It’s been a while since the Berlin Wall fell — but the scent of DDR cuisine still permeates many of Berlin’s kitchens. Many of the city’s inhabitants still base their diets around a large number of these “delicacies”. During the DDR’s 40 years of existence, and despite large regional differences and preferences within the country, a distinctive DDR cuisine emerged. Anyone preparing a Jägerschnitzel á la DDR today will probably spend some time scratching their head (in vain) as they search through the recipe for the mushrooms that would normally make up much of the sauce. The names of DDR specialities were often identical to the names used for dishes in the West, although the food that ended up on a diner’s plate was rarely the same. Even today, most of the inhabitants in former East German regions refer to chicken from street grills as Broilers, a term foreign to most West Germans.
image courtesy of zettberlin / photocase.de
DDR Gastronomy: Cuisine with History
Most of the distinctive characteristics of DDR cuisine are down to the country’s history. After the Second World War, millions of refugees arrived from the former German provinces of East Prussia and Silesia, and from previously occupied regions of what is now the Czech Republic but once belonged to the DDR. These immigrants brought their regional recipes and eating habits with them. A number of the dishes created were never cooked outside of East German households, but many have stayed popular beyond German reunification.
image courtesy of kallejipp / photocase.de
DDR cuisine relied heavily on traditional and regional ingredients. Pork, beef and poultry were nearly always served with potatoes or rice. Everyone who went to kindergarten and school in the DDR will have fond memories of Kochklopse (meatballs) and Würzfleisch (a simplified ragout fin). And who could resist a Schwedenbecher (Swedish ice-cream sundae) for dessert? This was one of the DDR’s most popular creations: a combination of vanilla ice-cream, apple sauce, advocaat and whipped cream. So popular that it has stood the test of time and retained its place on the menus of most ice-cream parlors and restaurants.
image courtesy of time. / photocase.de
The spread of these dishes owed a lot to the country’s canteens, kindergartens and schools, but was also helped by a few very popular cookery shows on state television. The most popular program, often showing viewers how to cook the typical dishes of the day, was “Der Fernsehkoch empfiehlt” (The TV-Chef recommends) with Kurt Drummer.
A Bestseller for 30 Years – the Book “Kochen”
Cookbooks also played a major role in spreading recipes around the country. Cookbook “Kochen” at amazon.de. It sold more than 1.7 million copies. And even though modern bookstores are awash with cookbooks, citizens of the former East German regions are still learning to cook from this bible of DDR cuisine today. There is no shortage of grandparents passing the book down to their grandchildren.
image courtesy of ondrasch / photocase.de
DDR Restaurants – History to Savor
For those who missed out on the first-hand experience of authentic DDR cuisine, or anyone wanting to refresh childhood memories, there are a number of restaurants in Berlin with menus to satisfy. The last few years has seen a range of newly-opened restaurants that want to keep DDR cuisine alive. Restaurant Domklause at Karl-Liebknecht-Str. 1, right next door to the DDR museum, is one example. The kitchen team serves Broiler with satiating side dishes, Jägerschnitzel on a spicy tomato sauce and Steak au four (steaks of pork covered with grilled cheese) — all prepared lovingly according to traditional DDR recipes! The Osseria at Langhansstraße 103 in Berlin-Weißensee is another restaurant keeping the DDR flame burning. Drawing on 40 years of culinary tradition, the restaurant offers its guests Soljanka (spicy, Russian soup), Senfeier (hard-boiled eggs in mustard sauce), Broiler, Falscher Hasen (“Mock Rabbit” made of meatloaf filled with boiled eggs), or Jägerschnitzel. The restaurant is decorated with authentic DDR paraphernalia to enhance the East German feeling. The atmosphere and scents of East Berlin in the 70s and 80s can be sampled at the Volkskammer at Straße der Pariser Kommune 18b. The homemade Sülze (aspic), Eisbein with Sauerkraut and Erbsenbrei (pork knuckle with sauerkraut and mushy peas) and Würzfleisch (ragout fin) are sure to prompt a nostalgic smile to spread across the lips of many older East Germans.
Have you developed a hankering for a typical East Berlin recipe? Then pop into one of the restaurants mentioned above or try out your own, home-cooked Soljanka. We’ve found an authentic recipe just for you.
image courtesy of bernjuer / photocase.de
The ingredients you will need are as follows:
2 kg smoked pork or pork cutlet, cut into small pieces
350 g pork sausage or smoked sausage
4 large onions, finely diced
2 jars of pickled gherkins, finely diced
2 jars of Lecsó
300g cherry tomatoes, diced
1 cup of sour cream
Salt and pepper
Ketchup to thicken
Sweet paprika powder
A little water
And here’s how:
Begin by searing the meat in hot oil. Season with salt, pepper and the sweet paprika powder. Then add the sausage and onion. Put the meat and sausages into a large saucepan and add the gherkins and diced tomatoes, followed by the two jars of Lescó. Add water until you have a creamy, not too thick consistency. Simmer for 30 minutes, until the meat is soft. Add more water or ketchup as required to maintain the consistency. Additional seasoning can also be added to taste. Place the sour cream in small bowls for your guests to add to the Soljanka.