Stuttgart: Food, glorious food

Stuttgart is one of Germany’s most elegant cities. It’s filled with open spaces and flowers, grand statues and streetscapes, a great café scene and long, rambling green spaces. It’s an urban experience of the first order, and for culinary travellers, it’s the perfect place to learn about the foods of Swabia, both old and new.

Tucked between the Black Forest and Bavaria in the region know as Baden-Württemberg, Stuttgart is at the heart of Swabian food tradition. 

We landed in a perfect German spring, at Easter time, when the city echoed with the peel of church bells. The sky was the purest blue – not yet burnt by summer’s heat — and the country air was filled with the fragrance of apple blossoms and just tilled earth. Spargel, the magnificent white asparagus so prized in Germany, was in season.

Upon our arrival we headed straight for the countryside, driving past plots of strawberries and fields of rhubarb into villages with impossibly narrow lanes. The rolling hillside surrounding the city is fully planted with grapes. It is, in fact, in this region that Ontario winemaker Herbert Konzelmann has his roots.

His family cellar is only a few tres away from a great Museum of Viticulture in the small hamlet of Uhlbach. This was also General Rommel’s hangout. His son became the Lord Mayor of the city (we made sure we left with a bottle of his favorite wine, the Uhlbacher Lemberger).

Country wine, markets
At the museum’s tiny tasting bar, it’s imperative to sample glass after glass of country wine. Light, immanently quaffable and full of fruit, this is how one can begin too understand terroir, the essence of the grape that matches so well with local Swabian dishes.

  • Trollinger, a delicate red wine, goes perfectly with many of the lightly seasoned  pork dishes.
  • The region’s Rieslings are fabulous with the spätzle, the hand made noodles that are often bathed in creamy sauce, or sometimes just floated in a light broth.

For culinary adventurers, the places to explore the ingredients of Swabia are the markets. From cabbage, celery root and fabulous waxen potatoes to apples, plums and pears, this will be familiar territory for most Canadians.

But it’s in the Markthalle, the indoor market in downtown Stuttgart, that the magnificence of this region’s cuisine becomes apparent. Cheeses are brought from all over Europe, sausages are found in such diversity that it would take months to taste them all. There’s fruit schnapps and wines from the region’s many tiny producers, mushrooms from the forests, and every seasonal vegetable you could imagine.

Such is the palate of flavours the chefs of Stuttgart have to call upon. And it’s also where we travellers can pick up fabulous picnic ingredients. At midnight, beside a fountain in the schlossplatz, the expansive, people-friendly square virtually in the courtyard of the ‘new palace’ (circa 1746), we drank Rommel’s wine with great butterkäse (butter cheese) and dense bread.

Chef’s creations
The lushest restaurant in the city, Weilandshöhe, is owned by Vincent Klink, a close relative of Canadian Michael Städtlander, one of Canada’s most creative chefs. Klink is a member of the international Slow Foods movement, dedicated to the preservation of authentic cuisine.

Overlooking the old city, this Michelin-starred dining room is one of white roses, perfect service and the ultimate in interpretation of the ingredients of Swabia. If it’s veal, it may be a fillet served with gratinéed field greens or, more traditionally, the meat from the head will be made into small sausages and served on a bed of champagne lentils.

Light, fresh goats milk cheese is blended with fresh herbs, wrapped in phyllo pastry, then rolled in breadcrumbs before being sautéed in butter till golden and served with lightly steamed asparagus and vinaigrette-dipped arugula.

Chef Klink also has a new take on potato soup. He adds no cream, only thinly sliced scallops and orange juice.

His desserts are splendid. We had a caramelised cheese soufflé with rhubarb compote and strawberry ice cream. The meal finished with ice pralines, frozen nuggets of ginger and peppermint dipped in bittersweet chocolate and served on ice in a sliver bowl.  They made our taste-buds dance!

Country food
At the other end of the culinary scale is Bernie’s Kachelofen. This family restaurant serves country food, in particular, huge portions of spätzle and sauerkraut.  Platters come laden with sausages and cold meats and fresh rye bread.

The Swabian rostbratenn is a thick pan-fried rib steak generously topped with fried onions and doused with a sauce made of the pan juices, a bit of wine and a good portion of cream. Diners come to get their fix of maultaschen, the meat-filled pasta that are usually floated in broth or baked then served with potato salad. Mugs of Trollinger wine are the very best accompaniment, and they arrive by the tray-full, almost without asking.
Throughout the time in Stuttgart, we continually searched out the soft pretzel-like brezeln. Perfect with beer, they’re often part of a larger meal like the one we ate at Holl’s Arche just outside the Markthalle.

There, the ‘original’ white sausage from Munich is served in a soup bowl in the water in which it was boiled. Piping hot and delicious, the links of lightly seasoned ground veal are meant to be unceremoniously fished out of the bowl, and eaten with sweet mustard and the soft brezeln.
Weinstube Widmer-Frölich is hidden in Stuttgart’s tiny red light district. It’s a place where artists and writers gather in a dark, almost-fusty European atmosphere. Single candles sit on bare wooden tables. But if it sounds austere it’s not-it’s a place of good bread, honest wine and great conversation. 

Other attractions

  • Beyond food, Stuttgart is renowned across Europe for its The Staatsgalerie, the state gallery. Filled with the masters, the first statue that greets visitors is sculptor Henry Moore’s Reclining Woman. 
  • Stuttgart is the centre of the German auto-manufacturing industry and both Mercedes-Benz and Porsche have excellent museums showcasing their designs over the decades.
  • The Stuttgart Spring Festival is 62 years old. It’s a real city celebration with amusement rides and the traditional great German beer tents.
  • And in October, even the people in Munich come to Stuttgart for Oktoberfest.  According to many Germans, Stuttgart’s Oktoberfest is ‘the best’.
  • The city is also famous for its thermal mineral baths. Those at Lueze, directly on the subway line, are the most popular. Four pools of varying temperature soothe every muscle and, after the rigours of a week of eating very well, could be considered a necessity. It was for us!

To learn more about German cookery,  read:  The New German Cookbook by Jean Anderson & Hedy Würz, Harper-Collins, 1993