In the beer drinking calendar, there is only one month worth waiting for. To the ire of teetotallers and the abstemious, October is still all about booze. This reputation is owed almost exclusively to a legendary German festival that has built a passionate following all over the world. Pull on your lederhosen and pour yourself a pint. It’s time to talk Oktoberfest.
There are many misconceptions about the world’s most famous beer festival. For instance, Oktoberfest doesn’t actually start in October at all, having been moved to September in an attempt to make the most of the all-too-brief south German summer. But perhaps the biggest fallacy is that the entire event is just an excuse to get drunk. A closer look at Oktoberfest tradition reveals that there’s a lot more going on behind the steins.
This is not to say that beer isn’t an instrumental part of the festivities. During the 16-day celebration in Munich’s “Theresienwiese” field, over seven million litres of booze is downed every year. The event is still dominated by six special breweries - Augustiner, Hacker-Pschorr, Hofbräu, Löwenbräu, Paulaner, and Spaten - who are permitted to set up shop only if they adhere to strict laws governing what can and can’t go into German beer. Clearly, this is a party that takes its liquor seriously.
However, look beyond the endless swigging, and you will find a range of awesome foodie traditions, arguably just as important to the smooth running of festivities. A two-week beer binge is likely to end in tears if you don’t have anything to soak it up. That's why Oktoberfest food is in the unique position of needing to be tasty, whilst also providing some serious ballast. One look at the six million revellers who come to party every year tells you that this is not a task to be taken lightly.
In many ways, the traditions governing Oktoberfest food are just as strict as those around the alcohol. Almost everything that’s served is solid and hearty, designed for maximum booze-busting impact. Each of the individual beer tents serves its own selection of local favourites, ranging from seafood, to pastries, to cheese.
Over the years, many of these tents have become even more well known for their food than their beer. The 9,000 person capacity Hacker-Festhalle, for instance, is famed for its family-run butchery and kitchen, specialising in fat, spicy pork sausages, giant handmade pretzels and crispy grilled pork knuckles, alongside a selection of traditional Bavarian stews and soups.
The food is almost unfailingly hearty and usually meaty. Aside from sausages, visitors can get their hands on whole spit-roasted oxen at the “Ochsenbraterei”, charcoal-fired fish-on-a-stick known as “Steckerlfisch” and, perhaps most surprisingly, German Weisn-fried chicken stuffed with a rich mixture of parsley and butter and covered in crunchy breadcrumbs. Picture a table full of your ideal drunk food and you’ll have some idea of what’s on offer at Oktoberfest.
You might think that this meat-fest is a vegetarian’s worst nightmare. Though they might feel slightly sickened by the sight of so many slowly-roasting animals, there are actually plenty of appetising options for the meat-averse. For instance, almost every tent prepares piles of Bavarian potato salad - made with stock and mustard rather than the more typical mayonnaise. Sauerkraut, dumplings and spaetzle - a type of cheese-stuffed bread roll served with fried onions and leafy green salad - are all delicious, readily-available veggie alternatives.
The eating doesn’t stop with the savoury courses. One of the most popular items on almost every menu is the legendary “dampfnudel” - a slowly-steamed honey dumpling, served alongside a rich, creamy vanilla sauce. Scattered throughout the event, visitors will also find sweet stands serving raisin-stuffed pancakes known as “kaiserschmarrn”, as well as sugar-glazed almonds and cotton candy. If you feel yourself lagging after all that meat and beer, you’re never far away from a sugary jolt of energy.
These famous foodie conventions are so inseparable from Oktoberfest that they have been transposed onto the festival’s many international offshoots. These menus offer Bavarian staples alongside a few local specialties, making other nations’ Oktoberfests unique eating experiences in their own right. In Cincinnati, for instance, guests can dine on the usual selection of sausages and pretzels, whilst also enjoying pickled pigs feet and jumbo pickles. Wherever you end up celebrating Oktoberfest, you’re going to get a different flavour of the event.
For most people, Oktoberfest will forever be synonymous with the sight of leatherbound waiters and waitresses, struggling under glass mountains of amber-coloured alcohol. But, if a look at the food proves anything, it’s that Bavaria deserves to be recognised for more than its beer. It might not be at the top of every traveller’s foodie bucket list, but Munich in September is clearly a delicious place to spend your time.