Currywurst has officially hit the streets of New York. Now, as I understand it, there are a couple currywurst spots in NYC but I happened to be in SoHo this week and couldn’t help but stop in for a quick sample at the flagship Currywurst Bros. restaurant on Bleeker Street. For those of you who aren’t familiar with currywurst, it’s essentially a bowl of sausage sliced and drenched in a ketchup-like sauce and seasoned with curry powder. In Germany, it’s served from food trucks and carts on the streets as well as in sit down establishments.
As this was my first run-in with Currywurst Bros., I spent a little bit of time with the helpful staff who gave me the skinny on what to expect. As the two employees explained to me, I could get a variety of different sausages on a bun OR have it served traditionally in a bowl slathered in the secret sauce. I went for the traditional experience because, let’s be honest, you can get a sausage sandwich just about anywhere. Since the heat level of currywurst sauce can vary as much as the weather, they offer 8 different curry powder options to help you spice it up. Check out the Currywurst Bros menu for a description of each kind. I chose the No. 8 curry powder. I was told it had some heat but I didn’t feel it. It was tasty though.
In terms of sausage, I got the veal and was quite pleased with the flavor and the fresh snap I got even though they were cut into little chunks. The sauce can best be described to Americans as a sweet, light barbecue sauce. They even give you a little roll to soak up the excess sauce.
Overall, my New York currywurst experience was great. I hope I cross paths with another shop sometime in the future. I may also try to make some of my own. There are a couple recipes below as well as a little background info for those of you who can’t get enough.
History of Currywurst
While there is some debate about the origin of currywurst, it’s invention is typically attributed to a woman named Herta Heuwer from Berlin. In 1949, British soldiers traded her curry powder, ketchup and Worcestershire sauce for some of her spirits and alcohol. Germans at this time had seen Americans eating steak with ketchup. While Germans could not afford steak, they had ketchup readily available. She came up with an idea to mix the ingredients together and then pour the sauce over hot grilled sausage instead.
When she realized that she had created a cheap and filling dish, she began to sell the snack to construction workers in the Charlottenburg district of Berlin. In 1951, she patented the concoction, naming it “Chillup.” When business was at its finest, she was selling 10,000 servings of currwurst per week and later opened up a restaurant which remained in operation until 1974. Currywurst is so iconic today that politicians who are running for office are advised to be photographed eating currywurst so they appear to be a man or woman of the people.
Consumption of Currywurst in Germany
Currywurst is usually sold in food booths using a machine that slices it into pieces. It is then served on a paper plate with a plastic fork and is eaten standing up at a high table due to the messy nature of the dish. You can also find it in grocery stores to prepare at home. While there are restaurants and diners that serve currywurst, you can find it more frequently as a take-out food, a snack or a street-food. It is typically served with rolls or with French fries with mayonnaise.
Currwurst is the culinary symbol of Germany, so it seems fitting that its 82 million people consume over 800 million servings per year. Its greatest popularity is in the metropolitan areas of Hamburg, Berlin and the Ruhr Area.
Preparation of Currywurst
Currywurst is to Germans what fish and chips are to the English…a staple in the fast food diet. The main metropolitan areas of Germany all have variations of currywurst including different types of sausage and the sauce’s ingredients. You can choose the type of sausage you would like including bratwurst, bockwurst, Polish smoked sausage or even tofu. No two currywursts are the same, but its basic form consists of grilled or fried bratwurst, or pork sausage, sliced and topped with a sauce that resembles gravy and is made up of curry and stewed tomatoes or ketchup. Some people also like to add paprika or chopped onions to both the sauce and on top of the French fries. However, no one knows what the original dish’s ingredients were because Heuwer never told anyone her recipe.
If you can’t make it to Germany anytime soon and you want to try a currywurst, try one of these recipes and make one yourself. The process is simple and you can even purchase ready-to-use curry ketchup and sauce from your local grocery store. It may not be as delicious without standing at a high-top table with your friends on the streets of Berlin, but you will at least begin to understand why this dish is so popular in Germany: