Bremen‘s closeness to the ocean and its role as a major harbor city have greatly influenced cooking in the region. This is evident in the many recipes using exotic ingredients imported from distant countries. Likewise, Bremen is known for its exceptional coffee which it obtains from its worldwide trade partners.
The most important vegetables in Bremen cooking are potatoes and kale. Grünkohl mit Pinkel (Kale with Sausage) is one of the favorite meals here. Kale is accompanied by Pinkel Wurst, which is a wurst made with oatmeal. Many clubs, associations, and groups of friends take part in numerous “Kohlfahrten” (kale tours). These consist of long hikes, after which they have dinner at local restaurants. Dinner consist of kale, wurst, and schnaps. After dinner, more schnaps and dancing.
Bremen is also well known for its beer and coffee. Not only is it the home of Becks Brewery, it is also home of one of Germany’s largest coffee producers, Jacobs Kaffee.
Bremer Labskaus is a traditional northern German dish that originated as a meal for sailors onboard large sailing vessels in the 18th century. It was originally made with salted beef (Pökelfleisch), since it kept well without refrigeration, potatoes and onions. Today’s variations are made a little finer by using cured or salted beef or corned beef and by adding beets, potatoes and herrings. Hamburger Aalsuppe is another popular dish in the region.
Given the influence of fish in North German cuisine, one would assume that Aalsuppe would be exactly what it describes, namely a soup made with eel (Aal means eel and Suppe means soup). While you’re indeed likely to find eel in an Aalsuppe in Hamburg, the name actually refers to the fact that this soup contains alles or everything! Originally a stew, Aalsuppe is made with meat bones to create a broth (ham hock or chicken parts for example), dried fruit to give a slightly sweet taste, stew vegetables, vinegar to give a sweet and sour taste and a variety of herbs such as parsley, thyme, marjoram, sage, chervil, mint, dill, sorrel and basil. Some recipes also add dumplings. While Aalsuppe does not necessarily have to contain eel, most recipes these days add pieces of smoked eel or eel cooked in wine to prevent tourists complaining about false advertising! Monkfish can also be substituted for eel, as it is common in the region.
Bremer Klaben is the Northern German version of Christmas Stollen that dates back to the mid 16th century during the height of the Hanseatic League. During this period, the League allowed the bakers access to the exotic ingredients traded by its member cities. A Bremer Klaben, like the Stollen, is made with sultanas or raisins, flour, butter, sugar, orange and lemon peel, rum, almonds, yeast and salt. This specialty is usually baked at the beginning of December and in such quantities as to last until Easter! Unlike Stollen it is not dusted with confectioner’s sugar after baking. Plettenpudding is a dessert that consists of layers of macaroons, raspberries, sponge cake (or lady fingers) and custard! It was made famous in the novel Buddenbrooks, written by famed German author Thomas Mann. Bremer Butterkuchen (Butter Sheet Cake) is also known as Zuckerkuchen (Sugar Cake), Beerdigungs-kuchen (Funeral cake) or Freud-und Leidkuchen (joy and sympathy cake) since it is often served at weddings and funerals. It is sweet and helps to lessen the sting of sadness.