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Food Shopping in Munich
Sarah N Walker
If you go into the average supermarket in Germany, you might get the impression that Germans don't care so much about food at all. The selection seems slim, the quality questionable. Honestly, nothing could be further from the truth. Germans don't have one-stop shopping. There are many places to shop, but each has its specific purpose or strength. This is an attempt to give you an idea of where you can find the things you are looking for when making a picnic or staying in a rental.
A Head's Up to Visitors - Store Basics
The Pfand Law - Recycling
You have probably heard the stereotype about Germans being recycling freaks. All stereotypes have some basis in truth. This is one aspect regarding recycling that you should know about if you plan to buy food from supermarkets.
Germany has a very complicated and controversial law that has not been in effect very long, but which has had a great impact on the average shopping experience. Basically what it entails is a required deposit on glass and hard plastic containers. Many common containers, including soda bottles and glass yoghurt jars, are covered by this law. Wine bottles, for example, and Tetra Pak juice or milk cartons are not. To find out if a product is pfandpflichtig, look on the shelf tag. You will probably see a notice that this product has an extra Pfand charge of about 15 cents. This will be added at the check-out stand and be listed on your receipt, often underneath the product in question.
This law, despite its noble objectives, is flawed, and therefore somewhat unpopular. It puts the burden on the consumer. Not only do you have to rinse the container, but you will have to remember exactly where you purchased it, and (often) stand in the check-out line in order to reclaim your deposit. You cannot just drop items off at any grocery store you find convenient, nor at some general recycling center (like one does with all other products). You have to go back to the store you got it from. In fact, to prevent the situation of one or a few unlucky supermarkets becoming the dumping grounds for Pfand products, most businesses require proof that you purchased the container at their shop. You will either show the receipt (or in the rarer case) present a token along with the bottle or glass in question.
As you can imagine, this law is particularly inconvenient for travelers. After all, what do you do on a road trip with the bottle you bought at the last gas station? My goal is not to discourage people from participating in this scheme. Rather, it is to help you understand the local custom, and have the opportunity to form your own opinion about it. As a consumer, you have three options: avoid all Pfand items, buy them but throw them away and forfeit your deposit, or be organized and behave as best you can like the locals.
There's no free lunch. In Germany you will most likely have to pay for any bags you use to carry your groceries. The average cost is around 15 cents, payable at the register. This policy is part of the effort to help reduce waste, encourage responsible consumption, and perhaps to cut costs. As a result, most Germans bring their own cloth bags or baskets to carry their purchases. Bring one yourself, or purchase a cloth one (often available at the register for 1 euro). You'll help the environment, feel like a local, and have a little souvenir to take home. Hugendubel's bags (the bookstore on Marienplatz), though a bit thinner linen, have a very nice print and are instantly recognizable on the street.
Shopping carts are free, but are not meant to be taken home, left at the far end of the parking lot, or down the street. For that reason, you will need to bring along a 1 euro coin to unlock and 'rent' a cart while shopping. The coin is released when you reconnect the chain on another cart to your cart, thus locking the two together. I suppose this system is no deterrence to the person who wants to steal one, but enough of a deterrent to the average person who would otherwise be too lazy to walk back to the entrance.
In summary, bring along a basket or bags, and 1 euro coin! And save your receipts!
I put this section at the front because bread plays such an important role in German cuisine. Before moving here I never imagined how good bread could be, and what a large variety there is. Germans rely on bakeries for snacks (Brotzeit) with delicious spreads, honeys and jams for breakfast. Bread here comes in two main forms: rolls (Semmel) and loaves (Brot).
There are two kinds of shops that we would recognize as bakeries. Bäkerei specialize in bread but have other offerings, like sandwiches and pastries. Konditorei specialize in pastries, cakes and sometimes chocolates, but usually offer bread and sandwiches, too. Many of these little shops have a Stehcafe (standing cafe), consisting of tall tables (no chairs) where you can consume your pastry and a coffee.
The following are the main chains of bakeries. Most open quite early in the morning (6 or 7 AM) and close by 6 PM. Supermarkets sell fresh bread, too, but usually in smaller quantities. And unlike supermarkets, bakeries are often open on Sunday mornings so that people can pick up fresh bread for Sunday brunch.
You cannot miss the orange cafe-konditorei, Rischart, which has four locations in the busiest parts of Munich. One is located on Marienplatz, another smaller version down below in the subway, one around the corner near Viktualienmarkt, one located near the platforms in Hauptbahnhof and finally, one in the busy area of Münchener Freiheit, on Leopoldstr. in Schwabing.
This is the green-colored, ubiquitous bakery that you are sure to encounter. It is probably the largest chain in Bavaria, if not Germany-wide, and IMO sells second-rate bread. The dough is all the same, just in different forms or with different toppings (sunflower or poppy seeds?) and the tendency is (unfortunately) white.
In contrast to Müller, the Hofpfisterei chain offers real variety and high quality ingredients. They only do bread, but they do it well, and that is why they are my favorite. Various kinds of doughs (wheat free!), flours, and toppings let you experience what I meant about real variety, and the fact that their products are organic isn't too bad, as well. But make sure you go early. They aren't open as late as others and they don't open on Sunday.
A chain with bread and a large selection of pastries, the closest store is on the corner of Rindermarkt. and the cobblestone road across from Alter Peter Church (Peters Platz). They have a Stehcafe, too, where you can sip a coffee and eat your breakfast or mid-morning snack.
