American Foods that Germans do not Understand
American Food is hard to qualify. What is purely American anyways? Most of what we think of is stolen/borrowed from other cultures and countries, adapted and sold back at a profit. Most Germans I have met have some experience in the US, either exchange or travel. However there are some foods that are classically American that are not well understood. Let’s see if I can fix that.
Inspired by a couple of posts by Sabrina at countryskipper.com Supposedly German and Supposedly Italian.
Pie – Cultural Fundamental
We even use the phrase “As American as Apple Pie”. It is a food symbol linked to the American Identity. My Grandmother was a pie-maker. She supplied several large pies to the family gathering every Thanksgiving. In classic American style, there is often an entire aisle dedicated to Pie. Pre-made crusts and canned fillings. I used to make a thing dubbed Triv Pie which was Graham Cracker Crust with a mixture of sweetened condensed milk and whip cream set with lemon juice as a filling. It takes like 10 minutes to make and is sweet and cool for summer. Ahh I miss pie.
Cake (Kuchen) is very popular in Germany. Cake and Coffee time in the mid afternoon is a very German thing to do. Cakes here are usually custard or bread based. Fruit is popular as a filling, but suspended in a custard mixture. Real pie does not exist here. A free swimming filling that oozes onto the plate when cut would not do in the cafes. That idea of flaky crust with gooey fruit filling is akin to Strudel, but not the same. Strudels are rolled or woven. They come to the bakery in all the various flavors (Cherry, Apple, even sometimes Pecan), but are not Pie.
So when I try to explain that I miss pie, some of my local friends (even non-American English speakers) say that we have tons of cakes and strudels, that is the same thing right? Nope, Pie is special.
Favorite Pie: Apple Pie at Macado’s in Blacksburg, Virginia. They serve it with a slice of melted cheddar cheese.
Germany is the land of sausage. It really is. This isn’t a stereotype as much as an accurate description of the place. Every single town and area has it’s own sausage type. Even our English names for things are Germanic town names. Frankfurters and Wieners come from Frankfurt and Vienna (Wien) respectively. Freiburg has its own Lange Rote sold in the Market place. There should be no lack of hotdog substitutes here. And in truth, the hotdog like sausages here are actually better quality than most hotdogs at home. This could then be the problem.
The first difference is that most of the dogs I remember from home are Kosher, thus all-beef instead of the ubiquitous pork here. Secondly, whether it is actually true or not, the traditional wisdom is that hotdogs are scraps of meat blended together. The Germans have this concept too. Fleischkäse (Meat-cheese literally) are large loaves of almost hot-dog consistency meat scrap blendings sold from street vendors in slabs on rolls. I have not been brave enough to try it. Normal bratwurst are higher quality meat blended with spices. The taste of the American hot dog is just different. The last difference is that American hot dogs are there as a base to put things on and around it. First off a big fluffy white bread bun. Then based on taste any number of toppings ranging from mustard to chili to cheese to relish. A bratwurst is served with a bare amount of bread and maybe a squirt of mustard or curry ketchup. The meat is the thing.
So maybe the Germans invented it and the Americans “ruined” it, I still crave a baseball park hot dog with nacho cheese sauce.
And their cousins: I haven’t even mentioned the idea of a corndog to Germans. I expect it would cause some imploding.
Popcorn is an American thing. Well ok, it originated on the continent that we call America. The Europeans got it from the natives(we won’t go into how, but it probably wasn’t as friendly as we would like.) Still corn in general and popcorn in specific is of more American origin than Europen. And thus I declare that it is not supposed to be sweet in the movies.
Seriously, sweet popcorn is fine as kettle corn. Warm and gooey caramelized sugar or hard shellacked popcorn pieces in multicolored boxes with a toy. This is a fine and wonderful thing, but not the way it gets served in the movies here. Pre popped warm temperature popcorn in bags with sprinkled sweet powder. Really popcorn is ideally made for butter and salt. This is it’s natural habitat.
