Curry Time Travel The magical ability for food to catapult us back through time into our own past is one of the most amazing things about our sense of taste, and no one has done more in writing to illustrate it that Marcel Proust--his evocation of his past through a bite of a madeleine is so famous that I know it without ever having gone anywhere near In Search of Lost Time (or Remembrance of Things Past if you prefer the old translation).
My recent time traveling started around Oktoberfest, when I rediscovered currywurst. A trip to the fantastic street cart Hallo Berlin brought it all back to me.
Currywurst was invented relatively recently in Berlin, and has apparently become one of the most popular street snacks in the city and in Germany. It is essentially bratwurst slathered in curry ketchup, or regular ketchup sprinkled with curry powder, or, as they do at Hallo Berlin, curry ketchup sprinkled with curry powder. It's become so popular in Germany that the Deutsches Currywurst Museum opened in Berlin in August of last year, an entire museum devoted to the cuisine.
I first had curry ketchup on my first day in Germany, back when I was 17 and in Berlin on a monthlong school trip. We'd been in the country about six hours and our first big outing was to see a soccer game at the Olympic Stadium. We'd yet to start testing our boundaries and start drinking, had no interest in soccer at the time, and were punchdrunk with jetlag. My friend Amanda and I roamed the stadium and started eating. We got some french fries, fearful that they would put mayo on them (we'd seen Pulp Fiction, after all, though apparently not paid very close attention to it), but managed to get them with ketchup instead. Awesome ketchup. Curry ketchup.
We sat on a bench, tucked into our fries and cleaned them out before we even looked up. It was only then that I realized something: oh yeah! I've seen photos of Hitler shouting from this very spot. Olympic Stadium. Those Olympics.
It was a memorable day. The drinking started later that night. We've forgotten most of that.
I next had it completely by accident on the streets of Vienna. During my entire time backpacking across Europe, I mostly survived on street food: Falafel and panini on the streets of France, chips shops in the UK along with doner kebabs. Austria was all about sausage, and the currywurst craze had caught on there. That's where I first put a name to the taste.
If you're unlucky, an amazing food will take you back to one moment in time. It's nice to be able to travel up and down memory lane with a food. It's even better to be experience that taste enough so you don't even remember all the times you've had it: my girlfriend came back from visiting her parents over Christmas with a bottle of curry ketchup. Now I can have it every morning, if I choose, with my hash browns. Hitler never shouted from my kitchen, but at least it's home.