I explored Usedom at the invitation of Usedom Tourism, but all editorial and opinions are my own. Please note that while the island is divided between Poland and Germany, my posts refer only to the German part.
The island of Usedom is, Germany-wise, the furthest north I’ve been, and food-wise, I had little idea of what to expect. I knew the cuisine would of course differ hugely from the heavily landlocked area in which I live: in the Rheingau, we’re lucky to have one or two local river fish to choose from, but on an island in the Baltic Sea, I knew I’d be spoilt for choice. Mostly, I was very much looking forward to having a rollmop.
Usedom cuisine hasn’t changed much over time, for hundreds of years almost entirely reliant on what came out of the ground and the sea. Today, there’s much more meat and fruit available – most of it from the mainland – but happily, in the eyes of the hungry holidaymaker at least, there’s still plenty of fish*.
Much of the fish that’s sold on Usedom is caught fresh each day off the Baltic coast as well as inland in the Achterwasser, a large lagoon connected to the sea by the Peenestrom river. Many restaurants do serve locally farmed fish, or frozen fish that’s been caught in the Atlantic, but depending on the season, the Baltic Sea fish offering includes flounder (Flunder), plaice (Scholle), sprats (Sprotten), cod (Dorsch), eel (Ahl) and herring (Hering). There are also freshwater fishes from the Achterwasser, including bream (Barsch), zander (Zander), carp (Karpfen) and pike (Hecht).
The island’s traditional dishes are rustic and down to earth, strongly influenced in part by the historical need for preservation: fish is either cooked and served simply, perhaps fried, or in a stew or soup, else it’s preserved – pickled, soused or smoked. Sides are simple too, just the ticket for letting the fish be the star of the show. Here’s a small sample of what there is to eat on the beautiful Baltic sea island of Usedom. If you’d like recommendations for restaurants, I’ve also written a guide to where to eat it.
The shiny silver herring is unquestionably Usedom’s most important fish. In the 1800s, when the Baltic Sea was particularly rich with it, the state supported local fishermen and the impoverished by providing tax-free salt for its preservation. With a reputation as food for the poor, herring was shunned in restaurants for many years, but these days it’s acceptable once again – and very popular indeed.
Caught off the coast by huge trawlers and small-scale fisheries alike, much of the daily catch is preserved, filleted and either pickled in vinegar (Bismarck–Hering), or soused and coloured pink with beetroot (Matjes Hering). It’s also popular fried (Brathering). It’s generally either served a main with a potato side, or sandwiched into a crusty white bread roll (see Fischbrötchen, below); herring is widely available wrapped around something savoury – usually a pickled cucumber and/or a couple of slices of raw onion – and served as a rollmop (Rollmop).
Much of the fresh fish caught off Usedom is immediately prepared for smoking, a process done outdoors, over beechwood, in large metal smoking ovens. The smoked fish on offer in delis and restaurants includes mackerel, salmon, halibut and eel**. At the former, you can buy them in chunks (see below); at the latter, they’re usually served with a simple potato side so that you can fully appreciated the smokiness of the fish. A smoked mackerel rollmop stuffed with vegetable paste (also below) makes for a wonderfully messy treat on the beach.
You simply can’t understate the importance of a fish sandwich (Fischbrötchen) up on the north coast of Germany. Fillets of smoked, cured, fried or pickled fish are sandwiched into crusty white bread rolls along with salad, raw onion, pickled cucumber and remoulade. An inexpensive portable option for beach trips or hikes, if you’re a fish lover, they might well be right up there with one of the best sandwiches you ever have.
Originally hailing from Russia, this thick, sour and spicy soup made its way into eastern Germany with Soviet troops during the GDR, but rustic and warming, Soljanka (Solyanka) is still very popular on the island today. Made with vegetables, pickled cucumbers, and fish (or meat), it’s generally served with a crusty roll and perhaps a dollop of sour cream.
Sauces and sides
Cooked fish is served very simply on Usedom, often just with a herb butter or remoulade and a heap of vinegary cabbage salad or coleslaw alongside. Side dishes almost exclusively involve potatoes, but in addition to the Brat– and Salzkartoffeln (fried/boiled potatoes), there are a couple of regional options, too.
Pommersche Soße is a thick, brown, sweet and sour sauce. It’s made with a basic white roux, bacon, onions, vinegar and a little salt and sugar, which are puréed together till smooth. It goes very well with just about any kind of plainly-cooked white fish – I tried it with fried cod. Boiled potatoes are essential for mopping up the sauce from your plate at the end.
The name Fischtüfte, literally “fish potatoes” in local dialect, could be regarded as slightly misleading. There’s no fish in the dish itself; the “fish” refers to the selection of fresh chopped herbs that are mixed into it – herbs traditionally served with fish. Fischtüfte is simply mashed potatoes made with a little butter and milk plus the herbs, and sometimes small pieces of ham or bacon.
Backkartoffel mit Quark
A baked potato covered in quark (a dairy product that’s technically a cheese, but is texture and taste-wise more like thick, low-fat yoghurt) and chopped spring onions. What’s not to like? An excellent accompaniment to any kind of fish, but particularly those that have been smoked.
* It is of course nowhere near as simple as this. Having spent time with two of Usedom’s last remaining beach fishermen whilst I was on the island, I’m now researching the issues surrounding overfishing and the death of the Baltic Sea coast’s small-scale fisheries. As far as I currently understand it, for conservation purposes, herring catch quota in this stretch of water for 2019 has been cut by over two thirds.
**Baltic Sea eel is currently listed as a critically endangered fish species.
Recommendations for where to eat all of these local specialties can be found in my guide to where to eat in Usedom. I explored Usedom with Joe Baur, who’s added the island trip to his Off the Beaten Path Guide to Germany.