Posts from the ‘Food’ category

Leipzig’s Auerbachs Keller: devilishly comfortable

Auerbachs Keller, Maedler-Passage, Leipzig, Germany,

Goethe’s Faust meets Saxon comfort

If I didn’t know any better, I’d think I was giving away my soul for a good warm Saxon meal.

In the city of Leipzig, Germany, the name and influence of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe doesn’t stray far from conversation. Three more words are at the tip of the tongue: Faust. Pact. Devil.

Near the city’s central square at Markt, the Mädler-Passage beckons with bright lights and the promises of goods and riches within the shopping arcade. At the arcade’s north entrance, all are greeted by statues representing figures from “Faust”, the most famous published work by Goethe.

Signs to Auerbach’s Cellar lead downstairs on either side of the main passage. One thought remains as I walk into the basement. Am I sealing my own deal with the devil, setting foot in the Cellar’s chambers to sign away my freedom for some food, drink, and hospitality?

I’m sure the evening won’t be that dramatic. But the moment I walk in the door, I’m in the midst of culinary and literary tradition spanning many centuries.

Auerbachs Keller, Maedler-Passage, Leipzig, Germany,

Scene in Auerbach’s Cellar from Goethe’s Faust: Mephistopheles casts a spell on the students.

Auerbachs Keller, Maedler-Passage, Leipzig, Germany,

Scene in Auerbach’s Cellar from Goethe’s Faust: students bewitched by Mephistopheles.

Auerbachs Keller, Maedler-Passage, Leipzig, Germany,

Entering the ‘Großer Keller': what could possibly go wrong?

Dr. Heinrich Stromer von Auerbach began to sell wine secretly to students from the cellar of his home in 1525. Leipzig University professor, doctor, and philosopher, Dr. Stromer was known in the city as “Doctor Auerbach” for his origins from the town of Auerbach in the Oberpfalz (northeast of Nürnberg). Between 1530 and 1538, he gathered enough funds to begin construction of his new home, Auerbach’s Hof, which housed a much larger basement for a tavern. Paintings included the legend of Faust riding out of the cellar on a wine cask:

Doctor Faustus zu dieser Frist
Aus Auerbachs Keller geritten ist,
Auf einem Fass mit Wein geschwind,
Welches gesehen viel Mutter Kind.
Solches durch seine subtilne Kunst hat gethan,
Und des Teufels Lohn empfangen davon. (1525)

Doctor Faustus at this tide
Out of Auerbach’s cellar did ride;
Upon a wine-cask up sped he,
As many a mother’s son did see.
This by his subtle art he did,
And the Devil’s wages got for it.

– “Faust: A Tragedy”, by J. W. von Goethe (Translated 1880)

As a student of Leipzig University, Goethe began visiting the cellar in the middle of the 18th-century and seeing the 16th-century paintings of the barrel ride in the tavern inspired him to write his version of “Faust” based on the life and times of late 15th- to early-16th century German magician Dr. Georg Faust (Faustus). Goethe included a scene within Auerbach’s Cellar, memorializing the tavern for posterity.

In 1911, merchant Anton Mädler purchased the entire Auerbachs Hof building to construct his own functional building for the trade fair. His original plans to demolish the historic building were met with worldwide outrage and protest; he compromised by retaining and enlarging Auerbachs Keller. The present-day shopping arcade bears the name of Mädler-Passage.

Grosser Keller: Sächsisch köstlich

Translated directly, “Sächsisch köstlich” is “Saxon delicious”, but the phrase sounds much better in German with the hard consonants and rhyming syllables. The online description of the Grosser Keller is:

Built in 1912/14 together with the Mädler-Passage, meals served within the “Großer Keller”are primarily simple dishes & Saxon specialities, as well as dishes accompanied by beer.

I’m very happy to see that the traditional tavern – pub – restaurant tonight is busy but not rowdy. Inside the front door, I announce my arrival, and soon Mr. Rothenberger arrives to greet me, welcoming me to their restaurant. He leads me towards a table at the back of the restaurant. While I’m seated for the next ninety minutes, Mr. Rothenberger is on the floor tonight for the first part of the dinner hour, greeting the evening’s guests and escorting them to their tables. Mr. Rothenberger and his wife have operated Auerbachs Keller Leipzig Rothenberger Betriebs GmbH since 2006.