I have honestly never bought bread here. This is also a chain and the only locations I can think of are on the corner of Rosental. next to Viktualienmarkt and in Schwabing above Münchener Freiheit. Try it and let me know.
Rackl's is much like a Zöttl or a Wimmer, not bad quality, but not spectacular or notable in any way. Rackl's locations are usually in the outer lying areas of the city, so you probably won't encounter one unless you stay far outside the city center.
This isn't actually a bakery at all, but a butcher shop with a hot food section. The one closest to Marienplatz is located on Rosenstr. (just before Sendingerstr.) and sells a wide variety of sandwiches and rolls.
What to try from the bakeries
Krapfen: Like a doughnut, Krapfen are round, sweet pastries filled with cream or other fillings, including Eierlikör (which tastes a bit like eggnog liquor). You can buy Krapfen during carnival season, and on the major feast days, like Fat Tuesday, special stands are set up just for that purpose.
Aus'zogene: This sweet, flat pastry, literally 'pulled apart,' looks a bit like a small elephant ear. After being fried they are coated with sugar. Try the ones at Frischhut across from the Viktualienmarkt (just up from Rosental). You can see the process in action and get fresh, warm ones.
Osterbrot/Pinza: Two types of sweet bread sold during the Easter season, they come either shaped like a braid or a large round form and often have raisins, glaze and chopped almonds on top.
Zopf: This is simpler, year-round variety of Easter bread. It comes in a round form. I highly recommend it!
Linzer Auge: A shortbread or sugar cookie sold year round, the Linzer Auge is one of my favorites, and easy to find in most bakeries. There are two layers, the top one being cut out in the middle and filled with a red (currant?) jam.
Brez'n: How could I almost forget! Pretzels are not just beer garden fare! Get the roll variety, the sticks, or the traditional braided kind. In the morning you can try a Butter Breze; a typical breakfast on the run. Don't feel bad if you scratch some of the salt or wipe some of the butter off (they put on generous portions of both) - locals do it, too.
Dinkelbrot: Not all bread here is made of wheat flour. One of the most common substitutes is spelt (Dinkel in German). It's very tasty and shouldn't offend a brown bread eater. Hofpfisterei offers the greatest variety.
Health Food Stores
Seasonal Food Items/Roadside Products/Selbstpflucken
May is Asparagus month. Purchase fresh local white and green Asparagus in some supermarkets, fruit and vegetable stands in the city, or better yet, along the road at little stands. Many restaurants mark the season by featuring a special Asparagus menu at this time of the year. More information can be found here.
June is Strawberry month. Pick your own or find them in similar places as Asparagus. Bring a basket or carton to put your berries in, or purchase one at the stand from a helpful representative. They will calibrate your container and charge you somewhere between 2.00 - 2.40 euro per kilogram. Wear sunblock! If you don't feel like picking, don't worry. They always have plenty of fresh ones for sale at a slightly higher price, and you can also purchase homemade Limes. Head to the outerlying areas and keep your eyes open. Or check out this website and identify the annual (rotating!) locations on your map.
After the strawberries are gone, in the first half of summer, you might still be lucky to come across a place to pick or buy blueberries or raspberries. I know of one field in Planegg, but can't explain how to get there. I get lost every time!
Many small fields are self-service places to cut your own flowers. The season lasts from April through early summer. There are no stands with employees. Just bring scissors or a knife, and cut your own. Usually the price is set (10 flowers for 3 euro). You pay by putting coins or bills into a large canister, an example of the honor system here that people adhere to. Selber Schneiden fields are all over - just drive around on the country roads in the outskirts of town.
The same fields that offer flowers in late spring often become the source of fall pumpkins. These are not grown there, but rather piled around the cash canister. Payment is made in the same way as above. Pumpkins usually cost 5 euro.
Specialty Food Shops
Dienerstr. 14/15 (Marienhof, east side)
Supermarkets near Marienplatz
Aside from the Viktualienmarkt and the gourmet shops above, your best bet for fresh groceries is to go to either of the two shops below:
Kaufingerstr./Rosenstr or at Karlsplatz, along Sonnenstrasse
Tal (north side, halfway between Isartor and Marienplatz)
These supermarkets are discount retailers that advertise low prices on food and special non-food items. These places do very well and, if you have one nearby, you ought to check them out. Not only are they part of the Munich life experience, you never know what interesting products you might find (pocket translator? Bicycle seat?).
(Small) Discount Supermarkets
These are shops known for their low prices. Located in nearly all city neighbourhoods, you are likely to encounter one at some point. They are, however, small, and offer a limited selection and range of goods.
As they say at Plus, here is where the little prices live. But if you try to peek into their home, you will be disappointed. Plus' windows are completely covered by tacky orange advertising. The "Bio" (organic) line of products (under that name) are pretty good, though limited in offerings. Also dirt cheap.
Sorry, I have never visited one of these, but there are plenty along the edge and in the suburbs.
If you are lucky enough to com across one of these, you will be able to find most any product available in Germany. They are large and remind me more of American supermarkets. When you need something specific, AEZ is a relief.
Sarah Walker Photo Essays: Photo essays on Munich, Berlin, rural Germany, Bavaria, Austria, Vancouver, New York City.
© Sarah N Walker, 2004
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