Are you on the hunt for the top traditional dishes of Cologne, Germany that every visitor should try? Then you're in the right place. The local food here is deeply rooted in Rhineland culture, often featuring hearty and rustic dishes packed with flavor that will leave you craving for more.
Learn about regional favorites like Himmel un Ääd, Rheinischer Sauerbraten and Mettbrötchen, as well as Kölsch beer served in unique "Stangen" glasses... as well as our recommended places to enjoy them!
Traditional Local Dishes Of Cologne
This is one of the most iconic dishes in Cologne. The incredibly tender meat, a result of the slow-cooking process, it what makes Sauerbraten so special. It has an irresistible sweet-sour flavor thanks to the sweet gravy and tangy marinade.
The meat is deliciously packed with flavor because they marinate it by soaking it in a mixture of broth, vinegar, red wine for at least for 5 days. Some marinate it for 2-3 weeks!
It's typically served with red cabbage, potato dumplings, and a sweet gravy. Potatoes are important because they help soak up the yummy gravy!
The traditional dish is served using horse meat, but many places replace it with beef now. So if you want to taste authentic Rheinischer Sauerbraten, especially one made with horse meat, I highly recommend giving Kleine Glocke near Neumarkt a try!
A Kölsch breakfast and pub staple, the Halve Hahn may surprise foreigners with its misleading name. 
Despite translating to "half a chicken" in dialect, this savory sandwich contains no chicken at all! Instead, it features a nostalgic combination of half a Röggelchen (rye bread), topped with a thick slice of aged cheese (usually Gouda), mustard, pickles and crunchy raw onions.
Halve Hahn is often served as a finger food for enjoying alongside Kölsch beer. In fact, walk into any pub in Cologne and you'll be able to order it.
The origin story of Halve Hahn dates back to the 1870s, when it was first introduced as a snack for hungry patrons looking for something tasty to snack on with their Kölsch beer. Although, there are a few other "legends" about its origins... So no one really knows the truth!
Regardless, this dish quickly became a crowd favorite among both locals due to its simplicity and satisfying flavors.
Himmel Un Ääd (Heaven And Earth)
Himmel Un Ääd is the ultimate comfort food for many of us living in the Rheinland Pfalz region. Also known as Himmel und Erde, its origins date back to the 18th century. 
The combination of mashed potatoes and apple sauce represents "earth" and "heaven" and every spoonful will warm up your soul. There's usually a side of blutwurst (blood sausage) to give it a savory punch.
I can still recall the exciting aroma of my grandmother's homemade Himmel Un Ääd as she prepared this dish when I was a child!
You only need one glance at this traditional Colognian dish to wake up your appetite and get your mouth watering...
Kölner Krüstchen is an open-faced sandwich featuring a golden fried pork schnitzel (often leftover from last night's dinner!). It sits on a toasted slice of old rye bread, and is topped with a perfectly fried egg with a runny center.
The dish emerged in the 1960s as an affordable lunchtime snack for factory workers but has since become a beloved sandwich in Cologne.
You can find Kölner Krüstchen on many pub menus throughout the city, where it's often served with potato salad, French fries or roasted potatoes.
At first glance, boiled pork knuckle may not sound like the most tempting choice on the menu. But in the world of traditional Cologne cuisine, it's a beloved classic known as "Hämmche" or "Hämchen".
This must-try dish is essentially an extremely succulent and tender pork knuckle or ham hock, paired with sauerkraut and German mashed potatoes.
The acidity and crunch of sauerkraut provide a wonderful balance to the rich, savory pork!
The magic begins with steeping the pork knuckle in a flavorful brine that tenderizes the tough cut. Then it's slow-cooked, either by simmering or roasting for hours, until it easily falls off the bone.
You can check out Malzmühle for a taste of authentic Hämmche. This brewery and restaurant boasts a long history dating back to the 19th century and is known to serve genuine Rhineland food.
