(by Johannes J. Arens)
Culinary souvenirs from Cologne
Ideal for packing in a suitcase or tucking away as a snack for the journey ahead
Fierce competition from bakery chains means that small, independent bakeries are quite thin on the ground in Cologne’s city centre. There are, however, two thriving exceptions — Bäckerei Balkhausen (Apostelnstr. 27) and, just around the corner, Bäckerei Zimmermann (Ehrenstr. 75). Zimmermann’s is known for its dark rye bread — Schwarzbrot — of the pleasantly dry and malty variety found only in the Rhineland. Wrapped in distinctive silver paper, this compact bread — which is also served in many of Cologne’s finer restaurants — is ideal for packing in a suitcase or, with a generous helping of cheese, tucking away as a snack for the journey ahead.
In its modern-day filtered, top-fermented form, Kölsch is a relatively new beer. It even has devoted fans beyond its native Cologne — despite the occasional derisive comment about the small, cylindrical glasses it’s served in. The Cologne Brewers Association lists a total of 16 brands of Kölsch. And then there are older kinds that reassert themselves every now and then in the consciousness of beer aficionados. One of these comes from the Schreckenskammer brewery. The beer is contract-brewed but adheres strictly to the traditional house recipe. It is available in kegs or bulbous half-litre bottles, either from the brewery itself near the St. Ursula Church, or from selected drinks stores or supermarkets.
Located in the north of Cologne, Chorweiler was designed in the 1970s as a satellite town for around 100,000 people. As the largest prefab housing estate in North Rhine-Westphalia, it doesn’t always enjoy the best of reputations, although much has changed for the better in recent years. Defiantly naming the caraway schnapps “Chorweiler Kümmel” was a deliberate ploy to add a little grit to its somewhat stuffy image. The same goes for its taste, which blends the fine aroma of local caraway seeds with the fresh citrus note of southern Italian bergamot. Shots of caraway schnapps are now served in many breweries and bars, and bottles can be found on the shelves of wine and spirits retailers, both in Chorweiler and further afield.
Black pudding — or Flönz in the local dialect — is a blood sausage speciality that is essentially no different from the kind found elsewhere in the world. But nowhere does it have as much cultural significance as it does in Cologne! Arguably the best place to pick up a ring of Flönz is at one of the weekly markets, such as the Saturday market in Riehl at the back entrance of Cologne Zoo, also well worth a visit. Here, you can find the liberally seasoned black pudding from Struzina-Rauschen, a specialist meats shop founded in the early 1960s by an Upper Silesian butcher just outside the entrance to the nearby town of Pulheim. Incidentally, Flönz takes centre stage in another classic local dish — Himmel un Ääd — accompanied by mashed potato and apple sauce.
Chocolate was part of the city’s culinary portfolio up to 2002, when local producer Stollwerck and its Alpia, Eszet and Sarotti brands still held sway. Although production ground to a halt shortly after it was sold to Swiss company Callebaut, cocoa-based goodies have been a permanent fixture on the Rhine since 1993 thanks to the striking Chocolate Museum in the south of Cologne. Located in the former Prussian customs office, it is one of the most successful museums in Germany. As well as a varied programme that includes tours, chocolate-making courses and tastings, it also boasts a wonderful café overlooking the Rhine and a shop selling chocolate souvenirs from all over the world.