On Hitchhiking to Heaven With a Blood Sausage

While you can bet your bottom dollar that I will be writing about routines, relationships, and real-life magic until the words within me dry up, I promise that not every dispatch is going to center around these topics. I tend to think about these subject matters frequently, and so it made sense for me to flush them out before I start rambling on about other things. Not every dispatch is going to be so, uh, personal. Otherwise, people may be scared to hang out with me, not knowing what I will write! Which reminds me of a quote by Anne Lamott, “If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”

Anyway, while I would love to pretend that I see profound ironies daily, the fact is I very much don’t. So, I imagine that most dispatches will be about a thought-provoking piece of art I saw, a dance or song I blessed cursed the world with, a funny tour guide who brought history to life, or a fantastic meal I devoured. This one is about food. And, not just any basic food, but blood sausage at Düsseldorf’s oldest brewery.

Let me set the scene.

People in Düsseldorf take their beer very seriously. Each region in Germany is known for its distinctive kind of beer and, in Düsseldorf, that is altbier. A copper colored beer that is darker than most, altbier has a light to medium body and a slightly bitter, fruity, hop taste.

The city’s old cobbled-stone town (Altstadt) is home to “the longest bar in the world” thanks to the 300+ bars that sit next to each other. Within this area, there are a variety of breweries that brew their own altbier in-house and serve only their version.

At all times of the day, these breweries are overflowing with locals. You will see solo men in business suits chattering away on their phones while having a glass. At the next table will be a family, the baby sleeping peacefully next to the parents catching up. There will be groups of rowdy young men in football shirts and couples ranging from Tinder first dates to marriages that have lasted 50 years. Everyone is invited; you merely sit yourself down at a table and wait for the servers to appear.

It is a way of life in these parts. Altbier means “old beer,” and it is believed to have been consumed for over 3,000 years.

The system is unlike anything I have ever seen before. As the brewery only serves one beer, servers will bring glasses around on a serving tray and hand them out to your whole party. For each beer they put on the table, they will mark it on a coaster to keep a tally throughout your stay. Always walking around with beers, they won’t stop giving you another one until you forcefully say no (and put a coaster over your cup).

I love Germany, so much so that I am considering attempting to learn German; however, there is one glaring issue with me integrating myself into this country – I don’t drink beer. Never have, probably never will. This lifestyle choice baffles every German, but I have found that if I start to explain in relative detail what it does to my stomach, they tend to back-off. Hah!

Most places in Germany do serve other drinks as well as beer, but not in the breweries in Düsseldorf. Upon asking what my other options were, the server replied “beer, water, and apple juice.” Right. So, to make up for my cultural faux pas, I had to go for the next best thing – Himmel und Erde which translates to “heaven and earth.”

When I told my Couchsurfing host that it was the one thing I wanted to try while in the city, he warned me that it wouldn’t be the most beautiful dish I have ever looked at, but it would be utterly delicious. He wanted to drink beer; I fancied hitchhiking to heaven with a blood sausage, so we headed to Brauerei Schumacher, as it is mainly in the traditional breweries that you will come upon this dish.

This classic dish from Düsseldorf and Cologne consists of black pudding, applesauce, mashed potatoes, and onions. The sweet taste of the applesauce corresponds to heaven (and the fact that apples come from trees), while the grounding sensation of the potatoes assures your taste-buds remain planted here on earth. I am not sure how the black pudding plays into the name…

For the uninitiated, black pudding is a type of blood sausage frequently found in Great Britain and, apparently, Germany. Made from pork fat, pork blood, and oatmeal, the dish often brings squeamish cries from those who don’t want to consume animal blood. While this is understandable, it is important to note that historically it was a way of using up a by-product so nothing would go to waste.

Personally, I think black pudding tastes far less “bloody” than a rare steak (which I too very much enjoy), and would happily bet money on the chances that someone who didn’t know that blood was the main ingredient, would also not guess it after consuming. The blood does give a coppery-twang, but mostly it tastes chewy, a bit grainy from the oatmeal, and slightly stodgier than regular sausage.

Wrap a piece in a warm cocoon of mashed potatoes, throw a dollop of applesauce on the top, garnish your fork with fried onion, and you will be straight on your way to heaven — I can tell you from experience. Although, the shuttle may be a little quicker if you consume an altbier on the side.


Originally published on May 9th, 2018

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