Friday, 30 March 2012

Post Hamburg

No, nothing to do with the latest unreasonably high increase in stamps, but rather a few thoughts after the sausage trail trip to Hamburg.

It is very, very clear that however much I would like to think that the British banger is the shying light in the sausage world the Germans hold their wurst in far higher regard than us Brits do our sausages. Although there has been a resurgence in the popularity of the British sausage, indeed gourmet varieties have increased in their appeal and availability. TV chefs champion their cause and promote the re-appearance of rare breeds of pig and farming techniques returning from vague obscurity. In Germany the traditional is the starting point of revolution, the accepted basic wurst is evolving to a new high. Specialist sausage outlets, once the equivalent of our fish and chip emporiums, are grabbing the attention of more than the drunk on the street. For example, 'The Curry Queen' is growing in appeal and there is no reason why such an approach would not succeed in Britain.

I honestly believe that the British banger is as loved and enjoyed as the German wurst and as such a dedicated outlet, even a franchised one, would find a real place in our high streets and shopping precincts.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Hamburg Day 3

After yesterday's quest for fire at Geraldo's grill event, I decided that I would go on a quest for the common currywurst. With Matt's help and advice I was pretty confident that we would be able to find a street vendor and persuade him to sell us some sausages. We started off at the suggested 'Curry Pirates'. I had checked their website last night and was looking forward to trying their speciality and, 'The most expensive sausage in Germany' and perhaps even the world. This combined with the recommendation offered from Kim at yesterday's barbecue event had built the visit to such a point that I hoped that it would be on par with the Curry Queen. It was closed. A hastily scrawled note in the window helpfully informed the reader that they were closed all weekend. Bugger!

Refusing to accept this as the end of our quest Matt suggested that we try the harbour area as he was pretty sure that there would be somewhere that served currywurst. As we approached the harbour district we passed beneath a bridge where a number of squatters sat on new looking sofas, I suddenly remembered passing beneath the bridge in a taxi twenty years ago. It's strange what instigates a sudden attack of memory. After finally finding a parking space, Matt surreptitiously left his car in a private, corporate space. We walked along the front, passing many expensive offices and apartments,  until we reached a busy thoroughfare lined with waterside restaurants. Continuing until a sandy beach barred our way we stopped at an old bunker to consider our options. The shack, or trader that Matt had expected to find at the end of the walkway was not there.

We retraced our steps to the nearest restaurant, which Matt knew, where I ordered currywurst for me and Nachos for Matt and his son, Sam. I enjoyed the sausage, the sauce was not a patch on that served at the Curry Queen, where they not only have uniques sausages, but also have a number of unique sauces. Here they served a standard bratwurst with a standard curry sauce, the presentation was OK but the taste was mediocre. I supposed this could be described as the middle of the range currywurst.

Our next stop, after a drive through the affluent area of Blankenese, was a small 'embiss' at the foot of a rather steep hill where we should be able to buy some currywurst. Unfortunately, although sausage was on the menu, currywurst was not. They did, however, sell beer, in fact it appeared as though almost street vendor whether they sold newspapers, food or cars also sold beer (I made the last one up). There was one last option, a trip to the train station with the hope that with the amount of human traffic passing through should warrant a number of low end eating establishments.

As we passed F.C Pauli, Hamburg's second football team, it was evident that a game was taking place. This was encouraging as I expected that there would be places open at the railway station to accommodate the travelling fans. Whether this was true or not, we did in fact find exactly what I needed to complete the set, as it were, of sampling currywurst. I had tasted the best and a mid-range dish, now I could get stuck into a cheap and probably nasty version.

Mission accomplished!

Hamburg is a fantastic city, with so much more to offer than I thought twenty years ago upon my first visit. This time I have, yet again, on a visit to satisfy my goals for 'The Sausage Trail' scratched the surface of a destination that has so much to offer.

