LA goes crazy for Berlin Currywurst snack

The residents of Los Angeles and Berlin might not seem to have much in common at first glance, but health-conscious Californian hipsters have discovered a hankering for the German capital’s favourite snack food: the Currywurst. Caitlan Carroll reports.

LA goes crazy for Berlin Currywurst snack
Photo: Caitlan Carroll

Hardly anyone living in Berlin needs an introduction to Currywurst, a sliced sausage slathered in curry ketchup. Since the 1950s, this street snack can be found on most corners of the city. But in far away sunny California, the combination’s a novelty.

“It works well. It’s just definitely un-American,” says Millie Jefferson who laughs as she spears a piece of sausage with her tiny wooden fork. “It’s a mini vacation in my mouth.”

Jefferson and about a dozen other diners sit in Southern California’s first Currywurst restaurant called simply, “Berlin Currywurst.”

On a Saturday afternoon, the tables are packed full of tattooed twenty-somethings. They sample a variety of non-traditional combinations like Bockwurst with jalapeno, and paprika sausage doused in a tomato-jambalaya sauce.

The owners of “Berlin Currywurst,” Hardeep Manak, his wife Lena and their friend Haike Buentemeyer, moved from Berlin to Los Angeles last year to fill what they saw as a gap in Southern California’s culinary culture.

Manak says when they looked for interesting and inexpensive dining options in Los Angeles, “There was nothing much around. You had high-end dining, and fast food, but nothing in between. We asked ourselves why is there no Currywurst?”

The tiny restaurant squeezes into a strip of LA’s hip Silverlake neighbourhood. A gourmet gelato shop hawks flavours like goat cheese and Sicilian pistachio next door. Around the corner sits a gourmet vegan restaurant. It’s like restaurant row for hipster foodies.

Manak says even though many of his customers are adventurous eaters, this is their first time trying Currywurst.

“I would say 20-25 percent of the customers have been to Germany and know what Currywurst is,” says Manak. “But lots of people don’t know. They think it’s a kind of modern Indian and German fusion food. And they get even more confused when they find out my wife is German and I have an Indian background.”

Their restaurant pairs traditional preparation with modern flavours. The bread comes from a local German baker. The sausage is made by a German butcher. Even the small wooden forks are sent to the restaurant from Germany. To give the dish a modern twist, customers can add ingredients like chipotle, garlic and ginger to their bratwurst. A sauerkraut salad with oranges and carrots, or homemade french fries with onions are available on the side.

The restaurant’s only been open a few months, but local gourmands have taken notice. Food websites like Yelp and Chowhound rank the place high and customers like Matt Saladino pop in several times a week.

“Oh my God, it is so good,” says Saladino as he scarfs down a double portion of Currywurst. “I really could eat it everyday.”

Saladino says the décor at the restaurant is what first caught his eye. He liked the black and white photos of Berlin and the stripped down look. German food though was the real novelty for him.

“I work with a lady who is from Hamburg and so my only impression of German food was that Wienerschnitzel is not like the hot dog chain that we have…that it’s a pounded veal,” he says. “So I don’t know that much about German food. But after eating Currywurst here, I would like to get across the pond someday and try real German food in Berlin.”

Berlin Currywurst’s success is part of a German food phenomenon hitting the area. Since Manak’s restaurant opened this spring, another Currywurst joint popped up in Los Angeles. There are also two new German-themed restaurants in the city of angels and a third opening this fall.

The success could be a result of simple economics and aesthetics. These restaurants specialize at serving hardy food in a hip environment for under $10, a rarity in LA.

Manak is happy that the appetite for Currywurst is growing, but he sees his role in Los Angeles as more than a businessman.

“We are not just here to sell sausages. For us, it is also important to bring the message how the German youth culture is these days, especially in Berlin. It’s more than sauerkraut, biergarten, brezel and dirndl.”

When asked if he might bring his brand of Currywurst back to Berlin (especially the vegetarian sausage option), Manak says “Yeah, many Germans ask us that. They say our Currywurst tastes better than the original in Germany.”

Sacrilege? Perhaps Berlin’s signature snack simply tastes better sitting in the California sunshine.

