After working as a waitress at a German deli and bakery this summer, I assumed that the food in Dresden wouldn’t surprise me. However, as I quickly discovered, I had more to learn than I could have imagined. The food culture in Germany, and Europe in general, took me completely by surprise.
My first week in Germany, I barely noticed what I ate. The days blurred in a sort of jet-lag stupor that left most food unappetizing as I struggled to adjust to the seven-hour time change. When I finally became aware of my surroundings, I first noticed all of the bakeries that dotted the streets every twenty feet.
The Germans love their pastries and breads. There is bread included in every meal. Cakes and a variety of sweet pastries are baked and sold at an incredible rate. I have a large sweet tooth, so on finding myself surrounded by bakeries, I decided to take it upon myself to try as many sweets as possible. An Amerikaner, which I’m currently eating, and a Streuselschnecke, which is something Kiwi takes upon herself to buy almost everyday during our break between classes, are some of the simpler pastries that I’ve eaten. As expected, they’re all delicious.
Beyond the sweet side of the bakery, there are the breads. Bread is everywhere, and its popularity is obvious. It is reasonably priced, and it appears on almost every dish in every restaurant. Delicious? Yes. Does it get boring after a week? Mmm… probably.
Bread, potatoes, and wurst (sausage). All of these are the base ingredients of many dishes. They’re very filling and tasty, but finding food that doesn’t include these three ingredients is difficult. Most vegetables and fruits rarely appear in restaurants, and our group often goes to the nearby supermarket for apples, bananas, carrots, and yogurt. However, despite the seemingly unhealthy diet, there is no problem with obesity here.
The Germans’ eating habits also caught me by surprise. They drink beer with lunch and dinner, which typically consists of meat, potatoes, and/or sauerkraut. As the stereotype goes, the Germans love their beer. Almost every place we went to eat had their own microbrewery that allowed them to serve their own original drink. After class, our group, along with several people from England, would go out to some new restaurant to eat. Locals who stopped by would order their meal and a beer before heading back to work until closing time. The Goethe Institut is even planning a field trip to a brewery. Coming here, I just didn’t expect the beer-stereotype to be so completely supported by the everyday lives of the people. However, I’ve found myself proven wrong again and again.
The final aspect of the food culture would be the amount of time taken to eat the food itself. Dinner is at least a two and a half hour event, and that’s only if you pressure the waiter or waitress to bring you the check so you can pay. It could possibly just be a European aspect of dining that I was just unaware of, but comparing it to American dining, eating at a restaurant is a new experience.
The server first arrives to take your drink order, which usually would consist of the table ordering a round of beers or something like that. After returning with the drink order, the food order would be taken. Not too different from an American restaurant, right? Then comes the waiting. Food takes longer to get to the table than in America. Here in Germany, they aren’t trying to serve you food as quickly as possible, so they can fill up the table you’re occupying with the next customer. They’re giving you plenty of time to order more drinks and chat with those you’re sitting with. When the food finally arrives, you’re starving, and whatever was on your plate disappears at an alarming rate.
Then more waiting. I sometimes feel like it’s a stand-off between us and the server. The server waits for us to get his or her attention for more orders of drinks or dessert, and I wait for the server to bring me the check, which usually won’t happen unless you ask.
In the end, dinner is a long process, and eating at a restaurant is a lengthy, though quite unique, experience. This process gave us the chance to get to know the other students in our classes, who come from all over the world. England, New Zealand, Brazil, and Argentina are just a few of the places where our classmates come from. With all of the extra time at dinner, conversations pick up all around the table. Our pathetic attempts at communicating strictly through German are patched with English and Portuguese, but we have fun, despite the fact that we only understand about 85% of the conversation.
Food culture here in Germany is unique and very different from America. From the way the restaurants operate to the freshly-baked pastries, there is a sense of enjoying the food you are given, not just in taste, but in atmosphere as well. Eating and drinking is a large social aspect of the Germans lives. They don’t rush through a meal; they savor it and the company around them. Perhaps this has something to do with the lack of obesity here in Germany. It’s not completely what you eat, it’s how you eat it.