Last Updated on June 2, 2022
A country famous for its sausages and schnitzels, vegetarian visitors to Germany might worry that they will have to do a bit of hunting to find meat-free munchies. However, once you look past the bratwurst stands and pig roasts, there are actually plenty of vegetarian options, both in traditional cuisine and common international staples the Germans have accepted as their own.
What German food is vegetarian?
If you’re traveling to Germany and you are, like me, a vegetarian, you don’t need to feel anxious about finding vegetarian dishes. German food is traditionally heavy on the meats, yes, but there are plenty of vegetarian options. Each restaurant you visit should have at least one vegetarian dish on the menu, and here are some vegetarian German dishes to look for:
German breakfast is usually cold – unless you add an egg, but they’re typically boiled and by the time you get to them, often also cold. Germans love a good spread in the morning: a variety of rolls and breads, and served with that: different cheeses and cold cuts, butter, jam, honey and nutella. Sometimes fresh fruits and vegetables are added, or other types of spreads (cream cheese, pesto, etc). If you order breakfast from a menu at a cafe or restaurant, ask for a vegetarian version – there’s always one (they will add more cheese instead of the deli meats) and often there’s a vegan breakfast available these days.
While the basic ingredients make this essentially a German form of macaroni and cheese, Spätzle couldn’t taste more different. The southern Bavarian dish is made with egg noodles covered in baked, grated Emmenthal cheese and crispy fried onions. It is usually vegetarian, but it is always better to ask.
Germans make the best soft pretzels in the world and have found infinite excuses to eat them often. The traditional twisted shape, known as Brezeln or Brez’n for short, is eaten plain, with sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds or with salt, cut open with a half-inch thick layer of butter or cream cheese and chives. The pretzel dough, called ‘Laugen’ is also made into rolls, baguettes, even croissants and come as fully dressed sandwiches with lettuce, tomato, cucumber, cheese, and a special (always delicious) sauce, and are found in most bakeries.
It is customary to eat only one ‘warm’ meal a day in Germany, with the other two main meals made up of bread, cheese and, for meat-eaters, deli slices, and while the Germans look down their nose at American fast food, they are not opposed to the idea of grabbing a quick bite. This is most often done by popping into the bakery.
German bakeries can be found on every corner, sometimes there are two, three or four on one street, and considering that Germans do bread and cheese better than anywhere other than France, you can’t go wrong by following the herd into the bakery. Veggie options abound here: Baguettes, rolls, croissants, pizza bread, salads, and let’s not forget about the shocking variety of addictive cakes the Germans have thought up! If you eat eggs and cheese, you can’t go wrong in a German bakery.
Although similar to what North Americans understand as potato pancakes, röstis are very thick, shredded potato patties found in restaurants and outdoor fests. They are always served with large dollops of apple sauce on top, while not healthy, they are deeeeelish!
Potato dumplings can be found throughout the country, as can bread dumplings, which are different but equally yummy. The only problem is that while both bread and potato dumplings are vegetarian-friendly, the sauce is often very meaty. If you see dumplings with mushroom sauce on the menu, order it straight away, and wash it down with a half liter of Hefeweizen beer!
Hard-boiled eggs in mustard sauce
This might seem like a strange one, but it is definitely meat-free and commonly found in traditional German restaurants. If you are staying with friends, your host will most likely be able to prepare it for you easily. Eier in Senfsoße is a thick, tangy mustard sauce generously poured over four hard boiled egg halves. That’s it. It’s simple and actually pretty good. If you don’t believe us – here’s an easy recipe to try it yourself.
Camembert with cranberry sauce
This breaded cheese dish may have been borrowed from the French, but it is one of our absolute favorite dishes to order in Germany. Basically, an entire 250 gr wheel of Camembert cheese is breaded and baked until the inside is a pool of gooey, cheesy heaven and is served up with a thick cranberry sauce. Perfect for chilly Winter lunches or afternoon snacks.
There is no food more German than Italian cuisine! Italian restaurants are as common as the bakeries we mentioned, so you can get pizza and pasta anywhere in Germany the same quality as you’ll find just south of the border. Note: Germans make fabulous Italian-style pizzas, but pizza delivery joints attempt an American-style pizza without all the fun – Not a lot of cheese and even an XL is smaller than a U.S. medium, so make an occasion out of it and go out to a restaurant to eat pizza.
There is no food more German than the Turkish Döner…wait, did we say that already with Italian? Kebabs, shawarma, however you know it, you won’t get one as good anywhere in the world as in Germany (that might even go for Turkey), and the streets are lined with döner shops – generally open late to soak up all that Hefeweizen. While döners generally come spilling over with turkey or lamb meat, the meat-free versions are our absolute favorite food to eat in Germany.
You can order any variation of a classic Veggie, which comes overloaded with red and white cabbage, onion, cucumber, tomato, feta cheese and a creamy garlic sauce in a thick, warm pita bread, or a Durum, which is a wrap stuffed with the same ingredients but also with Falafel or Halloumi. Döner shops are one of the few food places in Germany where the customer is always right, so order one of these gut-busting bundles of flavor with exactly the sauce and toppings you want for under $3.
Two tips for vegetarians in German
Germans love to throw in meat, especially speck, just ‘for flavor’, so any one of these dishes could come with meat unexpectedly. Don’t just ask, “Is there meat in this?” or “Is this vegetarian?”. Be specific – ask if there is speck, beef, ham, bacon, chicken, fish, seafood – whatever makes sense. Make it known that you can only eat vegetarian food.
Peperoni is vegetarian!
You can eat Peperoni. The German word does not mean small disks of meat usually found on pizza, but rather they go by the Italian definition of semi-spicy green peppers, eaten on baguettes and often as part of garnish. The word Salami is actually used for meat on pizza.
What are we forgetting? Are there other common German foods out there that are veggie friendly? We’d love to hear your suggestions!