What is it about big events involving food and drink that end with media reports telling us how much was actually consumed during the event? It’s the sort of information that people "eat up."
For example, every year in the United States, we’re fed the news about who ate the most hot dogs in the annual Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest at Coney Island. This year’s winner, Joey ‘Jaws’ Chestnut, ate his way through 62 hot dogs - and buns - in the allotted time of only 10 minutes. That’s over six hot dogs a minute! In the women’s division, the champ chomped her way through 40 hot dogs.
Last week, as every year, we were treated to another annual tradition - something I’d like to call “Oktoberfest by the numbers.” It’s when we get to digest all sorts of fascinating statistics following the end of the world’s largest beer festival, which also happens to serve a lot of food.
The number most people are curious about, though, is how many beers all those people actually drank. It was another record: about 7.5 million of those giant one-liter Oktoberfest mugs. That’s equivalent to about 12.3 million English pints, or roughly 22 million 12-ounce bottles of beer.
Some of you might be scratching your heads right now - I know I was. Nearly seven million people were at the world’s biggest beer fest and only drank 7.5 million liters of beer? Dare I say that seems low?
For the Germans, there was something altogether different that caused the head scratching. For the first time ever, the cost for a Maß of beer topped 9 euros, or 12 dollars. The price of non-alcoholic beverages was also up. It cost seven euros just for a liter of water. The parity of price between beer and other non-beer drinks always made me laugh when I lived in Munich. If they cost about the same, isn’t it always better to just drink Bier?
Next on the menu: the food. All kinds of Bavarian specialties come to mind when I think of what’s on a Speisekarte, or menu, at Oktoberfest. From the giant Brez'n (pretzel), and slices of Emmentaler cheese that have been perfectly salted and peppered, to the Wurstsalat, Weißwurst, Bratwurst and Currywurst.
There’s also the traditional Munich favorites of Schweinsbraten - pork roast - served with potato dumplings, and Schweinshaxn, a roast pork knuckle that’s craved by those with bigger appetites. Leberknödelsuppe is a soup with liver dumplings, while a Bierradi is a giant white radish that has been thinly sliced into a spiral and salted ever so gently. Obatzda? That’s a Bavarian cheese specialty made by mixing Camembert, paprika, butter, salt and pepper, and best enjoyed as a spread on Brez'n.
One of most popular entrées is the Wiesn-Hendl - half a chicken, which has been carefully roasted rotisserie-style with only salt, butter and parsley. I read a report in a Munich newspaper that said more than 100,000 of these sold during the 17-day fest.
Yet another gastronomic Wiesn hit is the Ochsenbraten, or roast ox, which is served only at the Spaten Ochsenbraterei Festzelt - a beer tent that seats 5,020 people inside, 1,560 in the Biergarten and takes 10 weeks to build. What makes it so special is that each ox is roasted whole on a spit in the tent. And the cooking time for each is about six to seven hours. Now, multiply that by the sizable herd consumed at this year’s Wiesn - 118 - which was one more than last year.
I tend to leave my favorites for last, and so it is for this monstrous Munich meal. It’s called a Steckerlfisch, which translates to fish on a stick. But it’s far more delicious than it sounds. Whole, gutted mackerel or trout are threaded onto a long skewer that is cooked at an angle over a long charcoal fire pit. Like the Wiesn-Hendl, these, too, are brushed with butter or a special marinade as they are rotated slowly over the fire. Take it from me, there is no better way to enjoy a mackerel.
If you haven’t had your fill of Oktoberfest numbers yet, here’s a few more I’ve prepared for dessert (apple strudel would probably taste better though):
60 - Oktoberfest-related mobile apps that were available for download