Grocery Stores in Germany vs the United States

by Brea

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We recently received neighbors in the townhouse next door to us. It had been empty since we moved in last October, but now we have finally have neighbors! And they’re American!

It’s interesting hearing their stories so far adjusting and learning the ropes. While the day-to-day living is much the same in many places, it’s the little details that fascinate me. And food is definitely one of those things.

Before we moved over here, I had some idea what to expect (great beer, lots of brats, festivals, etc) but I was completely unsure of how the day to day real living stuff would pan out.

Would there be ‘normal’ grocery stores? Would there be anything remotely close to a WalMart? Not that I’m particularly crazy about big box stores, but sometimes it’s nice to go to one store and get everything I need.

I guessed that there would be specialty stores like when I studied abroad in Italy, and I was right.

Go to the Backerei to get your bread and pastries. Go to the Metzgerei to get your meats. However, I was excited to discover that, with a little bit of looking, all of the grocery stores have meats and bread and most things you need. Just make sure you bring your language cheat sheet otherwise you might end up with cayenne pepper and not paprika!

If you keep up with the literature on American food these days, you probably know that there are a lot of additives getting thrown into meat, dairy products, and frozen foods….well basically everything. When I go back to the states I am SO going to miss the normal-sized chickens (they’re much smaller here than those hormone injected monsters you see in the states…eat up!), the awesome cheese, and the super awesome meats and cured meats/sausages/etc. Basically I feel like everything I eat here is real food, and it’s nice!

I have read that if you search around in Germany you can find some of these elusive items. I have heard that a lot of the Asian grocery stores sell corn syrup and brown sugar. By the way, they have Asian food stores all around here, how awesome is that?!? I’ll tell you, it’s pretty awesome if you like Asian cuisine! Just think red curry paste, green curry paste, bamboo shoots, all the fish sauce you could ever want, coconut cream, coconut milk, spices, garam masala….MMMMMMMMmmmm. Anyway, back to what I was blogging about…what was I blogging about?…oh yes….

So my neighbors were quite excited that I have access to all the American ‘luxuries’ on base. It made me realize I am quite lucky in that I have the best of both worlds, but I’m wondering how much it is affecting my expat experience? Maybe a ‘no commissary for 2 months’ experiment is in order! Without further ado, here are a few lists I’ve compiled of grocery items that are found, and ones that are hard to come by over here.

Common Grocery Items that are impossible to find in Germany

  • Vanilla Extract
  • Oatmeal
  • Organic Peanut butter. Finding peanut butter is a task in itself
  • Most American cereals
  • Caro corn syrup. My neighbor told me this one, although I’ve never actually used it
  • Packaged Bacon. I still feel I will find this if I keep looking, but the only place I know to get bacon is at the Metzgerei where they cut it in front of you.
  • Many of the things I love like coconut flour, almond flour, coconut oil, almond milkand almond butter can be difficult to find. UPDATE: Many stores now have an organic section and these items are becoming more available.
  • Hot Dogs. They have the best brats in the world, but not regular old ballpark hot dogs. Not complaining, just an observation!
  • Starbuck’s Coffee. There are Starbuck’s here and they do sell it at Starbucks, but I haven’t seen the coffee grinds or beans at any stores
  • Most American chips (you can forget about Doritos, Tostitos, Fritos, etc.). They have their own versions and most are good. Some have quite the interesting flavors like paprika and ketchup.
  • American style cheeses (cheddar Cheese, Monterey Jack) cheddar cheese is available but you don’t see it often. They have lots of Gouda though! Except for taco night, I prefer German cheeses anyway.
  • On that note, grated Cheddar Cheese is only found at one store I know of, Real
  • GOOD frozen pizzas. This is one junk food item that is very hard to find. Of course there is an Italian Pizzeria around every corner to keep you satisfied, but when you want a bad American DiGorno pizza, good luck.
  • Frank’s Hot Sauce. Doesn’t exist.
  • I haven’t searched on the economy, but I heard brown sugar can be hard to come by
  • Fruits and Vegetables out of season. I don’t know when spaghetti squash is in season, but I cannot find it here. On another note, now that I live in a place where stuff is sold seasonally, it makes me wonder how much effort, preservatives, environmental disruptions, etc. are created to get Americans their off-season fruits and veggies.
  • Canned pumpkin. I heard if you make the short trip to France you can pick some up.
  • Root Beer

I don’t eat much junk, but here are some American snacks I have seen over here.

