Half chickens and heaven on earth
Everyone learns on their first day in Cologne that in this city, you drink Kölsch in rods. Well, Stangen anyway. But to drink you need to eat, too, so what classic dishes should visitors be sure to try? Our writer Julia Floß introduces us to five genuine Cologne options and tells us where you can order them.
Himmel un’ Ääd at Hellers
The Rhineland is known for its sweet-and-sour or sweet-and-savoury cuisine, and Himmel un’ Äad (“heaven and earth”) is Cologne’s most famous example. Heaven, in this case, is sweet apple sauce, while potato mash symbolises the earth. The whole thing is topped off with deep-fried or caramelised onions. But the lead character in this ensemble is definitely Flönz, or black pudding, Cologne’s culinary counterpart to the Cathedral. It’s served fried, with a lovely crispy shell and a soft inside. Himmel un’ Äad is at its most delicious if each mouthful consists of an equal amount of all four components and is washed down with a cold glass of Kölsch in traditional surroundings, like Hellers Brauhaus. Hellers is one of Cologne’s younger brewery pubs and has made a name for itself as much for its atmosphere as for its beer. The green conservatory in the centre of this pretty, rustic space is open year-round and offers a very special atmosphere. The perfect backdrop for your very own piece of heaven on earth.
Halve Hahn at Johann Schäfer
No doubt about it, Halve Hahn is the most confusingly named dish ever. Even Köbesse (brewery pub servers) and historians cannot agree on its origins. So what does the name mean? Well, “Halve Hahn” is dialect for “half a chicken”, but what you actually get is a Röggelchen, or rye bread roll, topped with cheese, mustard and onions. Rumour has it that the name was coined by a local funny man called Wilhelm Vierkötter, who had done a deal with a Köbes to try and confuse party guests by serving cheese rolls instead of roast chicken. This was back in 1877, but the joke’s on us to this day – and so Halve Hahn is on the menu of every single Brauhaus in the city.
Johann Schäfer is the youngest and most modern brewery pub in Cologne and serves its own interpretation of this Cologne classic: a slice of 18-month-old Gouda cheese with beer mustard, vinegar-laced onions and endive on home-baked rye bread. Kölsch snacks don’t get much more perfect than this.
Rheinischer Sauerbraten at Max Stark
Traditionally, classic Sauerbraten (literally, sour roast) consists of horsemeat. This has historical reasons, as Cologne used to be home to a large number of horse butchers. Today it’s a dying trade, and so modern Sauerbraten is more often than not made with beef. Like Himmel un’ Äad, Sauerbraten is a typical example of Rhineland cuisine in that it is both sweet and sour. The raw meat is marinated for several days in a vinegary mixture, then stewed and the sauce flavoured with sweet-ish ingredients such as sugar beet syrup, apple syrup, or spiced gingerbread. Typical side dishes include potato dumplings, stewed red cabbage and/or apple sauce. Sauerbraten is a hearty winter dish that many Rhinelanders will first have tasted at their granny’s kitchen tables. As for the ideal venue, Max Stark is one of Cologne’s prettiest traditional taverns and serves classic Rhineland cuisine: Haxe (pork knuckles), Flönz (black pudding), Matjes (young herring) and of course Sauerbraten – the horsemeat kind. A must-try for any visitor to Cologne.
Unter Kahlenhausen 47, 50668 Cologne
Rievkooche at Haus Scholzen
While potato pancakes are popular all over Germany, most regions will refer to them by a dialectal name. In Cologne, where they are known as Rievkooche, they are a very popular snack. A lot of work goes into making perfect Rievkooche and so many taverns will only have them on the menu on specific days. For instance, at Schreckenskammer Wednesday is Rievkooche day. Reibekuchen Heinz is another institution, with long queues forming outside Heinz’s market stall on Sudermanplatz every Tuesday. And remember what I told you about Rhineland cuisine being sweet-and-savoury? Rievkooche are no exception; they are invariably served with a topping of apple sauce, sometimes also with sugar beet syrup and a slice of black bread on top. At Haus Scholzen in Ehrenfeld, unusually Rievkooche are on the menu every day. Try them with Flönz (black pudding) and fried onions, or the version with beef tatar.
Venloer Straße 236, 50823 Cologne
More adresses for Rievkooche:
Ursulagartenstraße 11-15, 50668 Cologne
Web: www.schreckenskammer.com | www.facebook.com/Brauhaus-Zur-Schreckenskammer-157952054232538
Sudermannplatz, 50670 Cologne
Hämmchen at Haus Töller
“Hämmchen with suure Kappes”, or ham hock with sauerkraut, is so popular in Cologne that even songs have been written about it. The Hämmchen is sometimes also known as Kölner Schinken, or Cologne ham, as it’s a cut of pork leg. Traditionally, the hock is salted and stewed. This hearty dish is popular in many regions across Germany and is hence known under a number of names. In southern Germany it’s called Haxe, while Berliners know it as Eisbein. Cologne’s version is traditionally served with sauerkraut and mashed potato in overwhelming portion sizes, as is the norm with brewery pub fare. Haus Töller is one of the city’s most popular taverns and is famed for its Hämmchen. Should you be unable to grab a table, try Haus Fischenich just across the road.