The River Queen, one of Uniworld’s stunning boutique ships, docked on the Main River about 10 minutes away from Frankfurt’s Christmas Market (Weihnachtsmarkt). Home to Europe’s most important financial center and virtually leveled during World War II, Frankfurt (officially known as Frankfurt am Main) hosts one of Germany’s most important Christmas markets and is chock full of regional eats.
There is so, so much food that I was grateful a food lecture and sampling tour was provided as part of my river cruise itinerary with Uniworld. The below is a mix of what I learned, things I ate, and what I saw.
Sausage and Other Grilled Meats
The choice of sausage is totally overwhelming in a good way. A safe bet is to order a bratwurst and you won’t be sorry. Maybe it’s how it’s made or the fact that it sits on the grill for a while, but several people on my tour noted that it’s not as fatty or greasy as the kind we get in the states.
Share multiple kinds, if you can. My bratwurst was at least a foot long though, some varieties are even longer. The soft, fresh baguette was just as much of a treat. Condiments include ketchup and mustard. A few Americans were looking for sauerkraut but it was not on offer that I could see. Pair it with gluhwein, naturally.
We also noshed on the long, skinny dried sausage below. It was sort of like a moist stick of pepperoni. Our guide said it’s one of the most inexpensive snacks at the market (though frankly, I didn’t find anything very pricey). Pretty tasty.
So Many Pretzels
Pretzels in Germany are a delight and available everywhere. Some are sprinkled with sea salt while others are drenched in chocolate. The crust is crispy with the inside a bit doughy. The pretzel “arms” are significantly thinner than the bottom part, giving the eater the best of both worlds.
I regret not eating one of these but they looked so good. It’s an open-faced sandwich and these had some sort of garlic spread on them.
Gingerbread hearts (pictured at the top) are available in a variety of sizes and meant to be given as tokens of appreciation to friends and loved ones during the holiday season. Each has a sentimental saying on them.
Berliner is a lot like a jelly donut. Mine had a hibiscus jelly inside while the person next to me had a custard flavor on the inside. They were typically available only on holidays but you can get them year-round.
German Cookies (Some Exclusive to Frankfurt)
Two cookies we learned about (and ate) that are exclusive to Frankfurt luckily appear in the photo above.
Brenten is spiced marzipan (which used to be used a medicine for things like constipation and arrived in Frankfurt via Italy) that is pressed into molds and baked briefly.
Bethmannchen is a traditional Christmas cookie in Frankfurt made with marzipan, flour, powdered sugar, rosewater, and egg. It’s pretty moist and not-too-sweet.
We were told that the pig is marzipan, in case you’re curious.
Kids were loving these long candy lassos.
An enormous variety of herb candy was available at stalls. Centuries ago, it was used for medicinal purposes. Today, people merely enjoy it. There’s ginger, mulled wine, fennel and many, many other flavors to choose from.
There is a crazy amount of candied nuts. And, we’re not just talking chocolate and caramel. There’s Bacardi nuts, Red Bull nuts, Snickers bar nuts and more flavors than you can possibly imagine.
This Amazing Dessert
So, these round, dome-shaped desserts were all over the Frankfurt Christmas Market and our guide let us sample the traditional flavor. It’s like a very, very soft and light marshmallow inside a delicate milk chocolate shell. If you like frosting and/or marshmallows, you’ll love this. It was my favorite dessert. I’ll ask someone what they’re called.
Prune Men (Zwetschgenmaennla)
Our expert said that back in the day, wealthy people would have portraits painted of themselves and presented to women they would like to date. If the woman accepted the painting, then it meant she would go out with the man.
Poorer people couldn’t afford to commission paintings so instead, they created little prune dolls meant to look like the suitor. This prune doll would be left on the woman’s doorstep. If she accepted the doll, this meant she would go out with the man. They have painted walnuts for heads and nowadays are considered a symbol of good luck!
I’ve never seen so many potatoes in my entire life. The fries (chips or pomme frites, if you prefer) were thick cut and sauced with curry and other choices. They looked amazing.
Several baked potato stands offered what looked to be basic toppings. But, in the cold, a hot potato looks incredibly appetizing.
Or, one could opt for the traditional German fried potato pancakes served with applesauce. All are great options, no?
You can’t come to a Christmas Market and not have gluhwein (mulled wine). Not only does it warm you up, it’s delicious. I’ve heard reports of it being likened to motor oil and this was certainly not the case.
It’s usually a port or claret wine heated with cinnamon, cloves, raisins, orange and more, depending. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the heat burns off the alcohol. There’s a sugared cone in the middle that they’re constantly pouring rum over (though I didn’t see this in action).
A funny system is involved when ordering gluhwein. It’s served in mugs. Again, Frankfurt is a pretty green city and it’s part of the tradition that you put down a deposit for when you order the gluhwein. My deposit was one euro. You can return the chip they give you at time of purchase and receive your deposit back. However, if you want to keep your cup… just walk away with it.
The cup deposit isn’t listed in the pricing anywhere so prepare for the cost of your gluhwein to be slightly more than what is listed.
Skipping the booze? Order the Kinderpunsch which is the non-alcoholic version. Other versions include blueberry and more.
Frankfurt Apple Wine
However, the most popular beverage in Frankfurt and the German state of Hesse overall is actually apple wine. It’s brewed throughout the region and served from a pretty ceramic jug. It’s thought that even Emperor Charlemagne was a fan of apple wine… it’s been produced here for centuries.
We sampled it onboard the River Queen and it tastes like a slightly-spiked apple cider.
Others Food and Tidbits
While I didn’t eat any stollen, it’s everywhere. There’s duck fat toast, Bavarian cake, and even a Germanized Mexican food stand. There was literally so much food. Seafood sandwiches as well as fish and chips are all over the market, too. It was once thought that seafood prevented hangovers, according to our guide.
You won’t find many disposable goods like plates or utensils. In fact, even paper napkins are hard to come by. Germany is surprisingly green.
What About the Shopping?
I found the Frankfurt Christmas Market to be rather food-centric. Of course, cold-weather gear like hats and wool socks are for sale but most of it was handicrafts, some leather goods, and toys. More Christmas ornaments and decor than you can handle was for sale, of course.
At the end of the markets opposite the Main River, there’s a huge shopping zone with German department stores and international brands in all price ranges. I spent some time milling about over there, too. Loved the entire experience.
What did you eat and/or buy at the Frankfurt Christmas Market?
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