Words and Photograph by Sean CW Korsgaard
The weekend of September 19th through 20th marked Richmond Oktoberfest, which unlike the far more beer focused celebration in Shockoe Bottom next month, is largely focused on celebrating Richmond’s German-American community, culture and cuisine.
Most recognizable to Americans would likely be the wurst, or sausage, which in German cuisine, comes in many varieties due to each region of Germany having their own specialties. Among them, there are bratwurst, a sausage made from pork in a natural casing, knockwurst, made from finely-ground beef and pork, and weisswurst, a “white sausage” that is a traditional Bavarian sausage made from very finely minced veal and fresh pork back bacon.
However, the crown jewel of German cuisine is the schnitzel, most famously the wiener schnitzel, a large, tender cut of meat breaded in flour, beaten eggs, bread crumbs and a variety of spices depending on the region, and then lightly fried, and served with lemon. The meats used can include beef, pork, chicken or various game animals, but wiener schnitzel is exclusively made of veal.
Perhaps the most famous side dish of German cuisine is sauerkraut, or “sour cabbage”, a finely cut cabbage which is then pickled. Famously sour, it is either eaten on its own, or used as a topping on nearly any meat dish.
A lingering legacy of Germany’s once large Yiddish minority, potato pancakes are a popular side dish, almost always served with applesauce to dip them in. Applesauce originated as a dipping sauce in Germany and was not eaten plain until German immigrants brought it to the United States.
Another common side dish, again inherited from Germany’s Yiddish population, are dumplings known as knish, which are often stuffed with mashed potatoes, ground meat, sauerkraut, cheese or a combination thereof.
Breads and cheeses are a staple of nearly every meal. Breads are commonly either a dark bread, like pumpernickel, rye or sourdough, served as either a loaf, or as various pastries, perhaps most famously, the pretzel. They can be eaten plain, or topped with several varieties of yellow cheeses, mustards and marmalades.
German food would be incomplete without the pride and joy of any German meal – dessert. The German people place an immense amount of pride in their sweets and desserts, many of which have become famous the world over. These range from doughnuts to German chocolate, and of course, the apple strudel, an apple-filled pastry often served warm, and almost always with a heavy dollop of cream.
While finding a strictly German restaurant in Richmond is uncommon, thanks to centuries of German immigration to the United States, many of their dishes have become staples of our own cuisine, or adapted into dishes of our own, ranging from hamburgers to hot dogs. Still, if given the chance, sit down and have a schnitzel.