Must Eat Foods In Hamburg And Where To Eat Them

By Lory Kuqo, a creative soul with a love of art and writing who practised law in Albania before moving to Hamburg for her masters - and didn’t leave after meeting her husband!
Edited by Jess Wright


When one thinks of typical German fare a few stock standard meals come to mind, but Hamburg is about to blow you out of the water because this land flowing with the River Elbe and two of its tributaries, as well as numerous canals and lakes, is simply full of surprises; namely water-sourced delicacies and all manner of potato delights. If you’re coming from Southern Germany and are in dire need of a break from the heavier dishes, I have some excellent news. Kiss those sausages, schnitzels, sauerkraut and pretzels goodbye – you’re in for a refreshing treat! Unlike most of central and Eastern Europe, where red meat is king, in Hamburg a lighter, fishier diet rules.  Being a resident of this magical city for over five years now, I have had my fair share of the delicious cuisine Hamburg has to offer, and while one might think that hundreds of variations of potato and fish could get a bit old, I am still wild about it. They key is knowing where to go and what to look for, so in this Hamburg food guide I will explain the must eat food in Hamburg, as well as where to eat in Hamburg with a tried and tested list of my favourite restaurants in Hamburg.

Fischbrötchen

Fischbrötchen has to be number one on my list of must eat food in Hamburg, and is found on any Hamburg food guide worth its salt. Translating to “fish bun” the description is in the name; a sandwich filled with fish! Seemingly humble, this simple snack is traditionally made with pickled or soused herring (bismarckhering and matjes respectively) and garnished with onion, pickles and remoulade sauce. There are options to have the fish fried up or battered, or to swap out pickled herring for some salmon or mackerel. However you choose to compile your fischbrötchen, be sure to enjoy it with a view of the River Elbe, and of course with a cold beer in your other hand. Bruecke 10 offers both of these, and affordable prices to boot, but if variety is what you’re after head to Atlantik fisch. This fischbrötchen vendor offers twenty different types to choose from and it wins first prize among the locals for the best in town. You could also get this delicious Hamburg street food straight from the source by combining your meal with a visit to the Fischmarkt, an experience that appears on almost every list of things to do in Hamburg.

 

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Labskaus

Ok, so when I said that in Hamburg you would depart from a diet of red meat that wasn’t entirely true. However, while the main ingredient – in what certainly falls among the traditional Hamburg food specialties – is salted meat or corned beef, it still has strong ties to the ocean, traditionally being a take-along for sailors heading out on long journeys at sea, hence the meat being salted, and the sides being mostly of a pickled variety. The salted meat and corned beef that form the main component of this dish are usually accompanied by potatoes and onion. The dish is traditionally served with pickled beetroot, gherkin and herring, all of which bring a sweet balance to an otherwise salty meal, as well as a fried egg. While this might not be one for your insta-feed, what with a rather lumpy and mildly unappealing aesthetic, it likely won’t last long enough on your plate to be photographed anyway. Try this dish in the traditional, wood-paneled interior of Das Dorf where your Labskaus is served with tasty homemade bread, or tie it up with your sightseeing and pop into the Old commercial Room, a classic right beside St. Michaels Church.

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Finkenwerder Scholle

And as promised, we’re back to fish! You might have already guessed it from the vast amount of fish in Hamburg’s cuisine, but Hamburg was once home to many fisherman and this dish in particular is named after a district which was once a fishing village. The type of fish (plaice, or scholle) is a favorite in Northern Germany, and in this iteration it is baked or fried with bacon, onions and shrimp. To enjoy this one in the ambience it was named after I suggest you head to Finkenwerder on the Ladungsbrücke, where you can enjoy your meal beside the ferry stop, with the fresh North sea air to put you in mind of the many fisherman that came before. Aalspeicher in Altstadt in another place where this meal can be enjoyed in its traditional glory, as is Fischerhaus which, as the name suggests, is all about serving up the delicious spoils of the sea, going to great lengths to do justice to the hard-caught ingredients of Hamburg’s fisherman.

Grünkohl

The German version of kale, Grünkohl is not necessarily something you’d expect when asking what to eat in Hamburg, what with the heart-warming meals you have grown accustomed to. But fear not; in true German fashion this common health superfood is served in a manner that would make health gurus turn over in their shavasana. Here the kale is stewed for hours before it is served with the smokey sides of pork, heaps of boiled or fried potatoes and up to two types of sausage! Served throughout winter – beginning after the first winter frost – this dish is delicious enough to have you heading up and down the plentiful steps of Hamburg for some much-needed cardio. Widely celebrated among locals, there are entire tours (kohlfahrt) dedicated to the honouring the dish; if you feel equally inspired why not head out on a ‘kohlfahrt’ of your own? It involves hours of walking with friends, before settling into a restaurant to devour as much grünkohl as humanly possibly. The kohlfahrt ends with drinking games dancing and till the wee hours! Laufauf is a favourite among locals.–with huge portions and a cozy atmosphere, it’s the perfect place for anyone wanting to indulge in this merry tradition.

