In 1857, or so the story goes, a young butcher by the name of Sepp Moser was making sausages at the Zum ewigen Licht restaurant in the Bavarian city of Munich. In the dining room was a table of hungry customers who were becoming gradually more impatient for their food. Then disaster struck: Moser ran out of the thick sausage skin he needed to complete the order.
To solve the problem he used the only thing he could find, thin skin not suited to sausages. Worried that these fragile tubes would then burst during cooking, he had a flash of inspiration and decided to put them in hot (not boiling) water for about ten minutes instead. Once they were cooked, Moser carried them out to his guests and awaited the complaints, but the diners were full of praise instead, and Munich’s famous “weisswurst” was born.
Unlike ordinary sausages, weisswurst – as the name suggests – are almost entirely white. The only colour in a decent weisswurst should be flecks of fresh green parsley half visible through the thin translucent skin. The meat is a mixture of veal, pork and spices, and they are cooked in hot water then served in bowls of the water so they stay hot until they reach the table.
Germans are no strangers to the sausage. There are dozens of different types, from the frankfurter to the liverwurst, the bratwurst to the jagdwurst. They come smoked, boiled, fried and sliced and every city or region seems to have their own local version. The weisswurst is distinctly Bavarian and its name has even been co-opted in the word “Weißwurstäquator”, or “white sausage equator,” which is used – semi-seriously – to mark the cultural differences between the north German region and Southern Germany.
So there’s a lot tied up in what on the surface is a simple dish. And the etiquette around eating weisswurst is equally complicated – and rather strict. First, accompaniments: weisswurst is only ever eaten with brezen (Bavarian pretzels), mustard and beer. That’s it. Although you can in theory drink any beer you like with weisswurst, traditionalists favour weissbier (wheat beer). The choice of mustard is rather more limited: it has to be the mild, brown Bavarian sweet mustard, known as “weisswurstsenf” or “weisswurst mustard” thanks to its close association with the sausages. As for the pretzels, they’re a standard size and normally one will suffice for a pair of weisswurst.
If ordering is relatively straightforward given the lack of choice, eating the sausages is rather less so: the thin skins are not eaten (although they are edible). Instead, there are a number of methods usually employed to get at the innards. The weisswurst can be scored lengthwise and the meat simply rolled out then sliced and eaten with mustard and pretzel, or it can be sliced into 1-2cm thick pieces and the meat then carefully extracted from the rings of skin on the tines of a fork, dipped in mustard and savoured.
However, adept local sausage-eaters – the real pros – have developed a more complicated eating technique that will mark out a born-and-bred Bavarian from a recent arrival, and has even earned itself a specialised name: zuzeln. The word is Bavarian slang for “sucking”. Aficionados carefully cut or bite off the knotted ends of their sausages and then extract the meaty filling by first sucking one half of the sausage out of one end before tackling the rest from the other end. It’s messy, requiring use of your hands rather than cutlery, and much harder than you might think.
There is one final piece of lore associated with weisswurst: traditionally, it is said that the sausages should not hear the chimes of the noontime church bells. As they are prepared using fresh meat without preservatives first thing each morning, they should be consumed before midday and so are usually eaten as a snack between breakfast and lunch. But given how delicious they are, that never seems to be a problem.