Our wistful longing for Oktoberfest is largely built around our anticipation of the meals and drinks that are served there. Munich chef Sven Christ shows us how to make Oktoberfest specialities in a normal kitchen using ingredients that are easy to come by – such as lebkuchen (gingerbread) hearts and roasted almonds.
There was a time when Oktoberfest was just a few booths and the paths between them were muddy tracks. Back then, when the Wiesn was chaotic, adventurous and rambunctious, you had to be able to offer your sweetheart something to entice them to come with you and enjoy a beer from your brand new Keferloher stein. This must have been when the lebkuchen (gingerbread) heart was conceived. What an unbeatable souvenir of the Wiesn, enabling the holder to proclaim: “Look where I’ve been!” before the t-shirt was invented.
The gingerbread heart is the oldest and most successful Oktoberfest souvenir that does not actually refer directly to the Wiesn. There’s no “I was at Oktoberfest” emblazoned on it, but instead a personalised message. Anyone who managed to lead their sweetheart through the mire for those early Oktoberfests was obliged to reward them for their troubles with candy floss, roasted almonds and a lebkuchen heart – but what should the message say? “In love”; “It’s complicated”; or “Miserable git”?
You can eat the hearts of course, but it’s usually only children under ten who do so. Most of the hearts are destined, after Oktoberfest, to spending the rest of their existence on a wardrobe door, hanging from a door handle or in the kitchen.
The inscriptions used to be a simple matter: “Best dad”; “Sweetie”; and “Wiesn 1956” – but these days people are always searching out the latest neologisms. So a hunky guy who might previously have gone for “fescher Bua” now swaggers through the fairground bearing the label “Babo”: a slang term for “boss”. You can eat the hearts of course, but it’s usually only children under ten who do so. Most of the hearts are destined, after Oktoberfest, to spending the rest of their existence on a wardrobe door, hanging from a door handle or in the kitchen. Some people may have no problem throwing the hearts away, but in most cases they really are honest tokens of love.
For eating – or rather, for snacking – the next stop after buying a gingerbread heart is always the roasted almonds stall, so you can munch on the warm, crunchy treats as you ride the Ferris wheel. Almonds are the popular choice these days, having always been considered discreetly more luxurious than hazelnuts – and anyway, there’s no one left in Bavaria who harvests hazelnuts, though they also can be roasted and taste delicious, though a little stronger. Many stalls also offer cashews and macadamia nuts, but I find them too greasy; and having tried roasted Brazil nuts once I don’t plan to do so again!
Almonds are the popular choice these days, having always been considered discreetly more luxurious than hazelnuts – and anyway, there’s no one left in Bavaria who harvests hazelnuts, though they also can be roasted and taste delicious, though a little stronger.
For us, it’s always 250 g of almonds, which we snack on as we move among the stalls. There’s always another hand in the bag when you reach in to grab some, and it’s always a great joy to discover you still have half a bag of almonds in your pocket as you’re on the tram on your way home.
It’s important to leave behind your gingerbread heart and your bag of almonds when you’re going on certain rides: the Teufelsrad (Devil’s Wheel) and the Toboggan, or any that are even crazier. After all, lebkuchen hearts are fragile biscuits, and the caramel fragments from smashed almonds will get all over your shirt, blouse, hair and handbag.