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Visiting chefs show why currywurst is hot stuff

By Mike Peters ( China Daily ) Updated: 2015-09-11 08:05:10

Visiting chefs show why currywurst is hot stuff

Kebabs with curry sauce by German culinary masters Timo Winter and Dietmar Haubold. Photo provided to China Daily

When German curry masters Timo Winter and Dietmar Haubold recently brought their trademark sauce to Beijing, the sausage party quickly turned into a macho-man contest.

"How much heat can you take?" Winter challenges the crowd at the opening night event at the Kempinski Hotel. "We have three levels of spiciness: Girls, Boys and Men."

Girls?

As that mildest sauce is served around the table by the two chefs, I lean over to where three Chinese women are sampling it.

"What are they saying?" I ask. "That 'girls' can't handle a little spice?"

They all laugh.

"Maybe they haven't met Chinese girls yet," the extrovert in the group says.

The first sauce is deliciously savory, with just a kiss of chili heat. The "Boys" version has substantially more chili bite - delivering a nice balance of sauce and sausage flavor. "This is by far our best seller," acknowledges Winter.

When the "Men"-level curry sauce makes the round, it quickly becomes the crowd favorite. In a show of hands, almost half of the three dozen guests sitting at our tables set up in a U-shape vote for the spiciest sauce, which features one of the world's hottest peppers, the habanero. The voting may have reflected some bravado, but there wasn't much sexism evident. Several men liked the mildest version, and voters in the "hottest" camp were evenly split between the genders.

The habanero pepper is a Caribbean native, and it reflects the painstaking search by the two chefs to achieve a great balance of flavors.

The currywurst shot to global fame as a street food invented in Berlin soon after World War II. Both the German capital and Hamburg claim to make the best version of the grilled sausage served up in a curry-seasoned ketchup - popular for lunch and as an evening snack - but Winter says he and Haubold thought the dish could rise far above ketchup. The two chefs started a hunt for "the best sauce ever" in 2007 before eventually deciding to take matters into their own hands. In their native Ruhr, an urban area of North Rhine-Westphalia state, they dabbled with spices that would deliver real taste in a recipe without artificial additives, aromas or colorings.

The result is Ruhrfeuer, in three levels of heat. The ingredients include no substances of animal origin, so Ruhrfeuer can be enjoyed in vegetarian and even vegan dishes, they say.

Besides reaching to the Caribbean for the habanero pepper, the "Currywurst Brothers" (aka the Shashlik Brothers) often create special recipes when they take their cooking station abroad for a road show. That's the case in Beijing, where they've crafted a Beijing edition of their Boys-level sauce with lychee and Sichuan peppercorns added for local flavor. It's packaged in jars exclusively for sale in the hotel's Kempi Deli.

"We gained a lot of weight and went through some bad tasting experiences looking for the best sauce," says Winter with a laugh. "But now we've got just the flavors we want."

The special curry dishes will be served a la carte at the hotel's Paulaner restaurant through Oct 8.

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