Bremen’s cuisine can be a little heavy, and the hearty seaman’s fare can make even the most determined of diners throw in the towel. So serving labskaus (beef, fish and potato stew), knipp (oatmeal with meat) and matjes (soused herring) on a single plate sounds like total gluttony. But it isn’t, actually, as I found out. The solution arrives in the form of Spanish tapas, i.e. small bites.
The cathedral bells strike eleven as I amble through Bibelgarten and enter Intermezzo. The restaurant is nicely set between the cathedral and the Glocke concert hall – an oasis of calm in the heart of the city. Once inside, I’m welcomed by old frescoes on the walls, a modern interior and head chef Michael Göttle. Today I’ll be watching him prepare the Bremen tapas platter.
Typical Bremen dishes transformed into tapas
To start things off, I enjoy an espresso while Arnold Arkenau, catering and event manager at Theatro, which owns Intermezzo, tells me about the idea of serving typical Bremen dishes as tapas. Bremen’s traditional cuisine is rather hearty and rich, he says. „Most diners don’t want to order a whole plate of knipp, but they are interested in trying typical dishes from Bremen,“ Arkenau explains. „This led us to the idea of creating a tapas platter featuring a range of dishes that are typical to Bremen.“
This involves bringing together small portions of Bremen delicacies on a single plate, as I discover in the kitchen with Michael Göttle. As I enter through the automatic sliding door, the head chef is draping a slice of knipp over a small portion of fried potatoes in the centre of a round plate. Alongside it there’s some matjes, or soused herring, in a creamy sauce and some shrimps on black rye bread. My mouth is watering. While I ask questions and take photos of the plate, Mr Göttle is flitting about his kitchen and gradually filling the plate with more and more Bremen treats. Labskaus, with its typical pink colour, a fried egg on top and an artfully cut gherkin on the side, a small bowl of hochzeitssuppe, a broth with egg and meatballs, and a garnish of fresh herbs complete this great-looking plate.
Poor man’s food redefined
In one of the small bowls I can see what looks like chicken fricassee. „That’s stubenküken, or poussin, ragout,“ Göttle says, adding that these days they use chicken instead. He goes on to explain that this used to be considered poor man’s food. In the winter, the küken, or young chickens, would be brought indoors, or ‚in die stube‚, as the chicken sheds weren’t heated in the old days, of course. From there they more or less went straight into the pot. The gravy around the tender meat is made of lobster shell. Back then that was a way of recycling food waste. „Even green asparagus is considered to be a waste product, as it is the unripened white stems that are so highly prized,“ Mr Göttle explains.
Many of the ingredients on the plate are sourced from regional suppliers, and the meat in the knipp, for example, is organic pork. The soused herring comes from Emden, and the shrimps were caught in the North Sea, of course. You can see that these dishes are bursting with freshness, and the vibrant colours and delicious aroma certainly whet the appetite.
The proof of the pudding …
OK, so there’s no pudding involved, but now comes the taste test. I start randomly picking at bits. After a few mouthfuls of labskaus and a piece of knipp I notice the hochzeitssuppe. Of course, you normally start with the soup. But on this plate of tapas the culinary rules go out of the window – it doesn’t really matter where you start. And I soon discover that it all works together really well. One by one the fried potatoes, shrimps and soused herring all get devoured. I even try some of the stubenkükenragout, but I have to say that while I can’t fault how it has been prepared and presented, the fishy taste combined with the chicken is not for me. „Well, that goes to show that you’d better not order a whole plate of ragout,“ Göttle says, laughing. Only half way through and I’m already full, but each bit tastes so good that I can’t resist picking at them until the plate is almost empty.
After just over an hour I leave Bibelgarten full up and satisfied. Though I think I would’ve preferred the espresso at the end of the meal to give my digestion a boost. The taste of the North Sea lingers on my tongue for some time afterwards. While reviewing my photos I almost feel a little hungry again. But only almost. Even in tapas form, this hearty seaman’s fare keeps you full for a long time.
The Bremen tapas platter at Intermezzo is only available for groups and must be ordered in advance. Michael Göttle also caters for vegetarians and is happy to prepare tofu instead of knipp etc. Please call ahead to notify him of your dietary requirements.