All sellers provide their crates and trays with business cards, because reunions are fun and profitable.
Shopping with head chef Manuel Reheis

The belly from Munich

Poke around the pineapples, give an avocado a squeeze – that's how keen cooks collate their ingredients. The professional, on the other hand, knows exactly how and where to find the finest foods. We accompany Manuel Reheis, head chef at gourmet restaurant Broeding, as he shops at Munich's Grossmarkt (wholesale market) and at the Schlachthof (slaughterhouse).

Munich's Grossmarkt is over one hundred years old, and one of the biggest of its kind in Europe – too large (31 hectares) and too old (*1912) for colourfully shaded booths and aesthetically appealing pyramids of peaches arranged in rows. At first glance, the yellow painted warehouse, cold store and sales halls behind the grey walls and gates resemble an architectonic hybrid between a penal institution and a country castle. It's a tough start to this autumn day at the Grossmarkt, redeemed by a princely breakfast feast of coffee and veal sausage from Wallner, Munich's 'pope of veal sausage', in the market's own inn. And it also starts with waiting for Manuel Reheis. The head chef of the Broeding rolls in at around 9 am. No hurry, five-day beard.

Business is brisk at the market, lorries are fully-laden; but if like Reheis you've been cleaning your kitchen until two in the morning, you need time to recharge your batteries first. "I don't get in until 5.30 anyway. That's for the big customers," he explains. And the retail chains, canteens and large kitchens. Reheis has been coming to the site in Sendling every Monday and Thursday for 25 years. He is one of the few restaurant chefs who still comes to the market himself. Most of them get their produce delivered. But no such convenient delivery option will keep Manuel Reheis from personally trying the ingredients he's going to use. "If I didn't have a family, I would spend my entire holidays at the market," he admits. He shakes his head in total delight at this confession. Everyone wants a partner who looks at them in the same way as Manuel Reheis looks when he thinks about markets.

Reheis genuinely wants to know all about his food. He wants to know whether the cow behind his dairy products has horns it can use to assert itself because "without horns the cow becomes devious, and you can taste that". He needs to ask because "persimmons often look unripe, but taste delicious." He can determine the origin, quality and consistency of a product only by talking to the seller. Where else but at the market can you gain a better understanding of the respectful connection between the producer, the product and the land. Even if you manage to gain the attention of a helpful employee at a so-called supermarket, the best they can do is direct you to aisle where you'll find organic eggs; but they won't know the name of the hen, and how the farmer who looks after her is doing.

It's precisely the people behind the products who fascinate Reheis: "These are conscientious, honest people who, with what they put on the plate and their familial warmth, are far richer than all of us here." Even if what they do doesn't exactly make them rich. There is a prime example of this in the Gärtnerhalle (growers' hall): the 19 established professional growers sell their freshly picked produce here. "It was picked less than 12 hours ago," promises Hansi, the fifth generation of Gemüsebau Waibl. As a child, he helped the legendary Munich resident 'Radi Schorsch' with loading up his kiosk in the pedestrian zone in front of the Beate Uhse shop (sex shop) – for a wage of five marks. He'd rather die than do anything else, he says.

Reheis genuinely wants to know all about his food. He wants to know whether the cow behind his dairy products has horns it can use to assert itself because "without horns the cow becomes devious, and you can taste that".

It's a chilly ten degrees in the market hall. A group of visitors in high-vis vests comes into the hall from outside. Reheis winds his way through the green boxes, pressing thick bunches of rosemary, oregano and thyme in his left hand. You can cut the herbs off straight from the bunch. Delicate leaves of pot-grown herbs are great as a garnish, but then you have the pot to dispose of. And this isn't a supermarket! "One of the good guys," comments Hansi as Reheis passes his vegetable stall. They shake hands. Neither of them knows the other's name. But they know each other by sight. And Hansi knows that his cut salads and red beets don't fit with Reheis’ idea of a good haul. Reheis is looking for something unusual. And he finds it in halls one to four.

