Where there is a good economy, there is also good dining. We take the liberty of providing you with a little insight into the culinary specialities of the different regions in North Rhine-Westphalia.
A short regional overview helps in becoming familiar with the North Rhine-Westphalian cuisine: as it is generally known, the word “North Rhine-Westphalia” is separated by a hyphen. This is because for 70 years, it has united the two large regions, yet quite different parts of the state in terms of development and demography, of Northern Rhineland and Westphalia. But these two eponymous regions cover up the fact that NRW is much more heterogeneous than might be assumed when looking from the outside.
The interaction between the spectacular natural areas and the people that live within them, and which have made these areas their home, formed very different, fascinating cultural landscapes over time. One should only think about the picturesque low mountain range regions of the Eifel, the Sauerland and the Teutoburg Forest or the spacious pasture lands and parks of the Lower Rhine and the Münsterland. Today, tourists can experience these cultural areas in many ways: on footpaths and bikeways, in museums, on the streets, but also in breweries and restaurants. Because in the broadest sense, regional cuisines are also a part of this interaction and expression of a cultural identity. Kitchens without cooks, that is not possible. So let us take a closer look at the people who live in the different regions of the “hyphen state”. The cabaret artist Konrad Beikircher, an immigrant from South Tirol, can take the liberty of bluntly revealing some of the character traits of the North Rhine-Westphalians. Here and there it might hurt, but he is right about one thing: there is no ethnic uniformity like in some other German states. Here Rhinelanders and Revierkumpel (miners), inhabitants of the Lower Rhine, East Westphalia, Münsterland and Siegerland, Lippe and Eifel live door-to-door, like in a big shared flat. All these diverse peoples with their peculiarities live under one North Rhine-Westphalian roof, forged into one entity, and yet they are all different: Europe on a small scale.
The first distinction in the North Rhine-Westphalian cuisine is often the one between the Rhenish and Westphalian cuisine. Of course, both cuisines use what the local soil offers them, for example vegetables such as cabbage, beans and potatoes, which are cooked in all variations. Also savoury meat dishes are regularly on the menu. Different from the Rhineland, where next to everything hearty there is also room for light and sweet dishes, the simple, savoury and especially fibre-rich cuisine is at home in Westphalia. Because hard work, above and below ground, could only be done by those who had a full stomach.
Within the two big parts of the state, the regional cuisines fan out once more and reveal unique specialities and curiosities and thus, hyphen or not, also fine distinctions. Just try ordering a Kölsch (a light beer) in the Alt beer (a dark beer) metropolis Düsseldorf, a beer that is brewed in Cologne, a city located only a few kilometres up the Rhine river. At best, you will simply be ignored.
Let’s stay in the Rhineland for now and focus on the most Western German metropolis. More than 4,500 tonnes of Printen dough (a type of gingerbread) is processed in Aachen every year. The world-famous gingerbread cookie from the imperial city has been an export hit since the 19th century. The international fame of the Aachener Printen is partially owed to Napoleon, who left behind many practical things in the Rhineland, for example street numbers, civil marriage and the metric system, which replaced measuring units such as bucket and beer barrel. Napoleon also brought the Continental System. Cut off from cane sugar and American wild flower honey, the Printen-makers in Aachen had to improvise with beet sugar and syrup, which produced a coarser, tough dough that was difficult to mould. That was the hour of birth of the flat, slim gingerbread called the Schnittprinte. By the way, its name is supposed to actually derive from the word for pressing, “Prenten”.
The most baffled faces after ordering food, especially from guests from abroard, are probably found in Cologne. Many pubs and breweries offer a serving of “Halver Hahn” (half chicken) with a Kölsch. Those who are hungry and were expecting a roasted part of poultry will be disappointed. What is being served is half a rye bun with mature Dutch cheese. Also very tasty, but no half chicken. If the bun is served with black pudding, so-called “Flönz”, and mustard, it is called “Kölscher Kaviar” (Cologne caviar). Fried “Flönz” is often served with another speciality from Cologne: “Himmel un Ääd” (Heaven and Earth), potatoes from the earth, hence “Ääd”, which are mixed together and mashed, and apples from heaven “Himmel”. Understood everything so far?
