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The Traditional Cuisine

Bavarians like to eat, justifying their appetites with the very reasonable assertion that any type of human interaction operates more smoothly when it's lubricated with ample amounts of food and wine, or, even better, food and beer.

Calorie- and cholesterol-conscious North Americans might recoil at the sight of meals made up of dumplings, potatoes, any of a dozen different types of Wurst (sausages), roasted meats flavored with bacon drippings, breads, and pastries. Munich, of course, has many restaurants that specialize in cuisine moderne, as well as nouvelle counterparts of the traditional cuisine. But the standard old-fashioned Kuchen (cake) is still widely served and enjoyed.

The Bavarian affair with sausage is of ancient lineage, wurst having been a major part of the national diet almost since there were people and livestock in the area. Bavarians tend to view their wurst with some superstition, nostalgically adhering to such adages as "Never let the sunshine of noon shine on a Weisswurst," and the reservation of Rotwurst for consumption in the evening.

Every Bavarian professes a love for his or her favorite kind of wurst (a choice that's often based on childhood associations). Many visitors' favorite is Bratwurst, which came originally from nearby Nürnberg and is concocted from seasoned and spiced pork. Weisswurst, Munich's traditional accompaniment to a foaming mug of beer, wasn't "invented" until 1857, a date remembered by Münchners as an important watershed. The ingredients that go into it are less appetizing than the final result -- usually including veal, calves' brains, and spleen. Modern versions contain less offal and better quantities of veal, as well as spices and lemon juice to enhance the flavor. Two are usually considered a snack. Five or six are a respectable main course. Most aficionados try not to eat the skin, but some die-hards wouldn't think of removing it.

Bauernwurst (farmer's sausage) and Knockwurst are variations of the Frankfurter, which, although it originated in the more westerly city of Frankfurt, achieved its greatest fame in the New World. While Leberwurst is a specialty of Hesse, and Riderwurst (beef sausage) and Blutwurst (blood sausage) are specialties of Westphalia, all of them are widely served and enjoyed in Munich. Regardless of which you choose, the perfect accompaniment for wurst consists of mustard, a roll (preferably studded with pumpernickel seeds), and beer.

As savory as the wursts of Munich might be, they're considered too simple to grace the table at any truly elaborate Bavarian meal, unless accompanied by other dishes. From the long-ago repertoire of agrarian Bavarian cuisine comes Züngerl (pig's tongue) or Wammerl (pig's stomach), most often served with braised or boiled cabbage. Potato dumplings (Klösse, or Kartoffelknödel) and Leber (liver) dumplings are mandatory features. Semmelknödel (bread dumplings) generally accompany the most famous meat dish of Bavaria, Schweinebraten (roast pork). Also popular with many devotees are Kalbshaxen (veal shank) and Schweinshaxen (roasted knuckle of pork). Carp is prized by Munich's gastronomes, as is a succulent variety of trout, or Forelle.

Feeling hungry during your sightseeing promenades around Munich? Step into the nearest Metzgerei (butcher shop) and order such items as a Warmer Leberkäs, which has nothing to do with either liver or cheese, but instead with ground beef and bacon, baked like a meatloaf and sold in slices of about 100 grams each. It's best consumed with mild mustard and a roll. Another worthy choice is Wurtzsemmel, sliced sausage meat on a roll, or Schinkensemmel, sliced ham served on a roll. You can carry it away for consumption at a sport where there's a view or take it into a Bierkeller or Biergarten (it's been legal for centuries to bring in your own food and order a small beer to go with it).

And What Beer Should You Drink?

No self-respecting Münchner will refuse a sparkling glass of wine, and will even praise highly the light, slightly acidic wines from the Rhineland. But the real glint enters a Münchner's eye when the relative merits of beer are discussed. You won't lack for variety within the beer halls of Munich -- there are even beers available according to season.

Both because it's the law and as a matter of pride, breweries make their beer with yeast, barley, hops, and water. Preservatives aren't usually added -- in a city where a 200-liter cask of beer can be drained by a thirsty crowd in less than 12 minutes, the beer never lasts long enough to really need them. Legally required adherence to certain standards dates back to 1516 -- before the establishment of standards anywhere else in Europe.

Here's a rundown on what you're likely to need in your dialogue with a Münchner bartender.

"Normal" Bavarian beer, also referred to as light beer (ask for ein Helles), is slightly less potent than the brew consumed in north Germany, France, or England. Its relative weakness is the main reason why many visitors can consume several liters before beginning to feel the least bit giddy.

Don't think, however, that "normal" beer is the same as Weiss or (in Münchner dialect) Weizenbier, which is brewed with a high concentration of fermented wheat. In springtime, along with spring lamb and fresh fruit and vegetables, Munich offers Bock and Doppelbock (Double Bock), Märzenbier, and Pils.

Beck's Dark is an example of dark beer (ein Dunkles) known to many North Americans. There's even a dark Weiss beer, which happens to be wheat beer brewed in such a way as to make it smoky-looking rather than pale. And in case you've forgotten a particularly unpleasant episode in Munich's civic history, there's even a beer named after the doomed socialists (the Red Guards) who forcibly took over the city's government for a few months in 1918 -- a Russe, which consists of Weiss (wheat) beer and lemonade.

What is the polite thing to ask for if you think you're too drunk to handle another liter of "normal" beer? Ask for a Radlermass (literally, "a mug for the bike"), composed of half "normal" beer, half lemonade.

The ideal place to go for consuming this amazing variety of fermented grains is any of the city's dozens of beer cellars and beer gardens, which serve simple, snacklike food items -- sausages, white radishes, cheese, and the kind of salted pretzels that are guaranteed to make you thirstier. Munich's most historic drinking sites include the Hofbräuhaus and the Bürgerbräukeller, both of which carry local associations of everyone from Adolf Hitler to the boy or girl next door.

The Bavarian Brew -- Few cities in the world cling to a beverage the way Munich clings to beer. Münchners -- with a little help from their visitors -- consume a world's record of the stuff: 280 liters a year, per capita (as opposed to a wimpy 150 liters in other parts of Germany). This kind of "heroism" usually prompts a cynical comment from the wine drinkers of Berlin and the Rhineland -- they say that Bavarians never open their mouths except to pour in more beer! The Münchner response is that settling questions of politics, art, music, commerce, and finance, as well as the affairs of the human heart, requires plenty of beer and lots of good, unfussy food.

Some of Munich's most notable events have floated on the suds. There was Hitler's Beer Hall Putsch (Hofbräuhaus, 1923); a bungled attempt to assassinate Hitler (in the Bürgerbräukeller in 1939); and, most recently, the Beer Garden Revolution, a 1995 event, when the proposed closing of a neighborhood beer garden at 9:30pm was seen as a threat to the civil liberties of all the city's beer drinkers and prompted mass rallies by infuriated Münchners. These, along with dozens of smaller but still sudsy tempests, have trained Munich's politicians to view the effects of the brew on their constituents with considerable respect.

The perfect accompaniment for beer (especially if it happens to be consumed before noon), as everyone knows, is Weisswurst, those little white sausages. And every year, the anniversary of their invention, in 1857, is celebrated as something of a national holiday. Prost! (Toast!)

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.