“Good food and drink are just as much a part of our state as the Harz mountains, the coast and the moors, black and white cows and golden wheat fields in summer,” says Niedersachsen’s former Minister President David McAllister.
From Friedensschinken ham from Osnabrück and Nienburg asparagus to Jägermeister from Wolfenbüttel or the pleasant tea ceremonies of Eastern Friesland: Culinary specialities from Niedersachsen not only tell us something about the state and its distinctive features, but also express a special way of life. Food and drink are thus playing an ever greater role in tourism. As ambassadors for the region, they give a sense of the way of life and promote the state and its inhabitants. As a holiday destination, the state of Niedersachsen offers visitors everything, from cult snack bars to restaurants with three Michelin stars – there is something for every palate and price range here. Plenty of different facets are to be found in this state that spans from zero to a thousand metres above sea level. That’s why, when it comes to culinary issues, not only do we need to mention the state’s twelve Michelin starred restaurants, but also green cabbage and swede – foods which were previously used in Southern Germany as animal feed, if at all. After all, as well as the finest culinary exports from Bahlsen and Leysieffer, Einbecker Urbock (beer) and Harzer cheese also carry the image of Niedersachen out into the world.
Travel and indulgence – the value of dining and drinking when selecting a holiday destination. Culinary holidays are becoming ever more significant. The numbers speak for themselves: according to the recent study on the economic factor of tourism in Germany by the Ministry of Economics, foreign visitors to Germany spend 5.6 billion euros, or 15.4 percent of their holiday spending, on food. Gastronomic services are in third place, after flight and accommodation costs. When it comes to visitors from within Germany, these gastronomic services account for forty-four billion euros. And there is another interesting figure: 85.5 per cent of restaurant services in Germany now cater to tourist demand.
Niedersachsen is the second most popular state for holidays in Germany, and eating out is very popular with those holidaying here. In this, the state is following a pronounced trend:
Food and drink have become much more significant as a part of national and regional culture in recent years – a fact also confirmed by academics.
Dr. Jaksa Kivela, Professor at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, reported on his studies at the European Culinary Tourism conference in Vienna in March 2011. According to Kivela, tourists are looking for authenticity and a deeper insight into foreign (food) cultures. In his research projects, he found that the culinary experience thus merges with the image of the destination visited. Culinary tourists are usually regular visitors who like to tell their friends about their experiences, making them an important means of advertising. “Food and drink have a key influence on how the tourist experiences the destination visited, the image of it he takes home with him and whether he returns,” stated Kivela, emphasising the significance of food and drink as part of the complete tourism product.
Culinary experience – eating like Niedersachsen. But what does Niedersachsen look like as a culinary region? Niedersachsen is an agricultural state, characterised by its proximity to the sea and to the marsh and coastal landscapes. On the coast in particular, traditional ingredients have included fish such as plaice, herring and cod, as well as shellfish such as shrimps. In Eastern Friesland, a cup of tea is essential. The Eastern Frisian tea ceremony is unique: once poured into the little “koppkes” (cup), the tea first meets the “kluntje” – a large piece of rock sugar. A spoonful of cream is then added to the tea; stirring marks you out as a foreigner. Eastern Frisians first enjoy the aroma of the tea, then the mixture of tea and cream, and finally the pure sweetness.
In Altes Land on the Elbe, between Stade and Buxtehude, it’s all about apples in the restaurants, cafes and farm shops from September to November. As well as sweet and savoury apple dishes, the farm shops in particular offer over 30 types of apple and apple product, including crisps, gummy bears, jams, juices and Prosecco.
Between the North Sea and the moors in Niedersachsen, dishes tend to be savoury, with Hannover tongue ragout and Emsländer Bookweitenjanhinnerk, a buckwheat pancake, just two of the specialities. Regional fruit and vegetable products form the basis of this solid cuisine, refined with meat from the moorlands – game and fish. Hearty sausages such as Bregenwurst and Kohlwurst are just as typical of the regional cuisine as the frequent use of bacon, such as in boiled green cabbage, called Grünkohl or Oldenburger Palme, which has a place on the table as soon as the first frost of winter has arrived. The bacon in green cabbage should be as thick as a hymnbook; the dish is often eaten in a big group of friends.
Travelling south, we come across the Lüneburg Heath, the main growing area for asparagus and potatoes. Asparagus is the Germans’ favourite vegetable and, together with new potatoes, can be found in a range of variations on every menu from April to June.
Tradition and modernity – stars above the holiday state. Alongside these many specialities of the holiday state of Niedersachsen, many restaurants also showcase the art of fine cuisine. The most northerly three-star chef in Germany is Sven Elversfeld, whose Aqua restaurant at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Wolfsburg’s Autostadt boasts a view over the Mittelandkanal. The latest edition of the Michelin Guide (2012) gives La Vie in Osnabrück a third star – Thomas Bühner develops his aromatic cuisine in the stunning townhouse belonging to RWE boss Jürgen Großmann.
Two Michelin stars grace Sterneck in Cuxhaven, while a further nine restaurants in Niedersachsen have one star each, making them part of the renowned connoisseur restaurant sector: L’art de Vivre, Schlosshotel Münchhausen in Aerzen, Keilings Restaurant in Bad Bentheim, Ole deele in Burgwedel, Endtenfang in Celle, Zum Heidkrug in Lüneburg, La Forge in Bad Nenndorf, Marco Polo in Wilhemshaven, La Fontaine in Wolfsburg and Apicius in Bad Zwischenahn. Perior in Leer, Eastern Friesland, is also hoping for a star in 2013.
Made in Niedersachsen – from beer to biscuits. When foreigners think of Germany, beer is the first thing they think of. Within Germany, Niedersachsen’s beer turnover is in third place, after North Rhine-Westphalia and Bavaria, with 10.2 million hectolitres. At 28 per cent (2011) the breweries of Bremen and Niedersachsen export the highest proportion of beer abroad of any region in Germany. Popular brands include the typically bitter Jever and especially Einbecker Urbock. As early as the 11th century, such good beer was brewed in Einbeck that it was exported as far afield as Amsterdam, Stockholm, Riga and Innsbruck. The name “Bockbier” comes from “Einpockischen”, as the beer from Einbeck was called in Bavaria. Another Niedersachsen brand is at home all over the world: Jägermeister has broken into the top ten of the premium spirits market, alongside Jim Beam, Gordon’s Gin and Smirnoff. But it doesn’t always have to be alcoholic: Bahlsen biscuits are world famous, with 51 per cent of total sales now abroad. Leyseiffer, a confectionery business founded in Osnabrück in 1909, has now become a company that supplies customers throughout Germany and the world with exclusive pralines, chocolates, Baumkuchen, Lebkuchen and many other sweet treats.
Plenty of measures are being taken to drive the topic of the state’s cuisine forward: the Niedersachsen Culinary Ambassadors initiative has been up and running for over two years now. Sixty food products from Niedersachsen have now been recognized and achieved ambassador status: authentic, typical products produced responsibly; foods which their producers are proud of, because they represent all their experience, inspiration and talent. In Stade county, Niedersachsen’s very own Milky Way (Milchstraße) has been set up: along four cycle routes, cyclists of all ages can gain an insight into modern dairy farming.