Almost everyone in Cologne loves to eat Mettbrötchen, and it's usually sold out pretty quickly in most bakeries!
This simple dish consists of seasoned raw minced pork or beef served on a bread roll, garnished with raw onions. Texture-wise, it's similar to salami, but softer.
It's important for the raw pork to be very fresh and high quality, so choose an establishment with proper food hygiene practices... so maybe DON'T buy it at a random food stand.
But my favorite is going to a butcher shop and just requesting for mettbrötchen. They usually use very fresh cuts of meat, and the taste is unmatched!
Rievkooche or reibekuchen, is a beloved dish in Cologne and throughout Germany. It’s a potato and onion pancake that's crispy on the outside but tender on the inside!
Rievkooche is usually served with applesauce and sometimes sugar beet syrup, which gives it a sweet taste that perfectly complements its savory flavor.
The dish originated in Westphalia, but over time has become popular throughout the Rhineland, where it's often enjoyed alongside local beer at traditional beer gardens.
But many locals swear by the rievkooche at the hole-in-the-wall Rievkoochebud just a 5-min walk from Heumarkt. They serve it fresh, piping hot and so crispy... I can attest it's probably the best rievkooche I've ever had in Cologne!
On chilly or rainy days, there's nothing quite like a hearty bowl of Ähzezup to warm your soul. At least for me, the delicious smell of simmering peas, onions, and smoked pork never fails to put a smile on my face.
This local favorite is an easy yet incredibly tasty soup made with peas, potatoes, smoked ham or sausage, and onions. The peas, in particular, are soaked for a minimum of 24 hours to achieve that luscious and creamy texture. As for the smoked meat, it's typically the rind or leftover pieces - cheap and tasty.
Ähzezup can often be found on menus at pubs in Cologne, as well as in some restaurants specializing in traditional Rheinland cuisine.
By the way, check out our article here on the best tours in Cologne - including food and beer tours!
When it comes to food in Cologne, it's impossible not to mention Kölsch, the iconic beer that hails from this very city. The light and refreshing beer is served in small glasses called 'Stange', making it easy to down several at a time!
Locals have their special way of drinking it - they never order one glass at a time but expect to be continuously served until they signal to stop by placing their coaster on top of the empty glass. Some may find it odd or confusing, but this is part of the local charm.
While Kölsch is widely available throughout many bars and restaurants in Cologne, locals will tell you each brewery makes their own type of Kölsch, with nuances in flavor. We really like the Kölsch from Brauerei Päffgen and Früh am Dom, but honestly, all of them are unique in their own way.
RECOMMENDED KÖLSCH BREWERY TOUR
This hilarious guided tour hits the top breweries in Cologne, where you get to taste Kölsch while learning about Cologne's unique, charming brauhaus culture. Price of Kölsch included!
Also known as Almond Mutzen, this delightful treat that holds a special place in the hearts of those who live in Cologne, or the Rhineland and Westphalia region.
These sweet, sugar-coated dough fritters with an almond-y flavor are a beloved snack, particularly during the Cologne Carnival. Every year, as the city gears up for Carnival, stalls selling these almond-shaped treats pop up all over town.
I remember my parents would buy me a small bag of mutzenmandele, and the first bite was always pure magic. My fingers would always end up being coated in the powdery sugar, ha!
These days, you can get mandelmutzen all-year round at local markets, fairs, and even some specialty shops. So you don't have to wait until Carnival rolls around!
Kölsche Kaviar has absolutely nothing to do with the luxurious and costly caviar, nor does it involve fish roe!
Instead, Kölsche Kaviar is a sandwich featuring a generous serving of blood sausage, known as Flönz in Cologne. It's served alongside a Röggelchen, rings of onions, and a dollop of mustard, occasionally a dash of paprika powder.
Like the Halve Hahn, you can find it at any respectable Cologne pub.