If one crosses the Rhine river and climbs the the Bergisches Land, one should not miss the indulgence of a Bergische Kaffeetafel (coffee table). The undisputed queen of the table is the “Dröppelminna”, a three-legged coffee pot made of tin, which is a symbol of hospitality. While different pastries are served with the afternoon coffee in other parts of Germany, many different dishes are served in the Bergisches Land; pretty much everything that the farm in the rural region offers: Hefeblatz (sweet raisin bread), different black and brown breads, sweet spreads, black pudding and liver sausage, ham and cheese, rice pudding with cinnamon and sugar and, of course, the coveted waffles with hot sour cherries.
Fresh from the grower, one very special delicacy is served annually in spring: asparagus. From the middle of April until the “Spargelsilvester” (Asparagus New Year’s Eve) on June 24, on which the farmers traditionally stop cutting asparagus, is asparagus season in NRW. In the past few years, North Rhine-Westphalia has become one of the main growing areas in Germany. During the asparagus season, those who are interested in the “royal vegetable” and its cultivation can stop by around 150 farms, which have teamed up for the “Spargelstraße NRW” (asparagus route NRW). Across the asparagus fields, which range from the “Rhenish vegetable garden”, the foothills between Cologne and Bonn, across the Lower Rhine till the Eastern Münsterland and the Paderborner Land, we arrive in the Westphalian region.
In the Westphalian cuisine, tradition is also spelled with a capital T. Soest provides evidence for how far its roots reach back: in the church St. Maria zur Wiese, a Medieval window shows the Last Supper, where, instead of unleavened bread and wine, specialities from the region are served. At the “Westphalian Last Supper”, Jesus and his disciples celebrate with ham, dark bread, pig’s head, schnapps and beer. Thus we have come to Westphalia’s basic foods. The culinary legacy of the region can be experienced in the Westfalen Culinarium in Nieheim, which encompasses four museums in one street: he Westphalian Beer and Schnapps Museum, the Westphalian Bread Museum, the German Cheese Museum and the Westphalian Ham Museum.
What can be found on plates and tables here? For example the typical “Paderborner” brown bread, the Westphalian boiled ham and pumpernickel, which has its origins in the region. Or meat dishes, like Pfefferpotthast, which was already mentioned in a chronicle in Dortmund in the 14th century, a spicy stew made of beef and onions, as well as Panhas, a meat pie with buckwheat flour. The black pudding speciality “Möppkenbrot” and Töttchen, a dish made of veal, are especially widespread in the Münsterland.
Beer was already mentioned, but it has to be talked about again because something is brewing in North Rhine-Westphalia. When it comes to beer consumption, NRW belongs at the top in Germany. With good reason: beer that is brewed in North Rhine-Westphalia is of the highest quality and is held in high esteem worldwide. The state presents itself as a classical “three stream land”: especially Pils, Alt and Kölsch run down thirsty throats. Pils occupies a special place: This type of beer accounts for almost three quarters of the total production in North Rhine-Westphalia. Those who want to get an overview of the beer tradition and art of brewing in the different regions, should take a tour along the NRW beer route. (www.nrw-bier-route.de)
Whether it is Printen, Pilsner or Panhas: the cuisine in North Rhine-Westphalia is unique and is held in great esteem by locals and guests from all over the world. Market research shows that North Rhine-Westphalia is very highly valued as a culinary travel destination. The indulgence portal www.nrw-genuss.de of the Tourismus NRW e.V. reveals the culinary highlights and regional products. The same applies here: the peculiarities of all regions are united under a North Rhine-Westphalian roof. Offers can be experienced in the three indulgence worlds “authentic”, “inspiring” and “exquisite”. Because no matter how tasty Printen and Sauerbraten are, the North Rhine-Westphalian cuisine offers not only traditional cooks, but also those who are creative, open-minded and have won many awards.
The co-author is divisional director for Communication, Market Research and Key Questions of the Tourismus NRW e.V.
Dr. Heike Döll-König
Since 1989, the Germanist, literary scholar and journalist has held different executive positions in the communications department of the state government of NRW. From 2005 to 2010, she headed the “Location Marketing” department at the Ministry of Economic Affairs. She has been CEO of the Tourismus NRW e.V. since 2010.