Great German Side Dishes

Who Says Meat Has to Be the Main Attraction?

There are an infinite amount of side dishes to accompany German meals. Modern Germans steam plenty of broccoli, heat up cans of mixed vegetables and dress small salads. However, in restaurants and cafes one finds the traditional side dishes that are so very typical of German food. Accompanying such main foods as Schnitzel, Haxe, roast pork, sausages, Sauerbraten and smoked chops, side dishes generally play only a minor role. And although more often than not the main dish persuades the gastronome, it is in the side dishes that an average meal becomes a great meal. German side dishes need to be examined in more depth.

"What I say is that, if a fellow really likes potatoes, he must be a pretty decent sort of fellow." A. A. Milne

Potatoes (Kartoffeln)

The most common and important ingredient on the German plate is actually a new world food. Introduced in the 17th century, the potato has become synonymous with German cuisine. Known to every executive chef, fast food cook and home cook, potatoes are a mainstay throughout German and Austrian cuisine. The German potato is much like the American red or new potato. They are not very starchy when compared to an Idaho russet potato; German potatoes are much creamier in taste and smoother in texture. Here are the most common examples of potato side dishes:

Kartoffelbrei: Mashed potatoes. Whipped to a silky consistency with heavy cream and butter, chopped parsley is often sprinkled on top right before they are served. However, mashed potatoes are not as popular as fried potatoes.

Mashed potatoes and Sauerkraut with smoked pork.
Mashed potatoes and Sauerkraut with smoked pork.

Bratkartoffeln: Fried potatoes. After boiling the potatoes, they are sliced and fried in oil to perfection, often with bacon and onions, salted and sprinkled with pepper. These accompany many varying dishes, and are a favorite of home cooks.

Bratkartoffeln with a Jägerschnitzel
Bratkartoffeln with a Jägerschnitzel | Source

Salzkartoffeln: Basically just boiled potatoes with salt and parsley. Silky and smooth, they pare well with fish, or lighter dishes. Leftovers become Bratkartoffeln the next day!

Pellkartoffeln: Boiled potatoes with the skin left on.

Pellkartoffeln ready to be paired with meat, or perhaps eaten on their own.
Pellkartoffeln ready to be paired with meat, or perhaps eaten on their own.

Kartoffelsalat: Potato salad. I have never had what my American supermarket refers to as "German potato salad," that warm potato salad with a thick sauce. I’ve only had mayonnaise-based potato salad, and it was always served cold. Not to say warm potato salad does not exist, it does, but I do not remember coming across it at restaurants. Most potato salad is served with grilled sausages.

Potato salad with a bed of of sauerkraut holding up a couple of Bratwursts.
Potato salad with a bed of of sauerkraut holding up a couple of Bratwursts.

Pommes: French fries. German fries are rarely greasy, and always crunchy. Modeled after the Dutch and Belgian style fries, they are often served with Schnitzel. Pommes are Germany's most served side dish for street food.

French fries with a Holsteinschnitzel.
French fries with a Holsteinschnitzel.

Kroketten: Oval, thumb sized portions of mashed potatoes that have been coated with bread crumbs and then deep fried. Very tasty and a favorite of my students!

Kroketten, ready for anything!
Kroketten, ready for anything!

Klösse: A potato ball is the best way to describe these wonderful creations. Using raw, finely shredded potatoes as well as mashed potatoes, they are mixed together and boiled. The famous Thüringer Kloss has croutons in the middle, but every region in Germany has their own variations. They are then boiled for a few minutes until cooked and served immediately with a hefty portion of meat and gravy. Unlike mashed potatoes, Klösse actually suck up the gravy like a sponge.

Klösse, ready for gravy.
Klösse, ready for gravy.
One big Kloss, peas and carrots served with Sauerbraten.
One big Kloss, peas and carrots served with Sauerbraten.

Noodles and Dumplings

Nudeln: Just plain old basic noodles that are generally served with heavy meats and sauces.

Noodles with a stroganoff.
Noodles with a stroganoff.

Spätzle: A traditional noodle made in Swabia, south western Germany. Many different variations exist throughout Germany. Home cooks in Swabia often have their own Spätzle cutting boards or colander. The dough is pushed hard through the holes of the colander directly over boiling water. As the dough is forced through the holes, they are cut off and drop into the water forming little dumpling like noodles. Depending on the dish or the cook, these noodles are sometimes short and fat or sometimes they are long and dense.

Spaetzle, traditional noodles from Swabia.
Spaetzle, traditional noodles from Swabia. | Source

Knödel: Dumplings. These wonderful creations are a favorite of inns throughout Germany. Usually made with day-old rolls, they are steamed on the top of stews or roasts. In Bavaria, these dumplings are often served with a Haxe, a smoked pork shank.

Two Knödel with Sauerkraut and Schweinebraten.
Two Knödel with Sauerkraut and Schweinebraten. | Source

Limeys and Krauts

How did our friends across the pond get their names "Limey" and "Kraut"? The term Limey came about from English travelers or immigrants coming to the American colonies. In route, they always had to eat a lime in front of the captain to ensure that they did not contract scurvy, a horrific disease caused by a vitamin C deficiency. Germans also played an important part in early American history and during their travels to America they faced the same scourge of disease. German boats, however, rather than carrying limes, carried barrels of sauerkraut to ward of the malady. We can be quite rude, can’t we?

