Munich: The Mystery of Pork Knuckles

One day, I was going through some of the photos I took on my last trip to Munich and I found a photo I took of my lunch while there – the traditional Bavarian dish called Pork Knuckles accompanied with by a rather large potato dumpling and sauerkraut swimming in what might have been gravy from the meat itself. I even remember posting this photo on my Facebook page with the idea of making my friends and family envious. But there is a story behind the idea of having to try Pork Knuckles in Germany. The story all started with a simply state of mind called curiosity.

On my very first day in Germany, I arrived in Frankfurt early in the morning, just after 9 o’clock. From the airport, I hopped onto a train straight to Heidelberg which was the first stop in my pre-planned itinerary. After checking into my hotel at just after 2pm, I suddenly realized that I have not eaten since my rather pathetic breakfast on the flight. So I set off to find a restaurant still open mid-afternoon for a late lunch.

My hotel was close to the main drag of Heidelberg’s historic center called Hauptstrasse. Walking through this thoroughfare, I found a restaurant with an English menu posted next to its door. With little hesitation, I walked in thinking they might have an English menu. As I peruse the items listed in both German and English, I did not realize that this restaurant offers Bavarian cuisine. One would think that a restaurant from this part of the country would serve their own regional fare. But I didn’t care, I was hungry and I wanted a hearty meal for lunch. It was here when I first discovered pork knuckles. I almost opted for this dish but instead I ordered another pork dish accompanied by what is called spätzle – German egg noodles this one sliced 2-inches long. This would be the Bavarian version of plain boiled rice as their starch in every meal. The pork was fine but I found the spätzle was bland like paper hopeless even with a good amount of salt. It seems the noodles were made with nothing more than flour and water. It tasted like somebody forgot to put the eggs and some salt. I manage to devour the pork with the mushroom gravy but I couldn’t continue with the spätzle. This would be one of those things which one would have to acquire the taste for and the people of this part of the world certainly have.

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The next day, I decided to go to another restaurant for lunch in Heidelberg. The restaurant again offered pork knuckles but I ignored it and instead opted for the roast beef and gravy with red cabbage and spätzle. Why? Because I did not realize that’s what the beef came with spätzle. This one was no different from the other.

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Three days later, I found myself in Munich. Before arriving in Munich, I heard of a brewery called Lowerbrau Keller located not far from the main train station. So on my first “official” day in Munich, I’ve decide to have lunch at this brewery. It was just two subway stops away from my hotel. This brewery makes traditional Bavarian style beers as does the restaurant onsite serving Bavarian food. But here, I decided to order a plate of various sausages with mashed potatoes and sauerkraut with a stein of their Original Light Beer. Again, I found pork knuckles offered in the menu. Now the idea of this dish is igniting my curiosity.

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Two days later after a morning visiting the Residenz, the former royal palace of King Ludwig II and his ancestors (Ludwig lived here before moving into his fairy-tale castle), I found myself in the Marienplatz area of Munich. Walking a bit more and getting hungrier by the minute, I found a restaurant with a menu posted next to its door and there it was again – pork knuckles. An impulsive decision then came to me thinking now I have to try this and today was the day.

A pilsner of beer arrived. A few minutes later the pork knuckles came with gravy, sauerkraut and a rather large potato dumpling. Pork Knuckles it turns out is like bone-in ham hock (to Americans) roasted in its skin until its crispy and bubbly golden brown. Inside, the meat may still be red, a good thing as you do not want it over done. You can imagine my surprise when I saw the size of meat and dumpling I received. I didn’t realize what a sizable dish this was. A man would be very happy to have this for lunch every day. I was not sure if I could finish such a meal but it has been a while since breakfast and I was quite hungry. With the help of a tall pilsner of beer, I manage to gobble up the pork knuckles, sauerkraut and dumpling like it was Thanksgiving dinner.

Munich Pork Knuckles

After this late and hearty lunch, I decided to take a walk around Marienplatz checking out the shops and the outdoor market just around the corner called Viktualienmarkt. Did a little shopping – my brother wanted me to get him a ceramic beer stein which I manage to find at one of the souvenir shops close by. Walking did help the digestion that it resulted to having little to no dinner for me that night.

I have to admit, when I discovered Pork Knuckles I wasn’t exactly curious in the beginning. But it seems to be creeping up on me every time I entered a restaurant in my first few days in Germany. It turned out to be a very good introduction to Bavarian cuisine. For a meat and potatoes girl like myself, I found it quite good, hearty, unpretentious and very down to earth. It’s my kind of food. To the Germans, they call it pork knuckles. To Americans, it is more or less ham hock. The sauerkraut tasted like it was homemade from grandma’s house and not the kind that you buy in glass jars at the supermarket. If I can find a good Bavarian restaurant here in Silicon Valley, I would order it again. I just hope it’s just as good as that one I had in Munich.

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