Thursday, 9 February 2012

Top Ten Cologne - Food for every occasion!

Cologne is an extremely diverse city, which is reflected in its vast array of food outlets. Whether you fancy traditional or exotic, a quick nibble or a gourmet experience, Cologne's culinary establishments cater to your every whim. I have put together a list of some of my favourite places, all of which satisfy slightly different needs.

Breakfast time

A typical German breakfast will always involve mountains of fresh brötchen (bread rolls), cheese and cold meats. As tasty as these can be, I often found myself yearning for the cereal-based brekkie I normally had back home. Then one day my boyfriend told me he had a surprise for me. We went out, stomachs rumbling as I had been told I could not have breakfast first, and he lead me to Brüsseler Straβe to the cutest little muesli cafe, aptly named 'Yummy!'

Perfect breakfast

A pick 'n' mix style display filled with every type of cereal you could imagine, along with dried fruits and chocolate coated  nibbles, lies to the left of the counter. You take a bowl, help yourself to as much as you want, and then order milk, yoghurt or fresh fruit to go with it. Be warned though, the price is according to the weight, so don't go too crazy! An impressive selection of chai latte flavours is the final detail that confirms this cafe as one of my favourites in Cologne, and even my meat-and-cheese-obsessed boyfriend enjoyed his breakfast.

Lunch on-the-go

If you are in the middle of a busy sight-seeing or shopping day in the centre of Cologne and need a quick refuelling stop, Currywurst is the answer. I am still slightly confused as to why this is seen as such a unique German speciality, seeing as it is essentially just a sliced up sausage with curry sauce on it, but there is no denying its tastiness. With a portion of chips on the side I can almost feel myself being transported back to Chippy Lane in Cardiff after a night out, munching on a hefty portion of chips 'n' curry sauce...

Anyway, back to Cologne - one of the most popular places to get your spicy (or mild, depending on your taste) sausage fix is the Wurstseppel stand in Breite Straβe.

Dish of the day

When you need a decent lunch but without the fuss and expense of a formal restaurant, Marrakesch on Händelstraße is a good option. I always take the Tagesmenü (dish of the day), which is usually a variation on a tagine or meat and rice dish and costs €5. The portions are generous and come with a basket of Moroccan khobz bread.

Order at the counter from the friendly staff, then take a seat in the dingy but cosy dining area a little further on. Even though I have never seen more than six people eating there at any one time there is plenty more space should you need it.

Bargain lunch

Unfortunately for this one you will have to befriend a student. The Mensas (canteens) at the University of Cologne offer a huge range of choice, including several vegetarian options, at unbelievable prices. For just €2.50 you can bag yourself one of several hot meals as well as a salad or vegetable side-dish and a dessert of fruit, yoghurt, quark or jelly. Funfact: Jelly is literally called 'wobble pudding' in German - wackelpudding!

My favourite of the Mensas (and there are a lot of them!) is the one at the Faculty of Medicine, mainly because it usually has a good soup option and it is only a short walk from the library. Just today I had a really tasty main dish that was basically a large Reibekuchen (flat potato and onion fritter) topped with roast veg, cheese and kräuterquark (creamy herb sauce).

Coffee and cake

Just off the Ehrenstraβe shopping street, on Alte Wallgasse, is a little gem called Royal Cupcake. Yep, it is as cute and Brit-inspired as it sounds; a small cafe with purple walls, silver chairs, personalised china and tiny bowls of crystalised sugar on each table. A wonderfully cheerful, bearded man beams at customers from behind the counter, and as soon as they talk his ears prick up and he bursts into fluent conversation with them in their native tongue. Oh, and if you feel something brush past your leg it is probably just the owner's adorable jacket-wearing pug dog.

The King in his Royal Cupcake Kingdom

The cupcakes themselves are decadent little creations with popstar names, not something to be scoffed in one but instead a sweet treat to savour alongside one of the flavoured hot chocolates or coffee variations. The Gordon Brownie is to die for, although upon hearing me speak English Cheery Bearded Man asked me, quite seriously, "Why on earth did you pick that one then?" Hey, Gordon may have been a political flop but the guy sure inspires great brownies.

Authentic local grub

If you want to sample the local cuisine in the most authentic setting possible you cannot beat a Brauhaus/Brauerei (brewery). These are dotted all around the city centre, each one boasting its own special brew of Kölsch beer and most of them offering food as well. Staples on the menu will include various types of pork, schnitzel, apple purée, black pudding and potatoes. As well as sampling the brewery's own beer you will also be "welcomed" by the Köbes - grumpy male waiters who see it as their professional duty to uphold the traditional, gruff reputation of their predecessors. Just give as good as you get, knock back a few more beers, and you will be enjoying the banter in no time.

If you have a favourite Kölsch then it is worth checking out its Brauhaus, but if it is food you are after then the Päffgen Brauhaus on Friesenstraβe or Peters Brauhaus on the Alter Markt are good options.

Best value restaurant

LizBÄT in Ehrenfeld and EngelBÄT on Engelbertstraβe are sibling restaurants specialising in delicious crêpes. Main course options cost between €4 and €8, while sweet crêpes are €2.50 to €4.50. LizBÄT was a huge hit with our friends who visited last year, which is high praise considering one of them spent a year living in France, home of the crêpe.

When you are so hungry you could eat a horse

A dish to be reckoned with

Do not joke, as this is near enough what you will get at Bei Oma Kleinmann on Zülpicherstraβe. No, I do not mean that they serve horse meat, but the portions are not dissimilar to the size of a foal at least. Schnitzel originated in Austria but the Germans have more or less appropriated it as one of their own national dishes, the main difference being that German schnitzel usually comprises pork rather than veal.

There are several mouth watering options to choose from, my favourite being the camembert stuffed schnitzel with cranberry sauce. Every customer is given a tasty salad as a starter, but careful not to fill up too much because here comes the main course, an enormous piece of breaded meat bigger than most people's heads, accompanied by chips or potatoes and a jug of the sauce of your choice. If the challenge proves too much for you, nobody has any qualms about asking for a doggy-bag here.

Something more exotic

I had spent ages trawling through restaurant reviews to find somewhere a bit out of the ordinary to take my boyfriend on his birthday when I finally stumbled upon a winner - Fasika Ethiopian restaurant on Luxemburger Straβe. As soon as you walk in the warm colours and soft lighting prepare you for an evening of African flavour. We struggled to decide what to order, seeing as we had never had Ethiopian food before, so the waiter happily elaborated on what everything consisted of. In the end we settled for his recommendation of a sharing platter for two, allowing us to have a taste of several dishes.

Each meal is served on top of a large piece of Ethiopian bread, injera, that is rather like a very wide, flat, floppy crumpet. Piles of lamb, beef and chicken in rich sauces sit alongside seriously tasty vegetable concoctions, and the idea is that you use the bread to scoop up the food and pop it into your mouth. Eating with your fingers is all part of the experience!

Tuck in!

Time for a take-away

When you have had your fill of dining out and opt instead for a take-away, there is no end of choice in every area of the city; Chinese, Indian, Italian, Thai, Lebanese, Persian... as in most large European cities you are spoilt for choice. A personal favourite of mine is the Aroy-D Thai Imbiss on Venloer Straβe. The food here is flavoursome and filling and a good selection of classic Thai dishes are on offer, with variations for house specialities. In my humble opinion the chicken green curry is the best, which I believe is number 27 on the menu...

TG xx

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