The best popcorn in my mind is airpopped hot into a bowl. As the popper is spewing out the popped goodness, set the bowl spinning and drizzle butter onto it. If we start as it is being popped, the butter gets to all of the corn, not just the top layer. Then once the popcorn is done, sprinkle plenty of salt. The salt sticks to the butter even partway down in the bowl. Then eat hot, preferably with a movie in the living room.
To Drink: Beer however is a very good mix with popcorn. Though again only the salted stuff.
One of the things that comes up in almost every group of Germans that I am with when we talk about American food is spray cheese. This seems to be their idea of the pinnacle of what is wrong with American food producers. As a culture of natural food that comes from fairly (really Germany is not that big) local places, the idea of cheese that can be sprayed from a can upsets, or at least intrigues, them.
I know about spray cheese. It was a novelty even for me when I found it as a teenager in the US. It really is cool to play with. Shake a bottle and spray a bright yellow paste onto a cracker. In the end though, this is one place where I will agree with my friends here. It really isn’t good. It is pretty greasy and tastes not so good. Once I have had real cheese here, I can fully understand why a European would see this as anathema. That said, I don’t think it is fair to pick on it too much.
It is a technological marvel. Like Velveeta it is a cheese product that dazzles with its scientific accomplishments. Cheese that can be sprayed from a can. In the end though, none of my friends thought it was more than a novelty. It is neat to play with, not a whole lot more. I don’t remember it ever being a staple in any house I ever visited or lived in. You buy it because everyone things it is fun, not for taste or culture. So really it is not a sign that the US food culture is deficient, but that novelty has value.
Did you know? That spray cheese comes in 4 flavors including bacon.
I actually quite like German food. Though I miss a number of things from home too, even if they aren’t very healthy. There is something about the food you grew up with that is special.
So any other American foods that foreigners don’t understand?
May 4, 2013 @ 9:35 am
Oh this sounds so funny.
It’s true though.
American food is bizarre.
My family is of Irish decent and I thought for
a long time that corn beef and cabbage was authentic Irish food. lol.
Turns out my great grandfather was one of those who helped build the railroads and that the culture surrounding the trains warped the original version.
I’ve heard a lot of people in other places think Americans have no roots or are really bad at honoring them. I think that’s funny considering the way some families express some kind of sacredness about where the family comes from.
What you see in the stores doesn’t usually translate to the plate though.
I know in my house at least, I make a bunch of soups, stews and grain based dishes. Things like quail and venison.
Then again, america is huge and you never really know what the people over on the other sides do regularly.
Sometimes what people do all the way across the world sounds more sane.
I mean…deep fried butter or candy?
Why? Why would that be necessary?
October 9, 2012 @ 10:14 pm
I just had a German guest here for Canadian Thanksgiving and she had never had turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce or pumpkin pie. She loved the entire Thanksgiving meal and wants the pumpkin pie recipe. I was surprised when she told me pie is not something to be easily found in Germany.
October 14, 2012 @ 1:26 pm
Turkey is definitely very common in Germany, so that surprises me she had never had it at all. Though the combination with all the other stuff is not in Germany. Although the idea of it, meat and potatoes and extras is quite a Germanic concept. So no wonder she enjoyed it.
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February 24, 2011 @ 10:27 am
what a great post! Suzer sent me here btw 🙂
I lived in Germany for 3 years, and now I’ve lived in Australia for 3 years. I’m American. I would KILL for a German weisswurst. The “snags” here are so disgusting and foul. I love American hot dogs too (chili&cheese or ball park style with relish!), but German wursts oh man they do them right! 🙂
might have to go out for German this weekend fortunately there are lots of German settlements here, but no where I can find a real hot dog. oh well!
February 24, 2011 @ 11:51 pm
Welcome Danielle. Thanks for the comment.
Umm.. anything called a “snag” is not something I would eat. Even the name is unappetizing. The best place for closest to American hotdogs is Ikea here. Do you have those in Australia? The normal wurstchen are somehow too high quality. What part of Germany did you live in?