Other Vegetables

Erbsen und Möhren: Mixed peas and carrots in a bechamel sauce. Rarer at restaurants, but plentiful at homes throughout Germany.

Sauerkraut: The staple and the stereotype. Sauerkraut is fermented cabbage, and children generally run from its smell and even its name. Although an acquired taste, it’s as authentic as Germany gets! Quite pungent and tangy, it pairs well with hearty, smoked meats and fatty sausages.

Rotkohl: Using red cabbage, Rotkohl starts with shredded apples, onions and cabbage all sauteed and then drowned in a nice dark red wine. The sauce is reduced and the flavor concentrated. This is not fermented at all but does have nice vinegar notes.

Grüne Bohnen: Green beans: Not unlike the French haricot verts, German green beans are blanched and served immediately. Poured liberally over the beans are bread crumbs that were quickly fried in butter, which adds a buttery crunch to the beans.

Green beans waiting to be paired with roasted meat.
Green beans waiting to be paired with roasted meat.

There are plenty of other side dishes that are on menus throughout the German speaking areas of Europe. However, those described and illustrated above are generally the more popular and most common. Sometimes the best meal is the one with the best sides. And German cuisine has such excellent side dishes that they often become the main attraction.

Favorite Side Dish

What is your favorite German side dish?

  • Mashed potatoes (Kartoffelbrei)
  • Fried potatoes (Bratkartoffeln)
  • Regular boiled potatoes (Salzkartoffeln)
  • Potato salad (Kartoffelsalat)
  • French fries (Pommes frites)
  • Kroketten (Kroketten)
  • Potato balls (Klösse)
  • Peas and carrots (Erbsen und Möhren)
  • Sauerkraut
  • Red cabbage (Rotkohl)
  • Green beans (Grüne Bohnen)
  • Noodles (Nudeln)
  • Spaetzle
  • Dumplings (Knödel)
  • No side dish, just give me the main course!
See results without voting

Comments 14 comments

Rebecca2904 profile image

Rebecca2904 4 years ago

Helpful hub! Because I learnt most of my everyday German (about food, cooking etc.) in Germany, it's often the case that I understand the German exactly but I find it difficult to come up with the English translation. Often when friends and family visit me and we eat out, they'll ask me to translate a menu and I'll find myself saying 'it''s like... it's good, you should try it!'

gmarquardt profile image

gmarquardt 4 years ago from Hill Country, Texas Author

I completely understand! I do it all the time with student in Germany.

stephaniedas profile image

stephaniedas 4 years ago from Miami, US

All of your hubs are making me hungry. I don't know anything about German food, so this is educational too. Voted up!

Thelma Alberts profile image

Thelma Alberts 3 years ago from Germany

O my! You make me hungry. Thanks for reminding me how hearty and delicious German cuisine is. Voted up and more;-)

expertscolumn profile image

expertscolumn 3 years ago from New York

Interesting...except for the sausage of course, the other dishes have similarity with italian dishes. In appearance! I haven't tasted them ...yet

LaThing profile image

LaThing 3 years ago from From a World Within, USA

This hub brings back memories from my visits to Germany, many moons ago! Beautiful pictures..... I remember eating the warm potato salad, and sausages at the Market on Rhine River, Frankfurt. Everything tasted so fresh. Thanks for sharing this wonderful hub, voting up and awesome!

Billie Kelpin profile image

Billie Kelpin 3 years ago from Newport Beach

Ah, but you haven't had MY hot German potato salad. I make the best in the whole wide world because it's my (Berhoefer-Schmidt-Graf) mom's recipe. That's the only thread of cultural identity the family kept as 2nd generation children growing up in Milwaukee, WI during World War II. They let go of everything else because of the history of the times I believe. But I've got German potato salad in my genes!

gmarquardt profile image

gmarquardt 3 years ago from Hill Country, Texas Author

I've got to find some warm potato salad now!!!

Thelma Alberts profile image

Thelma Alberts 2 years ago from Germany

I´m back again and looking at those food makes me hungry especially that I´m far from Germany now. Have a nice day!

rebeccamealey profile image

rebeccamealey 2 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

I was just talking the other day about how much I love German cuisine. These dishes look awesome. You have really made me want German tonight! Thanks!

phdast7 profile image

phdast7 2 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

My father's family was Polish and German. Oh what memories you brought back of my grandmother;s cooking! :) Wonderful hub, great recipes and great pictures. :)

Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 2 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

Also love the cucumber salads! I can never get the dressing just right. I have a group of former military friends who get together and cook German. We have a great German meat market nearby - but no good bakery for brochen. Great topic - hungry already. Gut Geshmecht!

dis-cover profile image

dis-cover 2 years ago from Serbia, Belgrade

Very detailed and useful hub. Thanks for sharing this great recipe!!! Voted up as awesome.

suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 2 years ago from Taos, NM

Oh my goodness, my mouth is watering. The photos are gorgeous and scrumptious. I lived in Germany many years ago and I have eaten all these types of potatoes and veggies. I miss German food and I am constantly on the hunt for good German restaurants. I love spaetzle so much and miss the German spaetzle the most. Thanks for an informative and interesting hub on German side dishes. I loved reading this.

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