I’m suddenly hungry, once I’m enveloped by the warmth of the underground restaurant. The many choices on the menu paralyze me with indecision. Conscious deliberation leads to decision, and a server responsible for my area arrives to take my order.

Auerbachs Keller, Maedler-Passage, Leipzig, Germany,

Rear table with a view

Thirsty and Cold: Beer and Soup, But Not All At Once Because That’d Be Wrong

A short time later, the server returns with a tall glass of cold Ur-Krostitzer Schwarzbier dark beer. There’s a chill in the air tonight, but truth is, I really like dark beer. (The Krostitzer brewery is located 20 km north of Leipzig.)

But it is a cold evening, and I’ve been craving soup while I’ve been wandering the streets of Leipzig’s Old Town over the last couple of hours. From the description, I’m confident the mushroom soup will be a dark creamy mix.

Arrival of a white porcelain bowl confirms my educated guess.

Auerbachs Keller, Maedler-Passage, Leipzig, Germany,

Wildrahmsuppe mit Champignons und Kräterschmand, Auerbachs Keller, Leipzig, Germany,

Wildrahmsuppe mit Champignons und Kräterschmand | Wild cream soup with mushrooms & herb cream

Rich, creamy, earthy and chunky with a generous portion of mushrooms and fresh herbs, I make quick work of the soup. The soup deserves a portion of bread, although bread and butter are clearly listed as an extra. That’s too bad, because I think soup this good should come with a good chunk of bread.

I take a big quaff of my Schwarzbier to clean my palate. Down down the dark liquid goes, and a third of my beer is gone. Aaaaaah, refreshing.

Main (entrée): Chicken & Noodles, Just What I Needed

The soup has filled and warmed my belly, and the beer’s giving me a good small buzz. Something hearty must be followed by something equally filling …

Auerbachs Keller, Maedler-Passage, Leipzig, Germany,

Panierte Hähnchenbrust auf Pilz-Zwiebel-Gurkenragout mit Gemüsenudeln in Kräuter-Sahnesosse, Auerbachs Keller, Leipzig, Germany,

Panierte Hähnchenbrust auf Pilz-Zwiebel-Gurkenragout mit Gemüsenudeln in Kräuter-Sahnesosse | Breaded chicken breast on mushroom, onion, & cucumber ragout, with noodles in herb cream sauce

The chicken breast is lightly breaded, but I find the breading oversalted, even though I’m very familiar with how much salt fits the German palate. Fortunately, the thin crispy crust gives way to tender and juicy white meat within. The vegetable ragout and noodles provide a “lighter” counterpoint to the meat. The breading, ragout, and herb cream sauce could also do with more black pepper, but that’s not traditionally German. I had expected this main dish or entrée to be too “heavy”, but a typical “meat and starch” done up Saxon-style with my plate of “chicken and noodles” does its job well.

“Typische Sächsische Gemütlichkeit” (Typical Saxon Coziness)

Auerbachs Keller, Maedler-Passage, Leipzig, Germany,

There’s crowd noise but it’s not obnoxiously loud. People seated in adjacent tables are clearly having meaningful conversations without having to bellow at the top of their lungs. Behind me are round tables surrounded by many in lively yet hushed conversations, accompanied by the sounds of glass mugs “klinking” and “klunking” against wood tables. I ask my server about these people, and he confirms my hunch. One last sip of my beer summons up a bit of courage. I stand up, walk over to one of the tables, and I ask in passable German whether these tables are reserved for long-time regulars (“Stammtisch”).

A woman in her sixties kindly answers some have been coming for years, others over decades. We chat for a little and when she asks about me, I tell her about my first time in both Leipzig and the Keller. With a smile, she wishes me well, and that she hopes I find my way back to Leipzig sometime soon. “I’d like that very much” is my parting reply.

At the front door, I tell the night manager the evening has been an excellent experience: “leckeres Essen aber etwa zu salzig, bequem und gemütich, gute Stimmung.” (“good food though a little too salty, comfortable and cozy, great mood”). The night manager nods and smiles, and hopes I return to the Keller soon.

