Los Angeles is not shy about its street food culture. Already, the gospel of Korean tacos has been evangelized across the culinary world.
But until recently, Berlin, another city with a raging appetite for street food, has been silent about its own iconic imbisse: the currywurst.
Berlin Currywurst, a German snack bar that opened three weeks ago in Silver Lake by three friends from Germany, is the first place to sell currywurst in Los Angeles.
The owners, Haike Büntemeyer and husband-and-wife duo Hardeep and Lena Manak, moved to Los Angeles from Germany three months ago. Their decision to leave their stable office jobs was set in motion after they visited friends in Los Angeles and were aghast that currywurst was nowhere to be found, despite the city’s hip, international street food culture.
The origin of currywurst holds as much historical and cultural significance as Korean tacos. Currywurst was invented in 1949 after World War II when a Berlin woman mixed popular ingredients she obtained from British soldiers and served it on top of the traditional German pork sausage.
Visit Berlin Currywurst and you’ll see why the dish became so popular among the Germans.
The menu is simple and minimalistic. You choose your sausages, from the basic bratwurst (pork) and rindswurst (beef), to the more innovative scharfe kasewurst (beef with jalapeno and cheese) and tofu-kielbasa.
For an extra 89 cents, you can also flavor your sauce four ways: fruity, chipotle, jambalaya or garlic. You then choose the level of heat or spice from a scale of one (Berlin calling) to four (Break the Wall), but co-owner Hardeep suggests sticking to the original no-heat sauce for currywurst virgins.
Listen to Hardeep’s advice, especially if you want to get the pure taste of currywurst. The safest and most authentic order is the bratwurst with the original sauce and minimal amount of heat. It is a tried-and-true combination that does not disappoint.
The all-natural pork sausage, plump in its natural casing, comes doused in a rich, brilliantly red sauce dusted in deep orange curry powder. The flavors dance from sweet to spicy, tangy and savory, tasting both familiar and eccentric.
Unlike the typical sausage-in-bun most Angelenos are used to, the fat sausage is cut into thick slices with no fluffy bun.
Instead, the dish is served alongside two hearty slices of Bauernbrot (German farmers bread), which hold a nice, crispy crust and a chewy, slightly sour crumb.
For vegetarians and vegans, the tofu-bratwurst is still a more-than-satisfactory option. The texture of the meatless sausage still retains a firm and juicy chew, though it lacks the intensity of real meat. But currywurst is really all about the sauce, so with a hefty scoop of the thick tomato-based sauce, even the most hard-core carnivores will approve.
Unless you were introduced to chili at a young age, stick to minimal heat or keep a sweetened drink nearby to cool your burning tongue. Hardeep was not kidding when he solemnly cautioned, several times, “I’m warning you, it’s incredibly spicy,” when I asked for the level four spice.
The heat stings from your cheeks down to your throat. It’s tolerable at the first, but by the last bite, your stomach will feel as if it was holding a hot brick. But, it is still delicious.
Hardeep said he limits the spice levels to four because of a previous lawsuit in which a man’s glands swelled from the heat.
But he divulged that a doubly fiery recipe is in the works, although he will keep the option in a hidden menu only for experienced spice daredevils.
Berlin Currywurst also sells the iconic fritten, hand-cut fries made from organic potatoes. Try them topped with grilled, buttery onions or jambalaya (a lemony spice, not the Creole stew), and dipped into mayonnaise, which Berlin Currywurst provides in a bottle at every table. The fries, which have an orange hue like sweet potatoes, are thick and nicely crisped, holding up to the toppings well.
For the amount of flavor its menu provides, Berlin Currywurst is tiny. It barely has space to squeeze in 15 customers.
That means parking is a pain, but this is Los Angeles. Given that the currywurst stands in Berlin barely provide seats at all, Berlin Currywurst is as original as it can get.
Berlin Currywurst is located on 3827 West Sunset Blvd.