The Honourable Husband
February 21, 2011 @ 9:16 pm
Food that Germans don’t understand? Ice cubes.
I left America as a teenager, and I considered it a sign of a sophisticated palate that I wasn’t one of these expats who had to have homespun foods. That lasted until a fellow US expat said that he could make me homesick with four words. They were “Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.”
February 21, 2011 @ 9:36 pm
Yup, those words would do it indeed.
February 1, 2011 @ 3:40 pm
Your comment about corndogs made me laugh out loud.
So true about the pie – I miss it, and I don’t even quite understand it, considering the wide variety of ‘apfeltaschen’, ‘apfelkuchen’, ‘apfelstrudel’, etc. But it somehow is just DIFFERENT! I have resorted a few times to baking my own, but somehow the extra effort with no one else to truly appreciate the magnificent difference puts a bit of a damper on things… =)
February 2, 2011 @ 8:56 am
I couldn’t bake a pie in the US even with canned filling and ready made crust,so I am out of luck here. I make do with the wonderful pastries that we do have here. Someone of my friends tries pumpkin pie every winter, so there is some exposure. 🙂 Mmmm corndogs, though.
January 21, 2011 @ 10:00 am
Oh man, now I want a piece of apple pie and cheddar cheese SO much! Used to love spray cheese as a little girl, but it kind of freaks me out now. The Thais don’t really understand cheese at all, which is really unfortunate.
January 23, 2011 @ 5:37 pm
Apple pie with cheese is nice. Well I remember it being nice, but that was many years ago.
What no cheese in Thailand? Seriously? That is freaky. Not sure I want to go there now.
Tiffany @ No Ordinary Homestead
January 20, 2011 @ 9:23 pm
The closest thing you can get to a hot dog in Germany is at IKEA…but it’s pork all the way.
Pie I definitely miss…and getting glass pie plates over here is nearly impossible. I actually had to bring one with me.
Fleischkäse you must try. It’s a bit like a big slab of bologna, but with ketchup and mustard on it, it tastes quite a bit like a hot dog. Just don’t let anyone see you put ketchup on it or you might get lynched 🙂
Peanut butter has definitely improved over the years…and dropped in prices. It used to be insanely expensive when you could find it. Now Lidl has it all the time during American week…which is the biggest joke ever!
January 23, 2011 @ 5:34 pm
I’ve seen the Ikea hotdogs and am not impressed. Wow, yeah that is a point about the pie plates. I think I have one still at home, maybe I will look for it when I head there for the next visit.
I don’t really go to Lidl, as there isn’t one conveniently close to me. Aldi has American week every so often too. Though the stuff rarely appeals as it is American because it is highly processed. The ketchup sounds good on the fleischkäse. I went walking a bit this weekend and saw it in several butcher’s counters. I kept thinking I should try it, but it just looks SO unappetizing.
Thanks for the comment and I am happy to have discovered your site.
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January 10, 2011 @ 8:33 pm
Hi Andrew, awesome site! I too am an American living in Germany, and I feel like I find more and more differences in these two seemingly similar countries everyday! One thing that I really miss, food wise, while over here, is Mexican food. I am from Texas and pretty much run on fajitas, beans and rice, so I miss those here. Really enjoying having a look around your site!!
January 11, 2011 @ 8:34 am
Welcome. Thanks for the compliment on the site. I love your logo, and want to read more on your sit too.
There are 3 Mexican places in Freiburg. One that we go to a lot is pretty good, but as my girlfriend mentions it isn’t authentic. Or even “American style authentic”.
June 5, 2012 @ 12:06 am
YES! on missing the Mexican food! My son lives on beans and rice/burritos and we can not find them anywhere in Germany! We have all but given up on even trying Mexican restaurants because he get so dissappointed when the food is not what he wants!!!
June 7, 2012 @ 11:07 am
Refried beans would be hard. Rice and tortillas are certainly available though, so burritos should be possible to make. I remember my first trip abroad when I was a kid. I was so used to food in the US, I didn’t even like the burgers abroad. I have however gotten over that. Hope your son does too. How old is he?
