Is the Döner Kebab More German than Currywurst?

updated May 24, 2019
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(Image credit: Kitchn)

Germany is, of course, known for its Wurst. But its sausage obsession goes beyond your standard Brats. There are Knackwursts and Bierwursts, Liverwursts and Weisswursts, and in Berlin, where I live, the most street-food snack love goes to Currywurst.

But sausage isn’t the only meaty treat in town. For disco-loving Berliners, the preferred late-night repast is actually the Döner Kebab.

But which is better? Read on — and decide for yourself.

(Image credit: Kai Hendry)

What Is Currywurst?

Currywurst is such a simple food that it feels a bit ridiculous to describe it, but here goes: It’s a sausage that’s steamed, quickly deep-fried, then sliced into bite-sized pieces on a small paper tray and covered with a curry-ketchup tomato sauce and a few shakes of curry powder.

It can be served either with or without its skin (mit oder ohne Darm); traditionalists go without. You can also specify whether you’d like it with more curry (extra scharf, bitte!). Then you hang on tight to the little plastic Currywurst fork, sidle away from the snack bar window, and dig in.

Take-home tip: Ketchup with curry powder and a grilled sausage magically becomes way more than the sum of its parts — try some curry ketchup on a hot dog and let me know how it goes.

The process might be uncomplicated, but Currywurst’s unfussiness is key to its appeal. And if you are in the ketchup-is-a-vegetable camp, you’ll find that this Wurst is just for you. The sausage is really just a vehicle for eating ketchup-y sauce.

It’s also the ultimate egalitarian snack: Currywurst costs less than 3 Euros and is usually eaten standing up. From businessmen on a lunch break to late-nighters, Germans manage to eat over 800 million Currywurst annually.

Fun fact: There’s even a museum of Currywurst in Berlin, with a built-in Currywurst café, of course. The museum tells the story of the Wurst’s humble post-war origins in 1949 and details each of the ingredients (the most carefully guarded is the ketchup or tomato sauce) — complete with theme songs and interactive games.

(Image credit: Kai Hendry)

What Is Döner Kebab?

Döner kebabs might seem like an exotic treat, but they’re just as German as Wurst or beer. While shaved meat kebabs exist throughout the Mediterranean (like the gyro or schwarma), the Döner kebab is Berlin through and through.

It might seem crazy that you can find a Döner shop on nearly every corner of the city, until you realize that Berlin has the largest Turkish population outside Turkey itself. Over half a million Turkish “guest workers” came to West Germany in the 1960s and ’70s as part of an economic development program — among them was Kadir Nurman, who is credited with inventing the Döner in its current form.

A Döner starts with a rotating, inverted cone of meat, seasoned with cumin and paprika. The outer layer crisps up through the heat of a lamp while the inside remains safely frozen.

The shaved meat is piled onto either a crispy-on-the-outside, doughy-on-the-inside flatbread or a lavash. It’s then loaded up with your choice of sauce (garlic, herb, or hot sauce) and Salat Komplett: tomatoes, onions chopped up with parsley, and red cabbage.

It’s crazy delicious and, like the Currywurst, a very affordable treat.

Take-home tip: This street food snack is too crazy to replicate, but take a lesson from Sam Sifton’s slightly obsessive attempts to recreate schwarma at home. He roasts chicken thighs on high heat, flipping more than you’d think. He then slices them thinly and slathers them in mayo-based sauces. Add a pile of shredded red cabbage, put on some techno, and close your eyes: you could be in Berlin.

Which do you prefer? Are you team Currywurst or Döner?