This blood sausage is made from pork blood and bacon, and is traditionally a cheap type of sausage that the poor could afford centuries ago.
Where To Eat And Drink In Cologne
The Old Town (Altstadt) For a Pub Experience
For visitors who want an authentic taste of Cologne cuisine, I ask them to head right to the Old Town. Because it's in the middle of Cologne, it's easily accessible compared to other food districts.
Nestled in the heart of the Old Town, you'll find a busy hub of old-school pubs and breweries. Each has their own unique selling points and menu, and your safest bet is to find the one that's frequented by locals.
These places will serve most, if not all, of the Cologne favorites I've listed above. Expect simple yet satisfying meals, best washed down with few glasses of Kölsch. If you ask me, the best Old Town pubs worth visiting are Peters Brauhaus, Malzmühle, and Früh am Dom.
TIP: Do not ask for 'Altbier' unless you want to be fixed with a dirty look.
Päffgen Brauhaus For Kölsch From The Barrel
If you ask the locals for a place to enjoy Kölsch beer, chances are you'll hear "Päffgen!" recommended many times.
Located near Friesenplatz, this family-owned brewery is known locally for brewing one of the best Kölsch beer in Cologne. The food they serve is quite decent too. Good, straightforward fare that's unpretentious.
While you can purchase bottled Kölsch from other breweries, Päffgen Kölsch can only be drunk fresh from tap. Some locals actually purchase barrels of their Kölsch to takeaway!
Beware, they only accept CASH, so be prepared or risk having to hunt for an ATM.
Cologne Cathedral Christmas Market For Seasonal Specialties
Located in front of the famous Cologne Cathedral, this annual Christmas market attracts around 4 million visitors each year. It's your chance to enjoy holiday snacks and drinks that don't usually appear year-round.
Here, visitors can find a range of traditional foods such as Rievkooche (potato pancakes), Flammkuchen (thin-crust pizza/flatbread), roasted chestnuts, Mandelmutzen, and Glühwein (mulled wine).
Additionally, there are numerous stalls offering German sausages, grilled cheese, Belgian waffles, and more.
Brauhaus Sion As Cologne's Oldest Brewery
Claiming to have been brewing beer in Cologne for 700 years, Brauhaus Sion holds the title of perhaps the city's most ancient brewery.
Considered the "beating heart" of Kölsch beer, and set along Unter Taschenmacher, Sion has served as as a meeting point for locals. Many come here to enjoy wholesome Cologne dishes, along with Kölsch that has a centuries-old brewing heritage.
Boasting over 6,000 reviews, the menu at Brauhaus Sion offers both traditional Cologne dishes and German comfort food like schnitzel, Schweinshaxs, sauerbraten, Flammkuchen, Mettbrötchen and so on.
If you visit in the day, ask for a table at the terrace, which is a popular spot to soak in the sun!
Früh Am Dom Near The Cologne Cathedral
This Cologne brewery was founded over a century ago, in 1904, by Peter Josef Früh. Over the years, it's earned a reputation for being a quintessential meeting place for locals.
Although some may argue the Früh has become a little 'touristy' because of its popularity, I find it still captures the traditional Cologne spirit. Good food, great people, and superb Kölsch.
Conveniently situated right across from the Cologne Cathedral and near the train station, you can choose an outdoor table at the Früh to enjoy a nice view of the Dom.
They offer many traditional Cologne foods like Himmel und Äd and Kölsche Kaviar, and German staples like Knusprige Schweinehaxe (crispy pork knuckle) - amazing when paired with fried potatoes.
Früh am Dom also doubles up as a stylish hotel situated within walking distance to the city's main attractions.
If your stay in Cologne happens to be nearby or you're visiting the cathedral, I definitely recommend dropping by the Früh to satisfy your hunger for delicious Cologne cuisine!
Rich n Greens For Healthy Food
Rich n Greens is a healthy food chain with three locations spread across Cologne.