January 10, 2011 @ 7:47 pm
LOVE! I think anyone living or traveling abroad for an extended period can relate.
I have to preface my comment though so that people don’t murder me when I start talking about all the foods I miss while living in Italy. Yes, Italian food is amazing, BUT after one year (or less really) you are left craving something else, especially coming from a country with a huge variety (or maybe a really different cuisine). Italians don’t do variety well so with only mediocre sushi, Indian and Mexican places I’m pretty desperate for some of my favorites. Don’t even get me started on Cheddar Cheese… mmm…
That’s the beauty of travel, hoping to Germany or the UK satisfies SOME of these cravings. It’s true, it’s all part of the cultural experience. Gotta love it just the same!
January 11, 2011 @ 8:30 am
I never thought about it in just that way about the US being really into variety, but it is true. When I have traveled in Italy the food seems even to be highly regional; with each region specializing. Whereas “Italian” food in the US, and probably in Germany too, is picked from around the whole country. Germany isn’t a whole lot different with the regional specialties. Though the foreign stuff is ok in Freiburg. I have a favorite Asian place and there is a Mexican place, that although isn’t authentic, is pretty good for a change. Oh and tons of Döner. I guess you need immigrants for variety.
January 10, 2011 @ 3:42 pm
i was hoping you mention a Big Mac am a big fan of that, but am not a fan of spray cheese i still dont understand why its ever made
January 10, 2011 @ 8:01 pm
Hamburgers are really common and very well “got” here. Maybe it is a cultural ‘coolness’ thing, but really meat and potatoes is a clear German thing.
January 10, 2011 @ 11:55 am
OMG I love the corn dog comment!
Yesterday we had a pancake breakfast for German friends, some of whom had never had American pancakes before. What amused me the most was the consternation over the bottle of Aunt Jemima syrup. OK…you’ve inspired me…I think I have to post about this. 🙂
January 10, 2011 @ 8:12 pm
Love your pancake post. Good stack of fluffy flapjacks on a cold winter morning is wonderful.
January 8, 2011 @ 11:26 am
I’m a massive kettle corn fan!!!
And apple pie from Macado’s? I don’t remember getting dessert there but I do miss Blacksburg 🙂
January 8, 2011 @ 6:39 pm
Did you study at VT too? Yeah, if I remember right one of the few desserts at Macado’s was Apple Pie. There was a little optional thing about melted cheddar cheese. I tried it once and loved it. Obviously skip the icecream if you are going for the cheese.
January 10, 2011 @ 7:48 pm
I’m really intrigued about this Apple Pie and Cheddar Cheese thing, I thought I read that wrong… looks like a trip to VA is in the future!
January 8, 2011 @ 10:28 am
I can totally relate to this post. We organized a “Come Dine With Me” event every week where one of my friends had to host a dinner with food typical from their country. There are about 10 of us from different places so it’s been a really great experience. However, when I tried to think of foods that were typically “American,” I couldn’t really think of anything except McDonalds (unfortunately). Luckily I realized that I would plan my dinner on the same night we celebrated Thanksgiving. This meant two pumpkin pies! However, they didn’t have the right crust here in the UK and I had to buy the pumpkin mix from a specialty shop.
January 8, 2011 @ 6:32 pm
Wow that does sound like a great thing. Most of the common American food is actually German or Italian stuff. I think of pasta, burgers, pizza and the like. Several friends of mine have made pumpkin pie from scratch here. They made crusts and even made the filling from an actual pumpkin. Not the American way, but the pies were delicious. (nothing to do with the vodka or brandy added to various pies)
January 8, 2011 @ 9:46 am
Ahhhhh! I so agree on the sweet popcorn thing. When I was living on the Malaysian rice farm, I dreamed about going to a movie & having movie theater popcorn for TWO MONTHS. When I finally had the chance, I was devastated to discover that Malaysian cinemas (or at least the ones I went to) only served sweet popcorn. That is just NOT RIGHT, people.
