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Time for Bread: 7 New and Traditional Ideas for Germany’s Beloved Cold Dinner

Time for Bread: 7 New and Traditional Ideas for Germany’s Beloved Cold Dinner

Bavarian, vegan, Swedish, or Italian… we’ve got it covered

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When I was little, my family would have Brotzeit (literally “bread time”) for dinner every Sunday evening in addition to a scattering of other nights throughout the week. We’d search the refrigerator for different sausages, spreads, and cheeses, slice some bread, and eat everything together, cold. On lazy days, the food conveniently stayed in its packaging, while on other nights we’d lovingly arrange them onto little snack plates.

As a kid I hated these cold dinners and always looked forward to much more “exciting” hot meals. So once I moved away from home, the Brotzeit routine became a forgotten childhood memory—until recently. Over the past few years this traditional meal became popular again (with new twists of course!) and I must say that I took myself by surprise and became a born again big fan. With just a little time and effort, it’s easy to create an ode to these Brotzeit snack plates and turn them into something you (and even I) can really look forward to.

Where does German Brotzeit come from?

Just the fact that Germans often say Abendbrot (literally “evening bread”) as the main word for “dinner” shows how much we love cold meals. Summed up perfectly in this clip from the ARTE program “Karambolage”, people from countries like France can’t wrap their mind around cold German Brotzeit. The tradition exists partly because we have a fantastic bread culture here, but it also has another history.

Way back when, laborers in Germany would do physically demanding work and regularly turn to quick, simple, and filling snacks or meals which they’d eat up to six times a day. So a cold snack—a Brotzeit—was typically eaten between hot meals. Then, in the 1920s, Germany saw the development of industrial centers that would serve their employees hot lunches in canteens. It wasn’t deemed necessary to have another hot meal at home in the evenings, so many would turn to Brotzeit.

Growing up, my experience was a bit different. During dinner, my sister and I would butter slices of bread and then pack them up into our lunch boxes or bags for school the next day. I still see people having open Brotzeit leftover sandwiches for lunch now and then here at Kitchen Stories, a reminder of my younger years.

As you can see with these various short “histories,” Brotzeit is clearly a core part of German food culture—so much so that some regional cuisines have even developed their own special versions. So with our 7 ideas laid out below, you’ll certainly find something to match your taste. The ingredient lists aren’t definitive, but they’ll show you a range of possibilities. Let us know in the comments what’s essential for your ideal Brotzeit!

Bavarian Brotzeit

The most well-known Brotzeit hails from Bavaria. This hearty version is mostly made up of lots of meat, a bit of cheese, and a few fresh ingredients—as well as beer of course! Though it’s mostly eaten as a snack between meals, you can eat it any time of day. If you want to serve something warm alongside, add some Bavarian meatloaf or weisswurst.

What’s on your plate:
- Pretzels and/or kaiser rolls
- Bauernbrot aka German farmer’s bread; a sourdough rye bread works, preferably with caraway
- Butter
- Bavarian sausage salad
- Cold roast pork with a horseradish dip
- Liverwurst
- Smoked bratwurst
- Obatzda
- Griebenschmalz (pork schmalz with crackling)
- Mustard
- Radishes, lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes
- Chives, parsley

Franconian Brotzeit

Just a heads-up, Franconian snack plates are all about the meat. Although this isn’t an ultimate checklist, homemade cold cuts and regional specialties are definitely a must. In Franconia (located just south of the middle of Germany), these plates are especially based on the tradition of workers eating between meals, so they are most popularly eaten at 11 o'clock or between a cozy afternoon coffee and dinner.

