A couple of weeks ago an article in The Washington Post called ‘Grandma’s food’: How changing tastes are killing German restaurants outlined just that. It acknowledged the loss of established German restaurants throughout the nation that have been around for generations.
Why the a decline in German restaurants? One reason -- we’re losing our German restaurantiers and along with them we’ve lost their establishments. Another is that the new generation’s palates are changing as food trends are becoming more globalized, pointing to a more diversified palate rather than the traditional European taste.
Some also try to claim that it’s not for the health conscious.
Granted there’s a lot of carbohydrates in traditional German fare considering that they take such pride in their bread and baked goods and use potatoes as a staple. But they’re also known for their fine pickles and sauerkraut -- both of which have been revered for their probiotic properties -- which is one of the latest health trends.
As with anything quality ingredients are key.
What makes for traditional German fare? Have we been soured with Americanized versions of traditional dishes? It took me most of my life to put two and two together to realize that a chicken fried steak is an American burlesque on wienerschnitzel. Schnitzel is a German institution but it’s not the be all end all and there are a ton of variations in preparation of not only the meat but the sauces as well. Who knows, maybe another contributing fact is that German food in America got too Americanized. The two greatest rushes of German immigrants occurred in the late 1800s and post WWII.
The dishes are meat heavy but one would understand why if they’ve ever walked into a German butchershop. This coming from a half hearted vegetarian who has no guilt while eating a good bratwurst--but then again I only feel guilty if I’ve knowingly done something wrong--and if there’s wrong in eating a good brat I don’t want to be right.
In fact, I finally convinced my German grandma to come to the Wurst Bier Hall with me. For the longest time she’d turn her nose up and almost boast that she was a better cook than that without ever setting foot through the door. What else do you say to your grandmother other than “Yes, Mommom, I know but if you try it you can give it an honest critique.” Needless to say I finally convinced her to stop. She had a German wurst and has been talking about it ever since and looks forward to when we go back.
Though business for bier halls is on the up and up--which makes sense considering craft beer culture and micro breweries are all the rage these days and soft pretzels are getting more and more popular on bar menus.
There’s certainly German influence in modern food trends. Everyone knows hamburgers and hot dogs have roots in Germany. A friend in my hometown owns a brick fired pizza shop and one of his top sellers is called “The German” which includes sausage, sauerkraut, and a horseradish sauce. Locals love it but my grandma and her German friends don’t understand how that’s German--considering pizza is Italian. I guess you can’t please everyone. After all, America is a melting pot.
I grew up in a German household and was raised on German fare. According to the article people are still cooking in the German tradition at home but aren’t looking for it sadly enough. It warms my heart to see German influenced items hitting menus -- granted I’m not a chef or a food expert but it almost seems like a no brainer to embrace German culinary traditions in this neck of the woods.
Knoephla soup is already a regional favorite as well as fleischkuechle. Spaetzle was even piquing the interest of foodies. In fact we had a cover story on the release of “Gutes Essen: Good eating in German Russian country.” A handful of German-Russian grandmothers graced our cover and questions about the books availability came pouring in our social media commentary and inboxes.Though German culture and German Russian culture are two different animals you can imagine the cultural similarities.
According to my friend Michael Miller -- the man behind the Germans from Russia Heritage Collection (GRHC) their cookbooks have the highest sales out of all of the books that they have published. There are also a host of recipes that can be found on their websites and if you head out to German Russian country you can find some amazing butcher shops whose recipes have been handed down for generations.
In fact you can find church dinners serving German dishes and Wishek (often referred to as Vishek) even hosts a Sauerkraut day that has been going on for over 90 years. The community opens up their community hall and feeds over a thousand people wurst and kraut while serenaded by the high school accordion band.
Even though many of these established sit down German restaurants have closed their doors across the country there may be hope for a German culinary resurgence. Call me sentimental but maybe, just maybe, people will start to embrace “Grandma’s food” before they have the chance to miss it, even if there are a few minor adjustments I’m sure she wouldn’t mind, just make sure you have good bread.
February 13th 2019
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