American Snacks you can find

  • Snickers Bars. Not that Germany has a shortage of great chocolate, but Snickers are one of the only American candy bars I have found here
  • Oreos, but you won’t find the huge bags of them (they come in small rolls and are expensive) or the specialty ones (mint, double stuffed, etc)
  • Pringles, with different flavors like Paprika
  • Sprite and Coke (and I heard Dr. Pepper is around)
  • Ben and Jerry’s. It is the ONLY American ice cream you can get in Germany and it runs about 5-6EUR for a small container.

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Daniela Staples January 6, 2013 - 4:58 pm

Hi, I don´t you where you live, but here in Berlin we have packaged bacon. I recently found A&W root beer at an a Asian market of all places. Also, I have been informed that you can find corn syrup at well-stocked Asian markets as well, as they use it a lot in Vietnamese cooking – will have to definitely check into that. The thing I always bring back from the States is Old Bay Seasoning and Gumbo File, that is nowhere to be found here.

Brea Darnell February 26, 2013 - 11:47 am

I have noticed that the more stores I check out the more stuff I find. It is funny how you really have to search, sometimes in the most seemingly random places, to find the one item you need!

Alex Butts March 4, 2013 - 10:39 pm

Many of the things I love like coconut flour, almond flour, coconut oil, almond milk, and almond butter are non-existent <<<< Try the Asian grocery stores for all of this.

I miss Franks SO much I order it online. There’s a British food store apparently in Stuttgart that has brown sugar. I am going this week and checking it out because I need it for my special cookies, fingers crossed.

Brea Darnell March 5, 2013 - 8:36 am

Thanks, will do! Asian stores seem to be the mecca of any random food item you can’t find elsewhere. I did find almond flour at Denn’s Biomarkt a little while ago which was a nice surprise 🙂 – although I think it’s much more cost effective to make it myself!

amy March 22, 2013 - 9:14 pm

I think not having things at the ready really forces you to be more creative and usually yields fresher, tastier, & healthier results than I ever would have gotten at home. Or if I had regular access to the commissary. I mean, I buy pumpkin when it is in season, roast it, puree it & freeze it for use throughout the year. Would I have ever attempted that back in the US? No way.

Sonja March 13, 2013 - 2:02 pm

Hi Brea, I stumbled across your blog through expats blog directory. I am a native German originally from Stuttgart but have been living in Ireland for the past years. There I kept looking for quark, proper bread and yeast and back here I keep looking for Irish products…like almond butter 🙂 You probably have found some things already, but here a few thoughts I had reading through your list: vanilla essence – you can find in the baking sections either vanilla sugar in little sachets (subsitute a little of the normal sugar for it) or tiny bottles of "Aroma" its liquid like essence but way more concentrated. Oatmeal – is called "Haferflocken" either from the brand "Kölln" or cheaper Aldi/Lidl substitutes (around 40c for a 500g bag). They come in "zart" or "kernig" – soft or thick.You can find them around the cornflakes.Peanut butter I find in bigger supermarkets close to Nutella and the breakfast items. Packaged bacon and brown sugar are also fairly easy to find in supermarkets like Real/Edeka etc.Almond butter – my biggest find yesterday in the organic supermarket (Alnatura/Basic Bio/Vollcorner), they also have organic peanut butter and lots of special flours and coconut oil. Fresh pumpkin – in autumn and unfortunately we really don’t have canned pumpkin.


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