The Hanseatic League was a group of trading guilds (Hanse) that existed during the 13th – 17th centuries. The purpose of this league was to maintain a trading monopoly over Northern Europe, in particular the Baltic Sea and the North Sea. While the League disintegrated in the late 16th Century, three of its cities, namely Bremen, Hamburg and Lübeck, remained members until the League’s final demise in the mid 1800’s. To this day, these three cities still refer to themselves as Hanseatic Free Cities.
From a culinary perspective, membership of the Hanseatic League, with its extensive international trading network, provided a wealth of luxurious, foreign ingredients. These ingredients were otherwise unavailable at that time, which lent a foreign flavor to the Hanseatic food. This had the effect of distinguishing Hanse cities from the surrounding regions of Schleswig-Holstein, East-Friesland, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Lower Saxony, all of which make up Northern Germany.
Cooking in the German state of Hamburg has been influenced by its abundant supply of seafood, as well as from its worldwide trade of spices and luxury foods. Its trade partners also brought with them cooking techniques and recipes from foreign countries.
Hamburg cooking is known for its seafood dishes. Various types of fish, crab, herring, lobster, and eel are among the favorites. A traditional and simple lunch in Hamburg is Brathering with fried potatoes.
Typical seasonings used in Hamburg cooking include cayenne pepper, anise, paprika, cumin, bay leaves, cloves, saffron, curry powder, nutmeg, pepper, juniper berries, cardamom, allspice, and cinnamon.
In the Middle Ages, Hamburg had hundreds of breweries. It was in Hamburg where the discovery of hops as an ingredient to beer was made. Although many breweries still exist in Hamburg, the best-known throughout Germany is the Holsten Brewery.
Hamburg is one of the five states in Germany that border the coastline of the North and Baltic Seas. It’s no surprise, therefore, that the regional cuisine has a heavy seafood influence. This influence is so great, that northern Germans are often given the unflattering nickname of Fischköpfe (fish heads). However, there’s more to the cuisine of Bremen and Hamburg than just fish.
Grünkohl und Pinkel (kale and sausage) is a very popular dish among Northern Germans. It is a hearty stew made from kale, smoked sausages called Pinkel and other pork products. Kale made its way to Northern Germany from the Mediterranean and has since become a staple few Northerners could do without. Kale is best harvested after some days of frost which helps turn the plant’s starch to sugar, giving the dish a subtle sweet flavor. This robust stew requires a slow cooking process with several hours of simmering time. The oddly sounding Pinkelwurst is a smoked sausage made with pork, groats (oats and barley), suet, onions, salt, pepper, pork fat, bacon and other spices. The exact recipe differs from sausage maker to sausage maker, who keep their individual recipes secret.
Rote Grütze is another dish that’s not quite as it sounds, but still delicious! Literally translated the words mean red grits or red groats. While the original dish was indeed made with grits/groats and red fruit juice, the recipe has been adapted to a more palatable and lighter dish. Today it is made with summer red berries and thickened with cornstarch or sago instead of grits. While there are many ways to make Rote Grütze, the classic recipe uses Sauerkirschen (sour cherries), red and black currants and raspberries.