The Old Town in Bratislava could serve well as the set for one of those Eastern European towns in a Hammer film. Narrow streets nestle under the castle. In reality, they are full of tourists; in the films they tended to fill up with men with big moustaches and even bigger sticks and dogs who were gathering to hunt down the monstrous sub-human lurking in the forest. Having ticked our tourist card we need a drink; the inn, naturally, has rounded ceilings and huge, dark wooden tables. I order half a litre of beer called (also naturally) Franz-Josef while my wife has local wine. To lunch or not to lunch? It is 2.45pm: on the one hand the hotel breakfast was opulent, but on the other, we have had plenty of exercise. A compromise suggests itself: there are beer snacks (Slovakian tapas?) though Bratislava now operates in Slovak and English, so they are listed as “small meals to eat with beer”. We order the sausage, the trout and the local cheese.
The quest for sausages has been a consistent part of my life. We used to stock up on Newbold’s (of Middlesbrough), the best of English bangers. We make pilgrimages to Cowman’s (of Clitheroe) where the variety of sausages available is enormous. As a student hitch-hiker I used to love the wursten bought from German stalls, not least because they were all I could afford. I have a definite weakness for Turkish and North African sausages. But I have no expectations of East European food and am treating this sausage purely instrumentally, as a filler.
Till it arrives. Great gastronomic experiences, like love, are rarely found when you are looking for them. When the thing arrives it certainly looks interesting. It is about ten inches long and curved and about an inch and a half across. In colour it is a shade of red-brown so deep as to be almost black, though inside dark red predominates. It’s companions are about a month’s supply of mustard, some freshly grated horseradish, a jus of (I think) peppers and paprika and an ample supply of rye bread. It is hot, in every sense, succulent, meaty, spicy and satisfying. In fact it has those qualities to degrees I have never before encountered.
There is no such thing as the best sausage or the perfect sausage: the genre is too varied in style, culture and purpose to nominate such things. But there might be such a thing as the ultimate sausage, a thing which takes sausageiness to some kind of limit. And this might be it! It is delicious, but it isn’t too far from being disgusting and I know – without being told by Dr. Freud of nearby Vienna – that the delicious/disgusting frontier and overlap has too many sexual meanings and analogies, especially with sausages, but that point is not for labouring.
Because Bratislava now operates in Slovak and English I did not properly remark the name of the sausage. In Germany or Austria it would have been called a somethingwurst and I would have remembered the name. I don’t even know the Slovak word for sausage. Research on the internet suggests that it was more likely to be a Hungarian Debrecener than any of the things that are listed as Slovakian sausages. But Bratislava was once Pozsony and not just in Hungary, but the capital of Hungary. Later it was Pressburg and predominantly German-speaking. So perhaps it is the place where you would expect to find the ultimate sausage.
Out of respect for the sausage I ate no dinner that night.
Lincoln Allison September 2015