I’ve been reading The Photobook: a History, Volume 3, by Martin Parr and Gerry Badger. All three volumes in the series feature certain books containing photographs of food, though most of them are a very long way from being the conventional notion of “food photograph.” This is a relief.
The new volume, for example, contains The Catalogue of Meat Products, Conserves and Lard (1973), with photographs by Jiøí Putta, made for some Czech government department, and it’s an absolute wonder. There’s also America’s Favorites by Kay Lee, deadpan color photographs from the 1980s of junk-ish food: Oreos, Puffed Cheese Doodles, and of course Wonder Bread.
But most intriguing is a series of 96 books edited Joachim Schmid titled Other People’s Photographs. Each book contains 32 thematically related images harvested from online photo sharing sites. Quite a few of them feature food and one of them is titled Currywurst and it looks like this:
Now it just so happens that here in LA there’s a newish restaurant named Berlin Currywurst. I thought the universe was sending me a message that I had to go.
I’ve eaten currywurst in Germany just once, in Munich, bought from a van in the street, and to be honest I’d expected to like it more than I did. It was a sausage on a paper plate, sitting in tomato sauce, with some curry powder sprinkled over it. This seems to be the classic form, and subtle it’s not, but then who wants their street food to be subtle.
Well, I think the people at Berlin Currywurst in Los Angeles do want their currywurst to be subtle, or at least a bit fancy. It’s one of those restaurants, there seem to be more and more of them, where you can’t just go in and say “I want one of those.” Here you go to a counter and you have to specify the kind of sausage, the kind of bread, the kind of sauce and the strength of the seasoning sprinkled on top. There was none of this choice in Munich as I recall.
So you order and go out to the beer garden, which is very pleasant indeed, and they bring it to you and it was all perfectly decent, (I had the bockwurst, Kreuzberg sauce, and the Berlin Calling level of hotness, if you care) and we’d ordered some rosemary and garlic fries (fritten, to be linguistically correct) and I had a glass of Hacker Gold, and it all made for a very agreeable weekday lunch. It looked like this:
My German pal Marco who was there and enjoyed it perfectly well said this was a rather high end currywurst. In Germany it would have been more “working class” with more sauce and no choice of sausage. And of course nobody in their right mind in Germany would pay 8 or 9 dollars for currywurst.
Meanwhile, quite independently, another friend, now in Berlin, Susanna Forrest, directed me (though I don’t suppose I’ll be going there in the foreseeable future) to the Deutsches Currywurst Museum Berlin, which allows visitors to discover the history of currywurst. The interior looks this:
A triumph of style over content perhaps but it looks like fun, and I suppose (in some sense) you get to eat the exhibits, or a version of them anyway. Here’s what they sell:
I wish the place in LA had had fowl currywurst. I’d have snapped it.