Our travel musings are largely a travelogue, something we can revisit to refresh our memories, but hopefully this commentary on our favorite dining experiences during our recent three weeks in Germany and Spain might help those considering a visit to either.
Munich is a wealthy city, especially in comparison to Berlin, and more “old world” in its vibe. It’s great as a jumping off point for forays into the mountains in Southern Germany and Austria along with the many lakes in the region. The first thing that comes to mind in terms of edibles and Germany is, of course, beer, sausages and pretzels and they can be found nearly everywhere in Munich.
Munich is home to Augustiner Keller, one of the oldest brewers in Germany. Many locals consider its beer to be the best in the city. It is the only brewer that is still family owned and notably continues to store its beer in wooden casks, not steel barrels. Most of the other big-name brewers like Lowenbrau are owned by one of the large international brewing companies such as Heineken or AB-InBev. Not that their beer is bad, it’s just not as unique. We also stopped in the famous Hofbrau Haus, but it was crowded inside, and the outdoor seating area wasn’t hopping that day, so we didn’t stay.
We dined twice at Augustiner Keller. Our first visit was indoors on our arrival day as the restaurant was an easy walk from our hotel. It’s near the main train station and pretty easy to find. It features a huge dining hall, and while there were certainly plenty of foreign visitors like us, there were also a number of locals. It features traditional German fare. Bavarian favorites include roast pork, dumplings and saurkraut. Schnitzel-type dishes are also available but aren’t considered Bavarian per se. We had some of each and they were uniformly tasty.
Our second visit was for lunch outside in the beer garden after a tour of the Dachau concentration camp. The beer garden is one of the city’s largest. The seating area is surrounded by food stalls. Some offer table service and have dedicated seating, while others are self-serve and you just grab a spot at one of the long picnic tables that are available after getting your food. We were there on a holiday–Germany’s Father’s Day–so the place was packed. Lots of guys dressed up in traditional Bavarian garb; it’s a thing evidently. Standing in the line we were able to grab a nice cucumber salad and asked for the only thing that came to mind quickly: Currywurst.
Currywurst was invented in Berlin but it’s become popular throughout the country. The story goes that in the immediate post-war era some American GIs gave out extra cans of tomatoes they had around. They weren’t a common thing in Germany, and a local cook turned some into a sauce flavored with curry, which was then dumped over a sausage. The dish now typically includes french fries. Not health food for sure, but if you aren’t a vegan or vegetarian it is worth a try at least once. It’s good for sharing if you don’t want to eat too much. And the Augustiner Keller beer garden is just a lot of fun. Well worth a visit.
Berlin has a more cosmopolitan vibe in our view. The city went through enormous changes given the destruction during the war. Another seminal event was the fall of the Berlin wall. Now there is every type of ethnic restaurant you could wish for. Vietnamese restaurants are ubiquitous and the one we went to was excellent, but we suspect you could walk into any one of them and get a good meal. We also had a good Italian meal at a place two blocks from where we stayed, and a kind of upscale doner kebab for lunch one day.
We stayed in the Mitte district and were a short walk to Prenzlauer Berg, where there are dozens of places to dine and most are very reasonably priced. With the exception of one splurge at a steak-oriented place (they are expensive everywhere it seems) we rarely payed more that 60 to 70 euros for a dinner. The price included a glass of wine or some other drink and tip. Tipping is more modest than Americans are used to as restaurant workers are paid better in Europe that in the US. At most you tip 10% and often the server checks you out before you have a chance to add anything.
Another tip for first-time visitors to Germany is that if you want to have a beer, the cheapest option is to stop in any of the ubiquitous convenience stores that dot the city and operate nearly round-the-clock. It seems like there is one on nearly every block. You can choose from a host of different bottled brews costing about 2 euros each. Pop the top at the counter when you pay and stroll off to the nearest park, or just stroll about. It’s legal to walk the streets with a beer. (But not allowed on public transit.)
The other rule of thumb is that when you are finished with the beer, leave the bottle on the ground near a trash bin, but not in the trash bin. You are paying a small deposit on each bottle and the homeless/poor will collect the bottles for the deposit income. If it sounds elitist or cruel, as a guide told us, respect the culture and that is the culture. You can also pick up a drinkable bottle of French wine at the convenience stores for around 5 euros.
As for Barcelona, anyone that has visited the city knows it is a superb dining town, like nearly every port city on the Mediterranean. Fresh seafood is abundant and in some restaurants sold by weight. Tapas, of course, is also available at nearly every restaurant and makes for easy eating. Another good option, especially for lunch, is to look at restaurants offering a multi-course menu of the day, usually three or four courses including desert and a glass of wine or beer. We enjoyed one nice lunch at a place called Te Quiero Verde that netted out to $35 for the two of us and was excellent. As with Berlin, in most cases our meals out were reasonably priced, due in part to a strong dollar at the time that made menu prices in euros nearly equivalent in dollar terms.
Our one exception in Barcelona was a visit to the upscale Dry Martini cocktail bar in the city. The location nearest our hotel featured the “Speakeasy” restaurant adjacent to the bar. Patrons have to know a password to get into the dining room, but it is sent via email when you reserve a table. It’s a schtick for sure, with white-coated waiters and the whole bit. The food is good if on the pricey side and the place caters to visitors.
My only criticism is that their recipe for a “dry martini,” for which the proprietor seems quite proud, is IMO terrible. Equal parts gin and vermouth with a dash of orange bitters. Way too much vermouth for my palate. Two parts gin to one part vermouth, or better yet 2.5 to 0.5, would be much better. So order something other than a martini if you like them to avoid disappointment.
But overall Spain is one of those places where it’s hard to get a bad meal, so bon appetit if you go.