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I've developed a passion for cooking since childhood, but in the past six years, that passion has grown into a geeky obsession. I love cooking, baking, and most importantly, sharing the love of food with family and friends. I invite you along on my journey of food discovery and passion.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Beer in Bavaria

Our first impression of Oktoberfest
I don't know about you, but I've always had on my bucket list to go to Germany.  I think part of it is that I am half-German (my mother's side), so I've always associated identified with the food and culture of both Germany and Poland (the other part of my heritage).  It was with great excitement that we had the opportunity to travel to Germany this past week.  As part of that, we decided to stop in Munich to attend Oktoberfest.


I have to say, driving into Munich, I wasn't sure what to expect from Oktoberfest.  I've heard mixed things - the drunken loutish behavior, the fun times, the heavy alcohol consumption, etc.  Upon arrival, we entered our very "formal" hotel - lots of wood, chintz, etc. after seeing our more "informal" neighborhood complete with strip clubs, bollywood fashion, small grocery market, and various restaurants and bars.  Dropping off the bags, we headed out in the general direction of the Oktoberfest grounds, about a 10 minute walk.

Hoffbrau Beer Tent
We received the best tip of the trip from some people that we talked to on the street hailing from Chicago.  They warned us against actually finding places in the beer halls and instead to check out the beer gardens (biergarten).  If the weather is nice, you get a breeze to accompany the beer.  Inside the "tent" (really an actual wooden building), it's stuffy, overcrowded, and rowdy.  That could be fun too, but I'm not really a fan of sitting on vomit while trying to eat.  We immediately headed to the most well-known place, Hoffbrau Haus and found empty tables in the back of the biergarten.  Score!  We played like all the others and ordered two liter mugs of pilsner. 

It was pretty good, but knowing that we potentially had a looooong night ahead, we wisely also ordered 1/2 roasted chicken.  Yummy - crispy skin, properly rendered, and tender meat that only needed a knife to separate from the bone.  Later, we also polished off an order of spareribs.  The only blight to those?  Their version of bbq sauce was - literally - Heinz 57!  We tucked into two more beers - Ice had another liter, while I had half-and-half - a mix of beer and Sprite.  Can't say I loved it, but it probably did save me a hangover!  Our evening ended with a lively discussion that included two Americans from upstate NY, a group of young Aussies, and a recently divorced German man that we instructed on the finer points of throwing a Halloween party.

The remains of Hoffbrau lunch...
and pretzel!
 The next day, we decided that we needed a bit of respite.  We slept late and meandered our way to Marienplatz (center of town) to hear the Glockenspiel play and have lunch at Hoffbrau Haus (the original).  Their efficiency is a cross between a Vegas buffet serving thousands and a pub like The Flying Saucer.  The oompa band plays, people sing, and you can enjoy a variety of Bavarian fare with (generally) English-speaking staff.  I stuck with the tried-and-true - Bratwurst plate with potato salad (we would call it German potato salad) and sauerkraut.  The bratwurst was yummy - mildly seasoned and the potato salad was typical of the style, but the sauerkraut was the closest to my gramma's I've tasted - porky goodness with both a sweet and sour taste. 

It's a meat fest!
 Ice had the sausage platter consisting of a variety of sausages.  The sauerkraut was his, but, he's not into kraut, so I took that from him. 

Sausage, kraut, and potato salad
The final highlight is the Bavarian pretzel.  It's the size of my head and manages to have both crunchy and chewy elements.  It's richer and more malty-tasting than a typical American pretzel and paired nicely with the beer.  Heading back to our hotel, we acquired some chocolates from a local shop and some gelato because a trip to Europe would not be complete without it.  We ended up consuming the chocolates en route to Berlin and, well, apparently they like hard liquor in their candy - woah!  We also made about our 5th trip to Mickey D's to get ice cold sodas.  If you've been to Europe, you understand the luxury of a drink with ice on a hot day after lots of beer and walking.

Pretzel Love!

Our final foray into Bavarian adventure was to return to Oktoberfest and find another tent.  After about an hour of wandering in and out of the various tents that were absolutely bursting with occupants, we managed to squeeze into a spot in the Schottenhamel biergarten.  We settled in for a round of liters and light conversation with the Aussies next to us.  Later, we engaged in a conversation with perhaps the only American Football fan in Dusseldorf!  Ray and he had such a wonderful time that we ended up heading to the Spaten beer tent for afterhours drinking.  Beer tents generally close by 11 pm (so therefore you have to start drinking early in the day based on that principle, right?), with the exception of one that gets a late license until around 12:30 or 1 a.m.  And yes, we closed it down with the Dusseldorf boys!   


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