What’s on your plate:
- Sourdough or country bread
- Butter
- Cold roast pork
- Göttingen bierwurst with mustard
- Smoked ham
- Head cheese
- Liverwurst
- Mettwurst—a sausage made from raw ground pork
- Stadtwurst mit Musik—basically a smoked sausage like bierwurst served with a vinaigrette dressing
- Franconian-style Obatzda
- Franconian Zwiebelkäse—a cheese containing chopped up onions, similar in texture to cottage cheese
- Gherkins, radishes, raw onions

Cheese Brotzeit

Vegetarian Brotzeit is an ideal treat for all you cheese lovers (although don’t forget—not all cheese is vegetarian). Regardless of the cheeses you pile on to your plate, you can look forward to a selection of fruity, crunchy, and creamy side dishes such as: grapes, nuts, dried fruits— and of course, the star of the show, bread. For tips and suggestions on choosing and serving cheese, or ideas for cheese platters inspired by different countries, check out this article.

What’s on your plate:
- Different types of bread according to your taste
- Soft cheeses like reblochon and camembert
- Hard cheeses like pecorino and comté
- Sliced cheeses like gouda and edam
- Blue cheese
- Cream cheese
- Butter
- Radishes, tomatoes, cucumbers, grapes
- Pickled vegetables, such as gherkins
- Nuts
- Sweet chutney or marmelade

Vegan Brotzeit

Wondering what Brotzeit looks like with cheese, butter, and sausage off the table? Perhaps not a traditional snack plate, but still a generous offering, with various spreads and fresh vegetables garnishing all kinds of bread. As a vegan, this version is of course my personal favorite. I love to add pickled onions as a treat and sometimes I even spice it up with plant-based alternatives. Things like cashew camembert and carrot smoked “salmon,” which you can buy in specialty supermarkets, make this Brotzeit an impressive dinner—even for non-vegans.

What’s on your plate:
- Different types of bread according to your taste
- A mix of spreads
- Pickled vegetables like pickled onions, beets, or gherkins
- Lettuce, radishes, carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes
- Chives, cress
- Plant-based alternatives for meats or cheese like cashew camembert and carrot smoked “salmon”

Antipasti, or the Italian Brotzeit

Our editor Lisa has already covered everything you need to know to prepare an antipasti platter. Be adventurous—antipasti can be enjoyed as a lavish evening meal, especially during those warm summer nights, as well as a classic starter or paired with wine. This selection of meat, cheese, and spreads not only goes well with soft baguette, ciabatta, and sourdough bread, but also crispy crackers and grissini breadsticks.

What’s on your plate:
- Ciabatta or sourdough bread
- Crackers or grissini breadsticks
- Parma ham
- Italian salami
-Italian soft cheeses like scamorzaarella or burrata
- Italian soft cheeses like scamorza
- Italian hard cheeses like Parmesan or Grana Padano
- Pesto of your choice
- Grilled artichokes or grilled vegetables
- Dried or fresh fruit like figs, apricots, tomatoes
- Olives
- Pistachios

Smørrebrød—Danish open sandwiches

Northern Europe is no stranger to Brotzeit—only here it’s mainly served for lunch. Smørrebrød is an open sandwich (which you can of course deconstruct into a snack plate) meaning everyone’s able to choose their favorite toppings—even pescetarians, vegetarians, and vegans. Classic toppings include: smoked herring, crab, caviar, pâté, boiled eggs, and fresh or canned vegetables.

What’s on your plate:
- Dark rye bread
- Crispbread
- Turkey cold cuts
- Smoked salmon
- Pickled herrings
- Shrimp
- Caviar
- Boiled eggs
- Capers
- Dill and yogurt dip
- Cucumbers, radishes, carrots, chicory, tomatoes, dill

Mezze platters

Actually, mezze isn’t a special dish, but a mix of different starters from the Middle East. Served on small plates at the center of the table, it's the perfect snack for sharing with guests. For our guide, we’ve combined a selection of starters from Arabic and Turkish cuisine served with thick or thin flatbread. If you’re in the mood for something hot, you can make some falafel to go on top.

What’s on your plate:
- Turkish flatbread
- Hummus
- Baba ghanoush
- Muhammara
- Tabbouleh salad
- Fattoush salad
- Stuffed vine leaves
- Yogurt dip
- Fresh onion, mint, tomato, cucumber
- Pickled radish

Published on September 19, 2020

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