Reheis has come in his van today. He manoeuvres a folding parcel trolley through the sliding door, and continues to push it in front of him like a pram, or drag it behind him like a petulant child. It's his perfect shopping partner, which he now piles high. The original halls one to four are where 'traditional' sales take place. Most of the fruit and vegetables here are flown or shipped in, and it's home to exotic varieties. The traders sit like judges behind high lecterns. The laymen can only hope for a lenient sentence if he stands in the way of yet another forklift truck. With surprising dexterity, Reheis manoeuvres his cumbersome trolley through the maze of EUR pallets, forklift trucks and towers of fruit cartons to the sources of his inspiration.

The menu at the Broeding comprises between five and six courses, and changes daily. It has to be decided by 4 pm, and posted online. It's 9.30 am. Manuel Reheis calmly produces two crumpled, stained pieces of paper dotted with ingredients and covered in scribbles – which he then fails to consult. Pressure, in terms of time or ingredients, stifles creativity. Reheis doesn't become entrenched in ideas, but constantly seeks new flavours, combines and improvises with courage, with the result of surprising both himself and his guests. The market is perfect for such fun and games: bergamot, bitter melons, Amalfi lemons are rubbed, smelled, felt, weighed. Reheis reels off spiced marigold and chickweed with the ease with which we can name kiwis and bananas. You can virtually see the ingredients whirring through his mind, stewing, sautéing, cooking sous-vide.

Reheis closes his eyes in bliss: "I love quinces. It's one of my absolute highlights." We take him at his word, but then some aubergines, round as a ball, immediately grab his attention. Reheis loves them too – and the Radicchio Tardivo that looks like a small octopus, and the pock-marked Delica pumpkin from northern Italy, of which he immediately packs two crates onto his truck. If you ask Reheis a technical question, he dives for the product that enables him to give the best answer and talks, for example, of "a nice story about the erotic persimmon," which has to be dark red, almost bursting open, so you can spoon it out. Or he despairs of the Turkish quince: "It smells of pepper, and I don't know why." Unpredictable ingredients undermine menu planning. It is nearly 11 am.

It took almost six months from the first time Reheis visited the Grossmarkt for him to establish which stalls he trusts. He now knows that Martin sells the best tomatoes – sweetly sour from the Gargano, watered with sea water.

It took almost six months from the first time Reheis visited the Grossmarkt for him to establish which stalls he trusts. He now knows that Martin sells the best tomatoes – sweetly sour from the Gargano, watered with sea water. All the traders leave a calling card on their boxes and crates. Repeat business is pleasurable and profitable. Reheis enjoys benefits: products are put aside for him, prices reduced. Reheis doesn't once need to haggle, even though haggling is as much a part of the market as a splash of acidity in food, and anyone who doesn't join still can't help but feel lucky: "If someone wants 19 euro and I say nothing, he nevertheless only takes 17."

What a wonderful self-managed entity this market life appears to be. This ease of market trading is a well-deserved loyalty bonus, however. Jochen with the impressive chest hair doesn't cut open his ringed beetroot for a look inside for just anyone. "I am one of the few who can do that without getting a severe telling-off," is something you hear Reheis say often. Very good to know.

Mariano from the Bio-Corner is passing his earthy thumb nail over an organic lemon for demonstration purposes: Look! No wax on my nail! Unfortunately, according to Reheis, most organic lemons are not particularly aromatic. Sorry, Mariano. The head chef never compromises. Reheis is straight-forward and particular. He is honest if products aren't right for him. And he doesn't buy from people who are unfriendly towards him, even if the quality is right. "I sometimes pay more for the same products because I like someone better."