January 8, 2011 @ 6:27 pm
Sweet popcorn does seem to be the normal thing outside of the US. One thing to show that the US culture is misunderstood. What movie did you see?
January 8, 2011 @ 9:31 am
Great post! Your list made me laugh. I really related tot he popcorn comment as I love popcorn and buying an air popper was one of my first purchases in Germany.
To be honest I hadn’t even noticed the absence of pie in Germany, but you’re right, it doesn’t exist here.
Great minds think alike, I also wrote a post on German vs Canadian food today 🙂
January 8, 2011 @ 6:26 pm
Wow.. I have a hard time picturing a German hot air popper, but I may need to go look. I love popcorn. I think I notice the missing pie only because it is missing. I love it, but didn’t ever eat it that much at home. Now that I can’t, I want it.
January 8, 2011 @ 7:18 am
So how could Germans not understand a hotdog?!? They eat a bratwurst and serve it with a little breda. It never entered their minds to put the two together? And yet they claim they don’t get that? Doesn’t make sense to me. I understand the bratwurst being better tasting but you could still eat that with some bread. On the flip side, I understand not wanting to ruin the spices with bread. But still…you would think they could have tried it.
The rest I don’t mind. I like pie but don’t eat it a lot. Never cared for spray cheese and you could understand why many Europeans, with all their fine cheeses, wouldn’t get this. Popcorn is no big deal to me. Ironically, I just ate a bag of this right before I read this – my first bag of popcorn in over a year! No lie!
I do think Ali should be kicked out of the US for hating pie! 🙂
January 8, 2011 @ 9:26 am
It’s not that they don’t understand the idea of meat with bread. Certainly the hotdog is spawned from German tradition. This is kind of the problem though. They tend to see the hotdog as an inferior version of their own bratwurst. You can even buy things labeled hotdogs here. They use normal high quality sausage and baguette. This is tasty sure, but not the white fluffy bun and hotdog from a pack of 8 style thing.
oo Popcorn. It is sold here, but I don’t have a popper (or a microwave). So I only get it irregularly.
No worries Ali, if Jeremy kicks you out of the US, you can stay with me. 😉
January 8, 2011 @ 9:59 pm
I’m ok with living in a land without pie, so if Jeremy kicks me out of the US, I’ll take you up on your offer 🙂
January 8, 2011 @ 1:19 am
Ok I’m a weird American, I don’t like pie. I don’t like whipped cream either. We probably have a lot more junk food here than in other countries. I remember once talking to someone on twitter (I think he was from Australia) who had never eaten Reeses peanutbutter cups or Oreos, two of my favorites. Food is probably one of the biggest things people miss when they’re not living at home. P.S. Your corndog comment made me laugh out loud 🙂
January 8, 2011 @ 9:21 am
The Reeses cups are usually what a friend from Canada brings as gifts when she comes to visit. For Christmas she brought a bag of cups and pieces and peanutbutter MnMs. Oreos are actually not uncommon here. I have seen them at stores, but I haven’t bought them.
You are right that food is the thing that gets missed the most. I try to end up with a balance.
Yeah, the corndog thing I think would boggle a German mind. So you take a sausage and dip it in corn batter and deepfry it. Trying to explain cornbread is hard enough.
January 8, 2011 @ 1:02 am
Living in Spain, I know this feeling all too well. I just want to know what the Germans think of peanut butter? I’m met with a lot of disgusted looks when I mention it…or the butter dispenser we have for popcorn at the movie theaters back in the States! God Bless America.
January 8, 2011 @ 9:16 am
Oo Peanut Butter would have been a good additional section. Maybe I’ll do a part 2.
The PB situation has improved over the years. When I first started traveling over 15 years ago, you could get just the peanut butter that was literally squished peanuts. So it was grainy and oily and not smooth or sweet, if anything it was a bit salty. This goes poorly with apples and jelly. Using this I get why Europeans can’t get their mind around PBnJ. Nowadays you can buy American Style peanutbutter in the stores.
