Have you ever visited a destination that made you challenge long-standing habits or attitudes towards anything? Seasonal eating in Hamburg made us think differently about food through a series of simple encounters which we share in this first article in our Hamburg series.

Hamburg as a food destination was a surprising revelation for us.

The blue waters of the River Elbe and the North Sea have nourished and sustained Hamburg for centuries. One of the advantages of being this close to the sea is access to fresh seafood – Fischbrötchen (pickled herring sandwich) is a local favourite for example!

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Another is international trade. Spices from all over the world have passed through Hamburg for centuries and have become routine in local dishes.

Combine that with fresh local and regional produce and a growing list of creative amateur chefs and you’ll find a city whose food culture is exploding with diversity and innovation.

It was during our visit to Hamburg that we rediscovered the meaning of eating seasonally.

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Welcome to Hamburg, Germany

“Moin!” a hotel manager at Tortue Hamburg greeted us as we approached the front desk with luggage in tow.

“Is this your first time in Hamburg?” she enquired.

“Yes, it is!” we replied enthusiastically.

“Willkommen in Hamburg!” she said, as her smile broadened. “What type of activities do you look forward to doing while you’re here?”

Eulanda replied, “Anything food related would be perfect.”

“Well, you’ve certainly come to the right city,” she said, as she handed us our room keys, a map of the city and instructions for breakfast and Wi-Fi access.

Later that evening, during a cocktail masterclass at Tortue’s plush Bar Privé, we picked up snippets of conversations that suggested Hamburg held some truly interesting food stories.

We had a long weekend ahead. We would find those stories…or they would find us.

How Seasonal Eating in Hamburg Made Us Think Differently About Food

This design-savvy boutique hotel is located about two minutes walk from Stadthausbrücke station. It was an easy half-hour ride on the S-Bahn (overground rail) from Hamburg Airport for us.

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Eat local in Hamburg

Whether through organised food tours, cooking classes or invitations to dine with locals in their homes, we are always keen to learn about our host city’s local food culture.

It turns out that in Hamburg, ‘eating local’ means more than just dining at restaurants that serve local classics like Hummersuppe (creamy lobster soup) or the ‘not very photogenic’ but delicious Labskaus (corned beef, mashed potatoes and onions, with sides of pickled beetroot, pickled gherkin, herring and a fried egg).

In Hamburg, eating local is a philosophy which respects the sourcing and seasonality of produce. The premise for this eating philosophy is the basic law of supply and demand. When crops are in season, they are more likely to be available in abundance, better quality, fresher and potentially fresher. This makes seasonal eating in Hamburg fully attainable.

In addition, seasonality introduces variety. This is something which savvy chefs love – changing seasons means changing ingredients which in turn means innovative menus.

During our weekend trip to Hamburg, three food experiences brought this philosophy to life for us.

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1. Food shopping at Isemarkt

If you want to know about a destination, visit their markets.

We had been informed that Isemarket was one of the best places in Hamburg to shop for fresh local produce.

Following a nutritious and Instagram-worthy breakfast at Tortue, we headed to Eppendorfer Baum, the closest station to the market. Isemarkt is a collection of stalls underneath an elevated Hamburg U-Bahn track surrounded by magnificent art nouveau buildings.

Spanning a kilometre between Eppendorf and Harvestehude, this weekly market (held every Tuesday and Friday) is home to around 200 traders offering fresh fruit, vegetables and regional specialities from Hamburg and its surroundings.

By mid-morning when we arrived, the place was a riot of fruit and vegetables of every shape and hue. A hub of social activity, regulars shared knowing smiles and exchanged greetings with familiar market sellers.

For a guided tour of Isemarkt, we joined Thomas Sampl, a local chef whose food journey has taken him through cities such as Dresden (Westin Bellevue) and Dusseldorf (The Hilton). His current incarnation in Hamburg as part of food hall concept Hobenköök also allows him to run Smutje’s Landgang, providing weekly market tours and cooking classes.

When it comes to seasonal eating in Hamburg, “the trick to finding the best produce is to understand that no food producer can produce everything in every season,” Thomas said, as he clutched a dark coloured bouquet of fresh carrots he had just purchased. “The ones who claim to produce everything aren’t much better than a supermarket.”

A penknife magically appeared and Thomas carved up slices of carrots for us to taste. Each bite was bursting with rich flavour.

“The best producers know what they’re good at and focus on producing those things well. For example, the seller down there,” Thomas paused and pointed towards a man hidden behind a mound of potatoes, “he does mostly potatoes and a few onions. I would buy potatoes from him.”

Thomas carried on walking and like eager students, we followed, hanging on his every word and savouring every slice of beetroot, radish and shrimp he offered. By the end of the market tour, our taste buds had come alive simply from the fresh quality of the produce.

“This was certainly better than any supermarket shopping experience,” we said to Thomas as we thanked him and parted ways.

HDYTI Tip: The sellers aren’t always pleased with tourists taking pictures and standing in the way of regular paying customers. Remember to be mindful and respectful if you plan on taking pictures in Isemarkt (or any market for that matter).

