Learning your knofibrot from your snitzel and your kölsch from your zunfttpunk is one of the most fun experiences in Cologne. Here’s a guide to get you started…
Street food is normally associated with Asian countries where people’s lives are played out in the open air and where the home is just a place to sleep.
But in Cologne, especially in the Christmas Markets in December, there is a strong tradition of socialising outside whilst warming your hands on a hot mug of gluwein and munching on a sandwich stuffed to over-flowing with freshly barbecued salmon or pork.
During my visit to Cologne, despite the non-stop rain and snow and freezing temperatures, many of my meals were eaten outside at the markets. This is due to the fact that everywhere I turned there were mouth-watering delicacies begging to be tasted and I needed many days to get through them all!
So, find your wooliest hat, your cosiest winter coat, your warmest gloves (preferably fingerless so you can fiddle with change and eat without having to remove them) and your thickest-soled boots and get out there with the locals to taste some amazing local street food and participate in a real German tradition.
Here are a few not-to-be-missed bites in Cologne’s markets, which are all made fresh to order:
The Salmon Sandwich
You will see stalls dedicated just to barbecuing whole sides of salmon on open barbecues and then serving the delicately spiced fish in sandwiches of fresh bread cakes with a creme fräiche sauce. Unmissable.
Roast Pork Sandwich
This beautifully roasted pork is carved to order and served warm in a sandwich with grated cabbage (or course; the Germans serve cabbage with everything) and delicious crackling from the pork itself. Smother this in mustard and you’re in heaven.
Surely you’ve seen these before; they are a long, juicy sausage served in a tiny bread bun. Bratwurst are the most famous German sausages but there are normally different ones to choose from. Anything followed by “wurst” is going to be a sausage or sausage meat. If you are not sure what to order, go right up to the suspended grill and see what looks good.
In the cathedral market (Markt Am Dom) I had curry wurst, which was one of those juicy sausages chopped into bite-sized chunks and served in a dish with a mildly spiced sauce over the top.
You might see variations of this name because the base used varies from place to place too. The best way to describe this is to say it’s like a pizza or open sandwich with a selection of ingredients (which you choose yourself) on a doughy base.
With Mediterranean ingredients like creme fräiche, chives, black olives and paprika, this was one of my favourite snacks in Cologne.
As well as all that you can get barbecued pork or chicken skewers, deep fried fish and chips (served with deep fried grated cabbage, a bit like a hash brown), snitzel (breaded pork), gnocchi in mushroom sauce with cabbage, raclette, deep fried battered potato dishes which the locals go mad for, and hearty home-made soup. Not to mention the wonderful array of cakes and pastries for dessert. And don’t forget that the Germans do cakes extremely well.
Don’t juggle your food and drink at the same time.
The last thing you want is to lose pieces of succulent pork or flaky salmon out of your sandwich, or to spill hot wine on yourself. So unless you are going to be resting at one of the high tables that you’ll see dotted around, eat first and and then drink.
There are plenty of large wooden stands around the markets serving gluwein and other warming drinks.
The way these places work is they serve your drink in the mug of that market and that year and they charge you a deposit for using the mug, which you get back when you return it empty. So if the gluwein is 2.50€ and the deposit the same, you pay 5€ up front and get half back when you return the mug.
The idea is that you don’t have to return the mug; instead you can keep it as a souvenir. I collected one mug from each market because they are pretty and each year they have a different design. If you do want to keep the mug, you don’t have to have the one that you have used; go back to the stand and ask for a clean one.
If you don’t fancy the gluwein (hot wine), you can try the glubier (hot beer), the Äpplewoi or zunfttpunk (hot cider) or a mug of hot chocolate. If you need more of a kick in your drink, get the gluwein with a shot of rum or amaretto. The best place to get this is at the chocolate museum market where they put a lump of brown sugar in your gluwein, cover it with the alcohol and then light it until all the sugar has burnt away.
And if you really don’t want a hot drink, simply order a glass of kölsch.
So, I think you are now ready to eat at Cologne’s winter markets! Maybe you’ve already eaten at a German market. What did you think? Have you tried any street food anywhere else? Share your experience in the comments below.
Want to learn more about Cologne’s winter markets? Click here.
About the Author: Lisa, born and grew up in England, live in Mallorca, Spain... Have visited more than 20 countries, have twice as many to yet visit, love sharing experiences....