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From Tacos to Tikka Masala

Houston's 10 best classic food trucks.

Schnitzel

Notice that we're not talking about just Wiener schnitzel here, but all schnitzel. At its most basic, a schnitzel is simply a cut of meat that's been pounded flat, coated with an egg wash, breaded with flour and fried. Sound familiar? It's the basis of chicken-fried steak (and milanesa, while we're at it). Wiener schnitzel is from Vienna (a.k.a. Wien in its native language) and always made of veal cutlets. By comparison, other schnitzels, like Jägerschnitzel, are covered with a red wine and mushroom gravy, while Rahmschnitzel is topped with a creamier mushroom sauce.

Cold cuts

To my great surprise, it was cold cuts and cheese I ate most often while in Germany — both at breakfast and at lunch — not heavier meals of potato dumplings and schnitzels. Slices of what we'd call deli-style meat are incredibly common at both meals, and are eaten with thick slices of cheese, pickles, onions and mustards. While most of the cold cuts are sausages, these differ from the bratwurst and other hot German sausages in that they're meant to be consumed in cold slices, often in sandwich form.

Rye bread

R.W. Apple once wrote in The New York Times: "In Germany, I sometimes think, they don't care which side their bread is buttered on, or whether it's buttered at all, as long as it's made from rye." You'll find rye bread at every single meal, whether it's consumed with butter and jam at breakfast, cold cuts at lunch, or coated with fresh schmalz and eaten with soup and sauerbraten at dinner. And be careful that you don't mistake the schmalz for butter the first time you eat at places like Charivari, King's Biergarten or even Kenny & Ziggy's; it's rendered chicken fat ("schmalz" literally means "lard" in German). Schmeckt sehr gut!

Spaetzle and knödel

Germans love potatoes as much as they love rye bread and cabbage. They're in everything from warm potato salad (Kartoffelsalat) with bacon to knödel: potato dumplings. These dumplings can be incredibly basic, from round balls of barely more than grated potato, flour, salt and egg to fancier dishes that range from savory to sweet. Spaetzle are another common dumpling, but these egg-based dumplings are far smaller and are often, in fact, referred to as simply "egg noodles." Both spaetzle and knödel are common side dishes for meatier main courses.

Sauerbraten

Sauerbraten is one of those typical meat entrées, often referred to as one of Germany's national dishes. If you ate pot roast growing up, you ate sauerbraten. Although the name literally translates to "sour roasted meat," sauerbraten isn't necessarily sour. It's simply a tough cut of meat — usually a rump roast — marinated in anything from wine and vinegar to buttermilk, as long as it's an acidic blend that will help break down the meat before roasting. As with any good roast, the juices are saved and thickened up with flour to make a creamy, meaty gravy that's served on top along with vegetables, sauerkraut/red cabbage and dumplings.

Currywurst

Germans like their fast food as much as we do ours, and currywurst is one of their proudest (and perhaps weirdest) examples of traditional German food gone fast: fried sausage covered in curried ketchup with a side of french fries. The dish dates to 1949, when a devastated Germany was attempting to rebuild its bombed-out cities after World War II. Currywurst cropped up as a cheap, filling snack that could be sold on the roadside to lunching construction workers. The Worcestershire sauce and curry powder came to Germany by way of British soldiers, with the curry itself coming from India, and currywurst became fast fusion street food 60 years before it was cool.

Döner kebab and Türkische pizza

Germany has a relationship with Turkey that's not too dissimilar to our own with Mexico. At the risk of simplifying complex international relations, I'll leave it at that. As a result, Turkish food has cropped up over the last few decades as some of Germany's most popular fast-casual food. The Wall Street Journal recently claimed, "There's nothing more German than a big, fat juicy döner kebab," citing the 720 million servings sold each year. With a Turkish population reaching 2.5 million, ­Germany has embraced other Turkish foods as well, including what it calls Türkische pizza: döner kebab wrapped in lahmacun.

Beer

Germans have been brewing beer since at least 800 B.C. By 200 A.D., beer was already being traded commercially in the region that would eventually become Germany, and before its official repeal in 1987, the famed Reinheitsgebot — a regulation concerning the production of beer — was the oldest food-quality law in the world. First conceived of in 1487, the Reinheitsgebot maintained standards for all German beer and mandated that the only ingredients allowed in the brewing of beer were water, barley and hops. To this day, German influence is felt in the Texas beers we still drink. Both the Pearl and ­Spoetzel breweries were created by Germans, while other breweries such as the Franconia Brewing Company in McKinney are run by German brewmasters. If you love beer, thank a German.
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