January 7, 2011 @ 10:53 pm
My German mother in law serves Fleish-salad which, to me, looks like matchstick pieces of hotdog in a mayo like dressing. She serves it for lunch alongside all the cheese and sausage and deli meat a girl could want – I love German lunch!
I have a question about the image in your header…where is it? It looks familiar, like a place we went for dinner on the Austrian/German border near Newschanstein Castle.
January 8, 2011 @ 9:13 am
Where is your mother-in-law from in Germany? That sounds a lot like Badische Wurstsalat. It always looks like sliced bologna in goo to me. I don’t really like it, but the cold cut, cheese and sausage selection for lunch sounds great.
You mean the picture behind the tree? No, that is in Meteora, Greece not anywhere near Germany. There is a phototour here.
Veteran Military Wife at Life Lessons of a Military Wife
January 7, 2011 @ 10:16 pm
Ha! Ha! That is funny! I once tried to explain to a German what that spray cheese was….and I absolutely couldn’t…he kept asking, “is it really….cheese????” Ummmmm…you know, I didn’t really know the answer! Is it?
January 8, 2011 @ 9:09 am
I think it is best described as a “cheese-like product”. It has similarities to actual cheese. As I mention, I don’t think it is a standard weekly thing too many people, but it ends up being an icon of sorts.
January 7, 2011 @ 9:59 pm
Thanks for the mention 🙂 I was laughing when I read your post. It’s so true! Us Germans don’t get pie. And guess what I miss here in Texas… cake. Most of the pies here are just too sweet for me (and that says something as I have a huuuuuuge sweet tooth).
And I can’t believe you miss American hotdogs! Don’t tell any of your German friends 😉 They might get offended. We’re very proud of our sausages. I guess I understand though, because I truly feel that one’s comfort food is what one grows up with – no matter if it’s better or worse or just different. Case in point… I really don’t like the hotdogs here… To me they are flavorless and none of them are “knackig” enough. Oh, I could keep going… Maybe I need to write a post about sausages on my blog next. Until then, give the Fleischkaese a chance – it’s best bought at a butcher’s who will put a thick warm slice of the meat into a Broetchen. Delicious!
It took me a while to get used to the salted popcorn here in the States, but now I actually quite like it. Psssst! Don’t tell anyone…
January 8, 2011 @ 9:08 am
Yeah, really the hotdog thing is comfort food from childhood. Since they were my favorite, my mom would put them in lots of things to make me eat them. They have taste but a very different one than German Bratwurst. The wurstchen in a jar are pretty similar.
Ooo yeah, write about sausages. This “knackig” idea is one I am not on board with. Sausage should be meat-like and not snap when I eat it. The market has nice beef bratwurst, but come in such a hard casing that I just do eat it. I like the naked bratwursts. Don’t get me wrong, I do like and eat sausages here. They are just not the same as a hotdog.
I may try Fleischkäse but it just looks awful. Maybe I can get them to do a thin slice.
January 9, 2011 @ 3:17 am
You crack me up 🙂 You don’t want your sausage to snap? I never thought about it that way, but I guess I want my Wiener Wuerstchen to snap. To me that’s a sign of freshness and quality. Funny how perceptions differ.
Oh, go ahead, give that slice of Fleischkaese in the fresh Broetchen a chance. You know you want to! And I promise it won’t snap at you! 😉
January 10, 2011 @ 7:59 pm
I guess I will need to try a fleischkaese at some point. Maybe it will be like the German Vegimite.
January 7, 2011 @ 9:08 pm
When I was working at a restaurant in Nice, one of the cooks asked me what my favorite dessert was and I said my mom’s apple pie. He laughed–could I really get any more American than that?
I want to try it with a slice of melted cheddar next! I don’t eat spray cheese or hotdogs, but I can totally understand missing pie!
January 8, 2011 @ 9:02 am
I don’t eat spray cheese either. Hotdogs though were my favorite food as a kid. Did the cook make pie for you??