If you're looking for a healthy and nutritious meal, they offer salads, wraps, burritos, and bowls - all for the wallet-friendly price range of around €7-10. My favorite is the Cancun Chicken, featuring juicy chicken chunks and a medley of pickles, carrots, chips, and topped with a drizzle of chipotle sauce.
One thing that often stands out at Rich n Greens their generous portion sizes. Their burritos are wider than my fist, and keeps you full for long. The only issue is the lack of space, so you're better off doing a takeaway.
In Cologne, you'll find a wide range of Asian cuisines from Chinese, Japanese and Korean, to Thai, Vietnamese, and Indian.
However, I'd recommend going to Takezo for Japanese ramen. Their broth is to die for and their tender slices of braised pork belly actually melt in your mouth...
For noodles, we've been told by Vietnamese friends that Bun Pho in Fleischmengergasse is the real deal, and serves up an authentic bowl of bún bò huế (beef noodle soup).
And several Chinese expats swear by Bai Lu's handmade Sichuan noodles in Palmstraße. Just a warning: when they say "spicy", it's REALLY spicy. So ask for "less spicy" if you can't tolerate it :p
OX Royal For Fine Dining on the Rhine
If you're looking for an upscale dining experience around Cologne, look no further than OX Royal in Uferstrasse in the Rodenkirchen district.
This high-end steakhouse overlooks the gorgeous River Rhine, and features a sophisticated interior with leather seats and large bay windows to admire the Rhine.
I brought my wife here last year, and service and food were impeccable. Our waiter, was incredibly friendly and attentive, and made us feel right at home.
The star of the evening, undoubtedly, was the food. We chose the beef fillet for two, and it was nothing short of perfection. And to top it all off, our dessert – a chocolate lava cake – was divine!
Famous Food And Drink Festivals In Cologne
Street Food Festival
Since 2014, this festival has been a celebration of mobile food trucks, and usually spans a few weekends a year around Cologne.
What sets this festival apart is its authentic and handmade street food.
Food trucks must prove that they craft their dishes with fresh ingredients from scratch, avoiding pre-frozen items like French fries.
Sustainable disposable tableware is also mandatory.
During the festival, visitors can expect food from all over the world, such as Cornish pasties, pulled beef, burritos, exotic burgers, and vegan offerings.
Cologne Wine Festival (Weinfest am Rhein)
This annual festival takes place in the Rheinauhafen district, which is a waterfront promenade along the Rhine River in Cologne.
Visitors can enjoy tastings from local wine bars and vineyards from regions such as Saar, Rheinhessen, Baden and Franconia.
The festival also features live music, street food vendors, and international wines from France and Greece too.
The dates can vary, so it's best to check their Facebook or Instagram for the most up-to-date information on when the festival will take place.
Grape & Hops Festival (Trauben- und Hopfenfest)
This is a traditional German festival that celebrates the harvest of grapes and hops, two essential ingredients in winemaking and brewing beer!
In Cologne, it's typically held in the summer, along the Rhine promenade between Hohenzollern Bridge and Machabäer Straße.
Here, amidst the scenic backdrop, an array of local and international producers gather to showcase their finest wines and beers.
For wine enthusiasts, expect samplings from regions like Rheinhessen, Mosel, Palatinate, and Wallhausen. Beer lovers will enjoy a diverse range of brews, from the classic Kölsch to exotic varieties hailing from Greece, Ireland, Poland, and even far-flung places like Jamaica and Hawaii.
Cologne Beer Festival (Kölner Bierbörse)
The Kölner Bierbörse, also known as the Cologne Beer Market, is an annual beer festival held in Cologne.
It features an extensive range of beers, including traditional German brews like Kölsch and Weizenbier, as well as beers from other parts of Germany and the world.
The festival is a great way to provide a platform for smaller, independent brewers to showcase their products alongside more established brands.