The Final Word

Back up the stairs, I stop by the statue to give the shiny brass shoe a rub for good luck. As I exit the building for the lively streets of the “Weihnachtsmarkt”, I feel a gust of wind at the back of my neck, a short whisper, but a quick turn reveals there’s no one behind me.

“Komm ma’ wieder zurück (come back again) …”

I’ve generally traveled alone over the last twenty years with pursuits reaching far-flung places under the guise of astronomical research and personal writing. Although a few reasons have changed and evolved naturally, I’ve come to terms with how and why I travel. Fact is, I’m “always” coming back home to Germany. And now, I’m already thinking about coming back to Leipzig, even if I have to make a pact and give up my soul in the process.

Auerbachs Keller, Maedler-Passage, Leipzig, Germany,

Auerbachs Keller, Maedler-Passage, Leipzig, Germany,

“Wer nach Leipzig zur Messe gereist, ohne auf Auerbachs Hof zu gehen, der schweige still, denn das beweist: er hat Leipzig nicht gesehen.”

“Whoever goes to the trade fair in Leipzig without visiting Auerbach’s Cellar should remain silent, because this only proves they haven’t seen Leipzig at all.”

Auerbachs Keller is roughly in the middle of Leipzig’s Old Town, near Old City Hall, S-Bahn Markt station, and Augustusplatz. The place is divided into three main areas. On the ground floor is the coffee and cocktail bar, Mephisto Café. In the basement are the Great Cellar (Große Keller) and the Historical Wine Bar Restaurant (Historische Weinstuben). The latter consists of separate rooms: the Cask Cellar (Fasskeller), the Goethe Cellar (Goethe-Keller), the Luther Room (Lutherstübchen), and the Old Leipzig (Alt-Leipzig). customI made the photos above on 2 December 2014 during my visit which was graciously hosted by Leipzig Tourismus und Marketing GmbH (LTM). My thanks to Auerbachs Keller for the provided food and drink, and to Jane Langforth and Steffi Gretschel at LTM for their help. This unpaid post appears on Fotoeins Fotopress at as

My Heidelberg: Cafe Burkardt in the Old Town

With a population of about 150,000 people, Heidelberg, Germany is home to the oldest university in Germany (founded in 1386) where one in five residents are enrolled at Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg. Heidelberg is also the location of scenic castle ruins on the flank of a hill above the Neckar River, and is destination to over two million visitors annually.

I’m often “home” in Heidelberg to visit friends who are in the city to work for the university or one of the many institutes in town. An important component for any visit to Heidelberg is Untere Strasse in the Altstadt (Lower Street in the Old Town). The narrow cobblestone street includes cafes, pubs, and shops with a neighbourhood feel attracting not only university students for “pub crawls” but also city residents for their favourite hangout spots.

In casual and cozy surroundings, a bistro by the name of Café Burkardt provides an easy environment for coffee, some cake (the fresh on display as you walk through the front door), or a light meal. The café is also a Weinstube (wine bar) for a quiet chat over a glass of wine.

It’s noon on Tuesday, but there are only four other guests in the café. The wood furnishings, the ample window to the outside, and even the light fixtures make me feel completely at ease. My palate has swung from the sweet to the savory side over time. I glance down at the lunch specials this week: pulled pork burger yesterday, vegetarian lasagna with tomato sauce tomorrow, but today, the offering is currywurst with roast potatoes, and a side salad. Having spent time in Hamburg and Berlin, I’m a sucker for currywurst, and I give in to the temptation. My experience is both example and reminder of German “Gemütlichkeit”.

Cafe Burkardt, Heidelberger Altstadt, Germany,

Cafe Burkardt, Heidelberg Altstadt (Old Town)

Interior and Gemütlichkeit, Cafe Burkardt, Heidelberg, Germany,

Cozy “Gemütlichkeit”

Speisekarte (menu), latté, Cafe Burkardt, Heidelberg, Germany,

Going over the Speisekarte (menu) with a bowl of latté

Tuesday lunch special, Cafe Burkardt, Heidelberg, Germany,

Lunch special (Mittagsmenü): currywurst, roast potatoes, & side salad … with my bowl of latté

Address: Untere Strasse 27, in the Altstadt (Old Town).
Bus stop (Haltestelle): Alte Brücke, bus 35; Rathaus/Bergbahn, bus 33; Universitätsplatz, bus 31 or 32.

