One would be hard put to come up with a city whose signature dish is as unappealing as Berlin’s, though it ultimately makes some sense that a city as endlessly preoccupied with its own low-rent self-image would offer up to its visitors something as disgusting as currywurst. The only important, lingering question about currywurst is whether it ought to be avoided because it’s boring or because it’s gross. Partisans of boredom argue that currywurst ought never to be eaten on definitional grounds: Currywurst is cut-up hot dog, smothered in ketchup, then dusted with paprika. Surely Berlin’s most famous contribution to world food culture has to be more complicated than that?
Partisans of currywurst’s grossness would argue that there is, in fact, something more to it. There’s the option to have it mit (with) oder (or) ohne (without) Darm (Darm). Darm means guts. You can have your smothered, paprika-dusted cut-up hot dog either with sausage casing, or without. Either way, where English allows you to forget what sausage casing is made of, the Germans throw it in your face every time you forget that you should never, under any circumstances, eat currywurst by asking if you want it with or without guts. The reason that Berliners began eating it “without guts” is that there was once a guts shortage, and even after the guts shortage came to a reassuring end, there were Germans who thought, You know what? This disgusting cut-up hot dog we inexplicably like to eat? Well, we like it even better and even less explicably when it’s not cased in guts! Thus the gutless option endures to this day.
So, we return to the original question: What’s the best reason not to eat currywurst? Is it because it’s so uninspired, or because it’s so revolting? If currywurst continues to exist, future generations will be forced to keep up a pointless, ineffectual debate over this unanswerable question. My advice? Make sure never to run for mayor of Berlin. If you do, they not only make you eat it, they also take your picture.
Where: Berlin and Hamburg
Preparation: roasted or deep-fried, depending
Served: sliced and drenched with a ketchup–curry powder sauce, fries to the side
Reprinted from The Wurst of Lucky Peach. Copyright © 2016 by Lucky Peach, LLC. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC.