Eating Oktoberfest: a vegetarian survival guide

If there’s one thing you don’t see very often at Oktoberfest, it’s a vegetable.

Navigating the menu at an Oktoberfest tent is not always easy for vegetarians. In here, a plate of sliced-up sausage qualifies as a salad. But even at those tents named after the animal they are best at cooking, one can find at least a couple of meatless dishes. Bavarian vegetarian food is heavy, creamy, cheesy, and infinitely starchy: actually, not such bad attributes for a meal that’s accompanying many liters of beer. Now that you’ve found a seat in one of the tents, here are some of the vegetarian dishes you are most likely to find on the menu:

  • Käsespätzle: As a vegetarian living in Munich, I have eaten more käsespätzle than you can shake a stick at. This Bavarian version of macaroni and cheese (with fried onions on top) can range from magically delicious to heavy as a rock. Actually, usually the first several bites are magically delicious, and the last several are the rock-like ones. The best Oktoberfest käsespatzle I’ve had was at the small tent Heinz Wurst- und Hühnerbraterei.
  • Rahmschwammerl: this is basically creamed mushrooms with a big German dumpling or two. Not my favorite dish, but it is vegetarian.
  • Pasta of some sort: this will be horribly overcooked, but depending on how many beers you’ve had, you might not care.
  • Obatzda/Obatzder: this creamy Bavarian cheese spread tastes delicious on pretzels.
  • Potato salad: the Bavarian version is mayo-less, and therefore possibly your lightest option. This also might be the only vegan food available.
  • Side salad: Always swimming in a pool of dressing so deep you can drink it.
  • Brezn (pretzel): You can order these from your waitress, or buy them off the vendors wandering the aisles of the tent. Sometimes you’ll score one fresh out of the oven, and it will be truly delicious.
  • Kaiserschmarrn: Technically a dessert, this dish of chopped-up sweet pancakes is usually big enough to be filling.

Sometimes there’s also a cheese plate available. Personally, my favorite vegetarian Oktoberfest meal is found at, of all places, the Ochsenbraterei (“Ox roaster”) tent. Their Gemüseteller (vegetable plate) contains many different vegetables, all prepared in relatively tasty ways.

The two fancy tents, the Weinzelt and Käfer, offer a few different vegetarian items each, but honestly they’re not all that much better than the dishes you get in the less pricey tents. They just don’t seem to put too much effort into the vegetarian stuff. Still, these offerings can make for a nice break from käsespatzle if you’re spending multiple days at the wiesn. The Weinzelt especially excels at menu variety.

Outside of the tents, there’s plenty of carnival food to be had. Stands selling cones of tasty candied nuts are everywhere, offering up the only non-cheese vegetarian protein source for miles. I like the chili almonds (Chili Mandeln). Sandwich stands usually have at least one boring cheese-on-a-roll option. Some other stands just sell hunks of cheese. If you can find them, dark-chocolate-covered chili strawberries on a stick are one of my favorite Oktoberfest treats. Must get a good photo of them this year.

What’s your favorite Oktoberfest food?

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14 thoughts on “Eating Oktoberfest: a vegetarian survival guide

  1. Very informative and I LOVE the photos! We’ve lived here over a year and a half and have never made the Oktoberfest. Perhaps this year. Your blog will help me navigate my way through the land of sausages and beer!

  2. The spaetzle (sp?) thing looks pretty good and I prefer German style potato salad to the American heavy on mayo one.
    I’ve always wanted to visit Germany but as a fellow veg, I’ve always been intimidated. I’ve had Germans tell me it’s possible though to find things to eat and reading your blog also helps reassure me!

    Thanks for the info ;D

  3. @Dutch – I hope you make it here one of these days.

    @Chris – Thanks! Blogging has turned me into the kind of person who gets out the camera before every meal. I’m eager to hear if you make it to the wiesn this year.

    @Kristin – Yup, if you don’t have a “ä” key you can spell it “ae”. Germany is definitely no vegetarian’s paradise, but I’m certainly not in danger of starving to death.

  4. While I have always wanted to go to Octoberfest, I’m not a big fan of crowds. I have heard that other German cities have Octoberfest as well, have you been to others? Are there less crowded options or is Munich the only way to go? Thanks

  5. Since early childhood Wiesn / Oktoberfest means: Hendl und gebrannte Mandeln (grilled chicken and candied almonds).
    @Keith: you’ll find a Volksfest almost everywhere in Germany, but only one Oktoberfest (which is the world’s biggest Volksfest). A bit less crowded are e.g. the Rosenheimer Volksfest (right now), the Gäubodenfest in Straubing (end of august), Bergkirchweih in Erlangen (before Pentecost) or – near Munich – the Dachauer Volksfest (mid-august).

  6. Those pancakes look delicious. Why didn’t I find them on my visits to Oktoberfest (must try harder). I did find this delicious steamed dumpling. It was a big one – about the width of a CD, and covered in custard. THE best hangover cure ever!

  7. @Keith – As fxf mentioned, the one in Munich is the only real Oktoberfest, but there are other local festivals of some sort or another to be found all over Germany and beyond.

    I don’t like crowds, either, but I don’t mind Oktoberfest during the day. It’s nights and weekends that I prefer to stay away.

    @fxf – Thanks for the suggestions!

    @Dana – Thanks! Hope you’re ready – only four more days to go!

    @April – I do like things covered in custard. I’ll have to keep an eye out this year.

  8. Well it’s nice to know there is something vegetarian! We are considering a move to Germany in a few years (live in Colorado now) and as a vegetarian I have been a bit concerned… Anyway, glad I found your site!

  9. @Athena – Don’t worry, it’s not so bad for vegetarians in Germany, especially if you are in a big city. I’ve survived 6 years in the country and am still plenty fat and happy.

  10. Thanks, this was very helpful since im going to oktoberfest on its last weekend. I was already worried and prepared to bring my own snacks in case the only meal you get is something with sausages.
    But from the looks of it I might not end up munching pretzels the whole weekend:)

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