There’s nothing strictly seasonal about weinerschnitzel or bratwurst. But dine around New Orleans during October and you might think we were witnessing just a brief window of availability to enjoy these traditional German dishes.
The reason isn’t the season, of course, but the theme, and that’s Oktoberfest, which is not any one event anymore but an entire month of eager encouragement to guzzle beer by the stein and tamp it all down under a mat of sauerkraut and sausage.
There’s a parallel here to St. Patrick’s Day, of course, when everyone wants to be Irish as long as that means drinking a lot, pigging out on corned beef and stealing smooches on the parade route.
For Germans, the vicarious ethnic adulation of Oktoberfest is less intense but lasts a whole lot longer. There isn’t one parade, but a rather a parade of promotions, with Bavarian themed parties filling the event calendar and special, sausage-strung menus at more restaurants. Some of it can start to feel like jumping on the oompah band wagon.
But put a different slant on it and this focus on food, and drink, feels like a pretty apt way to connect with the German heritage of New Orleans. That’s a heritage that’s very strong yet still usually not very prominent. And, it’s one that expresses itself with gusto around the table.
For instance, there’s a reason we call parts of the River Parishes the German Coast, and it’s the same reason the andouille produced there has a French name but follows a German style of chunky, smoky sausage. In fact, some experts of the Louisiana boucherie will tell you that the techniques of this very traditional Cajun hog butchering are historically more German and French.
This is sort of typical. French influence on Louisiana culture gets the headlines, but for a time in the 19th Century Germans made up the largest group of foreign-speaking people in the state. They dominated the New Orleans brewing business back then, which isn’t so surprising, but they also were big in baking, which brings us to New Orleans-style French bread. It’s indispensable to the local palate, it’s the foundation of po-boy culture, but that French bread you got through the generations from Leidenheimer, Reising or Binder has a lot more to do with old world German baking than a French baguette.
But if German food culture in New Orleans is somewhat submerged, Oktoberfest hoists it higher than a foamy stein. Here’s the way modern New Orleans connects with its German heritage, and for generations the place to do it has been Deutsches Haus, which isn’t a restaurant but is the German cultural group that embraces this identity year round.
The group’s Oktoberfest is in Kenner these days, where the setting is a bit different but the spirit remains the same. In fact, this party has been something of a rite of autumn for New Orleans, with all the rib-sticking Bavarian cooking, the German beer, the ompah bands and another rendition of the “chicken dance” all but signaling the changing seasons. And no matter what ethnicity you claim, after a long hot New Orleans summer, that can be music to anyone’s ears.