Culinary Ambassadors: Serious Oktoberfest Eats
Serious Eats' Culinary Ambassadors check in from time to time with reports on food fare in their homeland or countries of residence. Here's the latest! (Find out more about CA or join here!) —The Mgmt.
When, 200 years ago, a Bavarian king held a luscious wedding, little did he know he would start a tradition that is one of Germany's biggest tourist attractions — the Oktoberfest. Today, it is less about royalty and more about, let's face it, beer. But even the hardiest German or most experienced fest tourist will need something to go with the specially brewed (and slightly stronger) festival beer. So if you want to build a solid foundation in your stomach, or if you want to be prepared for when the inebriated cravings set it, here is a quick run-down of what is and what may not be worth eating at the Munich Oktoberfest.
Scattered among the rides and the beer halls are plenty of booths and shops, offering pretty much all the familiar carnival foods — candied apples, cotton candy, you name it. More typical and no less sinful are almonds in a thick, caramellized ("burned") sugar shell. The gingerbread hearts with slogans on them ranging from the mundane to the cheeky, usually declaring one's love in sugar form, are not necessarily meant to be eaten. Try one, and you'll know why. In that sense, they're an oversize Valentine's candy heart — it's the thought that counts, even if it's someone else's — not the chalky taste. For really good German gingerbread, just wait until Christmastime or until the shops decide to roll out the seasonal goods (which would be right about now, actually).
Small meals, often cold ("Brotzeit") are a staple of German beer culture. While perusing the festival, popular choices are sausages, smoked mackerel on a stick, or fish buns — usually herring and onions. As a matter of fact, there's hardly anything they won't put on a bun: ox meat, bratwurst, schnitzel, or Leberkäse, the last of which is finely ground and baked pork, rather like a rectangular slice of sausage, that has nothing to do with liver (Leber) or cheese (Käse).
Plated snacks in the beer halls might be a radish salad, or Obazda: camembert and other soft cheeses, beaten until creamy, seasoned and served alongside radishes and a nice soft Breze that dwarfs any snack pretzel.
None of those foods are as important to the workings of the Fest and its beer halls than that fuel of countless of beer-swilling visitors: roasted meats. There's the familiar and always popular grilled chicken. There's the quintessentially German pork — legs and other assorted roasts, but also whole suckling pigs spinning on the spits by the dozens. Duck might be an insider tip, actually: Try it if it comes with red cabbage ("Blaukraut").
But for sheer show effect, nothing beats the whole ox on a spit. Naturally, what ends up on the plate looks less spectacular, but with a side of potato salad, might just be what hits the spot.
Granted, in the end, the Oktoberfest is not about food. Unless you view it through beer goggles, what you have there might not even be very good. But because of the high turnover, it will at least be fresh; and compared to the beverages (hot tip: moaning about the cost of a liter of beer is a ritual for the regulars) it is actually somewhat fairly priced. Let's just say that it's not the food's fault that some people cannot keep it in after a long night.
Want to tell us about festival food where you live? Go here! »
To find out more about the Culinary Ambassadors initiative or sign up, see this SE Talk thread »