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How the small state of Saarland is giving a French twist to German cuisine

Here's what happens when the hearty German meal meets French delicacy in the border state of Saarland.

How the small state of Saarland is giving a French twist to German cuisine
Archive photo shows “Dibbelabbes”, a kind of German hash brown created from grated potato, dried meat, onions and parsley. Photo: picture alliance / dpa-tmn | Eike Dubois

Germany is not known for its culinary delicacy. Between the Berliner Currywurst and Bavarian Weißwurst, the culinary theme seems to be “quick, hearty and carnivorous”. 

France, on the other hand, is still seen as a leading innovator in the cooking world. How did two neighbouring countries develop such different attitudes to food? And what happens in border counties, where they meet? 

This is the case in the Saarland, a German state that shares its entire southern and western borders with France. 

READ ALSO: Five maps that explain Saarland, Germany’s 100-year-old state

Saarland used to be the home of iron and coal mining, and so much of its traditional cuisine developed out of the “Bergmannskost” (miner’s diet). This meant substantial, high-calorie and affordable meals, largely based around potatoes. 

But because of the historical tug-of-war between the French and German borders, Saarland has experienced waves of French influence. Over time, this has created a fusion-culture that can be seen to this day: most of the population of Saarland is bilingual. 

The cuisine of Saarland has not remained untouched either, and many French dishes have found their way on traditional menus: from Schneckenpfanne (a dish of snails) to Flammkuchen (Tarte Flambé, a flat tart with onions and bacon).

The French Influence

It is said that the proportion of Michelin chefs to inhabitants is larger in the Saarland than anywhere else in Germany. Restaurants like Landgenuss, owned by the hospitality family Hämmerle, offer a menu of traditional cuisine, and still boast the Michelin star. 

Many attribute this to the French influence. Even in traditional dishes, the Saarländers are not afraid to cook with wine or work with strong flavours and spices such as mustard. 

Lyoner, the strong-tasting French sausage, has developed into something of a speciality in Saarland. 

In fact, the favourite regional dish remains a Lyoner cooked on the Saarländer “Schwenkgrill” – a grill plate suspended over an open fire – with a side of potatoes and Sauerkraut.

Archive photo shows the ‘Men’s Cooking Club Beaumarais Picard’ preparing a Schwenkgrill in Überherrn-Berus, Saarland in 2019. Photo: DPA

One man’s weed, another’s Salad 

Along with strong flavours, the Saarland adopts France’s love of seasonality. Uniting this with the affordability of ‘Bergsmannskost’, one of the signature dishes of the Saarland is Löwenzahnsalat – Dandelion Salad. 

The art of this dish is finding particularly young and soft dandelion leaves, and combining them with a honey-vinegar dressing to balance out the bitter taste. 

A German hero: The humble potato

However, no matter how much French influence skips across the border, one element of the Saarland cuisine remains distinctly German: potatoes are at the centre of everything. 

READ ALSO: Big birthday in a small state: Saarland celebrates 100-year-old history

Most of the traditional dishes are variations on the humble root vegetable. For example, there’s “Dibbelabbes”, a kind of German hash brown created from grated potato, dried meat, onions and parsley. 

The funky name comes from the dialect word for iron pan “Dibbe” and cloth or rag “Labbes”. It’s a typical comfort food associated with grannies throwing the ingredients into a big iron pot until they stick together like a kind of frayed potato-cloth. 

Another classic is “Gefillde”. These are big, round potato dumplings filled with meat such as liver paté. They’re usually served with a thick cream and bacon sauce with a side of Sauerkraut. 

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FOOD & DRINK

5 things you need to know about German Glühwein

It's that time of year again when the delicious German drink Glühwein will be on sale at Christmas Markets and in bars all over the country. Here's what you need to know about the traditional winter beverage.

5 things you need to know about German Glühwein

1. It existed before Christmas Markets

Nowadays, sipping a hot mug of Glühwein is mostly associated with a visit to a traditional German Christmas market, which might make you think that it was an invention of wine stand operators.

However, though German Christmas markets have been around for nearly 600 years, some form of mulled wine has been a popular winter beverage since Roman times.

READ ALSO: Where are Christmas markets around Germany already opening?

The Romans had their own special recipe for Glühwein which combined wine with honey and spices such as pepper, bay leaf, saffron and dates.

The oldest documented consumption of Glühwein in Germany can be traced back to Count John IV of Katzenelnbogen, a German nobleman who was the first grower of Riesling grapes in the 15th century. Archaeologists found a special silver plated cup dating from 1420 which he used to sip the sweet and spicy drink.

2. Don’t overstep the 80C mark

When making your own batch of Glühwein at home – you’ll want to make sure that your ingredients – wine (red or white), sugar, cinnamon, cloves, lemon, orange and star anise – are simmering away at a temperature of no more than 80C.

Aromatic spices give Glühwein its special flavour. Photo: picture alliance / dpa-tmn | DWI

Above 80C the alcohol evaporates, which is detrimental to the taste and causes the sugar to degrade. The ideal temperature for your Glühwein is between 72C and 73C and the perfect colour is a deep red. 

3. It literally means ‘Glow wine’

The Glüh part of the word for this drink – which sounds a bit like the English word “glue” – comes from the German verb glühen meaning “to glow”.

The origin of the word Glühwein goes back hundreds of years when hot irons were used to heat the wine. It might help you to remember the meaning of the word by looking at the glowing cheeks of your friends while drinking a cup of the hot alcoholic drink.

READ ALSO: What’s the history behind Germany’s beloved Christmas markets?

4. You can make it without alcohol (or with even more)

To make a non-alcoholic version of Glühwein – or Kinderpunsch (children’s punch) as it’s commonly referred to in German – you can replace the wine with a mixture of fruit tea, apple and orange juice. 

Children’s punch cups with the motif “Moppi” from the children’s TV show Sandmännchen at a stand of the Leipzig Christmas market. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Sebastian Willnow

If you want to go the other way and make a Glühwein mit Schuss (mulled wine with a shot), you can add a dash of rum or amaretto to your cup full of Glühwein just before drinking. 

5. Glühwein makes you merry faster

Alcoholic hot drinks get you drunk faster, as their high temperature ensures that the alcohol enters the bloodstream more quickly and easily. Sugar also promotes alcohol absorption, so a cup of mulled wine will go to your head much more quickly than a glass of normal wine.

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