Favourite Bremen food
Brown kale with pinkel sausage, pluckte finken stew, chick ragout and baked smelt – as strange as these dishes might sound, they really are delicious. Prepare to be surprised!
Brown kale with pinkel sausage, pluckte finken stew, chick ragout and baked smelt – as strange as these dishes might sound, they really are delicious. The people of Bremen just love them. And they love quite a few other things that might take a bit of getting used to, including knipp, klaben and kluten.
"Anyone else can tell that someone is from Bremen by the way they call curly kale brown kale", wrote someone in the know in the 1950s. "The kale itself is called brown kale because it turns from a green to a brownish colour if it's cooked for a long time", he explained. So far, so good – but what is a pinkel sausage? A delicacy in north Germany, the pinkel sausage contains groats and is added to the kale during cooking. For many, this traditional wurst is the key ingredient in Bremen's signature dish. Nowadays, kale and pinkel is usually served with cured pork, pork belly slices and smoked pork sausage. A hearty winter treat that purists won't eat before the kale has had its first frost – otherwise, so they say, it just doesn't taste as good.
Like kale, smelt is a delicacy enjoyed outside Bremen as well, but counts as one of the city's traditional dishes. Smelt are small fish known for their intense, cucumber-like smell that puts many people off – hence the nickname stinkfisch. They used to migrate en masse to the Weser river and are said to have been a poor man's food. Today smelt are considered an early springtime delicacy. They are fried in batter, which is traditionally made using rye flour.
Chick ragout could stake a claim to being the quintessential Bremen dish. It is said to date back to a legend pertaining to the foundation of Bremen ((bitte Link anlegen)). In this, a hen and her chicks showed outcasts the way to a hill on which they then founded Bremen. The traditional version of the tale does not say what happened next – but according to the chick ragout legend, the settlers ate the chicks as soon they had recovered from their arduous journey. Animal lovers might like to know that the word 'chick' in the recipe actually comes from the old Low German word kiken, which means a young chicken. So it's not cute yellow balls of fluff that end up in the pot, but poussin birds weighing between 200 and 600 grammes. Other ingredients in the chick ragout can include calf's tongue and calf's sweetbread, crayfish or sausages.
Just as there are no actual chicks in the chick ragout, there are also no finches (finken in German), plucked or otherwise, in pluckte finken. According to Betty Gleim's Bremen cookbook from 1817, this hearty stew contains carrots as well as smoked ox or cured meat. The dish is said to originate from the days of Bremen's whale catchers, when it contained whale blubber (vinken) chopped up (plucken) into little pieces.
Another hearty Bremen favourite is knipp. People in Bremen would understand this as a blood sausage similar to the pinkel, but produced in a larger format with a diameter of around ten centimetres, and which is sold sliced rather than whole. Knipp, which contains lots of fat, is usually fried to a crisp and served together with fried potatoes, gherkin and mustard.
Among the sweeter dishes associated with the city, klaben is a real winner. The Bremen version of the Christmas cake known in most other places as stollen is not for anyone watching their weight. There is a huge amount of butter in the dough as well as lots of raisins. Recently, the bread-shaped cake has joined the select ranks of foods that enjoy protected geographical status under EU law, such as Aachen Printen gingerbread and lebkuchen from Nuremberg. So if it say's klaben on the label, it has to be from Bremen, Bremerhaven or the immediate surroundings.
Also typically Bremen are kluten, which look a bit like dominos or like two sugar cubes stuck together. Bremen's kluten are made of peppermint fondant, with one half covered with dark chocolate. Kluten are available in lots of shops in the old quarter – they make both a great sweet treat and a fantastic souvenir of your visit.