It's mid-November in Vancouver, and a steady stream of rain is falling off one umbrella onto another, the two positioned at varying heights to protect Eli, purveyor of Eli's Serious Sausage, and his grill from the downpour. There's few, if any, people coming around to the new Georgia/Beatty location at the Stadium Skytrain station, the first seasonal challenge that the city's new found love for street food will endure.
Despite the rain, Eli is affable and willing to chat. He's eager to get down to Portland for the weekend, his first foray to America's mecca of food carts. He gets a lot of questions about Vancouver's own street food program, even though his own cart is licensed under the hot dog vendor program. It makes sense: Eli has done his homework, and this sausage cart is like no other in the city.
It's one of few places in town to get a currywurst ($6), which, as Roman Kessler put it in the Wall Street Journal, is "as German as pizza is Italian, hot dogs are American, and fish and chips British." It is as it sounds: a bratwurst served with curry powder, accompanied with tomato sauce, with endless variations on same arising since its birth. While post-World War II Berlin found itself in shortage of near-everything, a housewife named Herta Heuwer began trading spirits for British curry powder, one of few spices available, and served the bratwurst, itself a cheap meal during tough times, with the curry powder and a stewed tomato sauce. (As with any great cultural fare, a different origin story places the currywurst's birthplace in Hamburg). From there, a national obsession was born, with the currywurst being immortalized in song and film. In 2009, the Deutsches Currywurst Museum opened its doors in Berlin to commemorate the currywurst's sixtieth birthday.
The quality of Eli's version - and on all other offerings at the cart - depends heavily on the sausage, made by local, fifth-generation sausagemaker Drew Driessen of D-Original Sausage (2525 Main Street). Each are earnest and meaty; each bite juicy and toothsome. All are served in a wonderfully hearty caraway seed bun made by a local Polish bakery, carb and protein interdependent in the most heartwarming of symbiotic affairs. (For this reason alone, skip the knish.)
That said, Eli's currywurst is perhaps a bit light on the curry and a bit heavy on the ketchup, the latter apparently ruled as taboo by Germans, or, as Kessler puts it, "uncultured and inauthentic." I've got no beef against the ketchup per se, but a touch more curry would've done well. The fussier amongst you may want to skip right to the spicy Italian sausage ($6), which, seasoned to perfection and with just the right amount of kick, could be eaten with the bun alone and without need for any further condiment. It's this quality of ingredient that has elevated Eli's Serious Sausage into something much more than a simple hot dog purveyor, a destination to visit come rain or come shine.
W. Georgia Street at Beatty (at the Chinatown-Stadium Skytrain Station)Vancouver, BC