer, Black Forest gourmet heaven, cabbage culture in the north, seafood and salty humour, coffee & cake
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