(My apologies for the blurry pictures. I was so excited my hands were shaking.)
Those of you who follow me on Twitter or Facebook may have noticed that I’m talking a lot about currywurst. Currywurst is to Hamburg and Berlin what pizza and bagels are to New York, what hot dogs are to Chicago, and what tempeh sandwiches are to Eugene, Oregon. It’s a hotly contended topic of food conversation here in Hamburg: who has the best currywurst. What is currywurst? It’s very quintessential essence consists of a hot dog swimming in a tangy ketchup-based sauce and sprinkled with curry powder. The cheapest versions, served from small outdoor kiosks, are made from crappy hot dogs and a syrupy sweet sauce. The best are comprised of incredibly well made artisanal sausages–usually weisswurst (an incredibly light and creamy veal sausage). And the sauce that these wursts swim in, while still tomato based with a sweet-and-sour kick, are typically a lot more refined. People keep telling me it’s an acquired taste, but I don’t see any reason at all why someone wouldn’t or couldn’t love it.
I’ve been sampling a lot of currywurst around Hamburg (also while in Berlin for a day), and while I can even say the crappy versions are pretty damn good (you know–the In-n-Out burger phenomenon applied to currywurst), the best I’ve had was at Currywurst Queen. This is a gourmet version of the street snack, but by no means overwrought. The Queen has hand-blended ten different varieties of curry spice mixtures, with names like Curry Mumbai and Curry Jaipur. I ordered a sample plate that consisted of six different little tastes of weisswurst covered with the same sauce and each with a different spice mixture on top. All of them were brilliant. I don’t think I’ve ever described a sausage as being fluffy, but this weisswurst was. The sauce was vinegary and sweet in all the right ways, and the spice mixtures all made each taste a new experience.
I also ordered what I consider to be the best potato and bacon salad I’ve eaten in my 34 years of life (sorry, Mom) as well as a kraut salad that was spiked with what tasted like just a touch of fish sauce. I know that “writers” are not supposed to write things like “It kind of blew my mind,” but, screw it. It really did. I also ordered a water buffalo sausage, that had good flavor but needed a lot more fat in it, and a lamb sausage that suffered from the same problem.
To wash it all down we bought a bottle of Ferran Adria’s (of El Bulli fame, yes) beer. I’d never heard of it or seen it in the States, but if you can get your hands on it, it’s pretty much the most brilliant food beer I’ve tasted (apologies for the profuse hyberbole in this post). It’s called Inedit, which means “never been done before,” and the brew is a collaboration between the guys at El Bulli and the brewmasters at Estrella Damm. Adria specifically created this beer to pair with the most challenging foods: Foods that contain citrus and oils (i.e. salads) as well as vinegar-based sauces. It’s also meant to go with bitter food notes (like those that can be found in asparagus, artichokes, and arugula) and with oily textures (like those that can be found in salmon, tuna, and fatty cheese). The beer is a cross between a lager and a wheat-style beer, and uses a combination of barley malt, wheat, hops, coriander, orange peel, yeast, and water. It’s very lightly carbonated, almost opaque in appearance, and it’s absolutely brilliant, which, yes, I did say already. It’s especially with currywurst. I hope someone is bringing this into to Portland or will soon.
I told Ben Meyer, chef and owner of Grain & Gristle, who will be teaching more classes with the PMC the summer, about my currywurst obsession. Imagine my happiness when he told me he’d been working on a currywurst recipe for some time and plans on introducing it on his next menu! Hey, Ben, will you serve it with El Bulli’s beer too?