We’ve been counting down for months but it’s finally here, the most important day of the year. Yes, that’s right, it’s Pretzel Day. This incredibly important national holiday is one which is often overlooked by much of the foolhardy population. Of course the reason for that might be because it’s a national holiday in America, not Australia but that’s hardly the point. Here at I Ate My Way Through we are showing pretzels the respect they deserve with a post dedicated to our favourite snack.
The history of the humble pretzel is mired in ambiguity and conflict, with bitter arguments still raging to this day over its origins. My favourite story is the one which says they were created by a monk in the 600’s who baked strips of dough to resemble arms crossed in prayer and gave them to children as rewards. They were called “pretiolas” or “little rewards” which sounds suspiciously similar to ‘pretzels’? The main reason I like this story is because it cracks me up to look at pretzels and imagine them as really weird looking crossed arms.It makes the pretzel look like it’s either sulking or acting manly.
However this is all hearsay, and when it comes to Pretzel investigation or Inpretzelgation as it is formally known, we can rely only on cold hard facts. The first documented evidence of pretzels was about 500 years later, when pretzels appeared in the crest of German bakers’ guilds. Around this time they basically exploded in popularity and took on the status of a holy food.
They were used as symbols of good luck here there and everywhere. In Germany, kids hung pretzels around their necks for luck on New Year’s Day. In Austria they hung them on their Christmas trees and hid them on Easter in the original version of the Easter egg hunt. The Swiss loved pretzels so much they incorporated them into their wedding ceremonies, using them to symbolise the ‘tying of the knot’. In Rhenish Hesse and the Palatinate, people even have parades during which they literally carry massive pretzels mounted on colourful decorated poles.
As well as being undeniably lucky, they became a legitimate religious food when people began eating them for lent. Catholics considered them an official lent food because they adhered to all the guidelines set by the church about acceptable lent foods.
photo credit: Rebecca_bexxi via photopin cc
After establishing the importance and historical relevance of pretzels, we decided to track down the best pretzels in Sydney. Our search pointed us in the direction of Manuel Neu, owner of Neus Bakery in Bondi Junction and we decided to pay him a visit to find out more.
Manuel Neu’s story was certainly not what we expected. He grew up in Germany but studied digital media in Australia, so originally he didn’t really know anything about baking bread. However, after living in Australia for a few years, he began to long for the fresh German bread he had enjoyed in his youth. After realising that there were no bakeries that could fulfil his longing, he decided to create one himself. The only problem with his plan was that he had no idea how to bake bread. Instead of letting this trifling issue kill his dreams of real German bread, Manuel decided to place an advertisement seeking a German master baker to help him make his dreams a reality. Luckily for everybody, he found one and they worked together to create what is now a very popular retail and wholesale business, supplying many of Sydney’s top restaurants with their delicious baked goods.
Manuel Neu’s Pretzel Origin Story
What really sets Neu’s apart from other German style bakeries is that they bake their bread from scratch instead of importing it from Germany, making it the only place you can get a real genuine pretzel. While we were in the presence of an authentic German pretzel-maker we took the opportunity to ask him about the origins of the mysterious food. Manuel obliged us with a fantastic but completely fictitious story. Back in the days of the monarchy, a king demanded that his baker create a bread which reflected the sun three times, or else he would be beheaded. The baker was understandably troubled by this request and stood with his arms crossed in front of his mirror, contemplating his fate. As he did so he noticed that the sun was shining through the loops created by his crossed arms and inspiration struck as he envisaged the shape we now recognise as the pretzel. Later, while he was in the process of making it, it fell into a bucket of sodium hydroxide which was used for cleaning. He was so frustrated that he decided to cook it anyway, and instead of being inedible it was miraculously delicious.
What Makes Neu’s Pretzels Different
You see, the secret to that distinctive sharp pretzel-y taste and delicious golden-brown colour is actually sodium hydroxide. The commercial pretzel chains try to imitate authentic pretzels by painting butter on the outside to give it the browned look. Although Manuel assures us that these concoctions certainly contain their own merit, they are eons away from being real German pretzels.
Having learned all this, we understandably we felt the need to taste test a few of Neu’s pretzels to see if we could really taste the difference. The intoxicating aroma of freshly baked pretzels called to us and we eagerly ripped into one, slathering its fluffy white interior in butter. Every aspect of the pretzel was outstanding; the appearance, the texture and of course, the distinctive and unmistakable pretzel taste. The only way you can truly understand how enchanted we were is to taste one yourself. Although the photos give you an idea of how beautiful they were, it was truly a complete sensory experience.
Pretzels = Love
All this information and sampling of delicious, delicious pretzels was so inspiring that we felt an overwhelming desire to share the pretzel love. So we did a little research and discovered that in Luxembourg there is a long standing tradition dedicated to doing exactly that. On a festival called ‘Pretzel Sunday’ men give their sweethearts a pretzel to show their love, with bigger pretzels indicating more love and affection. The team at I Ate My Way Through believes 100% in the idea of expressing love through food, so we decided that we Australians need to adopt this tradition. Why should those Luxembourgers get all the pretzel love? So next time you want to show somebody how special they are, skip the flowers and get them a big massive pretzel.
23 Bronte Road, Bondi Junction
02 9369 2222