To someone new to the city, it’s not entirely obvious how one reaches Untere Strasse. Most will spend a majority of their time up and down the Hauptstrasse (Main Street). Untere Strasse is tucked between Universitätsplatz (University Square) to the west, the Neckar River to the north, Marktplatz (Market Square) to the east, and Hauptstrasse to the south.

I made the photos above on 25 November 2014. This post appears on Fotoeins Fotopress at as Access to public transport was kindly provided by the city tourism organization Heidelberg Marketing and the Rhein-Neckar-Verkehr GmbH regional transport authority.

How to eat chicken-fried gator? Chomp it quickly

The fried gator is buttery soft, surrounded by a thin layer of crunchy batter.

This is a story about food: about longing, and the yearning for comfort. There are many words, but no photographs; you have been warned. May the words flow with you, and may hunger strike at your desire for more …

Comfort food, comfortable chomps

It all began innocently: a sudden rush, a deep craving for comfort food: southern-style fried chicken and waffles.

But “chicken and waffles”? Definitely.

Depending upon what I’m feeling, I crave all kinds of comfort food; for example:

•   A steaming bowl of wonton (wuntun) noodle soup, because that’s my childhood in Vancouver.
•   A peameal bacon sandwich from the St. Lawrence Market, after seven years in The Big Smoke (Toronto).
•   A “Juicy Lucy” burger with a side of tater tots, after a couple of years in the Minneapolis/St. Paul.
•   An “empanada de pino” (baked meat pie) and a bowl of “cazuela de mariscos” (seafood chowder), after five years in Chile.
•   Döner kebab and currywurst, because 14 consecutive years still aren’t enough in Germany.

But where am I going to find “chicken & waffles” in Vancouver?

I’m at a seminar about social-media by Rebecca Coleman, and she also writes a lot about food. I inform her of my quest, and her recommendation is swift, straight to Chewie’s.

They have two locations: one downtown by Coal Harbour, and the other in Kitsilano. Their online presence leads me to their brunch menu, helpfully listing “chicken and waffles.” But I’m chomping at the bit, when Rebecca mentions chicken-fried alligator, and Chewie’s has half-price happy-hour afternoons.

SOLD! Where do I sign up?

I soon realize this first visit to Chewie’s is going to be different: no camera, no photographs. Why?

I want the experience to be free of burdens: to photograph the setting; to photograph the food as it’s brought to the table; to find the “right light”; that I need a shot, any shot, a perfect shot.

I simply remove the idea from my mind, and I’m free.

But is an online post worth reading if there aren’t any photographs, especially if there’s food?

Some would say “no”, but that’s the challenge and opportunity, to see if the following description can hold readers to the end of this post.

Full with 2 Apps

It’s 330pm on a Thursday afternoon, and I see soon after entering their Coal Harbour location that the place is alive with sounds of activity from conversations and cooking. The restaurant is at about one-third capacity, which is fine because I won’t feel rushed dining on my own. Some well-dressed business folks have occupied a couple of tables by the far end, getting their weekend off to an early happy start.

In time for their half-price Happy Hour, my eyes go to their “First Bites” or appetizers. Recent experience has shown appetizers tend to be small, and I’ve already decided I want two. Instead of beer, it’s hot tea; there’s more writing afterwards.

Little time passes, and my two requests are brought to the table at the same time.

1. Pan Seared Calamari: B.C. Humboldt squid (not breaded) with smoked paprika aioli, and cucumber and onion jalapeño mint-vinaigrette salad.

Because it’s easier to hide the quality of the squid behind breading, I prefer calamari unbreaded. The mollusk is sliced strategically for guests; from a distance, the plate appears suspiciously like penne pasta in a creamy sauce. “Best seafood penne ever!” Closer examination shows there’s bite-sized squid in small tubes; no knife is necessary. Removed are the little tentacles so often disconcerting to some, but I find I miss the wae tentacles.

