Do Germans Really Eat Schnitzel?
When I first arrived in Germany I thought that schnitzel, big pretzels, and sausages were something Germans only ate on holidays. I thought that it was just heritage food that their ancestors must have regularly eaten while modern Germans ate it on occasion. When I was growing up, sometimes my parents would cook stuffed cabbage and porgies to remind us of our cultural roots. I inferred that it was the same way in Germany.
After I moved to Germany, I discovered that they actually eat this stuff all the time; pork is an absolute dietary staple.
Every restaurant is a German restaurant unless otherwise stated. You are going to find the same general items on the menu. I have been to every part of Germany and I have eaten in a lot of restaurants and some form of schnitzel and sausages were always on the menu. The recipe varied from region to region but the staples were the same.
Now there were other options available such as Chinese and Italian food, but they weren’t as common as they are here in the United States and in Germany you knew very clearly that they were different from the norm. In America, there really is no norm, so that was a difficult cultural nuance for me to pick up on.
The same was true of most everywhere else I traveled in Europe.
In Italy, Italian fare was the absolute norm unless it was clearly specified otherwise. Now the Italians and the French have highly regionalized menus so a plate of lasagna in Rome was different from one in Venice. Within a region, the recipes in various restaurants tended to serve the same food but tailored to that part of the country.
From this I gained an interesting insight into Europe’s cultures and countries; they are relatively homogenous and uniform throughout a given territory. There may be multiple ethnicities in a given city but they stay together in their ghettos and generally don’t integrate very well with the natives. These minority groups are the clearly defined exceptions to the rule and you know it when you see it.
In the United States it is all too common for an Italian restaurant to be next door to a steak house and a Mexican place; and they could probably have the same owner. In Europe, this is not commonplace and not too frequent inside many cities.
To Europeans, the regional differences in cuisine are detectable because they pay attention to them. In the U.S., most Americans wouldn’t know that there are different types of Italian food outside of the few remaining East Coast ethnic neighborhoods.
Most Europeans I have met assume the same thing about the American culinary habits. They tend to assume that all American food is like what they find in McDonald’s and Pizza Hut even though these fast food places prepare “American food” in a very European way. Thus, for all of you planning a European trip, stay away from American restaurants if you get homesick. It is not American, but American like European food.
So your best bet is to be a culinary adventurer and dive into the local food.
Don’t be like the Japanese tourist who flood to Europe and stick to McDonald’s almost exclusively. Perhaps they are concerned about food safety, which the Europeans are not all that concerned with. McDonald’s is the familiar standby and they generally apply the same sanitation standards as they do in the U.S.
I recommend that you eat where all of the locals are eating at, provided it looks clean. Any sidewalk café is usually a good bet because the menu is displayed outside. If you don’t take any culinary risks you will miss out on some truly outstanding meals, and a few really bad ones. Just make sure you understand what you are ordering. Don’t be like me when I randomly picked a meal off the menu in Barcelona and got octopus that made me sick.
Read ahead on a country’s culinary habits before you travel so you know that the French love raw meat. It is better to be prepared so you know not to order beef or lamb. Chicken and pork are always safe bets because they have to be cooked. If in doubt, just choose a vegetarian dish or hit up on a bakery, which always holds wonderful surprises.
Many European restaurants don’t automatically give you water and bread when you sit down, especially in the Germanic countries, but almost always in France and Italy. Not all European restaurants serve regular spring water and many serve only carbonated or regular tap water. Refills are also not free in many places, even on tap water so don’t get mad.
Service in European restaurants varies greatly across the continent and may not be anywhere up to U.S. expectations. Germany and other socialist countries require servers be paid a salary and tipping is not customary. Good customer service is a novel concept for some of them so don’t be surprised with a neglectful and unconcerned server. The upside of this is that the server isn’t going to rush you out of the restaurant to fill the table again so as to increase their tips. Many servers don’t care how long you stay as long as you are drinking something. Check ahead of time to understand the tipping policies in certain countries or even cities that you will visit.
Finally, eating out in Europe can be a very enjoyable event if you keep an open mind and pallet. A good sense of adventure will also serve you well and some anti-dihereal medicine wouldn’t hurt either. The Europeans don’t rush their meals, so you shouldn’t either; just relax and take your time.