The Origins of Germany’s Beloved Fast Food, Currywurst

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Currywurst Origins

The unlikely pairing of Germany and curry has birthed a cultural icon in the form of currywurst. Renowned for its preference for hearty pork dishes and subtle flavors, Germany’s adoption of currywurst, a sliced sausage adorned with a tomato-based sauce enriched with spices like yellow curry powder and paprika, might seem surprising. However, this culinary delight has captured the German palate for more than fifty years, establishing itself as a popular choice no matter the time of day or level of inebriation. With variations ranging from modest street vendors offering servings for €4 (£3.40) to upscale interpretations paired with Champagne costing €25 (£21), currywurst’s ubiquity is undeniable. It fuels factory workers and inspires pop songs, even receiving attention from politicians and hosting dedicated festivals. But how did this unlikely favorite come into existence?

Origins of Currywurst

The genesis of currywurst doesn’t align with German culinary heritage; rather, it emerged from post-World War II circumstances. Intriguingly, the primary ingredients, ketchup and curry powder, were introduced to German kitchens during the US and British occupation.

Beyond this, the dish’s inception becomes hazier. German author Uwe Timm reminisces about indulging in platters of currywurst in Hamburg’s Grossneumarkt as early as 1947. However, this memory remains singular. Another claim arises from chef Ludwig Dinslage at Bückeburg Castle in Lower Saxony, asserting his preparation of a similar dish in 1946 for visiting British military personnel. The most widely circulated version of currywurst’s origins centers on Herta Heuwer, owner of a snack bar in Berlin. According to this account, on a rainy September night in 1949, she concocted the dish out of sheer luck and boredom in her kitchen. Combining curry powder, tomato paste, and Worcestershire sauce, she served it with a sausage in true German fashion. Dubbed ‘chillup’ (a fusion of chili and ketchup), this dish evolved into currywurst. By 1959, Heuwer had refined the recipe and patented the name, marking the documented inception of ‘currywurst.’

Subsequently, this dish has become a cornerstone of German fast food, with the nation consuming over 800 million portions annually.

The Crafting of Currywurst

The specifics of Heuwer’s original recipe remain a mystery, as she guarded it until her passing. However, this straightforward dish invites innovation. The core component is a tomato-based curry sauce. Variations include tomato concentrate with water, pureed tomatoes, and even ketchup, much to the dismay of culinary purists.

The allure resides in the spices, chiefly curry powder. Elevated renditions might involve a reduction of sugar, balsamic vinegar, garlic, ginger, cloves, apples, turmeric, and more. These ingredients blend with pureed tomatoes, simmering into a thickened sauce. Home cooks may even incorporate unconventional elements like pickle juice or Coca-Cola.

The choice of sausage, however, sparks regional debates. Berlin’s preference leans towards a standard casing-less sausage (‘ohne darm’), while the Ruhrgebiet region favors seared bratwurst. Frankfurt, on the other hand, cherishes beef sausages over traditional pork. Even Volkswagen produces a specialized bockwurst for this dish. Additionally, Germany embraces vegetarian and vegan sausages.

Sausages, boiled, seared, or grilled, are sliced and coated with curry sauce, crowned with fresh paprika or curry powder. The question of accompaniments also stirs controversy. Is it served with bread or fries? If bread, should it be dark rye or a white roll? Regardless of preference, the dish invites savoring and dipping.

Where to Relish Currywurst in Berlin

  1. Curry 36: A bustling spot day and night, Curry 36 is the go-to for currywurst enthusiasts in Berlin. Since 1981, it has drawn locals and tourists seeking the renowned currywurst experience. Seating is absent, making it a quick bite destination. Opt for the classic ‘ohne darm’ currywurst with a pilsner, and join others in savoring this Berliner tradition.

  2. Konnopke’s Imbiss: Underneath a subway line in Prenzlauer Berg, Konnopke’s Imbiss boasts a rich history. It sold East Berlin’s first currywurst in 1960, evolving into an institution serving various sausages and curry sauce with a spice range from mild to fiery.

  3. Bier’s Kudamm 195: The unconventional pairing of currywurst and Champagne characterizes this establishment. Open since 1965, it caters to diverse crowds, offering a choice of cased or uncased currywurst alongside a glass of Moët or Dom.

  4. Krasselt’s Imbiss: Essential on Berlin’s currywurst journey, Krasselt’s began as a food truck before establishing a permanent location in Steglitz. The current owner safeguards the curry ketchup recipe, resulting in a delectable experience that clarifies the secrecy.

For those interested, subscription to National Geographic Traveller (UK) magazine is available in select countries.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Currywurst Origins

What is currywurst?

Currywurst is a popular German fast food consisting of sliced sausage topped with tomato-based curry sauce, a blend of spices, and served with accompaniments like bread or fries.

How did currywurst originate in Germany?

Currywurst’s origin is traced back to post-World War II circumstances, influenced by ingredients introduced during the US and British occupation. The most popular story attributes its creation to Herta Heuwer, who blended curry powder, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, and served it with a sausage in her Berlin kitchen.

What are the main components of currywurst sauce?

The core of currywurst sauce is tomato-based, often involving tomato concentrate, pureed tomatoes, or even ketchup. The essential flavor comes from curry powder, but variations can include sugar, balsamic vinegar, garlic, ginger, cloves, apples, and more.

How is currywurst traditionally served?

The choice of sausage and accompaniments varies by region. In Berlin, ‘ohne darm’ (without casing) sausages are common, while other areas prefer bratwurst or beef sausages. Accompaniments might be bread or fries, with regional preferences for types of bread.

Where can I enjoy currywurst in Berlin?

Notable Berlin eateries for currywurst include Curry 36, Konnopke’s Imbiss, Bier’s Kudamm 195, and Krasselt’s Imbiss. Each offers its unique take on the dish, reflecting Berlin’s culinary diversity.

How popular is currywurst in Germany?

Currywurst has become a staple of German fast food culture, with Germans consuming over 800 million portions annually. It holds a special place in German food culture, celebrated through festivals, songs, and even political attention.

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2 comments

HistoryBuff42 August 12, 2023 - 6:17 am

post-war tales, tommy & curry powder in? curious combo, huh? herta’s kitchen magic’s legendary. currywurst, a piece of food history! #BerlinCuisine

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FoodieExplorer August 12, 2023 - 10:57 am

berlin’s street scene is lit! heard currywurst’s origin’s bit of a mystery. herta’s chillup is a legend. sausages, sauce, and vibes – gotta feel the wurst love!

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