The cuisine of North Rhine-Westphalia
Hearty and substantial – with the odd sweet treat
Visitors who wish to truly get to know North Rhine-Westphalia should give the region’s cuisine a try. There are many traditional Rhenish and Westphalian specialities to discover!
When you book a holiday to Italy, you look forward to pizza, pasta and tiramisu. But what can visitors heading to North Rhine-Westphalia expect? As Germany’s most populous state, NRW’s restaurants and inns offer a seemingly endless choice of cuisines, with international favourites like pizza, doner kebabs and Asian food also now featuring strongly. Many chefs are also combining regional and international elements to create new and exciting fusion dishes.
In order to truly discover North Rhine-Westphalia, visitors should give some of the regional cuisine a try. Traditional dishes made to recipes handed down through the generations are still on the menu today. These include “Rheinischer Sauerbraten” (Rhenish marinated pot-roast), “Bergische Kaffeetafel” (Bergisch coffee spread) or “Westfälischer Pickert” (Westphalian potato pancake).
Hearty meat dishes
The cuisine of North Rhine-Westphalia is known above all for its hearty meat and sausage dishes. Vegetarians are likely to despair when they look at the menu of a brewery pub or a rustic inn – while meat-lovers on the other hand will be in their element. One speciality from the Rhineland is Rheinischer Sauerbraten, a marinated pot-roast which is served with a different sauce depending on the region. Visitors to the Eifel, for example, have to try Printensauce (gingerbread sauce), which is also a popular accompaniment to chips in Aachen. In and around Cologne, meanwhile, the pot-roast is served with dumplings and red cabbage.
Westphalian cooking also has its speciality in the form of Pfefferpotthast. This is a peppery stew prepared with chunks of meat, usually beef, cooked in a large pot with lard and a good amount of onion. Visitors with an adventurous palate should try Steinfurter Töttchen, a sweet and sour meat stew that was traditionally made from lungs, liver or other offal. Modern versions also use veal meat or tongue.
The Steinfurter Töttchen is just one traditional Rhenish-Westphalian dish that makes use of butchers’ left-overs. In specialities like Flönz, Möpkenbrot or Panhas, fresh blood is also used to make tasty black puddings. Natives of Cologne are fond of Flönz, a lightly smoked Rhenish blood sausage with flecks of pork fat. Panhas is a type of cooked sausage found in Rhineland and Westphalia prepared using different types of meat as well as pig’s blood and buckwheat flour. The Westphalian Möpkenbrot is another blood sausage made much the same way, but with ordinary wheat flour.
Potatoes as a side dish and main course
Potatoes are usually the preferred accompaniment to a hearty meat or fish dish. Himmel un Ääd (Heaven and Earth) is a typical Rhineland combination of mashed potatoes (from the earth) and apple puree (from the sky, or heaven), which is frequently served with fried blood sausage. Potatoes boiled in their jackets often accompany fish dishes like the traditional Heringsstipp (herrings in cream sauce).
In many main courses, potatoes are the star ingredient. A traditional oven-baked potato cake goes by the name of Potthucke in Sauerland and Siegerland and Döppekooche in the Eifel. Formerly regarded as “poor man’s fare” which was, for example, served instead of a goose for the Feast of Saint Martin, it has become popular again as a tasty oven bake. Bacon, pieces of Mettwurst sausage and onions add hearty flavour to the baked potatoes.
Also very popular are rösti-style dishes of potatoes grated and then fried. Pillekoochen potato cakes are served with apple puree, golden syrup, butter or rye bread, depending on the region. Riewekooche, on the other hand, is a loaf of potato bread made with wheat flour and grated potato. It is often eaten as a sweet treat with butter and jam. Pickert, meanwhile, is a pancake made of flour and grated potato which is usually baked in a pan and served with plum puree or compote. Potatoes are also often found in soups and stews, with Duffelsobbe being the name for potato soup in Siegerland, for example.
A hearty snack with sausage or cheese
In former times, men used to work long and hard in the mines and industry of North Rhine-Westphalia. For lunch, they often had to make do with a bread and butter sandwich – known as a Bütterken, a Schnittken, a Knifte or a Dubbel, depending on dialect. In the area around Cologne, Halve Hahn was the name given to a rye bread cheese sandwich cut in half. With the addition of Flönz sausage and mustard, it was upgraded to Kölsch Kaviar (Cologne caviar). In Bergisches Land, Kottenbotter is a slice of rye bread topped with Mettwurst sausage, onions and mustard.
A typical Westphalian bread is pumpernickel, made of nothing more than coarsely ground rye and water and baked in a steam-filled oven. The ham specialities of the Rhineland and Westphalia taste particularly good with a slice of pumpernickel, or equally with a less strong variety of bread like Paderborn farmhouse bread. At Westfalen Culinarium in Nieheim, an entire museum is dedicated to the world of ham. Visitors get the chance to try specialities such as Westphalian ham on the bone.
There is also a long tradition of making sweet breads in North Rhine-Westphalia. In Aachen, there is an Easter tradition of baking Poschweck – a bread enriched with walnuts, raisins and candied orange peel. In Bergisches Land, a loaf of Bauernblatz milk bread usually features in the Bergische Kaffeetafel (Bergisch coffee spread). These spreads, which are traditional to Bergisches Land and the Lower Rhine in particular, include a wide variety of speciality breads and much more besides. As well as currant loaf and rye bread with cheese and sausage, apple butter and plum puree, the feast will also often include waffles, pancakes or plum cake, and is best shared with a large group of friends. The coffee is served from a Dröppelminna, a traditional coffee pot with one or more spouts.
Regional vegetable dishes
Farm cafés, inns and restaurants often promote seasonal dishes on their menus, which usually means a focus on local produce. In the Lower Rhine, for example, summertime is very much asparagus and strawberry season. Winter brings a selection of hearty vegetable soups and stews like the Rhenish Schnibbelbohnensuppe (runner bean soup) or Westfälisches Blindhuhn (literally, Westphalian blind hen but actually consisting of seasonal vegetables, apples and bacon).
Finally, what’s in the glass?
In NRW, beer is undoubtedly the most popular way to wash down a good meal. Pilsener, Altbier, Kölsch and Bönnsch are the best known varieties, but every region has its own special brews. For more information and some interesting anecdotes about the enjoyment of beer in NRW, click here.
What is less well known is that there are also some local wines to accompany Rhenish dishes. North Rhine-Westphalia’s only wine-growing area has its centre in Königswinter, south of Bonn. Meanwhile, orchard fruits are used to produce delicious brandies and juices.