Alsace is full of colorful half-timbered houses, vineyards and castles.
Visitors flock to the small towns in the region searching for fairytale streets and wonderful vistas. I was one of the visitors who was attracted by the stunning aesthetics of the area.
I was absorbed by the atmosphere and pretty much by everything I saw. Nevertheless, there was another aspect that rivetted my attention. I am referring to the cuisine of the area.
The official French tourist site describes Alsatian cuisine as a family-style cuisine impregnated with Germanic culinary traditions.
In this post, we are going to explore where the Germanic roots come from and the dishes that make the cuisine unique. And, I hope you are able to understand the banquet of flavors found in the area.
Alsace became German territory after the decline of the Roman Empire. After centuries of different conflicts in the area, Alsace was recognized part of France as agreed in the Treaty of Westphalia (1648).
Even as part of France, rights and customs were preserved. German language was still used in local government and schools. The previous customs border was maintained in the Vosges Mountains.
The region continued changing hands during the 19th and 20th centuries. Germany annexed Alsace and Lorraine after the Franco-Prussian War. Then, it was given back to France under the Treaty of Versailles (after WWI). Germany occupied the two regions during WWII. France got them back after the war.
As you can see, the region has changed hands several times. Nowadays, the cuisine is a mix of the delightful ingredients of both countries.
Several experienced travelers have shared their impressions about food in cities located across borders. They seem to be fascinated by the diversity of flavors and techniques. I have to agree with them. The conglomerate of ingredients used in Alsace awakes the senses.
Specialties of the Alsatian Cuisine
- Choucroûte Garnie
Many consider choucroûte garnie the quintessential representation of Alsatian cuisine.
Choucroûte is better known as sauerkraut. See, you already know what it is! The proliferation of fermented cabbage goes back to the Germanic roots of the region.
The cabbage can be served with ham, sausage, salted pork, pork knuckle or fish. In Strasbourg, restaurants offer options with three, four or five meats (the price is according the number of meats).
And, do not forget the potatoes. One or two boiled potatoes are going to be added to the mix (not sure how they make those potatoes taste so good).
Variations of the dish can include a duck leg or ham hocks served with cabbage and potatoes.
- Flammekueche or Tarte Flambée
It looks like a pizza but it is not a pizza. Actually, take out of your mind the pizza idea and don’t you dare to call it like that in Alsace.
The tarte flambee consists of a thin pastry slathered with crème fraiche, onions and bacon bits. The previous words described the traditional version.
The truth is that the variety of topics is endless. Here are some examples of what you can get:
· Four cheeses
· Goat cheese
I tried one with ham, parmesan, bacon, lettuce and balsamic vinegar. I still remember how crispy and delicious it tasted.
The dish can be enjoyed as a quick (and affordable) snack, a light lunch (will match perfectly with a green salad) or an appetizer for two.
Oh and remember there are restaurants serving only this mouth-watering dish.
In this dish, potatoes, pork, beef and lamb are shimmered in Alsatian white wine.
It is cooked in a special dish (shown below) and it is sealed with dough.
Ask for recommendations on where to get the best tasting versions. Some restaurants heat frozen concoctions (you do not want to eat that).
The infamous “meat snails” are created by placing meat on a noodle dough base which is then sliced and cooked in a broth.
So, do not freak out. Real snails are not used in this dish (but they may in others).
- Coq au Riesling
You have probably heard about the Coq au Vin, a dish prepared with chicken, vegetables and red wine.
Well, in Alsatian cuisine, Riesling, a mineral-rich, white wine is used. The chicken ends up covered in a smooth and slightly sweet cream.
The carpe is eaten fried in many places of the region. My husband tried a version where the fish is cooked in Riesling. This may be a good option for those trying to watch calories.
- Gratin de Pommes de Terre
In some way, this simple dish took me back to my childhood. My mom used to prepare something very similar (she had about a 100 cookbooks).
The dish consists of potatoes, cream, onion, bacon and cheese (Muenster works wonders). All the ingredients are baked until the potatoes are soft and the top cheese layer has created a golden crust. The charred cheese pieces are my favorite part!
Some of these dishes sound very simple but they pack a punch of flavor.
- Alsatian Style Meatballs
My husband was able to try meatballs served with a Riesling sauce. The plade included a good portion of spaetzle, a soft egg noodle found in Germany, Austria and other European countries.
- Quiche Lorraine
Ahhh, here we are getting to a dish I absolutely adore. Quiche is a savory, open pastry crust filled with eggs and milk (or cream) and a variety of cheeses. Meat, seafood and vegetables can be added to the filling.
The quiche Lorraine is names after the Lorraine region of France. Guess why it is so popular? Because the filling includes lardon or bacon!
I know this post is dedicated to Alsatian cuisine but keep in mind the Lorraine region changed hands between France and Germany too. The quiche Lorraine in Alsace is to die for (not going to mention how many I had).
This fluffy cake is made with brioche dough. Its unique shape makes it one of the most recognizable symbols of Alsace. A lot of people prefer the sweet version containing raisings and almonds. Believe it or not, savory versions are prepared with bacon bits and walnuts. I mean, this people are mad about bacon.
Since you are in France …
When in Alsace, it would be a crime not to try dishes from the region. However, you are in France. That means you will have the opportunity to enjoy a lot of the gastronomic gems the country is known for. Restaurants dedicated to Alsatian dishes serve those little things France is famous for. Make sure you have some of those too!
Ice Cream (French Vanilla)
Where to Find Alsatian Specialties
The dishes mentioned in here (and many more) can be found all over cities such as Strasbourg and Colmar.
Keep in mind restaurants in touristic corridors may not serve fresh or house prepared dishes. I highly suggest you ask for recommendations at your hotel reception, AirBnB host or locals you happen to know (or meet during your trip).
Here are some ideas for those in search of practical recommendations.
- Winstub S’Kaechele
- Caveau Gurtlerhoft (located close to the Cathedral)
- La Choucroterie
- Le Deux Gourmandes
- Le Gruber (located close to the Cathedral)
- Fink Stuebel
- Le Petite Bidon
- Restaurant La Soi
- Le Fleur de Sal
- Wistub Brenner
- Winstub la Soi
- Jardins et Gourmande
Even though this post is dedicated to Alsatian cuisine, exquisite French and international restaurants abound in Strasbourg and other cities in the area.
Also, we have discussed dishes that are heavy on meat, eggs and milk. It is not my area of specialty but I observed many salads, tarts and quiches prepared without meat. Restaurant’s menus indicate what dishes are prepared only with vegetables. Colmar has several eateries serving organic and vegan options.
Have you tried Alsatian food? What are your recommendations?
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