Kitchen fairy – and the German Butterbrot

This is a pursuit of flavour contribution, hence in English.

The theme of the month was: Sandwich. In Germany that roughly translates as Butterbrot. (Buttered bread)

And that is where the huge differences start.

Let me first introduce you to the concept:

We take a slice of bread, spread butter on, then put on cheese or some sort of German Wurst or Salami or ham – or sometimes we just take a little more butter and add salt and eat it to a hard boiled egg, when on a hiking trip, for example, and then we spread butter on the other slice of bread and put it on top, cut the slices in half and there you have it: The German Butterbrot, ready to go. For eating at home you would normally not cover it and then it is not resembling a sandwich.

It is ingrained in German psyche since butter and bread were first combined. After the World Wars Germans even talked about Gute Butter (good butter) and a bread with good butter (instead of slice with margarine or lard). Yes one could have some additional vegetables on it, gherkins are a favourite, but that was thought of as „fancy“.

The humble Butterbrot has made it into German culture

From the German punk band Die Toten Hosen, „Eisgekühlter Bommerlunder“ (1990) which contains the text:

Und dazu ein belegtes Brot mit Schinken, ein belegtes Brot mit Ei

Campino also complains about the lack of cultural subtext, he just doesn’t recognize that The Butterbrot itself is a cultural icon.

Punk is not everybody’s cup of tea,

Here you hear a German singer from the 70s, who sings: Hinaus in die Ferne, mit Butterbrot und Speck, a German hiking song (with slightly sinister undertones*)

The German hiking revival of the 70s, sorry folks, a trip down memory lane, that was also when a German politician sang Hoch auf dem Gelben Wagen … so a time of musical atrocities

*the song stems from the time when Germans and French people were not as friendly with each other as they are now. So I have come up with the theory that Butterbrot und Speck stands for Alsace, as the most famous dish from there is thin flat bread with bacon. And the expression „der kriegt eins auf die Näse“ – well, yes, it is a coll. version of German Nase (nose) – but also closely related to the French „le nez“ … I might be stretching it, but the rivalry among both countries was huge.

The German love for the humble Butterbrot has even survived today, in the new millenium. OK, the man who sings this, is an old man, and he is fully nostalgic about it:

The Butterbrot, as a sign of happier times

Even in Austria they write plays and make films about it:

I give you

That is all you need for a German Butterbrot

So I spread some of the butter on two slices of bread and added the Paprika Lyoner „cold meat“, cut it in half, put it in my lunchbox with some Kohlrabi (cabbage turnip) – and now I am ready to go, retro style. That is the classic version. The „original“

Back in history, when butter was way more expensive and your average person was way poorer, people spread lard instead of butter on their bread. Lard was more prevalent and cheaper.

From the linked Wikipedia article (yes, German Butterbrot has its own Wikipedia article)

„As a conclusion one may say that the Butterbrot is a type of open faced sandwich, using well made savoury bread slices, and with simpler straightforward toppings. However one of the reasons why the Germans prefer just butter and simpler toppings is because they take such pride in the quality and taste of their breads.“

And there you have it, in Pursuit of flavour, without a recipe and with a lot of reading, some music and a link to an Austrian actor and director.

17 Antworten zu “Kitchen fairy – and the German Butterbrot

  1. still my favorite… and it brings memories back, from evenings where we waited with our butterbrot for dieter thomas heck and the Hitparade ;O)))

  2. This brought back fond memories of the best bread in the world – Germany’s! Broetchen with a bit of butter and a good cup of strong German coffee was all I needed for breakfast, but a bit of ham or cheese was fine, too, on one of those delightful hard rolls!

    A local baker made a version of these „little breads“ (in the 1950s) that I didn’t realize had German origins. That was when I was a child. He died, the bakery went out of business, and that treat and others disappeared from the local scene. I’m sure they weren’t a perfect as those baked by German bakers, but they were pretty good as I recall.

  3. Hari OM
    Simple bread and butter is something of a tradition in Scotland too – for a similar reason. Good bread deserves ‚good butter‘ and to be savoured for itself! That said, Scottish jam making is somewhat spectacular, so quite often there would some of that to spread if desired. But simple bread and butter and a hunk of cheese to chew with it. Yay picnic!!! YAM xx

  4. Buttered bread – simple and good! Reinhard Mey – thanks for the introduction to his music!

  5. Awesome butterbrot! I had never heard of it before and you’d think I would have after spending 2 years in Soest, Germany. We spent 6 months living in the home of a Germa family and as a youngster I picked up the language quickly but do not remember butterbrot. It is really an open-faced sandwich like you say or a very simple closed sandwich. The music was a treat. Yes , even the punk rockers. Just goes to show you our music is so similar.

    Thank you for a fantastic peek into Germany, I totally enjoyed it.


  6. I used to eat some good coarse whole wheat bread, just with butter, thickly spread, YUM!!

  7. By the way we called a Sandwich Boterham….My heritage is Dutch.

  8. Yum! We love good bread and butter. Where we live in Canada, Russian Dukabors settled and you can get a terrific Russian whole wheat bread with butter (along with a bowl of Russian Borscht) in ALL the restaurants (including the local Chinese food place.

  9. You’ve made that sandwich sound unexpectedly delicious. Hugs!

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