Saturday 2 May 2015

Vegetarian (More or Less) in Germany

In January, I went vegetarian. Well, more or less. 

Narrelle Harris and I decided we'd cut right back on eating meat, partly for animal welfare reasons and partly for environmental reasons.

However, I knew I'd probably eat meat occasionally. In my travel writer job, for example, I need to taste various types of food in order to write about it.

This approach is sometimes called "flexitarian". In reality though, we've eaten almost no meat at all while at home in Melbourne. It turned out that eating vegetarian and eating well - especially via the city's celebrated cafe scene - was not that hard at all. 

Apparently things had greatly improved since the days when the single vegetarian option might be a side salad.

It's been trickier when travelling, as I expected. And the greatest challenge would come, I imagined, here in Germany where I'm currently on the road.

Hotel breakfasts have been somewhat challenging. Until you've seen a German breakfast buffet, you have no idea how many varied forms pork can be fashioned into.

To be fair, there are many cheeses and breads present as well; but once you remove the pork, the hot dishes are usually reduced to scrambled eggs. Or maybe boiled eggs.

Things are not that tight later in the day, however. German bakeries are the great unsung heroes of the local cuisine, in my opinion. 

Not only do they produce excellent sandwiches (with vege variants), but they're very affordable for their quality. A budget traveller in Germany could do quite well existing on these bakeries' output.

Cafes have generally been OK as well, serving vege bagels and wraps.

Restaurants, I imagined, would pose more of a challenge; especially the more traditional ones. But there was a handy old-fashioned restaurant right next to my hotel in Augsburg, the Bayerisches Haus am Dom, which looked like a warm haven on a cold rainy day. So I gave it a try.

The menu was, as you might expect, heavily populated by pork. There were knuckles of pork, fried escalopes of pork, and roast filet of pork. If you tired of pork, you could order a fried calf's liver or half a duck.

Assembling a vegetarian option looked challenging. But there was enough to work with, once I looked at the items more closely.

For first course then, one of the specials of the day - a clear soup of chopped white asparagus and pancake strips:

That was great. The Germans and other Central Europeans have an obsession with fresh asparagus this time of year, so anything asparagus-related on the menu will be worth trying.

For my main, I went for a traditional Bavarian dish - spätzle. This is basically very small dumplings made of egg and flour, like a German gnocchi. This version was laced with cheese and topped with crunchy fried onions. Very tasty and filling.

After this course it was questionable whether I needed dessert, but it seemed a pity to skip the most reliably vegetarian course. So I ordered apple strudel, served with custard.

That was my traditional Bavarian three-course meal, and no meat to be seen. Something of a triumph. And at €22.60 including beer and coffee (about A$32 at current rates), it was very good value.

So maybe it's not as hard as I thought to cut back on meat in Germany. Though I have a food walking tour in Munich coming up... If sausages aren't involved, I'll be very surprised.

Disclosure: On this trip I'm travelling courtesy of the German National Tourist Board.

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