Many thanks to Matt and Alex for putting up with my obsession, providing me with their suggestions and advice, introducing me to their friends and taking me into their home. All in all a great weekend and one which I hope will lead to a future visit to Hamburg.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Take a Schantze on me - Hamburg day 2

After the success of yesterday I awoke, slightly hungover, with the hope that today would be yet another positive day. After a slow start we left around lunch time and after a brief stop at Alex and Matt's old apartment and a stop for Alex to buy some meat for our grilling appointment we parked up beside a very colourful fire station.

We walked the few hundred metres into the Schantze district, a rather bohemian neighbourhood with many roadside bars cafeterias and restaurants, many were already reaching capacity. We hadn't walked far before we came across an abandoned cinema, long since forgotten by the movie industry but not by the large number of squatters that moved in when the flicks moved out.

Not far from the squat we encountered a currywurst vendors, one of the most prevalent and popular fast-food type outlets in the city but, for me, too sanitised and sterile with no character. They were, however, doing a brisk trade. I opted not to eat at the curiously named Shmitt's Foxy Food as we were due at Geraldo's grill shortly so we wandered further into the district.

As we stood at a cross roads deciding which road to take a chorus of shouts came from behind me. Spinning round I witnessed the legendary 'Bier bus'. A group, very popular with stag parties, sit and all pedal as they drink and the driver steers them through the streets of Hamburg.
We ran out of road without encountering any further currywurst emporiums and decided to head on to Geraldo's barbecue. On the way back to the car I spotted a rather curious yet amusing advertisement on a street wall.

After a brief drive through the city we arrived at Geraldo's, he was preparing his newly constructed grill for its, literal, baptism by fire. Unfortunately, after a promising start the fire faded and despite Geraldo's best efforts he was unable to rekindle the embers sufficiently to cook the rest of meat. The steaks, which were cooked, were very, very tasty and well worth the wait.

When the sun finally sank below the horizon the air took on a chilly edge, with so many young children present it was time for bed, as it were. Speaking with one of the guests she gave a brilliant suggestion, I checked it out a few minutes ago and it looks like a red hot tip.

Hamburg - day 1

What a fantastic start to the Hamburg sausage trail.

I realised when I was planning the whole sausage calendar that Germany would have to figure strongly in there somewhere, the sausage tradition was too strong to ignore. In fact it is the German tradition that will form the US element of the sausage trail.

I have tried to ensure that each chapter and indeed each trip revolves around a unique theme, albeit still a sausagey one. Matt had carried out a degree of research regarding the target of my visit, the currywurst, and had come up with an establishment named 'Curry Queen'. I realise back home that this could be taken to mean an extremely camp balti chef but here the 'Curry Queen' is a popular and established brand. The traditional currywurst is a bratwurst sausage, sliced and covered in a tangy curry ketchup. At the 'Curry Queen' they have taken this idea and progressed it to the next level.

Matt and I arrived at the 'Curry Queen' for a late lunch. I had read some Google translated reviews on the restaurant and expected something far grander the the narrow, almost empty eating establishment that I found. Nestled between boutiques, with three tables on the street I could see how the restaurant could fill rather easily, one of the reviews had mentioned that at peak times it was not uncommon to queue for some time. The staff were warm and friendly and recommended the taster menu, six different curry sauces of increasing intensity on sliced Bratwurst. What can I say? It was different and a new experience but I could see how this was popular and how the 'Curry Queen' was one of the top currywurst restaurants in the count
ry. We spoke to the owners (a very, very interesting conversation but will saved for the book) who offered us their gourmet sausage 'on the house'. The Wagyu Kobe beef sausage was amazing. A couple of hours into my Hamburg jaunt and Matt had exposed me to enough material for the entire chapter.