Franzbrötchen

This French roll, made with loads of butter and cinnamon is a local speciality. Quite literally called “the French roll,” among locals, it might seem counterintuitive that this is a Hamburg specialty, but it was merely inspired by the French, and artfully executed by the citizens of Hamburg. Today the Franzbrötchen is made with all sorts of decadent additions; raisins, chocolate, macadamia, marzipan, or (maybe for the slightly more health conscious?) pumpkin seeds. The perfect accompaniment to a steaming cup of coffee, the melt-in-your-mouth pastry is rumoured to be a happy by-product of the Napoleonic occupation of Hamburg in the 19th century. The only place to get your fix of this tantalising buttery goodness is Kleine Konditorei. The award winning bakery almost always boast a morning queue that wraps right around the block; a clear indication that this is a must for where to eat in hamburg, particularly when it comes to Franzbrötchen.

Pannfisch

When you at as much fish and potatoes as people do in Hamburg, you can bet there will be a dish that uses some of those delicious leftovers. That dish is pannfisch with baked potatoes. Another genius invention of the less wealthy working class of old, this dish sprung from the need to use everything, making excellent use leftover fish and potatoes from the previous dinner. Of course nowadays the dish has evolved into something more refined, veering from the traditional leftovers dripping in mustard, to a sophisticated combinations of fresh, herby fish in a light mustard sauce. It is possible to find a battered and fried version of the dish for anyone in danger of being too healthy. Anno 1905 with its inviting, if rustic, atmosphere and humble mix of furniture makes for a friendly spot to enjoy this specialty. Having been around for decades it is a firm local favourite and truly authentic amongst Hamburg places to eat. If robust portions are what you’re after, you’ll find them at Freudenhaus in St. Pauli, right next to the infamous Reeperbahn. Surprisingly quiet, this cosy spot offers huge portions and friendly service.

Brathering

This fragrant dish of dish of fried marinated herring is typically enjoyed by the residents of northern Germany as a lunchtime snack and Hamburg version of fast food or take-out. Unexpectedly, the fried dish is usually served cold, after the heads and guts of the herring are removed, and the meat has been breaded or dusted in flour and fried. Only once fried is the battered fish marinated in white vinegar, onion, salt, pepper, bay, mustard seeds, and dash of sugar. Though there might be fine bones, they are generally dissolved in the marinade, so feel free to guzzle these down unihibted. This is another one best enjoyed bright and early at the at the fish market.

Hamburger Hummersuppe

If you consider yourself a foodie prepare to be very excited; this Hamburg classic is a showstopper! Lobster soup served with a heap of whipped cream and garnished in dill, with an added splash of Cognac, I have one word, three syllables, la-di-da! Don’t skimp when selecting a spot to indulge in the exquisite creation. Splash out with a trip to the Atlantic restaurant at the Hotel Atlantic Kempinski. The famously elegant restaurant offers a spectacular view onto Aussenalster Lake while you dine, and serves other classics – perhaps not entirely traditional, but certainly delicious – such as sole meunière, steak tartare and crêpe Suzette. With a history of grand Hanseatic tradition behind its name, this Lobster Bisque has remained on the menu at the Atlantic Restaurant for over a century. Positively an institution in Hamburg, this a must-see among nighttime jaunts in Hamburg. For some other great ideas on a night out in this very nightlife-friendly city, check this great nightlife guide.

Currywurst

Being in Germany, there has to be at least one version of “wurst” on the list, and here it is; currywurst. An example of more traditional German food in Hamburg, the currywurst first made its appearance in a food kiosk in West Berlin, and can be attributed to Herta Heuwer. As the legend goes, the wurst is a wartime invention of WWII, created when Heuwer obtained tomato paste and Worcestershire Sauce from British soldiers. Mixed up and served over grilled pork sausage, the currywurst was born and is today a famous German fast-food, as popular in Hamburg as in any other German city. There is no escaping the well-loved snack, so give in and give it a go at Mö-grill in Jungfernsteig where the currywurst is served in the traditional way – chopped up on a paper tray and topped with Heuwer’s sauce, and fresh bun to sop up the juices. If you happen to be in St. Pauli, pop into the tiny interior of Imbiss bei Schorsch that offers disproportionately large servings of sausage, accompanied by in-house potato salad rather than the usual chips. This hidden gem has only two tables and tucked away in a trendy neighbourhood adorned with street art it is one of many cool restaurants in Hamburg.

Rote Grütze

No good food guide is complete without dessert, which brings us to the ideal after dinner (or early morning) sweet treat; Rote Grütze. A red fruit pudding cooked from black and red currants, raspberries or cherries and served with milk, vanilla sauce or ice cream, introduced to Hamburg by the pastry experts – the Danes. Now a well-loved North German dish, it comes in different colours and is found on many café and restaurant menus, enjoyed best with coffee. You can find this yummy dessert at Fischereihafen-Restaurant where it might be enjoyed as a delightful end to fish dinner, with picturesque harbour views.

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