Fall has crept up upon us once again, and with it begins the holiday season throughout most of North America. But before you rush into Halloween costume selection or put up that Day of the Dead alter, check your local listings for the closest Oktoberfest event and head on over for a hefty dose of German cuisine, music, activities and more.
This annual event lasts for 16 full days in Munich, whereas in the U.S. and Canada you’ll find scattered celebrations that continue from mid-September throughout the month of October. Come on out for few German beers and the spectacle of lederhosen-clad revelers dance to rousing brass beats, but stay for the excellent cuisine—no matter which event you pick, you are guaranteed to leave with a full stomach.
Typical main course options at an Oktoberfest event include bratwurst, pork shank, spaetzle, Wiener schnitzel and beef stew, usually served in open air tents on long, communal tables alongside frothy steins full of beer. While the German names may be a bit confusing, you can’t go wrong with any food item that ends in “–wurst,” because this moniker denotes a delicious, homemade sausage. Bratwurst is a common option, enjoyed either freshly grilled or sitting atop dense rye bread, and consists of a smoked sausage composed of pork, veal and spices. Knockwurst is another sausage option, containing lean pork and beef plus garlic and spices, whereas Bockwurst resembles a hot dog and contains mostly veal and spices. All of these sausages are meant to be consumed with a heaping side of sauerkraut, so be sure to have a large plate handy!
If you’ve never tried, and perhaps are even unsure of how to pronounce, Wiener schnitzel or spaetzle, an Oktoberfest event is the perfect time to try something new. Despite its complicated name, Wiener schnitzel is simply breaded veal, fried and served with lemon. Although this protein-rich delicacy actually hails from Vienna, Austria, it has become a beloved part of German cuisine as well. For a lighter option, try spaetzle, thick egg noodles that some consider dumplings. This versatile food can accompany meaty, gravy-rich dishes such as Sauerbraten (pot roast), is mixed with vegetables and cheese so that its pasta-like consistency can shine, is enjoyed in soups (making it more of a dumpling), and even prepared with grated apples and/or cherries to create a sweet dessert.
But don’t go too overboard on the main courses—side items are not to be missed during Oktoberfest. From potato salad to potato pancakes, the humble spud plays an important supporting role during authentic Oktoberfest events. One such delectable offering is Bavarian Potato Salad, which is composed of hot potatoes mixed with bacon, onion, chicken broth and lemon juice, served warm to help combat chilly fall weather. Another side item synonymous with Oktoberfest is sauerkraut, fermented cabbage flavored with juniper berries and served alongside heavy, meaty concoctions. This vegetarian dish provides a pleasantly piquant contrast to fatty, richer foods, and is quite high in vitamins and antioxidants.
Finally, be sure to save room for some divine German desserts to top off your Oktoberfest experience. A true classic is Black Forest Cake, which hails from a region renowned for its cherry production. Fresh, sweetly sour cherries are combined with a luscious blend of chocolate and cream to create this scrumptious cake sure to fill up any space you may have left in your tummy. If you’re looking to munch on something a bit less intense, try Schupfnudeln, fried potato dumplings sprinkled with orange-vanilla sugar or a sweet pretzel bite enrobed in cinnamon, honey or fresh berry compote.
This fall, why not get the holidays off to a merry and delicious start by visiting a local Oktoberfest and sampling a delightful variety of German food—at the very least you will be glad to enjoy something different prepared by someone else before your own Thanksgiving, Christmas and other holiday meal obligations begin to take center stage.