In the market squares of towns and villages all over Germany, fairy lights are twinkling on the branches of towering Christmas trees and the roofs of little wooden huts beneath them. Tall, thin streams of hot, Glühweiny steam rise from between mittened hands and the scent of Lebkuchen and roasting chestnuts fills the air. It’s a pretty magical time of year round here, and you’d have to be a bit of a Scrooge not to get caught up in the seasonal cheer.
The thing is, it’s bitterly cold out there. If you’re going to spend an evening wandering around outside when it’s zero degrees (or less), then you’re going to have to find a way to stay warm, and a woolly hat and knitted scarf aren’t going to do the job on their own. From the ubiquitous steaming hot mulled wine (Glühwein) to deep-fried, grated potato cakes with apple sauce (Kartoffelpuffer mit Apfelsosße), chunks of Stollen and chocolate-covered gingery Christmas biscuits (Lebkuchen), there’s plenty of ways to keep toasty at the Christmas markets, and everyone’s got their favourite.
I asked six of my fellow food-loving friends and bloggers to share their most-loved Christmas market culinary treats, and here’s what they came up with: a collection of surprisingly unusual festive delights…
1. Liv Hambrett: The specialties of the north
Seeing as the Northerners, like all Germans before them, are fiercely proud of their region and the dialect, food, and traditions that come with it, I assumed I would find some very definite Weihnachtsmarkt treats peculiar to this area. I combed through the seeming thousands of Bratwurst and Pommes (fries) stalls, ate a doorstop of a Dresdener Handbrot (pictured above), and pondered over whether Schmalzkuchen (or Muzen, as it is known here – bite-sized, fried vanilla and lemon flavoured donuts) has its origins in the north. I am still not sure about the latter, but then again, as I wandered around poking a mayo lathered chip into my mouth, I considered the hard truth that there isn’t anything at the northern German Weihnachtsmarkt that is particularly special – except for perhaps marzipan, courtesy of Lübeck.
Then I realised something. There are two things you will most definitely find up here that you perhaps won’t elsewhere. Firstly, you will almost always find fish and chip stands. The Northerners adore their fish, and come Christmas time, tucked in among the more classically German treats, are the beloved Fischbrötchen (fish sandwich) and Backfisch kit Pommes (fish and chips). And swaying from Bratwurst to Pommes to Backfisch to Glühwein stand, you will find the second fixture of North German Weihnachtsmärkte: drunk Scandinavians.
2. Emma Raphael, A Bavarian Sojourn: Sweet steamed dumplings
Behold two stalwarts of a truly traditional German Christmas Market: a Feurzangenbowle (a particularly potent mulled wine containing melted rum-soaked sugarloaf) and behind it, but by no means any less important, my chosen Christmas Market favourite, the glorious Dampfnudel. Look closely and you can spot my son in this picture. If the pudding in question looks roughly around the size of his head, it’s because it is, and I can’t remember complaining about that!
Not for me the savoury Christmas Market treats of Bratwurst and the like. When perusing the festive stalls in freezing temperatures, and when in need of some serious inner central heating, then you will find me ordering a hot sweet steamed Dampfnudel. The best are light, fluffy, and with a slightly crispy base. It’s imperative that it’s also served drowned in hot custard, and served with only one spoon… enjoy!
3. Kate from Sole Satisfaction: Deep-fried dough
Langós, a glorious fried dough concoction, can be covered with a variety of toppings, from spicy sauce and a sprinkling of cheese to the more German-inspired apple sauce and cinnamon sugar, and is served fresh out the frier to warm the chilliest of winter hands.
This simple, affordable food originally hails from Hungary and is traditionally served with little or no accompaniment, but I greatly appreciate the variations that have been brought to Germany. I’ve tried Lángos at various Christmas markets around Germany, but the Weihnachtsmarkt in Erfurt produces one that is off-the-charts good.
4. Rachel Preece of Arts in Munich: Roast chestnuts
The Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazin recently suggested that most people buy roast chestnuts solely because they’ve forgotten their gloves, and need their hands warming. I think this is unfair on the humble chestnut. Apart from a whisky toddy, there’s nothing more comforting than a brown paper bag filled with sizzling chestnuts on a cold winter’s day. When everyone else is struggling with a sticky, creamy Lángos or impractically long sausages at the Christmas markets, I’m busy peeling those sweet, glossy nuts. And the aroma – that’s Christmas right there.
5. Kristen from Travelling Hopefully: Rolled noodles
When I’m running around Christmas shopping, I usually crave something a little more filling than the usual cookies, candied nuts and chocolate covered fruits. That’s why my favorite food at the Weihnachtsmarkt is a Swabian classic: Schupfnudeln mit Kraut and Speck (noodles with cabbage and bacon). These thick, rolled noodles are a bit like long gnocchi and very common in the south where they make big frying pans full of it at the Christmas markets. You can prepare them any way you would most other noodles, however, my favorite is to have them pan-fried in Sauerkraut with bits of ham. The cabbage and ham add a vinegary zing and a nice meaty heartiness that warms me up enough to face the Christmas crowds.
6. Ebe Porter of Back to Berlin… and Beyond: Meatloaf
Remember when spam had a renaissance a few years ago, along with cheap PBR beer and all things white trash, cheap and delicious? Maybe that only happened in the States. In any case, my love for the salty mystery meat in loaf form was reignited. So perhaps it is no surprise that when I arrived in Berlin at Christmas time and was told that Leberkäse – German mystery meat in loaf form – was a classic, I gobbled it down. Not exclusively available at Christmas, this is the only time I feel compelled to eat it. Served with spicy German mustard and a roll nearly frozen solid from the cold, it staves off the near-hypothermia that accompanies most Weihnachtsmarkt visits.
So there we have it: a little culinary inspiration for your Christmas market outings this season. Have you tried any of these? What’s your favourite? And what Christmas market classics have I missed off that you consider unmissable?