Giuseppe is a borderline case. "He's an extreme market crier," and Reheis doesn't like loud, because to him it means: drivel. And the louder someone has to big up their products by shouting, the more they need to shout, it seems. But yesterday, Reheis discovered a revelation of a product from Giuseppe: an artichoke. "The oily, fatty leaves coupled with Brunello di Montalcino yesterday, I have stored that taste in my mind for ever." Reheis breaks an artichoke from its long stem, pulls out the innermost parts and shares them among the bystanders. Giuseppe rejoices in Italian: "All I get is crap, crap. I like you like this!"

You don't have to like everything as a cook, but you should try everything.

The Grossmarkt doesn't cater to private individuals and their personal purchases. But if you want three or four crates of beets or a 10-kilo bag of walnuts, you could give it a try. But wrap up warm. The tone here is predominantly "brutally gruff". Yet beneath the men's serious expressions is a quiet agreement that they do actually like each other: "Do you ever drink espresso, or is it always tea, Karlchen," a portly man wearing a captain's cap asks an equally portly man in a fleece pullover. Reheis drinks four espressos a day, sometimes fives, but rarely at the Grossmarkt. It doesn't feel like he needs caffeine.

While many people lose all feeling in their fingertips in the permanent chill of the halls, Reheis remains alert, his cheeks are rosy. It's the look of someone with a passion. Of someone who thinks it's a pity that most people no longer want to handle food – especially food with eyes and a face. Reheis rarely buys pre-filleted; he virtually always cooks from whole animals. He personally likes hanger steak and calf's brain. In China, he twice had to eat pig rectum. "I didn't feel the need for a third go," he says. You don't have to like everything as a cook, but you should try everything. Reheis currently has a goat and a few ducks from Lower Bavaria to use up. He doesn't need any meat today. But he still visits the slaughterhouse in the adjacent Isarvorstadt.

The Munich abattoir not only slaughters and sells pigs and cattle, it also offers fish and delicatessen products. Insiders call the concentrated food area comprising the Grossmarkt and Schlachthof the "belly of Munich". The belly seems to have digestive problems, because the smell here is disgusting. "Blocked pipes," thinks Reheis as he cheerfully parks right next to a "No Parking" sign. "I am allowed," he thinks, and also thinks that you shouldn't rely on your sense of smell alone when shopping. Think about pineapple. It has an intensive smell when it's overripe. It's better to pull on one of its leaves. If it comes away easily, wonderful.

"If the whole shrub comes away, forget it," he explains, and grabs a trolley like any normal customer to make his way through this haven of freshness. Pensioners, housewives and other gourmets also shop at the fine foods market. Here, Reheis gets smaller quantities than the usual boxes and bags at the Grossmarkt: a bottle of Cassis syrup, three of double cream and a 200 gram piece of pikepech, in this instance pre-filleted because a single guest enjoying the Broeding's weekend catering absolutely wants a piece of pikeperch, and nothing else will do.

There's no fishy smell at the fish supplier. "Good fish doesn't smell," says Reheis: Good fish has gills, dark red like the blood in veins, its body is tight, not slack, and the cloudier its eyes, the older it is.

The thick fish is available from Moby Dick. There's no fishy smell at the fish supplier. "Good fish doesn't smell," says Reheis: Good fish has gills, dark red like the blood in veins, its body is tight, not slack, and the cloudier its eyes, the older it is. Then Reheis flicks his index finger at a few muscles. If the shell halves do not respond, the sphincter and the rest of the muscle is dead. These are twitching perfectly. "And it is a month with an R in it!" notes the Google scholar. Reheis laughs briefly. "It's a fairy-tale."

Cleverly engineered transport chains have long made complete global supply possible. On Monday, Reheis is getting a whole swordfish. Today, there's 20 kilos of cod on ice. It is 12.20 pm. And now he knows what's going on his menu: tonight's delights will include cod with vegetable fricassee and paprika aioli, chopped porcini mushrooms with fennel salad and chestnut and cream cheese gateau with quinces.

 

Got curious? Discover the Munich wholesale market with an official guide from München Tourismus on an exclusive tour. A real experience! Click here for booking.

 

 

Text: Pauline Krätzig, Photos: Frank Stolle

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