When you first study abroad, you may feel unsure about yourself. Perhaps you do not feel entirely connected with the people you meet at first, you are constantly struggling to grasp and understand the target language, or maybe you just feel overwhelmed. Nevertheless, there is one thing that brings us all together regardless of language barriers or cultural differences: food.
Though your favorite restaurants or go-to snacks may not be available in your new country, there is always something to love about cuisine in a culture different from your own. So, naturally, when I participated in my first study abroad exchange in Austria back in 2019, most people were ecstatic and overjoyed as they told me all the new dishes I should try. Wiener Schnitzel, Kaesespaetzle with bacon, Currywurst, Bratwurst, Sauerbraten, the Turkish Doener, and much more. The only problem? As a vegetarian, meat is completely out of question.
Living in a culture where typical cuisines are usually meat-dominated, and in Hamburg fish, it can sometimes feel as if you are missing out on the true cultural-immersion experience. Despite the ever-present food FOMO that has definitely been haunting me since my arrival in Hamburg, numerous alternatives exist that can still make you feel connected to the country’s food and culture.
Supermarkets: look for the “V”
First, let’s talk about German supermarkets. Yes, they are considerably smaller than the American counterparts but they still have lots to offer, especially for vegans and vegetarians. Discount stores like Aldi and Lidl offer tons of vegetarian options for those who know where to look. From to-go lentil and couscous salads to vegetarian styled “tenders” to a decent quantity of high quality fruits and vegetables all at a low low price, sticking to a diet can be both cheap and nutritious. Other German supermarkets you may encounter, such as Rewe or Edeka, offer even more options, though usually for a higher price. Just remember to look out for the yellow “V” sign to be sure you are buying a vegan or vegetarian alternative, which is usually written underneath.
Restaurants: from baconless Spaetzle to Turkish falafel
Because Hamburg is also one of Germany’s most vegan-friendly cities, vegetarian or vegan options are almost always available on the menu. Even when eating out in a typical German restaurant, you are bound to find vegetarian German dishes like potato dumplings, sauerkraut, Spaetzle (without the bacon), Flammkuchen, and much more. It is also important to remember that Hamburg, like many other major German cities, also has a large immigrant population, especially those of Turkish background. The Doener kebab, a Turkish dish widely popular throughout Germany, is not only well-known but also a great item to grab on the go. But if you are not a meat eater, most Doener grills or restaurants also serve falafel alternatives instead of the popular rotisserie meat. Likewise, Hamburg is also filled with Indian as well as East-Asian style restaurants and supermarkets that almost always offer vegetarian menu items or ingredients for your next meal.
Freshly. Baked. Bread.
And finally, what would a food post be without mentioning bread? For most Americans, including myself, bread is not really something spectacular. For me, usually just something I smear jam on every morning. But I would be lying if I said it came close to anything as delicious as German bread. When you enter any supermarket, the first thing you see are lines of all assortments of freshly baked bread. Pretzels, rye, pumpernickel, Laugenbroetchen, Franzbroetchen, sesame, sunflower, and the list goes on. Whether you are in the city center or walking in a residential neighborhood, you are bound to find a bakery that serves warm coffee and freshly baked bread.
As a vegetarian who finds herself alone in a big city, it has not been easy to always find meals that work for me. At times, I do find myself eating pasta with pesto too many nights in a row, but little by little, I have been able to create recipes incorporating tofu, chickpeas, and lentils into my diet while also snacking on the occasional Franzbroetchen here and there. Though I thought that I would not be able to carry on with my diet while in Hamburg, the city truly boasts a multicultural hub of restaurants and stores that can make anyone feel like they are a true native to the city.