We’ve all heard of Bavaria, that German state best known for oompah bands, lederhosen, beer and pretzels. But it’s just one of many states and distinct historical regions around the country, most of which aren’t widely known to non-Germans. There are many reasons for this odd discrepancy, which I won’t go into today, but there is one region I want to highlight and which has been important in my German travels over the years – Swabia. Located in southwestern Germany, Swabia is no longer a distinct political unit, but instead is a cultural region. Its roots go back for centuries and even though the area is now divided between two different states, the people who call it home absolutely identify first with being Swabian. Stuttgart is one of the best places to experience Swabia, but you can also find elements of the culture throughout southwestern Germany including Freiburg and even Augsburg. Language, culture and naturally food help form the basis of this identity, and it’s the culinary aspect I want to highlight today. Traveling in Germany always means great food experiences, but in Swabia I think it’s a little extra special thanks to these dishes and snacks.
One of Swabia’s most recognizable dishes, I personally think that this is at the core of the foodie experience in the region. Like most traditional foods, it’s also beautifully simple, although there are many different versions. At its base though, maultaschen is a pasta pocket filled with spinach, minced meat, onions and herbs. I’ve had it a few different ways though, including a vegetarian version and one served with a fried egg. It’s a delicious and filling meal and I think the perfect introduction to Swabian cuisine.
Not only is this my favorite Swabian dish, it’s one of my favorite foods period. I’m not sure exactly why I love it as much as I do, but I never refuse an opportunity to try another helping of spätzle. Spätzle is a universal side dish served with meat dishes with sauces, but can also be a stand along meal on its own. It’s a kind of soft noodle made with eggs, flour and salt. One of my favorite versions is Kassspätzle, or cheese spätzle. It’s exactly what it sounds like, a massive helping of spätzle mixed with delicious cheese and sometimes even bacon. There truly is nothing better.
One reason that I get along so well with German cuisine is because it’s not pretentious and includes everything I love most, namely, meat and carbs. One of Swabia’s most important dishes is, therefore, also a personal favorite – Swabian roast beef with fried onions. Tender meat, fried onions, tasty gravy; simply said, a good fried steak is irresistible. One of the best places I found in Stuttgart to enjoy this hearty dish was at the local favorite restaurant, Gasthaus zur Linde. Here they excel in taking traditional dishes and creating modern meal experiences no one soon forgets. I went a little crazy ordering here, but the gigantic meal was well worth the extra workout I had to do afterwards.
Lentils and Noodles
While the other dishes may be iconic, this simple meal is what people go back to again and again. Lentils with noodles is traditional Swabian cuisine at its finest. It’s an absolute classic when served alongside Saitenwürstle (frankfurter style sausages) with vinegar and mustard on hand to season to taste. Simple, delicious and iconic – that’s what defines Swabian lentils and noodles.
Other areas of Germany may enjoy their beers, but here wine is king and that’s especially true in Stuttgart. Surrounded by rolling hills covered with vineyards, winemaking has been important not only in Stuttgart, but the entire region for as long as people have lived there. Wine has also always been big business in Stuttgart and while homes and business have reclaimed many of the city’s hills, Stuttgart has reserved some vineyards in order to preserve the culture. Meeting with the vintners who create this important city wine, I learned more about the history and tradition of wine making in the region. They’re trying to reimagine the classic styles for more modern palates so, even if you’ve tried them before, I recommend trying them again to see how they’ve evolved in recent years.
Not a big fan of vegetables, I could barely contain my excitement when I saw this unique item on the menu one sunny day. Wurstsalat literally translates to sausage salad, but can include any number of meats and cheeses. This isn’t a salad with meat on it, no, this is a salad almost entirely made up of delicious cold meats. A variety of cold cuts or sausages are sliced and then mixed with cheese, onions, vinegar, oil and pickles. The result is a tart and filling lunch comprised entirely of meat. An odd taste at first, especially since I don’t normally like pickles, I quickly got used to it and even found myself enjoying the meaty delight by the time lunch was over. My host told me it was a normal dish and indeed, looking around me I saw several other diners digging in to a big plate of sliced meats. It’s not something I’d have everyday, but was a great foodie find in a city full of them.
At the end of the day, while savory is fine, I have an incredible sweet tooth. Dessert is always an important event for me, and I wasn’t disappointed in Stuttgart or anywhere else in the region. While not particular to Swabia, Kaiserschmarrn is easy to find and delicious to enjoy. It’s a light, caramelized sweet pancake that is split into pieces while frying and served with powdered sugar and an applesauce or other compote. While not as sweet as a chocolaty dessert, it’s filling and tasty and more than satisfied my sweet cravings. Another Swabian go-to dessert are apple fritters, although they’re different from what most of us here in the US are familiar with. Whole slices of apple are battered and then deep fried, served while warm with ice cream or vanilla custard. Not the pastry I’m used to, they’re still tasty and perfect if the weather is chilly.
I’m never disappointed by the culinary offerings I find in Germany, but in Swabia I think I found my foodie soul mate thanks to these dishes and more that I discovered around the region.