France has many delightful and delicious cities for a self-professed foodie to discover. Paris is a favourite with an exasperating array of restaurants to choose from, Lyon is often seen as the city frequently visited by foodies who are looking for traditional and old-school dishes, however, for me, Alsace is my secret destination for true gastronomes.
Alsace, located in the Grand Est region of France, borders Switzerland and Germany and with this location, it has many influences which have shaped its cuisine. History will tell you that it was under German rule four times in a century, and so you find many German influences in its dishes, cuisine and culture, with smoked meats and sauerkraut being popular among locals.
Sweets are, of course, a part of France’s DNA, and, in Alsace, you are blessed with many wonderful desserts and cakes. From leavened cakes to festival cookies, Alsace has you covered if you are looking to cure hunger pains.
No matter what kind of foodie you are, here are the recipes and dishes you should seek out when in Alsace.
No trip to Alsace would be complete if you didn’t have a giant platter of sauerkraut. Although the dish is often associated with Germany and other Eastern European countries, the pickled cabbage dish is widely associated and eaten in the greater Grand Est region.
Served as a side dish, sauerkraut in Alsace is often served with meat (cured meats) or fish.
Sauerkraut obtained the European PGI certification a few years ago and is definitely engrained in Alsatian culture.
For the best, visit Restaurant La Couronne in Schweiller for traditional Alsatian dishes served in a lively environment with excellent service and food - of course!
If you love pizza, you will definitely want to seek out Flammkuchen. Essentially, flammkuchen is a very thin-crust pizza topped with a minimal amount of toppings.
The original and best has lardons (bacon), cheese and sometimes onion, but toppings can include smoked salmon and even chocolate now.
Apparently, flammkuchen was invented to feed hungry workers and bakers would test if the oven was hot enough to bake their baguettes by throwing in thin sheets of dough. A baker was tired of eating plain bread and so topped it off with bacon and cheese - a great invention!
Nothing beats eating a flammkuchen after cycling around one of Alsace’s parks and my favorite is in Colmar at Maison Rouge.
Another great invention by bakers from Alsace, the Alsatian baeckeoffe was apparently invented because many of the villages in Alsace shared one oven.
On wash-day (laundry day), the wives of farmers would throw any leftover cuts of meat and vegetables in a pot and drop it off at the village oven. On their way home, the farmers would pick up their casserole of Baeckeoffe and enjoy it for dinner.
Essentially a casserole, a typical Alsatian baeckeoffe includes root vegetables, potatoes and three types of marinated meat, as well as a heavy glug of local wine like Riesling.
La Couronne is once again my favorite place for this great traditional dish prepared with well-sourced and local produce.
Coq au riesling is truly a unique dish found only in Alsace. Although coq au vin can be found widely all over France, it is only in Alsace where this dish takes on a rather zest and almost fruity taste because of the local wine used: riesling!
The dish includes many wonderful ingredients grown locally in the Grand Est like potatoes, mushrooms, and also cured meats and chicken. There isn’t a better way to get through a cold winter's night than with a homemade coq au riesling paired with a local white wine.
For a great version of this dish, Le Pressior de Bacchus in Blienschwiller has a great selection of locally sourced dishes prepared by chef Sylvie and her son including Coq au Riesling
France has more than 400 varieties of cheese and one that is truly unique to Alsace is Munster. Virtually the only regional cheese native to Alsace, munster is not for the faint-hearted, it is quite pungent and strong in flavour and taste because of its washed rind.
Some say it has the same aroma of fried eggs and others are less eloquent when describing it, but for true fromage-lovers, there is nothing better than a Sunday afternoon picnic on a vineyard like Maison Jean-Huttard eating Munster cheese and drinking Cremant d’Alsace.
You will find Munster cheese anywhere but Le Parc Hotel and Spa in Obernai has a great dish called “Munster flambee” which involves lighting the cheese on fire with another locally produced product: eaux de vie.
Kougelhopf is definitely Alsace’s most famous cake. Most commonly eaten during Christmas, Kougelhopf can now be found year-round in all big, small, family-run bakeries around the region because of its popularity.
The hollow cake looks like a bundt and is leavened with yeast to give it a slightly bread-like texture which many may call “dry”. However, there is no better way to enjoy Kougelhopf than with a strong cup of coffee or dessert wine from the region - so dry is fine with me!
There are both sweet and savoury versions of the cake and can be found in bakeries throughout the region. However, if you want one of the best head to the Relais and Chateaux property, La Cheneaudiere Hostellerie and Spa in Colroy-de-Roche. It's undoubtedly a wonderful place with traditional Alsatian desserts, sweets and, of course, kougelhopf - it may just be the best I have had!
What would a food list detailing iconic eats from Alsace be without their wine? Known as one of France’s premier wine-producing regions, Alsace wine is often forgotten when compared to big names Bordeaux and Burgundy, but it shouldn’t be left in the dust - it is exceptional.
There are many wines to choose from however, you can’t go wrong with either a bottle of dry Riesling or Gewurztraminer. If you want something truly special, definitely seek out a Cremant d'Alsace - a brut-style bubbly made from a variety of grapes including Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Riesling.
My favorite winery in Alsace is Maison Jean Huttard in Zellenberg where wines are well-looked after and produced organically by the next gen of winemakers: Antoine and Helene.
Beerawecka is a french dish traditionally served during Christmas time, but the sweet is so easy to make that many families enjoy it year-round.
The recipe is a mix of dried fruits like pears, plums, figs and apricots which are all mixed together with nuts, including walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts. All the ingredients are macerated in liquor and allowed to “rest” as a spiced cake mixture.
Apparently, the cake was invented by Alsace’s Jewish community and is now enjoyed by all Alsatians during the festive seasons.
With Alsace bordering Germany, one of the carbohydrates eaten on this side of France is spaetzle. Just like the noodles found in Germany, Alsace spaetzle is made of flour and eggs and served with many of the casseroles and hearty dishes mentioned above, such as coq au vin.
A simple version of spaetzle is similar to the American Mac n’ Cheese where the homemade spaetzle noodle is mixed with a locally produced cheese for a quick and simple dinner.