You Just Ordered Cow’s Udder!

A guide to the great variety of German food terms helps you navigate the culinary linguistic landscape.
By Sharon Hudgins • Photographs Courtesy Sharon Hudgins

It’s your first trip to Berlin, and you’re sitting in a cozy Kneipe (pub) that serves traditional regional dishes, along with good Berliner beer. Looking quickly at the menu, you order Berliner Schnitzer, thinking that it’s surely the Berlin version of Wiener Schnitzel (Vienna-style breaded veal cutlets). But instead, you’re served a big plate of breaded-and-pan-fried slices of cow’s udder.

You’ve just fallen into the trap that catches many foreign visitors to German-speaking parts of Europe. It’s easy to assume that people who speak the same language also have the same words for common food ingredients and the dishes made from them. But the variety of local, regional, and even national terms for the same food can be confusing to travelers in the Germanic lands of Central Europe. From Austria in the east to Alsace in the west, from Schleswig-Holstein in northernmost Germany to Switzerland’s southern border with Italy, you’ll encounter different official languages as well as numerous regional and local dialects, which make a big difference when you’re ordering something to eat in a restaurant or shopping for food in an open-air market.

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