A quick guide to the best of Oktoberfest food and traditions

(images: iStock)

When the beer is swilling and the chorus is echoing through the tent flaps, few people will frown at you for not knowing why Oktoberfest falls in November in South Africa or starts in September in Germany. But to make sure you at least know your way around the food fare at this year’s hoppy festivities, here’s a handful of the best of beer fest foods (and some traditions only a local would know) to see you rightly through. Maybe not up-right…because hey… “Oans, zwoa, drei, g’suffa, but rightly so never-the-less.

Greet like you mean it

A jolly ‘Servus’ is the best way of greeting your fellow beer revelers. It’s the typical, casual Bavarian way to say hello and, if said like you mean it, it might even score you a generous pint.

Line your stomach – no seriously

Only a seasoned beer drinker understands the mantra ‘bratwurst before beer’ and when it comes to German beer fests, it’s as much a sausage fest. There. I said it.  With a preference for vegetarian foods, I’ll be straight with you – beer fests aren’t very big on greens. In fact, the only veg to show face at the fest is a big bowl of sauerkraut. Meat-fiends should know their ‘bock’ from their ‘brat’ however.



This one is a combination of veal and bacon and can be flavoured with onion, parsley, lemon and cardamom. It’s boiled and usually served without the skin.

Did you know - this Bavarian sausage is traditionally eaten before noon due to the lack of smoking or preservatives so it needs to be eaten fresh - with a breakfast Weiss beer, of course! This is also the reason it’s white -  because the ordinary table salts they use for curing it don’t have the meat preserving properties of nitrite curing salts. Fact.

Also a combo of finely ground veal and bacon, this one is seasoned with salt, pepper and paprika. Hot tip – it’s best enjoyed with sweet mustard. 

This sausage is usually a blend of pork and beef, but can also contain veal. It’s finely ground and mild in flavour, often including the delicate aroma of marjoram. I’ve heard it say that Bratwurst and Weisswurst are the same. Bratwurst can refer to any sausage that is fried; because in German ‘braten’ does mean ‘to fry’, but the traditional Bratwurst sausage has a unique spice combo.

Here’s another great meat-free option. The airy dough and golden, salt-crackled crust of German pretzels are a beer fest icon. That notorious crisp crust comes from dipping them in caustic soda before baking them. Those clever Germans.

Eat your sweet-heart out

Need a beer break? You can always sneak off under the frivolity of the oompah band for a spot of ‘kaffee und kuchen’ (coffee and cake).

Typical German cake fare is usually all manner of glorious strudel – a layered pastry, streusel – a crumble cake and a great many torten (tarts). Many of them are topped with apricots, plums, sour cherries or the likes of spicy, stewed apples and pears and often served with lashings of whipped cream. If you’ve heard the tune “Aber bitte mit Sahne” – you’ll understand.

The Lebkuchenherze are another beerfest icon. These ribbon threaded, gingerbread biscuit hearts come complete with sugary icing and equally sweet, typical German love notes and phrases of endearments on them.

Dress and impress

You’ll likely see loads of staunch Germans parading their dusty lederhosen (leather pants) and ruffled dirndl dresses. Germans are big on effort and festivities. But if you can’t be asked to dress up, at the very least braid your hair (if you have long tresses). Or sport a proud beer mopping beard if facial hair is your strong suit. No gender stereotypes here. Just by the way, if you do go with the dirndl and its accompanying apron, be sure to tie the bow on the appropriate side. Right means you’re taken. Left means you’re ‘single and looking to mingle’. And with all that Bier, Brat, Brezn und Gebäck - mingling is looking pretty good. 

Now all you need to know is to cheers with ‘Prost’ when chinking and winking and you’re all set for a jolly Oktoberfest. Oh, and don’t forget to learn the chicken dance. But you will spend the rest of the year trying to get that ditty out your head again.

Da, da, da, da, da da dum, Da, da, da, da, da da dum, Da, da, da, da, dum, Dum Dum Dum Dumb!