Traditional dishes from Germany’s Northeast have a distinct character which they owe to the state’s landscape and its natural resources. The regional cuisine offers an astounding variety of fish and seafood dishes as well as hearty and nutritious cooking using local crops which grow plentifully in the fertile soil. The names of certain dishes in Germany’s North may look and sound strange even to a native speaker of German since traditional dishes often are known by their name in Platt, the dialect of the country’s Northernmost states, including the Hanseatic city states Bremen and Hamburg. Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania’s young generation of chefs has successfully taken local cuisine into a more modern direction which makes it more compatible with today’s lifestyle and its challenges.
The coastal waters of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania provide a unique habitat and are particularly rich in fish. The irregular shape of the Baltic coastline creates innumerable small bays almost completely enclosed by land. The local word for these typical inlets is Bodden, a term which can be found in many of the regional seafood species and the dishes they are used in (e.g. Boddenbarsch, a type of perch found in Baltic coastal waters). The narrow openings of these inlets keeps the water’s salt content very low, so low in fact that freshwater fish can thrive in this special habitat. Fish caught in these Baltic bays are especially tender and flavorful.
The riches of the Baltic Sea have been severely reduced over-fishing but still provide employment to both deep sea and coastal fishermen. The catch is diverse with over 100 fish species, including cod, the staple fish of the Baltic Sea, herring, flounder and many others. Herring has always played a major role in the state’s history. This was especially true during the second half of the 18th century when herring was particularly abundant along the Baltic Coast and became known as the common man’s food. In recent decades, however, stocks of herring have decreased dramatically due to strong demand. With a market share of around 25 percent, Herring is still by far the most popular fish among German consumers.
The Baltic islands with their seemingly endless miles of coastline and fertile land have always provided plentiful sustenance to local fishermen and farmers. The most traditional dishes from the islands are straightforward and don’t require very much in terms of preparation. Naturally, the islands’ cooking abounds with fish and seafood dishes like broiled cod or eel soup.
Agriculture has always been essential to the well-being of both the people and the economy of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. A wide variety of grains, potatoes, cabbage and root vegetables thrive on the region’s fertile land. One of the most popular traditional ways of preparing local crops is by throwing them together in one pot. Mangkokt-Äten, as it is known in the local dialect, is a meat and vegetable one-pot dish which usually consists of cabbage, carrots, turnips, often peas and usually pork. This hearty dish provided perfect nourishment to hardworking farm workers. Once the potato had become the food of the common people, the urban middle class began serving potatoes, meat and vegetables separately.
Some traditional desserts from the lands of Mecklenburg and Pomerania include rhubarb compote (in late spring), red fruit pudding (Rote Grütze) in the summer, served with milk or vanilla sauce, potato pancakes and freshly made apple sauce during the fall harvest season. For the winter months, fruit was preserved through bottling or drying processes. Two early and simple modes of preparation for cake can still be found today because they are quite easy to prepare: Plattenkauken (Blechkuchen in standard German) are sheet cakes baked in the oven, Pottkauken are cakes prepared in a pan on the stovetop.
People of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania have a long tradition of celebrating seasonal local produce and fish. The earliest of these culinary celebrations are the herring weeks which are kicked off on the island of Rügen. They entail various rituals but above all the feast of freshly caught herring served in many different ways – freshly fried with or without batter, marinated, pickled or smoked. The island of Usedom also is famous for its herring week during which restaurants offer an astounding variety of herring-based dishes. At the end of these culinary weeks the “Golden Herring” is awarded for the most original dish. A common dish from the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern region of Germany is with marinated eel – eel in dill sauce.
Next is the celebration of horn fish season (Rügener Hornfischtage) which falls around May. Horn fish have naturally green bones and are usually served with mashed potatoes and rhubarb stew. Again local chefs compete with each other to be crowned best horn fish restaurant. The most important crops also have food festivals dedicated to them which fall into harvest season. In September Usedom Island holds its popular “Tüftentagen” during which the potato rules supreme, whereas the island of Rügen holds cabbage weeks (Rügener Kohlwochen) in October.