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EXPLAINED: Berlin’s latest Covid rules

In response to rapidly rising Covid-19 infection rates, the Berlin Senate has introduced stricter rules, which came into force on Saturday, November 27th. Here's what you need to know.

A sign in front of a waxing studio in Berlin indicates the rule of the 2G system
A sign in front of a waxing studio indicates the rule of the 2G system with access only for fully vaccinated people and those who can show proof of recovery from Covid-19 as restrictions tighten in Berlin. STEFANIE LOOS / AFP

The Senate agreed on the tougher restrictions on Tuesday, November 23rd with the goal of reducing contacts and mobility, according to State Secretary of Health Martin Matz (SPD).

He explained after the meeting that these measures should slow the increase in Covid-19 infection rates, which was important as “the situation had, unfortunately, deteriorated over the past weeks”, according to media reports.

READ ALSO: Tougher Covid measures needed to stop 100,000 more deaths, warns top German virologist

Essentially, the new rules exclude from much of public life anyone who cannot show proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid-19. You’ll find more details of how different sectors are affected below.

If you haven’t been vaccinated or recovered (2G – geimpft (vaccinated) or genesen (recovered)) from Covid-19, then you can only go into shops for essential supplies, i.e. food shopping in supermarkets or to drugstores and pharmacies.

Many – but not all – of the rules for shopping are the same as those passed in the neighbouring state of Brandenburg in order to avoid promoting ‘shopping tourism’ with different restrictions in different states.

2G applies here, too, as well as the requirement to wear a mask with most places now no longer accepting a negative test for entry. Only minors are exempt from this requirement.

Sport, culture, clubs
Indoor sports halls will off-limits to anyone who hasn’t  been vaccinated or can’t show proof of recovery from Covid-19. 2G is also in force for cultural events, such as plays and concerts, where there’s also a requirement to wear a mask. 

In places where mask-wearing isn’t possible, such as dance clubs, then a negative test and social distancing are required (capacity is capped at 50 percent of the maximum).

Restaurants, bars, pubs (indoors)
You have to wear a mask in all of these places when you come in, leave or move around. You can only take your mask off while you’re sat down. 2G rules also apply here.

Hotels and other types of accommodation 
Restrictions are tougher here, too, with 2G now in force. This means that unvaccinated people can no longer get a room, even if they have a negative test.

For close-contact services, such as hairdressers and beauticians, it’s up to the service providers themselves to decide whether they require customers to wear masks or a negative test.

Football matches and other large-scale events
Rules have changed here, too. From December 1st, capacity will be limited to 5,000 people plus 50 percent of the total potential stadium or arena capacity. And only those who’ve been vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 will be allowed in. Masks are also compulsory.

For the Olympic Stadium, this means capacity will be capped at 42,000 spectators and 16,000 for the Alte Försterei stadium. 

3G rules – ie vaccinated, recovered or a negative test – still apply on the U-Bahn, S-Bahn, trams and buses in Berlin. It was not possible to tighten restrictions, Matz said, as the regulations were issued at national level.

According to the German Act on the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases, people have to wear a surgical mask or an FFP2 mask  on public transport.

Christmas markets
The Senate currently has no plans to cancel the capital’s Christmas markets, some of which have been open since Monday. 

According to Matz, 2G rules apply and wearing a mask is compulsory.

Schools and day-care
Pupils will still have to take Covid tests three times a week and, in classes where there are at least two children who test positive in the rapid antigen tests, then tests should be carried out daily for a week.  

Unlike in Brandenburg, there are currently no plans to move away from face-to-face teaching. The child-friendly ‘lollipop’ Covid tests will be made compulsory in day-care centres and parents will be required to confirm that the tests have been carried out. Day-care staff have to document the results.

What about vaccination centres?
Berlin wants to expand these and set up new ones, according to Matz. A new vaccination centre should open in the Ring centre at the end of the week and 50 soldiers from the German army have been helping at the vaccination centre at the Exhibition Centre each day since last week.

The capacity in the new vaccination centre in the Lindencenter in Lichtenberg is expected to be doubled. There are also additional vaccination appointments so that people can get their jabs more quickly. Currently, all appointments are fully booked well into the new year.