Today we are 'grilling' as a friend of Matt's informed us, a barbecue on a beautiful day doesn't sound like work but believe me it is.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Hamburg on the horizon

It's almost time to begin the search for the famous currywurst. I leave for Hamburg early on Friday morning not really knowing what I will find. To be honest I'm viewing this trip as a bit of a random encounter, granted I'll be staying with an old mate and that in itself is well worth the trip but what about the sausage? I visited Hamburg many years ago when I was the Cumberland. We were invited to a reception with the burgermeisters of the city and were guests of honour at a very grand dinner. I felt tremendously out of place and was glad when the speeches were over and it was time to hit the pub, a choice I would avoid these days, The London Pub. With all of the beer Kellars in the region to choose from I, and in fact 90% of the ships company, chose a carbon copy of the ex-pats haunt from any one a thousand locations around the globe. Almost every night of our stay saw dozens of my ship mates drinking in the same establishment. One night in particular stuck out.

At that time, must have been 1991/1992, there were protests and demonstrations throughout Germany primarily against immigrants but generally against all non-Germans notably in Rostock. We were, as usual in the bar drinking heavily, I was standing in the rear section with a few mates talking bollocks. Suddenly the lights went out, the music stopped, the doors were shut and bolted and the staff urged us to keep quiet. There was more chance of getting Barry White to eat salad, almost to a man we crowded towards the windows to see what was happening outside. There seemed to be a great of shouting and chanting, through the gaps in the crowd I could sees large mob carrying banners and placards, some carried lumps of wood. Part of that mob stopped and gathered outside the pub, our crowd stared at them through the window, then someone waved at them and gave them a thumbs up. Then they were gone. It's only now, I mean just now, that I've ever looked into that riot, there seems to be a lot of violent activity in the area and I realise now how lucky we were.

This time, my visit will be in the spirit of sausagey solidarity, no book on sausages would be complete without a visit to Germany. Matt knows of at least one place that excels in the currywurst and I will carry out some research tonight and tomorrow.

Off to Gatwick tomorrow night, this will give me a chance to finish the Serbia chapter.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Caravans, clubs and uric acid

After the wash out last weekend at the caravan we returned to a more encouraging situation, though a tad chilly. Last week we arrived with the intention to stay for Friday night only with a visit to the club at Solent Breezes on the first night it opened. Sadly (or not) this was not to be. As usual, I assumed I knew better when it came to draining down the caravan for winter and didn't bother. I did however turn off the water as we had suffered a rather serious flood last year when the supply water pipe to the boiler burst and it was weeks before we discovered this. The caravan was completely flooded, the work surfaces in the kitchen had all lifted and the water had even reached the bedrooms, the carpets were sodden. Thankfully it was so cold that no bacteria had the chance to create a problem, we managed to dry everything out and save the day. This year when we arrived I turned the water back on and was rewarded by the sound of gushing liquid, I looked beneath the caravan and, as last year realised that the staff onsite had disconnected the main drain down points. I spent the next two hours crawling in the cold mud in the narrow space beneath the caravan, on my front and back through nettles and over the debris we had consigned to this out of sight area. When I emerged, confident that I had reconnected every pipe I looked definitely the worse for wear. Somewhat smugly I returned to the stopcock and turned the water back on. I swore like a Bulgarian pimp for a little while, there was still multiple leaks. I discovered a massive split in the copper supply pipe to the kitchen sink, after trying a running repair I gave up and we went home. The following day I rang the site and requested the assistance of someone who knew what they were doing. Returning the following afternoon the plumbers were present. There were four massive splits in pipes, which they fixed (bill still to arrive) but the weekend was over.

Today the water was on and the caravan was dry. I also installed a new TV antenna last weekend so we had a decent connection for the big analogue switch off so all was well. The boys and Beth have other arrangements tonight so it is just me, Emma, dad and Eddy spending the night. It appears that dad, at least is not interested in a visit to the club but I will be there in a few moments to have a cider and finish this blog. Taking time to wonder up there now. Change of plan, I'm waiting for Emma to get a trowel and finish her make-up.

I have mixed feeling regarding the club and indeed any club at holiday camps. The benefits are obvious, keeping the kids occupied and a nice cosy bar. The negatives are also obvious, tattooed shagwits banging on about football, bingo and some sub-human elements. I am a snob and I know it, I am also intolerant so if anyone reading this finds me sounding a bit of a twat, then that's fine.