The squid “tubes” are cooked perfectly: undercooked and it’s too chewy, overcooked and the tubes hang limp on the fork. The smooth creamy spicy aioli complements the flavours of the pan sear and the deep sea. The accompanying cucumber and onion salad provides another counterpoint with fresh garden textures and the jalapeño vinaigrette pushes out a slightly sour edge balancing the oil used in the sear and the cream in the aioli. Eating a couple of tubes with the salad in the same forkful works very well.

2. Chicken-Fried Gator & Hush Puppies: buttermilk-soaked chicken-fried alligator, corn hush puppies, jalapeño jelly

I’m sure the first thing anyone thinks on first sight is: hey, chicken fingers and a fried carb! Come to think of it, “fingers & fries” are a comfort food, too.

Both gator strips and hush puppies appear golden, fried at the right temperature for the right amount of time; neither is burnt or undercooked. The first bite blows away the thought of “chicken fingers”. Marinated for hours in buttermilk, the strips of alligator meat is lightly breaded and fried. Tearing easily, the meat is not chewy; the soft gator meat is a nice contrast with the crispy exterior. As the batter is lightly seasoned, the jalapeño jelly dip for the gator adds another sweet-and-spicy layer to the flavours. Instead of the ubiquitous fries, that “fried carb” are tasty savory spheres of fried cornmeal batter. They have a touch of sweet, reminding me of Tim Hortons’ Timbits, but I can see from the open kitchen the hush puppies are made on order. The accompanying salad garnish composed of crispy bitter arugula leaves and thinly sliced sweet beet slivers provide additional balance to colour, flavour, and texture.

As appetizers go, each is sufficient as a starter to be shared among two or three people, and with two full-sized appetizers consumed, I am very content. The hot tea is a great choice, as the sharp bitter drink cuts through and helps to “wash down” the fatty food. That’s an important lesson after hundreds of dim sum/yum cha sessions.

I enjoyed both appetizers, but the clear favourite is the gator. If you must have images, you can bank on the Internet:

Chicken-fried gator :
Rebecca Coleman for VanCity Buzz | Eatiful | Gastrofork

Pan fried calamari :
Food and Wine with MyWinePal | Eat With Jenny | Jeremy Lin (in Flickr)

Inevitably, return for more

I’ll have to go back and try their crabcakes; it’s only fair to compare and contrast against the famous crabcakes I had in Baltimore. I have to go back for weekend brunch to dig into their chicken and waffles. And they have oysters: lots of `em. So that’s another visit yet …

I visited Chewie’s Coal Harbour on 6 November 2014, and I shelled out my own clams for all food and drink. After paying the bill, I informed the staff of my visit as an interested and hungry travel-writer. This post appears on Fotoeins Fotopress at

No Connection, Unpaid, My Own Opinions Disclosure: No Connection, Unpaid, My Own Opinions. I did not receive any compensation for writing this content and I have no material connection to the restaurant or food mentioned herein (

A “Main” taste of Istanbul in Frankfurt

“This is like being in Istanbul,” my friend says, in between bites of his sandwich.

Ömer, his fiancée, and I are sitting on the south bank of the river Main in Frankfurt, Germany. We’re soaking the late-summer sun. The grassy meadows are full of people: some in animated conversation; some surrounded by a big spread of food, beer, and wine; others kicking the soccer ball back and forth with their children.

There’s a whole lot of happiness here, but there’s a long line of people, waiting to purchase food and drink at the boat parked by the riverbank.

We just left that very same line after waiting for an hour. What we’re eating now made the wait worthwhile.

Over the ten-plus years I’ve known Ömer, he’s never been wrong about food in Germany.

Meral's Imbiss, Mainufer, Frankfurt am Main, Germany,

Meral’s Imbissboot

Meral's Imbiss, Mainufer, Frankfurt am Main, Germany,

Speisekarte | Food menu

Meral's Imbiss, Mainufer, Frankfurt am Main, Germany,

Hamsi (Sardellen) fried-fish sandwich, “Ominade”

We each have a fried-fish sandwich: lightly fried fish in thin crispy batter, crunchy lettuce, slices of juicy tomato, stuffed in fresh soft Turkish bread. There’s a choice of Sardellen (anchovies), Makrelen (mackerel), or Doradenfilet (gilthead seabream). Ominade, freshly-squeezed lemonade according to Oma’s (Grandmother’s) recipe, is the right amount of sweet-tart, providing cool refreshment for our afternoon snack.

