Traditional North German Food: Green Eel Soup Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Traditional North German Food: Green Eel Soup

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Traditional North German Food
Lobscouse - Labskaus | Green Eel Soup
Pears, French Beans and Bacon | Rich Sweet Dishes

Much of Germany's northern coast borders on either the North Sea or the Baltic, with the northernmost state of Schleswig-Holstein lying directly between the two. It therefore doesn't come as a surprise that seafood features quite high on the list of popular dishes. The importance of agriculture and fishing (traditionally the main sources of income in the north) is even reflected in heraldry: for instance, the coat of arms of the Kreis Nordfriesland (a 'Kreis' being an administrative district) features three ships; one bearing a plough, one bearing a fish (the Sylter herring, to be precise), and one bearing an ox.

Eels in Folklore and Film

A nice example of folklore being reflected in heraldry is the coat of arms of Fockbek in Schleswig-Holstein, which features an eel chasing a herring. The story behind it is this:

One day, a Fockbeker returned from a visit to the nearby town of Rendsburg, bringing plenty of salted herring. He invited his neighbours to a meal. Everybody was delighted and they decided to buy more salted herring for future use. They dumped them into the village pond, expecting the herrings to multiply and thus provide them with a good meal in the next year. When the time came to catch the herrings, they went to look for them. They didn't bother to take nets, but simply let the water out of the pond. To their huge surprise, not a single herring was to be found; instead, there was only a fat eel in the mud at the bottom of the pond. The eel must have eaten all the herrings! They managed to catch the eel, but didn't quite know how to punish it. Among suggestions such as Slachten un opeten1 ('slaughter and eat') and 'burn the eel' came one to 'drown the eel', because all those present knew that drowning was the worst death. They all agreed: We wüllt den Aal versupen! ('we will drown the eel'). They threw the eel into the nearby creek and rejoiced in seeing it 'wind under its pains'.

Ever since, the people from the nearby village of Hohn2 have sung the mocking rhyme:

Aal, gröne Aal. Vun Fockbek kummt se daal, in Fockbek hebbt se 'n Aal versapen, in Fockbek künnt se keen Aalsupp kaken.
(Eels, green eels, they come down from Fockbek. In Fockbek they drowned an eel, in Fockbek they don't know how to cook eel soup.)

Until not too long ago you'd have been ill advised, had you ever come to Fockbek, to remind a Fockbeker of how they drowned the eel. An h2g2 Researcher's aunt remembers:

As ick mol in Dänemark wer dreep ick zufällig een annern Dütschen. Op de Froog woher he keem seggt he: 'Ut Fockbek'. Ick segg: 'Oh, ut Fockbek. Is dat nich wer se den Aal versopen hebbt?' He sprok keen wörd mehr mit me.
(When I was in Denmark once, I happened to meet another German. On asking him where in Germany he was from, he said he came from Fockbek. I said: 'Oh, from Fockbek. Isn't that where they drowned the eel?' He never spoke to me again.)

Meanwhile, the Fockbekers have erected a small memorial in the centre of the commune and celebrate the deed on one day in August each year.

One more contemporary but not particularly amusing appearance made by eels is in a scene in the award-winning film The Tin Drum, based upon the book by Günter Grass. It shows somebody using a horse head to catch eels, with the eels having grown large and fat on this special food. The more squeamish might be put off eel forever after watching that scene, but for everybody else northern Germany offers various dishes such as geräucherter Aal (smoked eel), Aalsuppe (eel soup) or Aal in Aspik (jellied eel).

Hamburger Aalsuppe

Despite what the name may imply to a foreigner, this is not fast food with eel soup. It just means that the dish is 'from Hamburg'. As is often the case, there are a number of recipes with many variations upon the theme. Here's an easy variant.The name is somewhat misleading, mind, because there's not much eel to be found in this soup. However, you can alter the amount of ingredients to suit your taste.

Ingredients (Serves Four)

  • 1.5l of beef stock
  • 500g smoked ham joint (to flavour the soup)
  • 2 bundles of Suppengrün3
  • 300g dried fruits (apples, plums)
  • 4 tablespoons flour
  • 250g fresh eel
  • A bunch of fresh herbs: parsley, sage, basil, marjoram
  • Salt and pepper
  • Sugar
  • 1 tablespoon wine vinegar


Wash and chop the vegetables and chop the dried fruits. Add these and the ham to the stock, then bring to the boil and lightly boil for about 20 minutes. Mix the flour with a bit of water and use it to thicken the soup. Skin the eel and remove the bones. Cut into slices of 5cm (two inches). Wash and roughly chop the herbs. Add all to the soup, and let boil for another five minutes. Season to a sweet-sour taste with the salt, pepper, sugar and vinegar. The ham joint is only to give the soup flavour, so make sure you remove it once you're done.

Serve either with marrow dumplings or fresh rye bread. Enjoy!

1This and the following quotes are Low German, also known as Low Saxon.2Ironically, Hohn means scorn.3A bundle of Suppengrün usually contains two small carrots, one piece of celeriac, one large or two small leeks, one to two cauliflower florets and some parsley.

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