Everyone’s favorite stereotype about the Germans is how efficient they’re supposed to be. But if there’s one area of life that I’ve noticed Germany is happy to slow down and enjoy, it’s breakfast.
The most common breakfast centers around brötchen, or “cute breads”. When I met Germans in the US, the first thing they always complained about was the lack of quality bread—and once you’ve had German bread, you’ll see why. I love brötchen because they offer the perfect chance to sample the wide variety of German baking. Brötchen can be any type of roll: crusty country breads, brown breads densely covered in seeds, light and fluffy white breads with a crunchy golden exterior, pretzels in all different shapes. They are served to the table in a big bowl or basket, up for grabs for the quickest (and most unapologetic) hands. Then, they are cut completely in half and dressed with toppings.
And what for toppings! Caprese salads with tangy balsamico and creamy, fresh mozzarella. Thick slices of golden cheese. Wheels of waxen Camembert and brie. Butter in a ceramic tray, warmed by the sun. Eggs of all kinds: scrambled, fried, hardboiled. Chorizo, Serrano ham, salami, sausage. Fresh cucumbers, tomatoes, onions sliced transparently thin. Avocadoes if you’re very lucky. An endless array of jars: mustards, pestos, tapenades, hummus. Jams, nut butters, Nutella, honey. It feels as though the entire kitchen has decamped at the table (in fact, when we go to Tim’s family’s home, we literally empty an entire kitchen shelf for breakfast).
Eating these open-faced sandwiches can be tricky for novices. While you may sometimes have slices from a thick loaf of bread, typically the German rolls are already quite tall. When you start to add toppings, you face the danger of a) not being able to fit it politely in your mouth, and b) having the goodies fall off. Watching Tim, I picked up a few tricks. The first is to build your brötchen by bite: if you build the whole surface, you’re more likely to have it slide when you go to pick it up. But if you’re using slices of meat or cheese, you can’t quite do that. That’s where the second pro-tip comes into play—use your fork to hold the surface to the bread while you bite, keeping everything in place without resorting to using your fingers (which is a big no-no in German culture). It also helps squish things down so you can easier manage the height. But do try and avoid putting the two halves together and eating them like a sandwich at the table.
Prior to moving to Germany, I hated breakfast. It always felt like something to rush through so I could get started on my day. But the thing about brötchen is that it takes time to build them. Sure, weekday commuters can purchase pre-stacked rolls at the subway kiosk, but no one does this on the weekends. Everyone seems to delight in the process of brötchen building—selecting the bread, trading halves with someone who has a different roll than you, choosing the layers. Will it be roasted red pepper hummus, a slice of Edam, and chorizo? Or butter, scrambled egg, and cucumber? You chat as you prepare, scoping the table for something you missed, dipping a spoon into this or that jar to taste different flavors.
It’s a slow, leisurely process, meant for savoring and enjoying—and the perfect way to start the day, whether you’re lounging at your own expat table, or ordering your hotel breakfast before a day of exploring.
Prompt via The Daily Post.