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2. Cooking class at Rindermarkthalle, St. Pauli

St. Pauli is a gritty neighbourhood for which the term ‘unusual’ is a badge worn proudly by its bohemian locals. Home to Hamburg’s red light district, you’re likely to find more ‘sinners’ than saints on a night out on The Reeperbahn, the area’s famous entertainment strip.

During the day, however, Rindermarkthalle – an old livestock market reinvented as a gastronomy destination – is an image of calm.

Promoting itself as a centre for food culture in the middle of St. Pauli, this is the place to head to if you want to try Hamburg’s local delicacies (including Franzbrötchen pastry and currywurst) all under one roof.

Our immersion into the seasonality of produce continued with a cooking session led by two-Michelin star chef Thomas Martin (Jacob’s Restaurant). Rindermarkthalle – with its bio-organic market – was the perfect backdrop for Chef Martin’s cooking demonstration.

The dish of the day – a simple root vegetable and salmon recipe – included fresh green vegetables supplied by Farmers Cut, a local indoor vegetable farm who claim to use 60% less fertilizer and no pesticides in growing their products. Sustainability is also a key part of the seasonal eating philosophy.

Chef Martin handed out aprons and co-opted us into food prep. This was an opportunity to chat with him as he directed the chopping of carrots, onions and yellow beetroot.

Chef also shared his thoughts on seasonal eating in Hamburg: “You must not eat meat or fish every day but you should eat fresh food every day,” he said, firmly supporting the idea of eating food in its seasonal prime.

Taking charge of the final preparations, Chef Martin talked about his own approach to food. He favours simplicity in his cooking and is always on the hunt for new local producers and fresh regional ingredients. In the last 10 years, he says has seen a younger generation of chefs eager to promote seasonality and freshness of ingredients in their restaurants.

“How would you describe Hamburg’s food culture in three words?” we asked, as we sat around a wooden table to enjoy the meal and share a glass of wine.

“Regional, international yet traditional,” Chef Martin responded. “International because we have many chefs from all over the world who now call Hamburg home and who have brought new ideas with them.”

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3. Culinary art and aperitivo on The Reeperbahn

Jasmin Baltres is a bit of a phenomenon. She deserves but declines the spotlight, preferring to remain behind-the-scenes in her kitchen (or ‘mind workshop’ as someone describes it) at Das Standard.

A visit to this hole-in-the-wall spot was our final opportunity (on this trip) to see an example of seasonality manifesting itself in Hamburg’s gastronomy.

On our final night in Hamburg, we navigated the colourful backstreets around The Reeperbahn. On the way, we imagined the legendary Beatles walking these same streets to their next gig (they played an estimated 281 concerts in Hamburg’s notorious red light district between 1960 and 1962).

Our group was already seated when we arrived but we managed to squeeze in. Das Standard is an intimate venue. Wooden tables are arranged in the style of a communal feast. Soft lighting and bossa nova music complete the ambience. The food is the main focus and rightly so.

Every now and then, Jasmin emerged from her kitchen to greet guests and introduce her dishes – delightful little appetisers accompanied by Milan inspired aperitifs. It is the fine art of the Italian apertivo culture expressed through the vision of a culinary artist.

Cooking is about more than just good food. It is about the beauty and the respect for nature and the environment, about conscious consumption and the sensual discovery of the rich and colourful diversity of the plant world. Quote from tendaysaweek.de

Jasmin also champions seasonal eating in Hamburg. Jasmin explained that her menu changes almost daily. Why? She insists on only using seasonal produce for her creations.

Her philosophy was brought out in a succulent beetroot and porcini mushrooms salad garnished with sesame seeds. Freshness and flavour were evident yet again.

The cocktails (alcoholic and non-alcoholic are available) also manage to incorporate seasonal ingredients – cucumber, lavender and a range of herbs featured on the menu when we visited.

There was only so much art we could eat though. Grateful for the taste experience, we went off to scour The Reeperbahn for something more filling before heading back to Tortue.

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Hamburg made us think differently about food

Our own relationship with food is often driven by necessity. Seasonality is a great concept but not one that is always practical for us. For example, our nearest farmer’s market is quite a trek from where we live in London.

But who wouldn’t want to eat food when it is at its very best? Who wouldn’t want to experience the sense of satisfaction from knowing that by adopting seasonal eating, they’re supporting local farmers and promoting sustainability?

Hamburg does not claim to be the most exciting gastronomy destination in Europe. However, the city showed us what is possible when we challenge our desensitised attitudes towards food sourcing and our own eating behaviour.

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Useful travel information:

Getting there: We flew British Airways from London Heathrow.

Where to stay: Tortue Hamburg. Approximately £450 for a standard double room for 2 adults, 3 nights.

SAVE: The Hamburg Card is a great way to save on the cost of transportation as well as entry to key attractions.

Disclosure: Our trip to Hamburg was organised by Visit Hamburg. We received complimentary hotel accommodation, meals, and activities during our stay. However, all photos and opinions expressed are our own.

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Co-Founders & Curators at HDYTI

Eulanda & Omo Osagiede are London-based freelance writers and award-winning social influencers who run the popular travel, food, and lifestyle blog HDYTI (Hey! Dip your toes in).