Typically, you do not wait to be seated in German restaurants, and it is not uncommon to share a table with strangers. However, most Germans will think it odd if you try to initiate a conversation with them beyond just establishing that the chairs are available.
On the Baltic and North Sea coasts, seafood is the word; clams in dough, fish soups, crayfish pastries, and all kinds of smoked fish, with emphasis on herring and salmon (Lachs). Wild (game) is something else the Germans prepare well, particularly in the forested areas of the south. Venison and boar are always a good bet, as is quail, wild duck and other game birds, with stuffings made of such things as truffles and savoy cabbage.
Other meat dishes that retain their popularity include the Schnitzel (cutlet) which is commonly served breaded, but has numerous other variations Jägerschnitzel with gravy and mushrooms, and the Zigeunerschnitzel with spicy vegetables. The basic meat in a Schnitzel is usually veal, but pork is also used. Roast pork also remains very popular, and is eaten with gravy and those giant, almost chewy dumplings that have long been popular. Still another pork specialty is the Rippchen, a juicy cured pork chop. It goes nicely with sauerkraut and mashed potatoes.
Beef is often used to make Tartar; raw ground meat into which can be mixed raw eggs, anchovies, capers and the like. Steaks and chops are by no means a rarity in Germany, but the consumption of meat by the slice is considerably lower than in the States. The Germans are more likely to stretch their meat by mixing it with other things. Sometimes this is done with stews. Spicy Gulasch (goulash) is a favorite. Germans also use pieces of meat in preparing vegetable dishes, but the main way of stretching meat is the ubiquitous sausage.
Germans are world masters at the production of these Würste (sausage), and the variety of them is great. The most popular types with Americans are the ones you get, among other places, from the vendors at the festivals and other outdoor events: Bratwurst, Bockwurst and Rindswurst. The Bratwurst is mainly of pork and served roasted. The Bockwurst is the one most similar to the American hot dog, though it is usually longer. The Rindswurst, sometimes called the Knackwurst, is usually of coarsely ground beef and is fatter and stubbier than the other two. All three are eaten with the fingers and usually dipped in mustard. You often get a roll with them.
The standard type of German bread is similar to what we call rye bread. Second in popularity are the whole grain breads, including pumpernickel. These are heavier and the slice is thinner. Rolls are also very common, from white or rye dough, plain or with poppy seeds, sesame seeds, onion flavoring or cheese flavoring.
Among the egg dishes the Bavarian Bauernomelett is popular. Potatoes and onions are mixed in with it. You’ll find few surprises among the vegetables Germans eat. A favorite here is Eintopf, literally “one pot,” which is made with beans, peas or lentils, to which is added pieces of sausage, potatoes, carrots and spices.
And then there are the pastries, made with chocolate, marzipan, honey and anything else that is good and calorie-laden.
The classic area for cheeses in Germany is the Alpine Allgäu region, south of Ulm. Its products are eaten frequently for breakfast, and also as an accompaniment to Germany’s celebrated white wines. Rhine wine goes nicely with soft cheeses, such as the Allgäu’s Limburger. Mosel goes with butter cheeses, and Pfalz wine with Emmentaler. The last-named is better known to you as “Swiss cheese,” but it is also made in Germany.
Much of the food described goes well with the famous German beer. There are roughly 1,500 breweries in Germany today making about 6,000 beers of nearly 140 different types. Styles vary throughout the country and finding one’s favorite requires experimentation. Germans are able to consume large quantities of beer in one evening, but public drunkenness is not acceptable. It is best to know your limits, especially in Bavaria where two liters of beer is an ordinary evening. Pace yourself and eat plenty of food.