Dampfnudeln are a traditional, sweet main dish from southern German cuisine (Bavaria, Rhine-Palatinate). They are yeast rolls, buns or dumplings which are simultaneously steamed and fried in a pan on the stove, so that they have a crispy underside, but a soft, dumpling- like body. They are sometimes filled with fruit butter or jam. Most commonly cooked in a milk, butter, sugar liquid, the Pfalzer specialty (Palatinate) is steamed in salt water and has a salty crust.
They are most often served with a fruit compote, vanilla sauce or a wine cream sauce (Weinschaumsoße). When eaten as a main dish, often a savory dish such as potato soup, goulash or Schweinepfeffer (a strongly spiced, pork stew traditionally thickened with blood) is served first and the Dampfnudeln with a sweet sauce are the second course.
They can be served as a savory main dish, too. Sauerkraut or cabbage, salad, braised cucumbers or a mushroom cream sauce are the most common accompaniments.
The word, "Nudel" is most likely a derivative of the word "Knödel," which is part of family of words with "kn" that have a common meaning of "a thickening" (Knote - knot; Knolle - bud; Knopf - button). While "Nudel" also commonly refers to pasta in the German cuisine, it is the name for many kinds of dumplings, too.
The Legend of the Dampfnudel Gate
The so-called Dampfnudeltor (Dumpling Gate) in Freckenfeld, Germany has an interesting history. A Swedish cavalry division during the latter part of the Thirty Years' War asked for a high sum of money from the town in return for not plundering or killing (this despite the fact that the town had the same religion as the Swedes).
A group of delegates was able to negotiate this down with the leader. If they would be able to feed him and his troops to their satisfaction, the citizens would be saved.
Even though food was scarce for the citizens, master baker Johannes Muck ordered his wife and servant to make a large pot of sauce and add a large amount of wine to it to put the soldiers in a good mood. He, himself, made Dampfnudeln until all the soldiers were full, 1286 pieces. The division accepted this meal as fulfilling the settlement and left them without further blackmail or plunder.
The gates are decorated with thousands of Dampnudeln and are even on the city of Freckenfeld's coat of arms. (source)