In fact, during my Kölner Bierbörse visit, I stumbled upon a small, unassuming booth from a local brewery that I had never heard of before. I decided to give their Kölsch a try and it turned out to be one of the best Kölsch I had ever tasted. Ha!
Cologne Carnival is a well-loved yearly celebration that brings people together from all over Germany and beyond to enjoy colorful parades, street parties, and carnival costumes throughout town.
When it comes to Cologne, it holds the uncontested title of being the Carnival champion of Germany.
For me, the food stalls are my favorite part of Carnival in Cologne. Look forward to days of scrumptious German street food, greasy snacks, and sweets... Indeed, many diets take a break during Carnival.
Some popular food items are currywurst, muzemandeln, krapfen, and reibekuchen - all perfect for enjoying on the go. To add to the festive atmosphere, beer tents magically appear, serving endless streams of Kölsch beer!
The Cologne Christmas markets are an absolute must-visit for anyone traveling to the city between November and December.
These markets offer a magical experience, with traditional crafts, seasonal snacks, and mulled wine all on offer.
The markets draw in huge crowds each year who come to soak up the Yuletide celebrations.
One of the most charming aspects of Cologne's Christmas markets is the delicious food on offer. From creamy Käsespätzle to roasted chestnuts, there are plenty of treats to indulge in while browsing through the various stalls.
Conclusion: Food in Cologne
Cologne's traditional cuisine tends to favor both earthy and sweet flavors. It often features the use of staple crops like potatoes, onions and apples, often grown in the region.
Dishes tend to feature strong savory taste too, like Kölsche Kaviar which includes blood sausage and Halver Hahn where aged Gouda cheese takes center stage.
Cologne's meat-centric cuisine likely stems from historical prosperity and trade, supported by the fertile lands which fostered livestock farming. For instance, popular dishes like Mettbrötchen, Flönz and Kölner Krüstchen all showcase the availability of pork.
The most notable beer style in Cologne is Kölsch. Pale, clear, and highly carbonated, it has a clean and crisp taste. It is typically served in shorter slim glasses, to preserve freshness.
For authentic Cologne food, it's best to visit one of the many Brauhaus or pubs in the city.
As an international hub, Cologne boasts a wide range of restaurants of diverse cultures, as well as upscale dining options.
Lastly, consider attending one of the city's famous festivals such as the Cologne Street Food Festival, Cologne Carnival or the Christmas Markets, where you can enjoy many local favorites all in one place!
1. What are some local specialties to try when dining in Cologne?
Some special local dishes to try when eating out in Cologne include Himmel un Ääd (a dish made from mashed potatoes, apple sauce, and paired with black pudding) and Reibekuchen (potato pancakes topped with, again, apple sauce).
2. Are there any popular food markets or festivals in Cologne that I should check out?
Yes, the weekly farmers' market at Rudolfplatz is a must-visit for foodies looking to sample fresh produce and artisanal goods from across the region. The annual beer festival Kölner Bierbörse is also worth attending if your schedule coincides with it. To me, the Christmas markets in Cologne should be on everyone's travel bucket list!
3. Where can I find vegan options when dining out in Cologne?
4. How does German cuisine differ between regions of the country?
German regional cuisines vary significantly depending on where you go within Germany due to historical influences.
Bavarian cuisine is known for its hearty dishes, such as sausages and pretzels. Northern German cuisine, on the other hand, is characterized by its emphasis on seafood. Freshly caught fish is often served with vegetables, such as kale stew.
The Rhineland area is known for its variety of meat dishes, such as sauerbraten and hämmche. These dishes are often served with the regional Kolsch beer.
Kolsch beers are fermented using specific yeasts at lower temperatures than other beers, which gives them a unique flavor.
1: Halve Hahn | Traditional Sandwich From Cologne, Germany | TasteAtlas, retrieved from https://www.tasteatlas.com/halve-hahn
2: Oma's Himmel und Erde, retrieved from https://www.quick-german-recipes.com/himmel-und-erde.html