On one of my first visits to Germany – back in 1979 – I was introduced to a snack of fried, sliced sausage covered in spicy tomato sauce served with fries on the side.
This, I was told, was the nation’s favourite dish. I, too, took to it, so much so, in fact, that I tried to make it myself back home in London.
I never successfully managed to reproduce the sauce’s consistency and taste, though, and I couldn’t find the right sausages. The fries were easier to come by, but without the rest, little remained of the dish I remembered.
What I had acquired a taste for was Currywurst, Germany’s beloved fast-food dish, popular especially [here] in Berlin, where it is eaten in more fast-food outlets than in any other city in the country. But where did it come from, and why was it so difficult to copy at home, given the ubiquity of curry in Britain?
This is even more strange when you learn that the Currywurst has Britain to thank for its very existence. In 1949, Herta Heuwer, former dressmaker, saleswoman and home economics student, ran a fast-food stand at the junction of Kaiser-Friedrichstrasse and Kantstrasse in the British sector of Berlin. Ingredients were hard to come by, but Herta had the wartime knack for making things with limited resources. From the British forces she managed to procure tomato paste and curry powder, and on September 4, 1949, she concocted a sauce of those two parts, plus what else was cheap and at hand. What she made was not the British version of the Indian kari – the hot, spicy sauce used for meat, fish and vegetable dishes – but a very German Currysoße. Tomato paste, onion, vinegar, vegetable oil and sugar, plus a good dusting of curry powder. The sausage was and is more often than not a Bratwurst; in the former East Germany it comes in an inexpensively produced skinless version. The curry taste, which the British returning home from India could not live without, and, so to say, remade in their own image, had been adapted again to fit the German palate.
So that is what makes up the Currywurst dish and how, in post-war Germany’s hard-pressed economy, it became the favourite snack. Thanks to cheap ingredients, an entrepreneurial saleswoman, and the British love of curry.