Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Dumplings in Munich

Bacon and herb dumplings in a rich broth of mushrooms and cream is Bavarian comfort food at its finest

As jolly and hearty as Bavaria itself, dumplings, or Knödel, have been a cornerstone of this region’s cuisine since records began. Local legends even talk of dumplings being thrown at an enemy to end a 13th-century siege of the town of Deggendorf. With dumplings on the menu of most of its inns and beer halls, Bavaria’s largest city, Munich, is the perfect place to sample them.

Munich’s Hofbräuhaus, once the royal brewery, is one of the oldest beer halls in Germany
At least as old as their first mentions on 11th-century parchments, Knödel (or Klöse to north Germans) are one of Germany’s most enduring and adaptable dishes. In the Middle Ages, meat dumplings, or Fleischknödel, were popular among the wealthy, who commonly used bread to bind them; the peasant version, reversing the proportions, was the Semmelknödel – a bread dumpling incorporating scraps of meat. The potato, arriving from Latin America in 1565, hardly challenged the Knödel at all, simply inspiring the potato dumpling. By the 19th century, Bavarians considered and declared the Knödel a national dish.
Like the Knödel, Munich is a Bavarian icon and has been its capital since 1503. Its remarkably compact medieval core boasts a glorious Renaissance palace, atmospheric squares, venerable churches, and museums that can keep art-lovers occupied for days. Yet much of Munich’s charm today lies in its vibrancy, as the energetic, modern capital of Germany’s high-tech industry. This energy shines in the summer when beer gardens, street cafés, and bars are in full swing, or during the world-famous Oktoberfest beer festival, when the city loses its head. Fortunately, if you need to escape the madness, these are also great times to visit the Alpine lakes and mountains that are only an hour’s drive or train ride from the city.
Such a journey will take you through traditional Bavarian countryside, from which the ingredients of Munich’s Knödel still come. Of the three main types of dumpling – meat, bread, and potato – the most popular is the Semmelknödel, based on stale rolls soaked in milk and broken down into doughy crumbs, mixed with onion, parsley, and lemon peel, though countless variations exist: Speckknödel have bacon bits in the mix, and Leberknödel are made with liver.
Dumplings can be served in soups or as a side order, but come into their own in classic main dishes, smothered with tangy beef or venison goulash or a rich and creamy mushroom sauce – one of Germany’s few traditional vegetarian meals. But it doesn’t stop there – only by ordering dessert Knödel, either served cold or sliced and fried and accompanied by stewed fruit, will you prove yourself a dedicated dumpling diner.
The Best Places to Eat Dumplings
Wirtshaus in der Au moderate
This lovely old Bavarian inn lies just far enough from downtown Munich to put it off the beaten track, yet it’s still an easy walk from the Deutsches Museum. It has been serving beer and dumplings since 1901, and its simple, airy interiors with high vaulted ceilings, tiled floor, and rustic wooden furniture still speak of that time. But this is not a restaurant hamstrung by tradition; it likes to innovate by offering dishes such as spinach or beet dumplings and organic cheeses. All are executed with great success, as you might expect from a restaurant that has published its own dumpling cookbook (in English, too) and runs dumpling cooking courses. Dedicated to serving nothing but dumplings, and with waitresses who bustle in their traditional dirndl dresses, this is a cultural and gastronomic experience not to be missed. Lilienstrasse 51, Munich; open 5 PM–1 AM Mon–Fri, 10 AM–1 AM Sat & Sun (kitchen closes at 11 PM); www.wirtshausinderau.de Also in Munich
Dumplings combine with a jolly beer hall experience amid the long benches at the Augustiner Bräustuben (www.braeustuben. de; moderate) on Landsberger Strasse, perhaps less the complete tourist experience than the Hofbräuhaus, but just as good. The dumplings are served with duck or pork knuckle, smothered in mushroom sauce, or as liver dumpling soup.
Dumplings Also in Germany
Knödel are thinner on the ground in northern Germany, but you can find potato dumplings. In Frankfurt, Klabunt (www.klabunt-frankfurt. de; moderate), a simple pub, is fussy about using the finest ingredients; the specialty is half-and-half dumplings, made from equal measures of cooked and raw potatoes.
Farther north in Berlin, only southern German restaurants serve dumplings, such as Spätzle & Knödel on Wühlischstrasse (+49 30 2757 1151; moderate). They even offer Marillenknödel, delicious apricot dessert dumplings.
Dumplings Around the World
Austrians, particularly Tyroleans, are every bit as fond of dumplings as Bavarians, so excellent Austrian versions, such as those served in Innsbruck at Lewisch (+43 51 258 6043; moderate), are fairly easy to find. Their menu includes Serviettenknödel, a large dumpling that is sliced like bread before serving.
It’s an Austrian, too, who has opened one of the best dumpling restaurants in the New World: Kinski (www.kinski-nyc.com; inexpensive), a modern eatery in New York City’s diverse and hip Lower East Side. Its savory goulashsmothered dumpling and the many different sweet Knödel, served with nougat, raspberry, or apricot, are as good as they are far from home.
German Beer
Bavaria’s extensive high plateaus are particularly well suited to growing the wheat and barley required by Germany’s 1,300 or so breweries to make the country’s favorite drink. Only the Czechs drink more per capita than the Germans, whose variety of beers is astonishing – all the way from summery golden lagers and cloudy wheat beers to dark brown Bock, traditionally brewed in winter and drunk in spring. Beers also vary tremendously in strength, up to a staggering 28 percent alcohol. Bavaria’s classic beer is its Märzenbier, the mid-brown brew of its most famous annual celebration, the Oktoberfest. But even when it’s not on, drinking in a jovial summer beer garden or hunkering down in a high-arched beer cellar, to lock arms with neighbors, sing, and stomp, remains a quintessential part of enjoying German beer.
A Day in Munich
Munich’s focal Marienplatz square, bustling with street musicians and artists, is the perfect place to start a day’s tour.
Catch the Rathaus carillon (chiming bells) in Marienplatz at 11:00 AM; pop into the toy museum in the Altes Rathaus, then climb the Peterskirche tower for fantastic views. Stop at the Viktualienmarkt (food market) to eat a Weisswurst, Munich’s famous white sausage, en route to the Renaissance Residenz palace.
Walk to the Pinakothek museums, Munich’s clutch of excellent art museums, and view either old masters or modern and contemporary art. Or take a bus to Munich’s grandest museum: the Deutsches Museum, with its science and technology collection.
Choose between high culture – perhaps one of Munich’s three first-rate symphony orchestras – or head to Hofbräuhaus, to while away the evening in the classic Bavarian way.
Trains link Munich’s airport, 18 miles (30 km) from the city, to its main train station, west of Marienplatz. Central Munich is easily walkable, but public transportation is excellent.
Pension Seibel (inexpensive) is simple, central, and very Bavarian. www.seibel-hotels-munich.de Torbräu (moderate) is a dependable, family-run four-star choice close to the Viktualienmarkt.
Charles Hotel (expensive) is a top-class hotel with huge rooms. www.thecharleshotel.com
Neuen Rathaus, Marienplatz; +49 89 23 39 65 00

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