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Hearty soups, fragrant buns, sandwiches made with freshly caught fish and something strong to wash it down. These are the flavours you don't want to miss in Hamburg.
No dish is more divisive than the Hamburger Aalsuppe (Eel soup). A debate has been stirred over whether or not the dish must in fact include eel. Those in favour argue that recipes dating back to the 18th century call for the ingredient, while the naysayers point out that the word ‘eel’ in Hamburg’s northern dialect translates to ‘everything’ – hence the soup made of leftovers, be it prune, bacon, dumplings, or fish of any kind.
What started as a poor-man’s food has risen to a fine-dining classic in Hamburg today, with most establishments serving Aalsuppe with eel, which, done right, is a unique treat for seafood lovers. The best place to try it is the Fischereihafen Restaurant along the Elbe where you can enjoy one of the best views in town.
This dish may not have originated from Hamburg, but there’s nowhere better to try it. Don’t be fooled by the dish’s appearance: it might not be much to look at, but it is one of the city’s absolute classics, not a test of courage. It is basically pickled meat, potatoes, onions and beetroot with a fried egg on top. If you want to do it right, try it with any type of pickled fish. The best place to try it is self-proclaimed “Labskaus Ambassador”, the Old Commercial Room, across the popular Michel church.
This isn’t just a pastry, this is Hamburg at its core. As its name indicates, Franzbrötchen owes its name to its French ancestry. Napoleon’s occupation of Hamburg in the 1800s didn’t just shape the cityscape, it also helped shape the pastry front. This cinnamon bun has nevertheless become an unmissable specialty of Hamburg. Many good bakeries make extraordinary Franzbrötchen – a little bit fluffy but sweet and rich in the centre. For a modern reinterpretation, try the Franzbrötchen dessert on the menu at the Vlet Restaurant, served with roasted white poppy seeds, rum raisins and cinnamon butter ice cream. Yummy.
Hamburg is unquestionably home to the best fish sandwich. As you walk along the Elbe riverbanks opposite the harbour, near Landungsbrücken, the salt air will make you crave a salty, sour and fresh snack. Lucky for you, you are in the land of Fischbrötchen. Try it with a beer – it’s unforgettable. But look out for the seagulls – they are hungrier and quicker than you! The best place to try a sandwich is the Brücke 10, beautifully located on the quiet (western) end of the Landungsbrücken pontoon, a few steps away from the water. They have the best buns and the freshest fish – everybody in Hamburg knows this.
This is more than just schnapps. This is the schnapps of Hamburg. Loved by the old and young, by traditional and trendy types alike, it is the drink that everyone knows will wash down these hearty Hamburg meals. Helbing is caraway-flavoured liquor that is a therapeutic for the stomach (for an excuse) and a key to the Hamburg way of drinking (fact). On a big night-out, Hamburgers will most likely order a “Pils” and a Helbing. Do not even think of ordering a Jägermeister in Hamburg.