Fresh fish, smoked fish and pickled fish are all much loved by northern Germans, and no visit to the coast is complete without a seafood takeaway.
In the UK it is the barrow boys of London’s markets who have a reputation for quick-witted, earthy humour, but in Northern Germany it is the fishermen, particularly those do their own marketing. Buying fresh fish straight from the boat is a surprising feature of many small, mud-clogged North Sea ports – Hooksiel, for example – and usually there’ll be a witticism thrown in with your change.
Whether or not that was the actual ship that caught the fish, or even the actual people who did the fishing, doesn’t really matter. Certainly the likes of Eely Dieter at the Hamburg Fishmarket has transcended any humble origins as a deckhand. He’s now a TV personality, famed for his sharp tongue and pungent innuendo, but you do have to get up at 6am on a Sunday morning for the honour of becoming the butt of his jokes: many do.
Buying fresh fish straight from the boat is a surprising feature of many small, mud-clogged North Sea ports
Northern Germans love their fish, but they do it a bit differently to other countries – and indeed other parts of Germany. A big traditional feature of this coast are Krabben, which are small prawns, caught by boats called Kuttes. The problem with these little beasts is the handling required, and many a port, and many a seafood restaurant, have prawn-peeling competitions to keep the interest alive. Otherwise, the Krabben tend to get sent to Morroco, where the fiddly business takes place, and then get trucked back.
Also generally making a long journey from suppliers overseas are the locally-available herring, which come in many forms. Herring used to be abundant off these shores, but have been overfished, but they still put on a good show in the shops and restaurants. A popular dish is Brathering (herring which is fried and then marinaded), Rollmops (sometimes called Bismarck Herring) which is pickled in vinegar and then rolled around a gherkin, and the luridly purple Heringssalat – herring salad with beetroot and mayonnaise.
This is also a coast for smokeries, such as Küsten-Räucherei Albrecht and Räucherei an der Schleuse in Harlesiel, northwest of Wilhelmshaven. Smoked mackerel is common, as is smoked halibut, and many families will make an expedition to the seaside and buy smoked fish for their picnic, eating it with their fingers. Smoked eels are big in these parts, although the eels themselves could as easily have been caught in Poland or in the UK as here.
In certain restaurants the eating of the eel can have a drinking ritual associated with it, the Ammerländer Löffeltrunk, where schnapps served in a spoon is drunk before, during and after eel consumption, often with the following exchange in Platt Deutsch (regional dialect) with the waiter/host.
Host: “Ick seh Di.” (I see you)
Guest: “Dat freit mi.” (I am glad about that)
Host: “Ick sup Di to” (I drink to your health.)
Guest: “Dat do.” (Please do.)
Host: “Ick heb Di tosapen.” (I have drunk to your health)
Guest: “Hest’n Recht’n drapen” (You found the right companion)