Munich's historic Altstadt district is not only a hub for classic Bavarian gastronomy; it also offers an incredibly wide variety of culinary specialities that you can savour without needing to spend ages at a table. There are wonders worth enjoying even when you’re not in a rush. Our author presents the Bavarian version of to-go cuisine, of a kind you can only find in Munich.
A walk through Munich's Altstadt district can include a few surprises, even for locals. Everyone knows the Neues Rathaus (New Town Hall), but what about the Pestdrachen (Plague Dragon), the Hund des Steinmetz (Mason's Dog) or the bucklige Katze (Crooked Cat)? If you want to find these three enigmatic creatures, you'd be better off not spending all your time in the area inside the city’s many beautiful eateries. So what do you do if hunger strikes while exploring Altstadt? Well, you don't need to sit at a restaurant table; it’s possible to sample Bavarian cuisine on the go, in equally elegant style.
First we walk to Max-Jospeh-Platz, where I love to sit on the stone bench in front of the Residenz (city palace). As it's just around the corner, I pick up a veal shank sandwich from Haxnbauer, which is opposite the old Zerwirkgewölbe, a former butcher's shop on Sparkassenstrasse. The shanks turn on an unceasing rotisserie in the window, hypnotising people hurrying by. It's easy to imagine myself enjoying a spectacle like this in the comfort of my home – standing with a drink in my hand and watching the shanks rotate, instead of staring at the TV or gazing into an open fire. Delightful! When you do manage to look away, you can go inside and order a meat roll to go – €5.70 for veal, and a euro less for pork. (Editor's note: The Haxnbauer is relocating and is currently closed.)
Of course you could do what seasoned Munich locals do instead, and march straight into Franziskaner at 9 Residenzstrasse, taking a left inside to go through the kitchen until you reach the serving counter. You might expect the chef to be cross at your intrusion into their domain, but instead you will be politely asked how much Leberkäse (meatloaf) you want on your roll. You can also pay in the same place – and don’t forget to add mustard, as they make it in-house. Here – and only here – this snack is known as “Taxlersemmel” in honour of the taxi drivers who replenish themselves at this kitchen before heading back to wait for customers in front of Dallmayr delicatessen or on Maximilianstrasse.
If you end up with some time to kill while waiting on Marienplatz, a look around the corner to the right of the Rathaus will reveal a shop which specialises in Franconian sausage specialities and sells classic Wurstsemmel rolls with your choice of sliced sausage and half a gherkin on top, just as Munich tradesmen have been buying for decades. You can stock up on provisions too, as there’s a wide range of Franconian and Palatinate sausages on offer. A Wurstsemmel is great for a quick snack if you’re in a rush, but if you're looking for a proper lunch you should cross the Tal (the street that leads from Marienplatz to Isartor gate) and head straight to Munich's largest culinary playground, the Viktualienmarkt (food market).
In fine – or even just middling – weather, this is always a good place to spend time, with ample benches to rest on and a beautiful beer garden to boot. One decisive advantage of Munich’s beer gardens is that you can bring your own food into most places and just buy a beer, meaning a group of you can meet at the market then disperse to pick up all manner of tasty morsels for the table.
You might visit Stall 11 for example, on the corner of the little butcher's shop, which is the only place in Munich where it's possible to buy Ochsensemmel (ox meat roll) outside Oktoberfest season. Tender shredded ox meat with caramelised onion for just €6.50 – you can't go wrong. The (delicious) Fohlenleberkässemmel (a roll with meatloaf made from colt meat) and Rossbratwurst (bratwurst sausage made with horsemeat) from the Wöhrle horse butcher’s next to it do sound a little rustic, it must be said. There are always a few unsure people in the vicinity, as horse butchers have become a rarity all over Germany – though they remain common enough in Italy and Poland, and some consider horsemeat to be a healthier red meat because it contains less fat.
If you're paying the price after a night out on the tiles and you want to eat something that will clear your head, Fisch Maier at the Viktualienmarkt offers excellent Bismarck herring and soused herring rolls topped with as much onion as you would like. I've never seen anyone eat two of these rolls; one is certainly a full meal.
In the past, after a long night which stretched beyond the curfew that was in place in Munich for an astonishingly long period of time (until the 90s, if you can believe it), my friends and I would stroll over to Schmalznudel opposite Schrannenhalle at four in the morning and wait outside the door, freezing and smoking with the other night owls. People would then convene at Café Frischhut, which opened at 5 am, to buy coffee, auszogne (fried pastries) and doughnuts for €2.30. The freshly baked confectionery is still as good as it was decades ago, and the auszogne are also perfect for dunking in hot chocolate.
So it's clear that Munich has plenty to offer for those on the go – to put it another way, alongside all its proud hospitality, the belly of the city also has a heart for those in a hurry. And if you’ve made it this far and are still wondering about the three mysterious animals I mentioned at the start, here's some closure: the Mason's Dog is found on the roof of the Rathaus and can only be seen from Marienhof square as you’re coming from Theatinerstrasse. The real dog belonging to the head stonemason used to follow his master everywhere, but sadly fell to his death during the construction of the Rathaus. His grieving master went on to immortalise him in stone. The Plague Dragon can be seen climbing high on the corner of the Rathaus, opposite the Donisl traditional beer hall. And if you look towards the Viktualienmarkt from the same spot, you'll see the forged figure of a crooked cat among the rooftops.
Munich truly has no end of surprises.