Cologne’s simple and hearty local cuisine is best served with a cold glass of Kölsch. That said, some of the most popular dishes hide behind menu descriptions in flowery language that even Germans from outside the city struggle to understand. We explain seven of the most popular local foods and tell you where you can try them.
(Halber Hahn (Ger.) – ‘half a rooster’)
Spoiler: there’s no chicken in this dish, nor any meat for that matter. Halve Hahn is nothing more than a basic, yet very famous traditional sandwich and can be found on virtually every menu of Cologne’s brewhouses and traditional pubs. It’s an open-faced rye bun, spread with butter and topped with thick slices of gouda cheese and raw onion. In brewhouses, it’s customary to bring customers a plate with all ingredients, and you’ll make the sandwich yourself.
Try it at: Bei d’r Tant, Cäcilienstrasse 28, Cologne, Germany, +49 221 2577 360
Himmel un Ääd
(Himmel und Erde (Ger.) – ‘heaven and earth’)
The name doesn’t give too much away, but becomes clearer after a brief explanation – ‘earth’ is mashed potatoes, while ‘heaven’ is a chunky apple puree. This simple dish is refined with onions, bacon strips and most importantly slices of fried black pudding, or Blootwoosch in Kölsch.
(Eisbein (Ger.) – salt-cured knuckle of pork)
Eisbein is a renowned Oktoberfest favourite, but the dish is also deep-rooted in traditional Cologne cuisine. The regional recipe always uses the hind leg of the pig which is pickled in brine before it’s seasoned and cooked in the oven for several hours. It often comes with sauerkraut or fried potatoes and a dab of hot mustard.
Try it at: Früh am Dom, Am Hof 12, Cologne, Germany, +49 221 2613 215
(Mettbrötchen (Ger.) – bread roll with minced pork)
This dish is an all time favourite in Cologne, and people eat it for breakfast, lunch, dinner or in between. Those from outside the area and abroad sometimes shudder when they realise that the minced pork is raw. The meaty cousin of the Halve Hahn is essentially a slice of bread or a bread roll spread with butter, raw minced pork, raw onion and sprinkled with salt and pepper. If that’s too much for you, look for Kölsche Kaviar – a rye bun with blood pudding and mustard.
(Reibekuchen (Ger.) – potato pancakes)
You’ll come across the potato pancakes on German Christmas markets, where they are usually served either plain or with apple sauce. Brewhouses, pubs and traditional restaurants in Cologne often pair the fritters with dark rye bread and salmon. If you would like to try this speciality, check the restaurant menu before visiting, as most only serve them one day a week.
Try it at: Haus Töller, Weyerstrasse 96, Cologne, Germany, +49 221 2589 316
(Erbsensuppe (Ger.) – pea soup)
The local pea soup variety is often the snack of choice during outdoor events, especially during the Karneval festivities when the temperatures often are still freezing – pubs, restaurants and food stands sell the hearty and warming meal in to-go containers. Vegetarians should double-check that the dish doesn’t contain pork belly or bockwurst chunks.
Try it at: Em Kölsche Boor, Eigelstein 121, Cologne, Germany, +49 221 1352 27
(Sauerbraten (Ger.) – marinated and braised meat)
Traditionally, Suurbrode was made with horse meat, but its consumption has declined rapidly over the past decades. Today, the dish is often prepared with beef instead though some restaurants still follow the original recipe. It’s usually specified in the menu, if not and you don’t want to eat horse meat ask the waiter to be sure. Whether horse meat or beef lands on your plate, it’s often accompanied by red cabbage and potato dumplings.
Try it at: Brauhaus Päffgen, Friesenstrasse 64-66, Cologne, Germany, +49 221 1354 61