Currywurst, Overhyped but a Street Food Experience
You can’t visit Berlin without hearing about currywurst. This cold war sausage is an icon of German culinary culture and frequent guest feature of traveling foodies. Literally “curry sausage,” its basic form is a triumph of multiculturalism and post-war rationing — a pile of fried pork sausage (Germany), covered in ketchup (America), seasoned with spices and topped with curry powder (Britain and India). Traditionally, the wurst (sausage) is cut pieces before being covered in sauce. In possibly the most German fact listed here, engineers invented a commercial cutter for the sole purpose of expediting this process and ensuring uniformity of the chunks.
One thing is certain, it’s a polarizing food. People disagree on the side accompaniments, best places to eat it, and even whether the dish is fundamentally good. Personally, I found it to be overhyped. The currywurst I sampled came Konnopke’s, a famous stall located in the trendy Prenzelauer Berg neighborhood. My impressions? Texturally, the dish was bland and the sauce so overpoweringly sweet it muted the savory spices. Notwithstanding, it remains a food deeply ingrained in German culture. Partly because currywurst acts not only as a meal but as a political statement.
Berlin, especially, likes to think of itself as egalitarian: promoting the democratic ideals of for the people by the people. Served on paper plates with diners mingling together at standing-sidewalk tables, currywurst fits with this image. Aspiring mayoral candidates pose in front of currywurst stalls to appear more relatable. And there is even a man dubbed “The Grillwalker” who acts as a mobile vendor, preparing the Berlin specialty with a portable pantry, freezer, and gas grill strapped to his chest. Food critics with experience and clout praise it as an addictive treat. And with so many varieties, it is difficult to be bored. The woman reputed to have invented the first currywurst never revealed the recipe. Likely, this is why currywurst is as much about your trusted vendor as it is how you prefer to eat it. Want yours with Caribbean peppers or tzatziki? How about gold leaf and champagne? Though a 3-star Michelin restaurant is far cry from its roots as a dish of the proletariat, who’s to contest altering something that has never been standardized?
Currywurst is a quirky food with a cult following. It’s been the focus of songs and novels, inspired sociological research, and boasts a dedicated online fandom. Frankly, I don’t get it — but it’s here to stay.
I may have my fingers crossed that the Turkish Doner kebap will someday rule supreme as the go-to takeaway, currywurst remains the dish emblematic of Berlin’s past. I definitely recommend experiencing it for yourself, but maybe not the encrusted gold version. It’s a 2€ experience, tops.