The most well-known foods from North Rhine-Westphalia include Sauerbraten, waffles, potato pancakes, Halver Hahn, Himmel und Erde, and Spekulatus. Likewise, Alt, Pils, and Kölsch beers are enjoyed here, as well as a large selection of local wines.
Hearty vegetable soups and stews are very common in the Rhineland region. Seafood is also a favorite, with dishes such as eel, perch, trout, carp, and mussels.
Don’t be disappointed if you order a Halve Hahn/Halber Hahn in a Cologne pub. You won’t get what you expected, namely a half a chicken. Instead you’ll receive a buttered rye roll, halved and topped with Gouda cheese and mustard served with pickles and onions.
There are many legends surrounding the origins of the name “Halver Hahn”. For instance it is reported that a guest requested a bread roll in a pub in Cologne and was brought a whole roll instead of just a half whereby he commented ” „ääver isch will doch bloß ne halve han” („aber ich möchte doch bloß ein halbes haben”) meaning “but I only wanted a half”. A similar theory suggests that the name was adopted during the war, when cheese was cheap but bread was not and thus pub patrons would ask “kann isch och ne halve han?” (can I just have a half).
Reibekuchen, literally translated as “grated cakes” are also known as Kartoffelpuffer. While they are popular in all areas of Germany, they are most famous in the Rhineland, where they are also known as “Rievekooche”. You’ll find them being sold at street stalls, especially in Cologne, the most famous of which is situated outside the Cologne railway station. Classic potato pancakes served with homemade applesauce or sour cream are pure comfort food, but you can use your own culinary creativity to amp up the flavor. Add some scallions or a tablespoon of your favorite seasonal chopped fresh herbs for a pop of freshness. Basil, sage, tarragon, thyme, or rosemary would also work well with this recipe.
Döppekuchen is a form of potato cake that was once only eaten by the poor particularly around St Martin’s Day to take the place of the traditional goose, which would be a more costly menu item. It consists of grated potatoes, finely minced onions, eggs and spices and cover in sausage pieces or strips of bacon. The resulting potato-onion-egg mix is then baked in the oven for about 2 hours until it forms a crust, considered to be the best part of he dish. Purists insist that the dish should not be stirred during the baking period in order to keep the crust intact, however, it is also acceptable to stir it so as to distribute the crust throughout the dish.
Döppekooche has a variety of regional names such as Kulles in Holzfeld (Holzfelder Kulleslauf), Puttes, Dippekoochen, Kesselskooche, oder Knüles (Bad Godesberg). Close cousins of the Döbbekooche are Dibbelabbes, considered the state’s signature dish and made with the addition of leeks and Potthucke from the Sauerland, a rural, hilly area spreading across most of the eastern part of North Rhine-Westphalia, which is made with sour cream.
Sauerbraten, literally translated as “sour roast,” could arguably be called Germany’s National Dish, yet this most German of meals varies by region, more by virtue of ingredient differentiations than by preparation method. Generally It is made by marinating a beef roast in a sour-sweet marinade for 2 to 3 days before browning it, then simmering the meat in the marinade for several hours, resulting in a very tender roast and a delicious sauce. Rhineland Sauerbraten is generally sweeter and contains raisins and gingerbread whereas Swabian Sauerbraten has no sweetening or raisin. Regardless of the ingredients used to make Sauerbraten, the most important ingredient is time. The roast must marinade for three to four days before it is cooked. Sauerbraten is traditionally served with dumplings, boiled potatoes or noodles. In Swabia it is traditionally served with Spätzle.
Spundekäs is a cheese spread or dip from the city of Mainz and the nearby Rheingau and Rheinhessen winegrowing regions. It is usually served with a glass of wine and pretzel crackers. For me it’s more than a snack to enjoy only with wine, I find it just as good on a slice of wholesome bread.
The name Spundekäs comes from the word Spund, which in German is the cone-shaped plug of a wooden barrel. Spundekäs is therefore often served in that shape.
There are many different recipes for Spundekäs. The one ingredient they almost all contain is quark.