Berlin celebrates currywurst. So what about poutine and bunny chow?
I thought I knew all about Germany food, sausages included. Bratwurst, bockwurst and leberwurst were on my family’s snack menu from when I was a child. And I discovered the joys of weisswurst while on a extended stay in Munich some years ago.
But please excuse my gross culinary ignorance. I had never heard of currywurst until last week when I learned that a Deutsches Currywurst Museum opened in Berlin last year, near Checkpoint Charlie.
I also learned that the fast-food urban snack has a cult following and countless fans. In Germany, it turns out, about 800 million portions of currywurst are consumed per year – with 70 million of these “currywürste” devoured in Berlin.
The fast-food’s down-home nature made me think of Canada’s poutine and South Africa’s bunny chow. Keep reading for more on those.
But meanwhile, if you’re in the dark, as I was, you’re probably asking: What is currywurst?
Researching online, I read it described (on wikipedia) as “a Germany national dish consisting of hot pork sausage cut into slices and seasoned with curry sauce, which is made from a mix of tomato ketchup (or tomato sauce if you’re English) blended with generous amounts of curry power.
Keep reading for more on currywurst and a recipe.
If you’re Canadian, you will know about poutine. If you’re not Canadian and have been watching the Winter Olympics, you might have seen the signs reading ‘Poutine not Putin’ when Canada played Russia in the quarter finals of the hockey.
And my new hero, U.S. Olympic skater Johnny Weir, suggested that Canadian broadcasters who dissed him do penance over poutine.
So what is poutine?
Think of French fries topped with fresh cheese curd, covered with brown gravy and sometimes additional ingredients. It is a comfort food and a diner staple which originated in Quebec and can now be found across Canada. And believe it or not, I’ve heard Canadians swoon when talking about it.
On to Bunny Chow
The currywurst got me thinking of this originally inexpensive and down-home street food that originated in Durban, South Africa, my home town. (It’s now become upscale and you can find it on restaurant menus. You can read a reprint of a story I wrote on bunny chow for Oakland Magazine here.
I first ate bunny chow as a teenager, on Sunday mornings, while fishing with boys from the neighborhood in the Durban harbor. We bought out bunnies from an Indian man who manned a rickety store. The bunny comprised half a loaf of soft white bread filled with a lethal bean curry that made your eyes water. The bread removed from inside the half loaf was put, like a lid, atop the curry and used to sop up the sauce.
Back to currywurst
Currywurst, it transpires, dates back to 1949 when a certain Frau Heuwer was given ketchup, Worcestershire sauce and curry powder by a British soldier. She mixed these up, added some other spices, and poured her concoction over grilled pork sausage. She must have thought them tasty and having an entrepreneurial spirit, started selling her robust snacks to construction workers repairing war damage in the Charlottenburg district of the devastated city. In 1951 Frau Heuwer patented her sauce, called Chillup. These days the fast food street food usually comes with fries or a bread roll.
If you want to try it at home, here is a recipe for a superior currywurst sauce from Saveur magazine:
Heat 2 T canola oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add 1 finely chopped large yellow onion; cook until soft, 8 to10 minutes. Add 2 T curry powder and 1 T hot paprika; cook for 1 more minute. Using your hands, crush 2 cups of whole peeled canned tomatoes (with juice) into a pan. Add half a cup sugar, quarter of a cup red wine vinegar, and salt to taste. Stir well. Increase heat to high; bring to a boil. Then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened (about 25 minutes). Purée in a blender until smooth. Strain sauce through a sieve. Serve hot over sausage. (Makes about 1 1/2 cups.)
The Deutsches Currywurst Museum has been designed as a walk-in, interactive experience in three dimensions. There are, among other things, scent components with vapors rising from sauce pots; a sausage soft; and a chef’s game for children called “Curry Up!” Visit the Currywurst Museum website for more information.
To get from San Francisco to Berlin, check out the Air Berlin website. Air Berlin, Germany’s second largest airline, is about to introduce a direct service from San Francisco to its Germany hubs. Air Berlin also flies from Germany into South Africa so you put currywurst and bunny chow on your culinary travel menu with one easy booking.
Copyright Wanda Hennig, 2010