Those dishes marked with an asterisk were paid for by Tourismus NRW E.V. on a food tour of the city (more details at the end). All words and opinions are my own.
The large and vibrant city of Düsseldorf, capital of the state of North Rhine Westphalia (Nordrhein-Westfalen), is well known for its international cuisine, and particularly that of the city’s large Japanese community. There is also, however, plenty of regional German food and drink to be tried in Düsseldorf too, too. The region in which the city is situated is large and in terms of agriculture, landscapes and culinary traditions varied, so its cuisine is far from uniform. Broadly speaking though, it’s simple and hearty, not infrequently tending towards sour flavours, and a plate of good food is usually accompanied with a glass of good cold, locally-brewed beer.
I’ve visited Düsseldorf on a couple of occasions during the last six months (I’ve written a separate post about one of those trips) and though I’ve not have the time or opportunity to explore the local specialties anywhere near fully, I have tried a handful of staples to date. Here’s what I’ve sampled, and what I recommend you try to get your hands on – in some cases quite literally – to eat and drink if you’re visiting Düsseldorf yourself.
What to eat in Düsseldorf
Himmel und Erde
Himmel and Erde, also to be found on menus in regional dialect as Himmel und Ääd/Ahd, translates quite literally as “heaven and earth”. It’s a satisfying plateful of mashed potatoes (which come from the earth) and stewed apple (from the trees – in the sky) that’s generally served with fried slices of blood sausage and fried onions, too.
Where to eat it: I enjoyed a very good portion of Himmel und Erde at the popular Eigelstein in Düsseldorf’s Unterbilk neighbourhood. Their menu lists a decent selection of other regional dishes, and the busy pub has outside seating and a relaxed, friendly atmosphere.
Soleier are a traditional brewery snack in Düsseldorf (and no doubt further afield) of pickled eggs that you peel and prepare in a specific way.
The eggs are hard boiled and pickled in vinegar, salt, garlic and spices such as bay, caraway and peppercorns, and often available just sitting in a jar on the bar. Served as a pair, you peel them and slice them in half – top tip, dip your knife in your beer first, and the yolk won’t stick to it – and then remove the yolks. Into each little yolk hole goes a bit of mustard, oil, vinegar, pepper and salt, and you then plop the yolk halves back into whence they came.
When it comes to eating your Soleier, each half egg should go down in one, and in Düsseldorf at least, be enjoyed with a glass of the local top-fermented Altbier (see below). A pleasingly hands on snack; messy, tasty and fun.
Where to eat Soleier: I tried mine at the Uerige, which I was told is Düsseldorf’s oldest microbrewery, likely founded at some point in the 1600s. Here, you’ll find very traditional decor, a lively, friendly atmosphere, and happy beer drinkers spilling out onto the street.
Düsseldorf is home to a couple of iconic German mustard brands. The largest of these is Löwensenf, which was founded in the city of Metz in 1903 and moved to Düsseldorf after the end of the first world war. The company later took over two smaller mustard producers, ABB (recipe likely unchanged since 1726) and Radschläger. As of 2012, mustards produced in Düsseldorf to specific regulations are known as Düsseldorfer Mostart (Düsseldorf Mustard) under EU-protected geographic indication (PGI).
Where to try it (and buy it): At the Düsseldorfer Senfladen (Düsseldorf Mustard Shop) located in the city’s old town, you can taste a range of classic mustards from all three brands as well as some quirky Löwensenf mustards such as red wine and plum, coconut curry and honey and dill. It’s also a great spot to shop for souvenirs.
What to drink in Düsseldorf
Altbier – frequently shortened to Alt – is a dark, top-fermented beer largely produced in the Lower Rhine (Niederrein) and Westphalia (Westfalen) regions, particularly popular in Düsseldorf. A malty, aromatic and slightly bitter beer of just under 5% alcohol content, there’s also stronger version of Altbier called Sticke, which is only available at specific times of the year.
Where to drink Altbier: Altbier is available all over the city, and there are eight brewpubs that produce it on site. I had a glass at the Uerige microbrewery in the city’s old town (Altstadt), where it was particularly enjoyable alongside a pickled egg (see Soleier, above).
Killepitsch is fruity, warming, ruby-red liqueur of 42% proof made to a secret recipe of over 90 different herbs, spices, fruits and berries. It dates back to 1858, but only became an official company in the 1950s after acquiring the name “Killepitsch” during the second world war. (There’s a lovely story as to how the liqueur got its name.)
Where to drink Killepitsch: You’ll find Killepitsch served in pubs and bars across the city, but there’s only really one place to order it like a local – through the outside window of the wonderfully quaint old town (Altstadt) bar, Et Kabüffke. If you’d like to buy a tiny bottle as a souvenir then it’s also available in three shops across the city, as well as duty-free at Düsseldorf Airport.
Three hour guided food tours of Düsseldorf’s old town (Altstadt) cost 39€ for adults and 25€ for children including tastings. Visit the Düsseldorf Tourism website for more information and booking. (All in English.)