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From Broilers and Ketwurst to Solyanka and Letscho: Germany enjoys a taste of the East

From Broilers and Ketwurst to Solyanka and Letscho: Germany enjoys a taste of the East

Barbara Goerlich - 2010-09-03

The barrier that divided Germany for so many decades was also a culinary one. The East German broiler is now a grilled chicken and the term Sättigungsbeilage [describing a starch-heavy side dish] is rarely heard these days. But genuine socialist cuisine continues to exist quite happily in some quarters and Soljanka [a meat and vegetable stew], Würzfleisch [a chicken or pork casserole dish] and other East German classics are still found on restaurant menus and family tables.

Hot Dog or Ketwurst?
Some dishes have been equally popular in both the East and West. Many of these classics were given their own “German” name in the former East Germany. For example, the world-famous hot dog was known as Ketwurst - derived from Ketchup. Today, the original Ketwurst trademark is protected at the German Patent Office and the best and most original are supposedly found at the Berlin Friedrichstrasse U-Bahn station: homemade ketchup, sausages and rolls made according to exclusive East Berlin butcher and baker recipes. During the 80s, the hamburger was renamed the Grilletta and pizza had long been given the mouth-watering name of Krusta. Specialties such as Toast Hawaii Toast Hawaii [a grilled ham, pineapple, cranberries and melted cheese open sandwich], was also known as Karlsbader Schnitte
 
Jägerschnitzel the East German way
Solyanka is one of the typical east German dishes that has stood the test of time. Its origins are a classic Russian recipe of “left-over” soup and the taste would always vary according to the availability of ingredients. Sausage, meat (smoked pork) or fish, along with salt or pickles, peppers, and white cabbage or sauerkraut and tomatoes. Letscho [tomato stew] with tomatoes and peppers, was, and still is, a popular accompaniment to all kinds of dishes. The classic dish of meatballs remains as popular as ever with German families and Würzfleisch, made of pork and poultry, remains equally popular when eaten with a ragout sauce or as a Schweinesteak au four. The East German version of Jägerschnitzel consisted of breaded and fried sausage slices and was usually served with a mushroom or tomato sauce and pasta. Shish kebabs comprised of skewered meats and goulash dishes are also still among the most popular dishes of all time. Anyone looking for the perfect and most nostalgic of East German desserts should opt for Schwedeneisbecher, a dessert ofvanilla ice cream, apple sauce, egg liqueur and whipped cream that dates back to the 1954 Winter Olympics.

Cooking with shortages
One of the greatest contributions made to the diets of former East Germans was that of TV chef Kurt Drummer. From 1958 onward, Drummer, head chef of the Interhotel Group, produced 650 episodes of The TV chef recommends for German television. During this time he cooked more than 2,000 meals in-front of camera and it wasn’t an easy feat. Given the limited availability of ingredients, Drummer needed to be creative, devising different variations using the same products time and time again. The role proved to be a constant balancing act for the TV chef. Again and again, he would thwart any shortages with his exploits in the kitchen. If herring was recommended it was because state-owned fleets had reported a good catch. It was said that in some cases Drummer was recruited to promote home-grown produce. When Drummer did venture into the realms of foreign cuisine it would be for recipes taken from socialist "brother countries" such as Leskovac Tschewaptschitschi (cevapcici – rolls of minced meat) or Güvetsch, a kind of Romanian ratatouille. Following hard on the heels of Drummer’s early broadcasts, Rudolf Kroboth appeared on East German television for the first time in 1960 with his Tip From The Fish Chef programme. Kroboth’s slogan - Two fish each week keeps you healthy, slim and young – was also designed to promote the catches made by East German fishing fleets.
Any shortages merely served to turn a defiant East Germany into a land of amateur gardeners using the fruits of their labour as a contingency to diminish the impact of any economic bottlenecks. Western Products would be shunned and priority was given to goods from the other, "sympathetic” socialist countries, particularly as they were often imported as part of barter. Nevertheless, oranges imported from Cuba were usually only available in shops at Christmas and the availability of other exotic fruits was usually restricted to the tinned varieties. Of course, twenty years and reunification has changed all that. Culinary boundaries have long since blurred or been erased. The GDR may be no more, but many Eastern specialties live on, whether it’s in the east, west, south or north.
 
Culinary GDR Milestones
1963 - the first Interhotel in East Germany opens in Magdeburg. The growing hotel chain continues to stand for fine dining.
1966 - the first restaurant of the "feast of the sea" [
Gastmahl des Meeres] fish restaurant chain opens in Weimar (fish). More will follow in Berlin, Leipzig, Rostock, Magdeburg, Jena and Erfurt
1970 - the
HO-Gaststätte Goldbroiler [a state-run inn] opens as the first broiler (grilled chicken) restaurant in Erfurt.

The barrier that divided Germany for so many decades was also a culinary one. The East German broiler is now a grilled chicken and the term Sättigungsbeilage [describing a starch-heavy side dish] is rarely heard these days. But genuine socialist cuisine continues to exist quite happily in some quarters and Soljanka [a meat and vegetable stew], Würzfleisch [a chicken or pork casserole dish] and other East German classics are still found on restaurant menus and family tables.

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