Updated: Dec 8, 2022
Christmas markets in Europe are a staple and have become quite popular places to visit each year as throngs of stalls open, lights are strung, and holiday traditions continue. Despite their similarities, the food, beverages, and folklore vary quite a bit by country and even by city.
Needless to say, you can find many charming Christmas ornaments, gifts, and treasures at the markets, but they are also a great place to try some foods and drinks you may not experience at home. While there are a few treats that will appeal to the more adventurous eater, there are hundreds of regional specialties, both sweet and savory, to delight shoppers as they wander.
Here are five foods and beverages you surely won't want to miss out on...
1 - Glühwein
This hot drink, easy to make at home, consists of red wine, (or sometimes white) infused with various spices like cinnamon, star aniseed, cloves, and oranges. Add sugar to the mixture, and you’ve got mulled wine.
When ordering a cup of Glühwein, you have the chance to get Christmas market mugs. Those mugs are always specific to the Christmas market, and the design changes every year. You pay a few Euros extra when ordering the mulled wine, which Germans call “Pfand”, the french call "vin chaud", and the Czech call "Svařák", That money is returned to you when you bring back the mug – or you leave it and keep it as a souvenir. In Vienna, the drink is referred to as "Weihnachtspunsch", which can sometimes be a spiced rum or brandy beverage.
An essential part of the Budapest Christmas market, the hot wine, ‘forralt bor’ in Hungarian is prepared with cinnamon, and cloves, but also with a hint of orange or lemon. To warm you up, grog is a drink made of rum mixed with hot milk with added cinnamon, honey, and liquid sugar syrup.
2 - Gingerbread
Gingerbread, synonymous with Christmas in the US, has many local variations in Europe and is known as "lebkuchen", and ranges from hard gingerbread (often shaped like hearts and decorated with writing) to soft varieties and those infused with different spice mixes. Some are coated with chocolate and almonds, while others come with a sugar glaze.
Nuremberg is the birthplace of lebkuchen, and it dates back to the 14th century. Lebkuchen comes in all shapes and sizes, round being the most common shape, and covered with chocolate or sugar, or decorated with almonds.
3 - Fried Pastries and Chimney Cakes
Variations of fried sweets and savory treats are abundant in the markets of Europe.
"Langos", a fried dough topped with sour cream, garlic, and shredded cheese. was originally a Hungarian specialty that can be found in surrounding countries.
Popular in Germany, " mutzen" are small deep-fried pastries made from flour, eggs, and sugar and served with powdered sugar. Originally, they come from the Rhine area, but you can now find them in most parts of Germany.
Chimney cakes, called "Kürtőskalács", in Hungarian) "Baumstriezel" in German, and "Trdelník" in Czech" is made from sweet dough that is wrapped around a rolling pin and rolled in sugar. The dough is typically roasted over charcoal, all while adding some butter to give it a golden brown color. Whether enjoyed plain (usually dusted with cinnamon and sugar) or with additional toppings like nuts or coconut flakes, these simple cakes are a nice not-too-sweet option for Christmas market indulgence.
4 - Sausages
Grilled meats and fish are abundant at Christmas markets throughout Europe and sausages are a typical food in this part of the world seasoned with a variety of spices such as curry and paprika.
If you go to the Nuremberg Christmas market, make sure to try the Nuremberg sausages. This regional meaty treat is typically three small sausages served in a bun, topped with mustard. Nuremberg bratwurst contains mace, pepper, and marjoram in a recipe that dates back to the city’s heyday as a medieval trading town.
5 - Potato Pancakes
Kartoffelpuffer, Reibekuchen, and Kartoffelpfannkuchen: All of these names refer to potato pancakes. Raw potatoes and onions are grated and mixed with eggs, flour, and salt to create a dough. Potato pancakes can be a bit plain, which is why most people eat them with apple sauce. As an alternative, you can also buy it with sour cream, cole slaw, or other types of salad.
And these are is just a few of the scrumptious treats that await in the market stalls of Europe at Christmastime, along with roasted chestnuts, strudels, cakes, fruit skewers, and oh, so much more.
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