CINCINNATI -- I’m a Lebanese girl from Boston. What do I know about Oktoberfest food? Tabouli, hummus and kibbe, I know. Brats, metts and sauerkraut? Not so much.
However, after living in the Queen City for the past four years, I’ve enjoyed several Oktoberfest celebrations and have gained a unique appreciation for the food of this fall tradition.
First, a history lesson: The first Oktoberfest in Munich was in October 1810 to celebrate the marriage of Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig to Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. The event was held outside in the fields so that the Munich residents could join in the fun. It evolved into a harvest festival of sorts and came to include horse races and beer halls.
Flash forward 200 years to present-day Oktoberfest Zinzinnati, where we have wiener dog races, all the German beer you can drink and dozens of German and German-American food stalls. Thank you, Ludwig and Therese, for getting married so that this outsider could sample all the tastes of Oktoberfest Zinzinnati. Here are some of my recommendations.
Homemade pretzels: I love a soft pretzel, and this ubiquitous Oktoberfest staple is done so well. On a short trip to Munich after college, I distinctly remember living on nothing but soft pretzels, strong beer and the compliments of German men for three days, and I had no problem with that. Pretzels always will have my heart.
Deep-fried pickles and sauerkraut balls: While not exactly traditional, these crunchy little bites of deep-fried love are some of my favorites to enjoy with a full stein of dark beer. Deep-fried pickles and sauerkraut balls combine Southern flavor with the German heritage of Cincinnati. When my family visited for Oktoberfest one year, we outdid ourselves on just how many orders of these we devoured. (Let’s just say it was more than two and less than 10.)
Bier cheese: Oh, bier cheese, how I love you. A creamy, savory cheese sauce with deep hints of beer -- how is this not a thing everywhere? I fell in love with this rich sauce at my first Oktoberfest and haven’t looked back. America, take note: We need more bier cheese in our lives and on our sandwiches.
Metts and brats: Suffice it to say, if you’ve been to as many grill-outs as I have over the years, you’ve been served a backyard brat or two. What I didn't realize until I enjoyed my first, perfectly charred and juicy Oktoberfest brat was that I had been eating poor imitations. At the heart of what I think of as Oktoberfest are the varieties of wursts. Expertly prepared by families who have been doing it for generations, to me, they are the flavors of Oktoberfest.
Strudel: Strudel abounds at Oktoberfest, and I love it. Always one to prefer a flaky, fruity pastry to any other type of dessert, I was literally agog at all the different flavors of strudel. Apricot-almond, cheese, cherry -- why had I tried only apple in the past? Who had been holding out on me? Don’t worry, since then, I’ve made good progress on enjoying all different types of strudel.
5 p.m.-midnight Friday, 11 a.m.-midnight Saturday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday
Fifth Street, Downtown, between Vine and Sentinel streets