What is currywurst and why is it so important? How can something so simple, so humble be the defining dish of a major food hub in Europe. It has become the cult-classic of the streets of Berlin, a part of society that exemplifies the intricacies of the good-things we hold so dear to ourselves and a piece of Berlin urban legend that all Berliners alike subscribe to with enthusiasm. This is no simple street food. It is one of the world’s best and for good reason. The currywurst is the great equalizer in Berlin, a taste sought after by tourists and locals alike, bringing a middle eastern flair to a classic European staple. Heated debates, fights and arguments have broken out over which spot has the best currywurst in town, who does it right, who creates the best interpretation of a food with a mixed and ominous backstory.
But first, lets break the currywurst down to its components.
For starters, we have to talk about the sausage. A typical currywurst is made with a deep fried bratwurst without skin (currywurst ohne darm). This means that the casing of the sausage is removed before cooking, leaving the dog crispy but not crunchy on the outside with a steamy warm center. Many places typically serve the sausage this way, unless you specify with skin (mit darm) which gives a bit more of a textural contrast and snap to the sausage. Once the wiener is cooked to golden perfection, it is topped with a tomato based sauce laced with curry. Many claim that it is simply a curry infused ketchup that is served warm, but the true Berliners know there is a much more complex mix of flavors going on within the sauce, which is simply more rich than ketchup can provide. While many places make their own sauces, and the debate still rages on between who in Berlin serves the best, in general, the curry ketchup you can find in supermarkets does the trick just fine.
There are some variations to the sauce in which you can get it spicy, extra hot or mild but really what you are getting is simply a fried sausage with curry ketchup. I’m sure a true Berliner would slap me for deeming the currywurst something that simple, but hey, let’s be real here.
In downtown Berlin near the Stadtmitte U-Bahn stop there is actually a currywurst museum you can visit if you ever find the time, and it is truly well done. A 10 Euro ticket gets you entrance into the museum and a taste of three currywurst variations served with fries on your way out. The museum itself is fun, really playing up the playful aspect of Berlin’s favorite food. You can sit on a couch shaped like a sausage while you learn the history of Germany’s favorite street food. You can even serve up your very own currywurst out of a real currywurst cart, one of Berlin’s first currywurst stands bought by the museum upon its opening.
I’ve eaten currywurst at a ton of different places in Berlin, with each joint serving the dish a bit differently than others. Sometimes the sauce has an overarching sweetness, or is spicier than other versions. The currywurst itself is sweet, salty, spicy and unique. Its unlike anything I have ever had and is one of those awesome foods that only happened because of a strange cultural mishmash, which is something I truly appreciate. Globalism itself is awesome. Many people see globalism as a mix of economics, communications and politics. But sometimes, something miraculous happens in the interim, and the world is gifted something so good, we can only appreciate its creation and enjoy every last delicious mouthful.