MUNICH: Fare vs. flair

Time to read:

6 minutes

I don’t know anyone who goes to Germany for the food. But this is for the friends who are interested in food you can get in foreign places. You know who you are.

To me, German food is comfort food. Meat and potatoes. It’s not bad for dishes based on bread, sausage, sauerkraut, cheese and potatoes, maybe influenced by a neighbor from Switzerland, Italy, France, the Balkans or Poland.

A German dish in a restaurant is almost invariably filling — although that may involve the beer you ordered — and satisfying.

At the top of a snacks list, you might find a Currywurst. The Currywurst stems from the immediate post-WWII period, when Germany imported thousands of Turks to provide the muscle for its Wirtschaftwunder (economic miracle). 

Wiener Schnitzel (Vienna Schnitzel) typically is “plain,” without the gravy, mushrooms and other accoutrements found on menus throughout Germany.

Yes, that’s two Schnitzel in the photo. They come like that at Steinheil 16, a hangout for students at the technical university.

Bavarian Schnitzel usually is breaded and fried veal or pork served with Spätzel (egg noodles), cucumber salad and potato or fries.

In Münchner Schnitzel (Munich Schnitzel), the veal is coated with horseradish or mustard before being breaded and fried. In other regions, the cutlets may be roasted or grilled.

The magic of fried dough was not lost on Bavarians. One sweet(ish) treat is Knieküchle (knee cake?). Others come in various shapes and sizes with names such as Auszogne, Krapfen, Küchl and Rottnudel.

In the store above, the specialty is “Schmalznudel.” The Cafe Frischhut is so well known for it that “Schmalznudel” is emblazoned on the front right next to the cafe’s name.

The staff was out of Schmalznudel when I stopped in, so they invited me to stay while they whipped up a batch. They cooked as customers watched from the waiting line or while passing by outdoors.

Whatever name it goes by, the Schmalznudel is easy to recognize: a thin disk of fried dough, usually thinner in the middle than at the edges, topped with sugar. Think of your favorite doughnut — only so hot you have to put it down.

Munich boasts six big beer makers — Spaten, Löwenbräu, Paulaner, Hacker-Pschorr, Hofbräu and Augustiner — and the city’s big newspaper said recently they have come through the pandemic so far with a black eye but they’re not on their deathbed.

Beer makers earn two-thirds of their income from restaurants, bars, hotels and events, just the kind of gatherings that the pandemic slowed or stopped. In addition, beer drinking has been declining throughout the country for years.

But you can make up your own six-pack of Munich beer at the grocery. The Big Six are sold all over the world.

A distributor in Berlin once said that Nuremberg had 18 breweries, which might make it the beer capital of Germany. A local paper sent a reporter to see whether there were that many.

Fourteen were validated, after discrepancies were discovered. The biggest was Tucher Bräu, which has three brewing sites in the city.

What counts

A key is the counting. Only companies with brew kettles within city limits counted. And gypsy brewers, who concoct their brand in the kettle of a larger competitor, also are counted.

But the brew has to be sold. You can give it away, but it doesn’t count, as it wouldn’t be in the city tax registry.

House-made Spezi

Munich’s big paper recently started an article this way: “There are really only two sure things in Munich. First: The Isar flows from south to north. Second: All Munich residents like Spezi”. The latter seems self-evident.

Spezi is sweet, fruity and sparkling, a mix of cola and orange lemonade, usually consumed without ice.

Years ago, it started out as the rage among young people. Today, it can be bought everywhere — from the grocery aisle to the kiosk window.

This is Leberkäse. Like Spam only heartier.

Occurs to me when we’re talking about Spezi because combined with Spezi, it’s supposed to be a hangover killer. Who knew?

Bottled water is the norm. In most places I’ve been in Germany, including restaurants, water means sparkling. Ask for “stilles Wasser” (still water) if that’s what you want.

But I’d skip tap water. Tastes fine, but like restaurants everywhere, restaurants in Munich make most of their profit on drinks. So it can be a little awkward if you ask for Leitungswasser (tap water).

If you want tap water and get it, I’d consider a little extra in the tip. Ten percent would be generous.

Staffs typically are not dependent on tips. In restaurants, Germans typically tell the waiter they’d like to pay and then round up the tab to the next €5 or add €5.

But nearly everywhere we went, waiters arrived with a new-fangled, card-ready payment device. They produced a printed bill that bypassed potential language barriers and facilitated a quick, clean payment.

Grocery checkout

No eye contact. It’s business.

I’m talking about checking out at the grocery. Bring a bag with you or buy a couple from the stack near the conveyor belt. Bring ’em with you each time afterward.

Start bagging as soon as the cashier pushes your goods to your right. Nobody’s going to do it for you, and the German behind you is impatient for her (or his) turn. Just look at the scowl.

Chat checkout

Most people can’t wait to get through the line, but some groceries have started adding a Ratschkasse (chat checkout), where people can talk a bit.

Started during the pandemic to help the elderly fight loneliness. The huge Edeka chain where we shopped has chat hours in at least one line Monday to Thursday from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.

Reusable take-out packaging

Germans have shown they’re willing to accept small inconveniences to cut down on the amount of plastic and Styrofoam that consumers throw away. Since 2020, across Germany, disposable dishes and disposable plastic cutlery may no longer be put into circulation. 

Since January 2023, restaurants and cafes have been required to offer reusable packaging for takeaway drinks. For takeaway meals, there must be alternatives to single-use plastic packaging.

One restaurateur estimated it cost 20 cents a dish, about twice what it costs to supply throw-away plastic, so Munich is thinking about a subsidy. 

Next: Stairs


4 responses to “MUNICH: Fare vs. flair”

  1. Richard Avatar

    I notice in your words and photos, a de-emphasizing of vegetables, but one of my favorite dishes–and one that seems a staple in German Texas–is red cabbage. A place we liked to go with German friends is in New Braunfels, The Alpine House. But, alas, they are all gone now. I don’t know about the restaurant.

    1. Clint Swift Avatar

      Shhh! My wife doesn’t know about the vegetables. 😉

      We’re with you 100% on the Alpine Haus. Best and most realistic German food in the San Antonio area.

  2. Ken Avatar

    Great tour of German foods. I must confess that in Vienna recently I did not develop a fondness for Wiener Schnitzel. Tastes pretty dry and bland to me. I was amused to note that Bavarian Schnitzel can be served with Spätzel, egg noodles. That would be a no-no in Austria, where Schnitzel comes with potatoes or rice. In fact, Austrians were baffled when they first heard the song in “Sound of Music” (My Favourite Things) that referenced “schnitzel with noodles.” We were told that only one restaurant in Salzburg will serve you that combination and that’s because fans of the movie ask for it.

  3. Clint Swift Avatar

    Love the detail in your comment. I must confess I don’t pay much attention to food in a German city.

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