When you think of German food, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Lots of meat? Sausage? Bread? Sauerkraut? (Endless fields of pig bodies to satisfy Germany’s disturbing and straight-up demonic appetite for all things swine?) Before moving to Germany, I thought of these things too, because I had no idea just how weird and diverse German food really is — or that I would someday learn to love the nightmarish display of grotesqueries at the grocery store.
What follows is a list of the 10 weirdest foods I have learned to love as an American ex-pat living in Germany:
Also known as Blood Tongue, this little childhood trauma is made from pig’s blood, tongue, fat, and sometimes oatmeal or breadcrumbs. (They probably throw a live piglet in there too, just to keep things cute.) The first time I tried Zungenwurst, I hacked it back up into my napkin and told my wife I could taste the screams. The blood was so potent it was like sucking on a mouthful of pennies. But I kept at it! I tried it again a few weeks later, and again at my in-law’s place until one day I kinda liked it. Then I really liked it, and now I’m the one who buys this awful shit at the grocery store.
These guys are made out of wheat and rye flour, and for some reason enjoy calling themselves the “World Champion Bread Roll.” Pretty cocky, if you ask me. But look at all those seeds! There’s enough to choke a pigeon. I bet if you buried one of these rolls in the dirt, an entire forest would spring to life. Anyway, as an American, I was really only familiar with white and whole wheat bread, so these dense bricks of heartiness were entirely new to me. I took to them pretty quickly, however, because my wife said all the seeds would be good for my pooper. (And if you know me, you know I’ll eat anything if it increases the armor class of my anus.)
Speck, or ‘lardo,’ is just straight-up pig fat. Sometimes it’s served with a thin layer of meat, but that’s just cosmetic; make no mistake, you’re putting pure fat into your mouth, and Germans lack the common decency to be ashamed of it. I took quite a while to shake hands with Speck — and I still look at it a little sideways — but it’s pretty good. You gotta heat it up, of course, and I learned the hard way not to eat it straight: put it on some bread or it’ll give you a phenomenal stomach ache. Kind of like you ate a big wax candle.
Grünkohl is green cabbage or kale, and Germans eat it mostly in wintertime. I actually think it’s kind of gross, but when you throw it on top of a steaming pile of sausage and potatoes, well, you’ve got yourself a party! I first experienced Grünkohl after a Grünkohlwanderung (Green Cabbage Walk), during which my wife and I — plus a huge group of Germans — walked through a snowy forest in celebration of a friend’s birthday. We drank the entire time and played humiliating team games, and when it was all over, we sat down to a huge meal of this green nightmare cabbage. It was awesome.
Check it out! Hot dogs in a jar, yo! Oh, I knew I would love these sumbitches right from the start. Just like American hot dogs, they’re made entirely of asses and eyeballs. They’ve got that salty twang we love so much, plus a satisfying pop when your teeth burst through the outer skin. Okay, so they sound completely disgusting, but trust me on this one: Wiener-Würstchen rule. Just don’t get any bright ideas about drinking the water in which they’re contained — it is pure, liquid sodium. And by sodium, I mean it tastes like Poseidon’s saltwater piss.
So this stuff is just spreadable pig fat. There are chunks of fried pork rind in it, plus herbs and salt to really give your body the old middle finger. They even sell versions with apple and onion pieces, because Germans are completely out of their minds. It took me quite a while to embrace this stuff, but now I love it. Hell, I eat more Griebenschmalz than my wife does, because, although she doesn’t know it yet, we are locked in a competitive race to the grave. “Good luck paying off the mortgage after I’m gone, honey!”
Alright, so this is Italian food, and pretty much every American has tried it, but I never really ate much prosciutto until I moved to Germany. Now I buy it every week, and my wife loves it even more than I do. I mean, who doesn’t like cured meat? It rules. The thing is, my wife and I have a rough history with prosciutto; we’re about 100% certain it’s to blame for the heroic case of food poisoning we experienced in New York, so it took both of us a while to trust it again. The other issue is, every once in a while, we’ll get a batch of prosciutto which tastes really gamey. Like a big, pink pig is sitting right on your face. *Shudder* You know what? I’m not even sure why I keep buying it anymore.
These things look like harmless pepperoni sticks, right? That’s what I thought too until I was so hungry I bought one in a panic at a train station and discovered they’re basically just tubes of raw meat. They’re cured, of course, but then they’re finely ground so they have the mouthfeel of earthworms. From that first bite, I kind of wanted to throw my Schinkenmettwurst across the train station and then stomp on it until arrested — but I also wanted to keep eating it. It was the oddest sensation. Like good and evil in the same mouthful. Now I know what to expect, so I can eat one of these things and be comfortable with the fact that it tastes great but also gives me the dry heaves.
Have you ever heard of head cheese? That’s what this is. Normally I buy it sliced, but they also sell it in these revolting jars. Basically, Sülze is meat from the head of a cow or pig — sometimes including the tongue, feet, or heart — which has been set in gelatin. Like a murder victim on display in a shop window. Is it just me, or does German food seem unsatisfied with merely killing an animal, but must go a step further and mock it as well? Jesus Christ.
Schinken-Teewurst is spreadable, raw sausage. Again, it’s cured, but that does nothing to inhibit your gag reflex. I downright hated this shit the first time I tried it. But as a blindly tenacious American, I kept trying. I learned to like that it is roughly 40% fat and smacks of pickled hot dogs. I even ignored the stomach ache it gave me whenever I tried to eat it straight. Like most German foods in the grocery store, I have no idea why I like it. I just do. Maybe I love pork. Maybe I hate pigs. It doesn’t matter; now that I live in Germany, my entire diet consists of German food, so I will probably die with a cloven hoof in my mouth and a load of cabbage in my undies.