During my first summer in Munich, my best friend got an internship and stayed with me. I was still getting my bearings and, like a normal American, buying pre-sliced bread at the supermarket.
Deciding the bread was too sour my friend, who knew even less German than I did, suggested I march over to my corner bakery and ask for ‘Brot nix sour’.
“Uh, you can do that, but I’m not going to.” I found the bread bakeries far too intimidating.
The large, no-nonsense ladies behind the counters for sure wouldn’t tolerate my hesitant, stammering German. Shelf after shelf of whole uncut loaves that looked like they were from the middle-ages. What was the difference between them?
There was clearly some bread buying drill that every German understood. But this mysterious process was not something they were teaching at Berlitz. Better to just keep buying bread at the store.
I now realize I kept buying Rogge bread which is why it seemed so sour (sort of like rye bread without the rye in it). It’s taken nearly twenty years and moving to a street with a Hopfisterei on the corner for me to get my act together and just go in and buy some damn bread.
Oh what I’ve learned!
The Germans are proud of their bread for a reason. It’s fresh, delicious, sturdy and full of variety. It turns out the folks at our local Hopfisterei are quite nice. Let me impart some basic learnings:
- A round loaf is called a ‘Laib‘
- A regular, rectangular loaf is called a ‘Kasten‘
- You can order them whole, by the half or by the quarter (at least for a Laib)
- You can have them sliced!
- You can even request the thickness of the slice!
Here are a few starter sorts you might enjoy if you are easing your way into German bread:
Weizenlaib – This tastes like a really good sourdough bread. I like to get mine sliced on the thicker side, 9-10mm
Frankenlaib – A delicious, slightly darker bread with hints of fennel and rye
Dinkel-Hirse Kasten – I call this ‘sort of healthy white bread’ This is a spelt (Dinkel) and millet (Hirse) bread that’s white and spongy. It has a nice give but the taste isn’t overwhelming. Really good for toast. I enjoy mine sliced at the standard width (at least at Hopfisterei) which is 8mm.
Since the bread is made daily and is best fresh, you really need to go to the bakery at least a couple of times a week, and go early or else a lot of the favorite types are gone.
On the other hand, these times are good opportunities to try something new.
Here are a couple of phrases (probably full of grammar mistakes, but you get the idea) to use for ordering.
‘Ich hätte gern ein viertellaib Weizen, geschnitten, 10mm bitte’
I’d like a quarter laib of Weizen bread, cut 10mm please.
‘Ein halb Kasten Dinkel-Hirse geschnitten bitte’
A half-loaf of Spelt-Millet, sliced please.
I confess, I’m feel so proud of myself every time I order.