Dad, went to the doctors this morning to check out a pain in his foot. It turns out he harm as suspected, gout. The build up of uric acid was triggered, evidently, by a large intake of maple syrup. He is hobbling around like a disabled rhino but other than this he is making a really good recovery.

Right off to the club.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Currywurst, pigs and crazy Hungarians

Now that the dust of travel has had time to settle I feel I can get back to writing a regular blog. It's not just the travel, Dad is making a recovery but until recently he has not been able to either travel or climb stairs which essentially has meant that he has been resident in our lounge for a month. Not a problem in itself but in a three bedroom house, seven does not go too well.

I am still writing about the Serbia trip, there is so much to capture and so many great people and encounters that I feel I need to spend as much time as I can recording the detail I remember before referring to notes and voice recordings.

I am pretty excited about my next upcoming trip, for more than a few reasons. Primarily, I will have the opportunity to hook up with an old buddy of mine and someone who I credit to setting me on the road to realising my own potential, hopefully I will also get the opportunity to meet his family too, it's been eight years so it is going to be so good to catch up. Secondly, Matt, that's the guy, has put me onto the trail of the currywurst. I mentioned this to an ex-army colleague without thought and was surprised at his reaction. Evidently currywurst is still a staple of the British Army catering menu, in much the same I guess as 'babies heads' are for the Navy. With currywurst having particular interest for the British Forces I looked into things a bit deeper. Matt had supplied me with some invaluable information about the controversy surrounding the creation of the sausage, which I won't go into here as there would be no point in buying my book. The crux of the matter, and the real focal point of my chapter on the subject is that there is an intense disagreement between Berlin and Hamburg as to which city saw the birth of the currywurst. I have an ingrained distrust of all that comes from capital cities and as such have thrown my hat into the Hamburg camp (camp Hamburg?). I am so looking forward to an urban safari in pursuit of the true, and wurst, of the wurst.

Still on the subject of sausages, whilst in Shetland Barbara expressed an intention to complete a course on bacon, that sounds a bit odd but believe me after looking into the subject the curing of bacon is no trivial matter. Again the gears started grinding and the result was that I realised that any book on sausages could not be complete without a chapter following my education on pig, slaughtering, butchering and subsequent sausage and bacon related creation activities. A swift Google moment followed and several courses presented themselves, many were up North but a few were nearby. The accompanying factor that Barb had told me would be the case was that in order to slaughter and butcher a pig the temperature needs to be reasonably low. I had not considered this but looking at the dates of all courses it was clear that after May there war none until September, Barbs comments were concrete. I know my choice of course will make many think that I am utilising the venue as a means to add colour to the book but please believe me when I say that the venue, date and indeed recommendation have coloured my choice rather than fame and popularity. The 'Pig in a day' course is booked for May at Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's 'River Cottage Farm' ticked all the boxes and will hopefully prove a colourful addition to the book.

I left Serbia over a week ago and have almost run out of Rakia. That in itself is a tragedy but what is worse is the surprise from all I have spoken to in the UK since my return at the amazing, perfect time I spent there. The perception from anyone who has not experienced the country recently is depressing. I saw a vibrant, welcoming, self-suffienct nation and would encourage anyone to take the time to get to know Serbia better, to experience the country and look beyond the prejudice and disdain generated by two decades of Western European media attention. OK they have great sausages and they have great Rakia but given a choice I would return to Serbia tomorrow. Serbia, as a landlocked country, is surrounded by several countries:
Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro and of course the disputed Kosovo. A country with so many borders and so many neighbours with their own cultural identities has no choice but to absorb and accommodate these into their own. Turija, in the North, has a definite Hungarian influence and one which I experienced with the sausages. The Hungarians I met at Kobisicijada were great. They were amongst the few founding members who sat over Rakia and Palinka charged glasses twenty-eight years ago and conceived the idea of the sausage festival in Turija. They took me to their hearts and have invited me to their festival in Bekescaba this October. I am about to drop theses crazy Hungarians an email.