“The guy, the family who runs that boat, they’ve got this right, and I’ve gotta admit this feels like we’re on the Bosporus.”

High praise from Ömer: born in Istanbul, raised in Köln, and who’s gone back to know Istanbul very well in adulthood.

We’re silent over the next few minutes, chewing slowly and contemplating Istanbul. I’m realizing the obvious. If the food is any indication, I’m missing out; I’ve not yet visited Istanbul.

But right now, I’m eyeing that long line. I want another fried-fish sandwich and lemonade.

If you’re visiting Frankfurt am Main, make your way to the Main river to the boat called Meral’s Imbissboot (Meral’s Snack Boat). Naturally, they serve Döner, but their fried fish is too good not to try. Subject to weather conditions, the boat is open for service every day from noon to 11pm, between March and October.

Public transport: nearest U-Bahn station Willy-Brandt-Platz or Schweizer Platz.

I made the photos above on 3 October (German Reunification Day) 2011. This post appears on Fotoeins Fotopress at

My Heidelberg: first time sweetness at Café Gundel

Moving to Germany

In 2001, I moved across the big Atlantic pond from Canada to Germany. Knowing only “bitte” (please) and “danke” (thank you), I flew sight unseen to Frankfurt am Main, followed by a shuttle-bus to the German university town of Heidelberg. I would live and work in Heidelberg for two years, and I couldn’t have known the experience would change my life.

Heidelberg is one of my favourite “hometowns” in Germany, my adopted country.

1st Time in DE, 1st Time in HD

An early memory is a stroll down Heidelberg’s Hauptstrasse (“main street”). I spend a long afternoon up and down streets, through small cobbled alleys, learning locations of stores and services, and getting an immediate lay of the town.

At the eastern end of the Altstadt (Old Town), I step into an attractive and brightly lit Café Gundel and sit down at one of the tables. My eyes are bigger than my stomach. I decide to do the sensible thing, and order the first reasonable thing that comes to mind: Apfelstrudel and a latté macchiato.

It’s relatively quiet in the café, and I’m quickly served “coffee and cake”. The strudel has large chunks of apples, surrounded by very light flaky pastry and topped with a fine dusting of powdered sugar. The cake isn’t too tart or sweet, and there’s a generous mouthful of cinnamon and nutmeg. Did I also mention there’s fresh whipping cream (Schlagsahne) on the side? That’s not spray-on stuff from a can, which, as I learned later, is sacrilege of the highest order.

I walk up to the counter to pay and I express my gratitude. With hand gestures and attempted English, I ask to buy an additional selection of cookies, small cakes, and sweets. I’m sure the lady behind the counter thinks I’ve completely lost my mind. In broken English, she tells me there’ll be more tomorrow, and plenty more the day after that.

This memory has served as an introduction to both Heidelberg and Germany, and has stayed with me over the years. I’ve returned many times to Heidelberg since leaving in 2003, but I’ve returned to Gundel only twice.

Guess it’s time to go back “home”, back to Gundel, and make some new memories …

Cafe Gundel, Hauptstrasse (Karlsplatz), Heidelberg, Germany

Café Gundel

Cafe Gundel, Hauptstrasse (Karlsplatz), Heidelberg, Germany

Do I have room for these? Why yes; yes, I do …

If you’re in Heidelberg, walk to the eastern end of Hauptstrasse to Café Gundel. Press your nose up against the window, and look, drool at the sweets on display. When you’ve worked up an appetite, head inside, relax, and enjoy your “Kaffee und Kuchen” (cake and coffee).

Café Gundel is both Konditorei (pastry shop) and Bäckerei (bake shop), making a wide assortment of sweet pastries and hearty breads. The main and larger Gundel is located at the eastern end of the Hauptstrasse at Karlsplatz (Charles Square). The smaller version, Der kleine Gundel, is located at Universitätsplatz (University Square).

You can easily walk the mile-long Hauptstrasse. Alternatively, you can take a bus or tram from the train station to Bismarckplatz, and transfer onto a bus into the Altstadt (Old Town).

This post appears on Fotoeins Fotopress at as


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