Vancouver Christmas Market: Grilled Bratwurst, Waffles and Hot Gluehwein under the Christmas Tree
The Plaza @ Queen Elizabeth Theatre
650 Hamilton Street, Vancouver
Nobody does Christmas like the Germans! Or at least from what I saw and ate at the German Christmas Market in Vancouver. I’ve never been to Germany but have always wanted to go. It’s moving to the top of my bucket list. I have always been a sucker for markets, be it farmers’ markets, Sunday markets or seasonal markets. I love the variety in vendors, seeing unique wares and obviously eating the street food available. After checking out the website for this year’s Vancouver Christmas Market, I knew there was going to be good food. Plus, three of my favourite types of food and drink hail from Germany: sausages, waffles and apple cider. I skipped breakfast yesterday, bundled up and grabbed my camera and headed to the Christmas Market.
Christmas Markets originated in Germany. They’re a tourist attraction but the locals enjoy the markets too. From what I’ve heard and seen, the markets are festive, glowing with Christmas lights and bustling with activity. The much smaller scale Christmas Market in Vancouver is no exception. Since it was a weekend, there were many families with young children milling about. This is the perfect venue for young families, there are lots of activities for little children such as a gingerbread house and cookie decorating stall. The chocolate lollipop decorating stall looked popular too. Actually, if it wasn’t so crowded, I would’ve wanted to decorate my own tree-shaped chocolate on a stick.
On the non-edible front, there was a candle decorating stand too. I’ve also never seen so many nutcrackers in my life – ornaments and life-sized statues. This is a great place to pick up gifts or stocking stuffers. There are lots of shiny baubles, handmade soaps and chocolates to buy.
Black Forest Delicatessen
M25 Park Royal South, West Vancouver
Now, onto the food. Obviously, being at a German Christmas Market, I had to eat a Bratwurst. It was served on a soft bun with onions and sauerkraut. Normally, I’d skip the sauerkraut but ever since my trip to France, I’ve converted to being a sauerkraut-lover.
A man with a very thick German accent took my order, somehow it made the experience more authentic, even though, I know Black Forest Delicatessen has a storefront at Park Royal mall.
The sizzling sounds and smells of grilling meat were pretty incredible and definitely made my mouth water as I stood in line waiting for my order.
The bratwurst on the bun was huge which was great because I was famished. I was wondering how I was going to eat this without spilling it all over myself though, the sausage was so thick and plump that the bun didn’t totally close. Looking around for a place to sit, I found some sheltered areas with tables where visitors could stand and eat.
The girl standing beside me cleverly sliced up her bratwurst then arranged it neatly back on the bun before eating. I suppose that would have been the civilized way to eat a bratwurst and bun but I felt like it would take away from the experience so I just squeezed the bun down on the sausage and took my first big bite. The juicy, grilled sausage was delectable! The fatty pork flavours were lightly spiced and the course ground meat throughout the sausage gave it some texture and bite. Once I started eating, I just couldn’t stop. The bun was much softer than I had expected. It was practically pillow-soft, soaking up the sour juices from the sauerkraut nicely and also absorbing the moisture from the onions. So all in all, it was pretty easy to eat this sandwich without making a big mess.
The sweet, sour and slightly crunchy sauerkraut added the extra punch that the sandwich needed for a cold day. The sausage warmed me up while the sour hits from the sauerkraut gave the simple sandwich that extra dimension of flavour. The onions tasted sweet in comparison to the salty meat and sour cabbage.
I was so worried about trying to eat this sandwich neatly but as I was just finishing up, a lady walked up beside me and literally started gnawing on a large roasted lamb’s leg. I’m not joking. It was gigantic. I was going to ask her where she bought it but her mouth was full the whole time that I was standing there. Talk about wishing you got what the other person ordered.
There is also a giant Christmas tree at the back of the market. I imagine the tree would look pretty impressive all lit up at night. I am a sucker for Christmas trees, decorating the Christmas tree was a big tradition at our house when we were little. Also at the market is a big carousel that the children loved.
At the back of the market is a higher end indoor gift shop, Kathe Wohlfahrt selling ornaments and small wooden miniatures. I only ducked in here because my toes were freezing. They didn’t allow pictures but there were a number of shiny green pickle Christmas tree ornaments. Pickles must be important in Germany.
To warm up, I decided to grab a waffle. Also, I could smell them from all over the market. Looking at the menu, I quickly decided on the Belgian waffle with powdered sugar but as I inched closer to the front of the line, I noticed that everyone else was ordering waffles on sticks. They looked so cool, like little Christmas trees, I had to have one too. The lady who took my order told me they use the same batter as the Belgian waffles anyway. I watched them pour the batter from the same mixing bowl into different molds.
I also got powdered sugar and chocolate drizzle on my waffle on a stick. The dripping chocolate made it impossible to hold the waffle stick up and nibble while I wandered the market but I’m glad I ordered it! The chocolate was sweet and nutty, the slight bitterness offset the very sweet powdered sugar.
The waffle smelled so rich, buttery and delectable that at least three different people stopped and asked where I bought it as I was eating.
The waffle was soft and fluffy but also had that distinct crumbly texture that I love in Belgian waffles. I could’ve eaten ten of these.
I think this adds to the charm of the market but in the backdrop of the fake German house fronts and flying reindeer are the glass condos of Vancouver’s False Creek and the Vancouver Public Library. At first, it’s a little jarring and demystifying to look up and see modern day buildings beyond the enchanting wooden structures of the market but you get used to it. It just goes to show how multicultural Vancouver is, hosting a small German market in the middle of a neighbourhood full of Japanese and fusion restaurants, not to mention an entire variety of food carts.
Some of the entertainment at the market included some charming stilt walkers. Everyone wanted to take pictures with them. Also prancing around was Mr. and Mrs. Gingerbread, life-sized Gingerbread people.
At mid-afternoon, Vancouver’s famous, Carnival Band made their appearance, marching out of the Queen Elizabeth Theatre to the stage in the middle of the market. Their upbeat music definitely further livened up the already festive atmosphere.
I couldn’t leave the market without trying some traditional German mulled wine: gluehwein. Since there is red wine in gluehwein, you need to pick up a wristband near the market entrance to show before ordering.
Gluehwein is served hot, which was perfect for a cold day. It’s made of a fruit wine, mostly red wine and heated with spices, cinnamon, clove, vanilla pods, citrus and sugar. Apparently, in Germany, many shoppers mill the market with a steaming mug of gluehwein in hand, which is exactly what I did at the Vancouver Christmas Market. Not only did the warm mug warm my frozen hands but the slightly spicy and fruity sweet drink warmed me up on the inside too. I could taste hints of cinnamon, clove with a subtle citrus aftertaste and of course a little bit of tannin from the red wine. It was delicious! And the bonus is that I could keep the mug. It’ll be great for filling with candies or nuts at Christmas.
There was also the option to return the mug for $4. There was a booth near the exit for mug return. If you tipped, the guys at the booth ring a bell and cheer. It’s pretty amusing.
After looking at the mechanical window display of elves in Santa’s workshop at the market entrance, I realize where I’ve seen them before, they are the same elves in the Woodwards window display back in the 1980s when Woodwards used to be a shopping centre. My mother did all her Christmas shopping at Woodwards. The window displays would amuse me for hours.
I had fun at the Christmas Market, I’ll definitely go back for more sausages and waffles before the holidays are over!