“After 11 years I finally found it,” a German colleague told me over lunch the other day. He wasn’t talking about the perfect job. He was talking about currywurst, sliced sausage smothered in ketchup and curry powder. It’s a diner or street-food dish, most popular in Berlin. To understand the popularity of currywurst, you need to know that there is a currywurst museum in Berlin. You also need to know, said my colleague, that the sausage must be grilled, and must not contain boiled Vienna sausages.
It was at Kaiserhof (B1 Shin-Tokyo Bldg., 3-3-1 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo; 03-5224-6028; www.eyema-ent.co.jp) that the currywurst, properly prepared, was discovered at last. (Well, almost properly prepared: French fries would have been better than grilled potatoes.) Kaiserhof does a number of German classics, such as eisbein (pickled ham hock), spätzle (pasta-like dumplings) and a whole lot of wurst (sausages). The latter are served on hot cast-iron pans with sauerkraut, flavored — appropriately — with caraway seeds. There’s apfelstrudel (apple strudel) for dessert. Given the chandeliers, Baroque ceiling paintings and waitresses in lederhosen, Kaiserhof could be unbearably (or delightfully) kitsch. Surprisingly it isn’t, perhaps because the food clearly comes first. It’s actually a casual, comfortable place. Currywurst is ¥1,580.
The folks behind Kaiserhof also run the beer hall Zum Bierhof, with locations in Shinjuku (5F Imamiya Bldg., 1-16-1 Kabukicho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo; 03-5155-0908) and Shibuya (4F Chitose Kaikan Bldg., 13-8 Udagawacho, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo; 03-5459-1598; www.eyema-ent.co.jp). The menu at Zum Bierhof isn’t as extensive or as fancy as at Kaiserhof, but you can get currywurst (and it’s cheaper, at ¥1,029). Both Kaiserhof and Zum Bierhof serve beer from Hofbräuhaus, Munich’s famous 400-year-old beer hall (though at a hefty mark-up). And yes, you can get it in a mass (1-liter beer mug).
You’d think there would be more places doing currywurst, considering how popular curry and German-style sausages are in Japan. Instead, finding it is like finding an underground club. At least that’s how I felt when a different colleague told me about Zwei German Night at Tractor Bar (106 Prince Co-op, 1-3-5 Nakameguro, Meguro-ku, Tokyo; 03-6303-3291; tractor.jp.net).
Tractor Bar — all minimalist concrete and banged-up vintage chairs — is a far cry from Tokyo’s stereotypical German beer halls (though it does look like something that might actually be cool in Berlin). Yet once a month (check the bar’s Facebook page for dates), courtesy of a Berlin host, there’s currywurst on the menu (¥600) and Krautrock on the stereo. Says my colleague: “They make everything from scratch, which includes the sausages and sourdough bread rolls. (It’s) real Berlin-style currywurst with a secret-sauce recipe.”
There’s also König (1-17-10 Kichijoji Minamicho, Musashino, Tokyo; 0422-49-4186; www9.plala.or.jp/KOENIG) Here it is served takeaway style (¥500), in Styrofoam bowls. König is steps from Inokashira Park and also does other picnic-ready items such as grilled sausages and leberkäse (“liver cheese”) sandwiches; there is also a fridge full of German beers.
Alternatively, you could just pack an insulated bag full of König’s award-winning “Kichijoji” bratwurst (pork sausages flavored with fois gras, truffles and pistachios), leberwurst (liver paste) and kassler (cured pork) and head home to stock your fridge. Also available: Hela brand curry gewürz (spice) ketchup — the topping for currywurst — which presumably would be good on just about everything.
König’s main shop (5-17-22 Midoricho, Koganei, Tokyo; 042-381-4186) has a bigger selection of deli meats, but no eat-in space (and thus no currywurst).
On the subject of sausage, another German friend recommended Chozumeya Kamakura (12-5 Onarimachi, Kamakura; 0467-33-4986; www.kamakura-soseiji.com), a takeaway counter that does a brisk trade in hot-off-the-grill handmade sausages. Chozumeya (www.gunraku.co.jp) has established a mini empire in Kamakura, with two other shops nearby, that is part of a larger empire that includes shops in Karuizawa and Nasu. Chozumeya uses domestic pork and German know-how to turn out some pretty fantastic schinken’ (ham), bologna and salami. It can ship anywhere in Japan, too.
Rebecca Milner is a freelance writer in Tokyo and coauthor of Lonely Planet’s travel guides to Tokyo and Japan.
Don’t forget the bread
French bakeries (and I-don’t-know-what bakeries) are far more common in Japan than German bäckerei, but there are a handful of good ones. In Tokyo, Linde (1-11-27 Kichijoji Honcho, Musashino, Tokyo; 0422-23-1412; www.lindtraud.com) is the one that gets recommended more often than not. Linde has a truly impressive selection, including such hearty staples as roggenvollkornbrot (100-percent rye bread) and müslibrot (bread stuffed with oats, seeds and dried fruit — just like muesli baked into bread) and lighter confections, like Berliner (jelly donuts).
Tokyo Freundlieb (5-1-23 Hiroo, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo; 03-3473-2563; homepage2.nifty.com/t-freundlieb) is also good for staples such as pumpernickel and snacks like pretzels and stangen (bread sticks, here flavored with caraway seeds). Tucked away in a very lucky residential neighborhood in Ota-ku, tiny Schomaker (1-59-10 Kita Senzoku, Ota-ku, Tokyo; 03-3727-5201; www.schomaker.jp) does an amazing, dense sonnenblumenbrot (sunflower-seed rye bread). The owner studied in Germany at organic bakery Die Biobäckerei Schomaker and uses its recipes.