With its vast port infrastructure, bawdy nightlife and UNESCO World Heritage warehouse district, Hamburg is unmistakably a harbour city. Proximity to the sea also defines Hamburg’s cuisine, with its many local fish delicacies including the Finkenwerder Scholle (plaice), a quick-fix Fischbrötchen (fish sandwich) or Rod Stewart’s top choice, the Hummersuppe (lobster soup). But those less fond of seafood need not fear; you can just as well eat like a Hamburger with a tasty falafel platter, a late-night schnitzel, or the city’s very own patisserie, the Franzbrötchen.
How to eat like a local in Hamburg
You won’t find this small, fluffy pastry anywhere else but in Hamburg and its surrounding towns. Literally called “the French roll,” it was most likely inspired by the French croissant, which was introduced to Hamburg during the Napoleonic occupation of 1806–1814. The Franzbrötchen is traditionally made only with lots of sugar and cinnamon, but today most bakeries offer different flavoured varieties, such as with raisins, chocolate or macadamia.
Where to get it: Kleine Konditiorei
The Hamburger Hummersuppe is a true Hamburg classic—a lobster soup served with a small amount of whipped cream, garnished with dill and perfected with a dash of cognac. A popular first course at dinner, it’s also a great choice for a light lunch.
Where to get it: Atlantic Restaurant
The Fischbrötchen (fish sandwich) is the harbour city’s quintessential quick fix; simple, salty and delicious. It’s a white bread roll, typically filled with pickled herring (Bismarckhering) or soused herring (Matjes), some onion, pickles and remoulade sauce, but you’ll find plenty of variants on offer, such as shrimp, salmon and crabmeat. A street-food favourite and hangover god-send, it’s best enjoyed with gulls in the air and your nose to the North Sea wind.
Where to get it: Brücke 10
This traditional fish dish is all about tenderness and crunch. Named after Hamburg’s Finkenwerder district, a historic fishing village, it combines baked or pan-fried plaice with parsley, onion and crispy bacon and is served with either fried potatoes or a zesty cucumber-potato salad.
Where to get it: Fischereihafen Hamburg
The invention of Currywurst is commonly attributed to Herta Heuwer, who ran a food kiosk in West Berlin. In 1949, Heuwer managed to obtain tomato paste and Worcestershire Sauce from British soldiers stationed in the post-war city, mixed them up, and served the resultant sauce over grilled pork sausage. Today, Currywurst is one of Germany’s most famous fast-food snacks and as popular in Hamburg as in any other city.
Where to get it: Imbiss bei Schorsch
Granted, Schnitzel is traditionally a southern German dish, but its popularity has long reached far beyond Bavaria. The breaded and pan-fried pork, veal or sometimes turkey, is usually served with French fries, mashed potato or a lukewarm potato salad, which some find a little too tepid, but others relish for its citric zing. Popular garnishes include parsley, lemon, gherkins and a cranberry sauce.
Where to get it: Erika's Eck
The popularisation of the döner kebab in Germany is often attributed to Turkish-born Kadir Nurman, one of Germany’s post-war “Gastarbeiter” or “guest worker,” who set up a döner stand in the early 1970s by the West Berlin zoo. Today, the thinly sliced meat from the spit, wrapped in pitta or flatbread and topped with salad and sauce, is by far the most popular fast-food in the country; some two million döner are consumed in Germany every day.
Where to get it: Köz Urfa
Falafel is another street food classic in Germany, though often regarded as a more gentrified variant of the Imbiss than the döner kebab stall. Particularly popular among vegetarians, the German falafel often tops the deep-fried chickpea patty with a sweet mango sauce rather than the saltier relish used in the Middle East.
Where to get it: L'Orient
Sushi sure isn’t traditional Hamburg cuisine, but with all that fish nearby and Germany’s ever-growing fondness for edible japonisme, the city’s maki, nigiri and uramaki offerings are expanding year on year. If you’re looking to enjoy the city’s seafood scene without a hearty sauce or hefty portion of potatoes, sushi makes a great lighter choice.
Where to get it: Henssler & Henssler
When it’s time for something sweet, this red fruit pudding is a northern German classic. It’s typically made from black and red currants, raspberries and sometimes strawberries or cherries, all cooked in their juices, thickened with cornstarch or cornflour and served with either warm vanilla sauce or vanilla ice-cream.
Where to get it: Kartoffelkeller