During my Viking River cruise along the Danube from Budapest to Nuremberg, I had the opportunity to explore — and eat my way through — a number of Christmas Markets in Hungary, Austria and Germany. Every market has its own selection and exact recipes and preparation can vary between the various towns and regions, so you’ll have to visit them all for the full experience — like I did! To help you choose from their vast selection, here are the top 5 foods you have to try when visiting the famous Christmas Markets of Europe.
The Gluhwein booths are among the most popular in the Christmas Market. - Photo by Simon Duvall
A tradition dating back to the 1400s, Gluhwein is a mulled wine that’s served warm at Christmas Markets throughout Central Europe. Best described as a sweet dessert wine, Gluhwein is guaranteed to warm you up on even the coldest of December days. Depending on the Christmas Market, you’ll likely find multiple stands serving the good stuff, each of which offering their own collectible cup or mug. Since you’ll receive a cup with your first Gluhwein serving you’ll want to shop around for your favorite cup since you can refill it at a discount later. Because of the lines and the patrons who simply take a few steps back from the booth to enjoy their beverage, the Gluhwein stands among the busiest and most congested in the Market. It’s worth the wait, though! If you don’t drink, don’t worry - “kinder punch” with the same flavor - sans alcohol - is available at most Gluhwein stands.
Fresh grilled Bratwurst are a must-have meal at Germany's Christmas Markets. - Photo by Christopher Furlong / Thinkstock
If you’re used to enjoying a bratwurst at your local baseball stadium in the US, you might not recognize an authentic German bratwurst the first time you see one at a Christmas Market. While each town seems to have a local preperation, German brats are typically not served on a bun but rather on a plate with sauerkraut and a roll on the side. Mustard (typically sweet and spicy) may be available on request, though it can vary by vendor. The fresh-grilled taste and traditional blend of spices will not disappoint. Go ahead and order two to save yourself some time in line.
3. Chimney Cake
A hot, sweet and crispy chimney cake makes a perfect dessert after your Bratwurst. - Photo by Gavrilovic / Thinkstock
Most often found in Hungary and the Czech Republic, and originally created by Hungarians living in Transylvania, Chimney Cake, or Kürtős Kalács, is a pastry roll made of sweet dough rolled in granulated sugar and basted with butter while cooking over hot coals. As it is cooked, the sugar caramelizes, allowing the finished roll to be coated in cinnamon, cocoa, ground nuts or other toppings. You’re typically served a whole cake when you order, so if you want to try several varieties, bring your friends and share!
Bring a heart-shaped lebkuchen home from your river cruise for someone special. - Photo by Poike / Thinkstock
Lebkuchen, for all intents and purposes, is German gingerbread, and you’ll find it in various shapes and forms in Christmas Markets throughout the region. Ranging in flavor from sweet to spicy, lebkuchen is available soft or in harder, round or heart-shaped cookies with icing. The German city of Nuremberg is especially known for its lebkuchen, and its Christmas Market — one of the largest and busiest in Germany — is filled with choices. The sweet cookies hit the spot and since they keep for 6 to 8 weeks, can make a great Christmas gift to bring home.
5. Warm Roast Nuts
Fresh-roasted nuts are a flavorful, warm snack. - Photo by Simon Duvall
Though hardly unique to Europe’s Christmas Markets, the warm, freshly roasted nuts on offer in much of the region pair delightly well with a cup of Gluhwein and help warm you up on the coldest of cold nights of Christmas Market shopping. Many varieties are available, and you can even watch chestnuts roasting on an open fire while Jack Frost nips at your nose… it’s hard to not get in the Christmas spirit!