When Stevan Paul was asked to write a book called Deutschland Vegetarisch (Vegetarian Germany) a few years ago, he was initially unsure that the project was possible.
“I didn't say yes immediately, because I thought 'that doesn't really exist',” he told The Local.
“But I quickly realized, based on research – I have a big library of cookbooks – that German cuisine in former times was largely one of poor people.
“The Sunday roast was the only meat, and the exception to the rule for those people. In Germany there's actually a big tradition of vegetarian cooking – most dishes didn't contain meat.”
Although many old recipes are completely vegetarian, a staple of many traditional German dishes is Speck (bacon).
“For the book I had to find ways to remove and replace it, that was very interesting,” Paul said.
Paul points out that it was only with the “Wirtschaftswunder” (economic miracle) of the 1950s and 1960s that Germans' “love of meat” really took hold.
Meat became more accessible as people became more financially secure and prices came down thanks to mass livestock farming.
“But before the Second World War, the emphasis was on vegetarian food,” Paul insists.
Berlin, capital of vegetarians
Germany's modern dalliance with vegetarianism has made ripples worldwide, with Berlin named the “New Vegetarian Capital of The World” this month by US-based Saveur magazine.
Paul says that while Berlin doesn't have a monopoly on vegetarian eateries, it still boasts the largest number of restaurants dedicated to veggies anywhere in Germany – in part thanks to its artsy population.
“Veganism and vegetarianism come from the hip, artistic scene in Berlin. Animal rights, moral considerations also play an extremely big role.
“Then there's this new idea of the body as an important central point in one's being, the need to be healthy – it's become a bit of a religion, especially in veganism or in the 'paleo' diet trend,” he pointed out.
“People are thinking a lot about their food – but I think maybe sometimes just listening to your stomach is better.”
Although the number of vegetarian restaurants on offer in other cities isn't as big, Paul cites a saying from the culinary scene in Hamburg to tempt visitors to the port city.
“We always say 'Berlin does it first, and then in Hamburg we do it right',” he said, laughing.
But one of Paul's favourite vegetarian meals can in fact be found at chef Andree Köthe's Essigbrätlein – far from Berlin in Bavaria's second city, Nuremberg.
Köthe and colleague Yves Ollech released a book called Gemüse2 (Vegetables squared) in June that will help budding cooks recreate what Paul calls “a fabulous offer for vegetarians” at home.
But in the meantime, why not take a look at a few of Paul's own recommendations for German veggie dishes that will have your mouth watering?
THE LOCAL LIST: Top 10 traditional German veggie dishes