Brat’s wurst and Mr Aldea’s salchicha

The joy of the poor is brief,/My friends, how soon it’s past!/Just when everything’s going so well,/The donkey breathes its last.

Closed frankfurt stand outside the old Arenas bullring in Barcelona's Plaza de España

Closed frankfurt stand outside the old Arenas bullring in Barcelona's Plaza de España

Me, I always order a beer and a Frankfurt Tropical, with its sultry slice of pineapple. I’d like to have a bratwurst some time, but all of Spain’s thousands of Frankfurt bars and kiosks spell it bratswurst, which for some reason irritates me more than having the final syllable bitten off my frankfurter. But how did these universally used words get here? Those snotty purists at the Real Academia Española and the Institut d’Estudis Catalans won’t let foreign sausages into their dictionaries, so–fortunately–we’re going to have to hypothesise:

  1. German immigrants introduced them, as happened in America.
    Surely not, because then they’d have retained their correct names.
  2. OK, but maybe the marketing people adapted the names to an hitherto unknown aberration in the Spanish language that makes its speakers want to add the odd erroneous “s” and remove “er”s, in the same way that they add an “e” to the beginning of every English word beginning with “s”.
    You need to stop getting tangential so early in the day.
  3. They were introduced into Spain by a Spaniard, either a local industrialist visiting Germany in the first half of the C20th or a guest worker returning in the 50s who set up a sausage bar with his savings. This individual, aware of the cachet of German product names in low-quality Spain, either copied the spelling off one of the few Germans who, in the case of Bratwurst, make the same mistake, was influenced by the phrase salchichas de Frankfurt, or was semi-literate. Or something.
    Hmmm… Let’s ask the locals.

In his novel, Los Juegos Feroces, set during the transition to democracy, Francisco Casavella writes of “one of these sausage bocadillos with a German name that were becoming so fashionable.” El Mundo asked him to clarify their origin. He suggested:

a) Alt Heildelberg [sic] (Barcelona), Ketchup A Go-gó (Costa Brava) and Casa Paco (Madrid) are contending for the glory of having introduced the frankfurt into Spain. They have burnt files. The cooks whistle and mislead…
b) It is more difficult than dating the appearance and diffusion of the bikini (known as sandwich mixto in Madrid).
c) It’s something silly that occurred to me…

That’s what is known in the trade as a load of trendy bollocks, but it’s the closest I’ve got this lunchtime. The first–not terribly informative–record I’ve found of the introduction into the food chain of this miserable piece of offal stuffed into a piece of stretched calf stomach is in the index to the catalogue of the 22nd Official and National Fair of Product Samples held in Zaragoza in 1962; ten years later salchichas de Frankfurt make a quite substantial appearance in Simone Ortega’s cookbook classic, 1080 recetas de cocina, but unfortunately she doesn’t accompany her recipes with a sociocultural study.

Sad, sad, sad, and to make you really miserable I’d like to end with the filling of a classic piece by Vindemial Aldea. Mr Aldea is apparently a well-known figure in the Spanish car industry, a veteran of the spare parts trade with a special affection for filters and, like many of his colleagues, a sound knowledge of sausages. His October 2001 column for Autoprofesional is a touching vignette of everyday life in the early years of the dictatorship:

Many, very many years ago, around spring 1950, when only some lucky people in this city of Madrid had stopped suffering from hunger, and I, just having arrived, and a long way away from belonging to this privileged group, was roaming of a Sunday around the Glorieta de Iglesias (the Plaza del Pintor Sorolla to be exact) and I stopped in the door of the Bar Chamberí (it’s been gone for years) contemplating, I believe for the first time in my life, some frankfurters that were being heated up on a spiky contraption and then being placed in a little roll, forming such an appetizing combination that I was unable to keep my eyes off them as I licked my lips and swallowed the saliva that was welling in my mouth. A while later I found out that they were called hot dogs. I went in to ask what they cost. “Two pesetas.” Exactly the same as my Sunday budget; the price of a ticket for a double bill at the Montija Cinema or that feast, that was the dilemma I was facing, and I resolved it as I almost always do, by obeying my body. So it was that I asked for the titbit of my desires, and while were giving it to me I looked in my wallet for the two pesetas, which at that time were made of paper and generally pretty filthy. I stretched out both hands, one to take the roll and the other to hand over my money, but I still had the wallet between my fingers and, while backing away from the counter, I wanted to change things from one hand to the other to put my wallet in my inner pocket and… Oh, how clumsy! The sausage fell to the floor, in the sawdust that protected it. I couldn’t see the faces of the people around me because I couldn’t lift my gaze, fixed as it was on my spoiled delicacy, neither did I have the courage to pick it up and clean it as I would have done had I been alone, nor did I give it a kick of rage as I cursed it, I just shifted it gently closer to the counter with my foot and left without looking at anybody to walk off my grief up by Santa Engracia.

The article begins with a verse the author says his granny used to sing in times of trouble:

The joy of the poor is brief,
My friends, how soon it’s past!
Just when everything’s going so well,
The donkey breathes its last.

I hope this recollection of hard times is unrelated to the sausage supply chain.

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  1. I remember eating in Cerdanyola “hembluguesas” (hamburguesas), and near home i saw a commercial message saying: “sabemos de decoración”. It was in english too: “we now about decoration”. ;O)

  2. Hamblogger: a pig surrounded by hungry geeks.

    It’s interesting, because as far as I’m aware there’s no stigma attached: if your lawyer can’t spell, then you get worried, but chefs can write how they like. Or is there any particular dish which, misspelled in a certain way, would make you turn away in disgust?

  3. No stigma attached in my comment too. I often ate these “hembluguesas”, and panboli (pa amb oli) too :)

  4. I don’t live in Cerdanyola. I finished my studies years ago…but i’m sure you can find “de tot” there :)

  5. The venerable (and wonderful) Leopold Cafe in Mumbai – one of the scenes of horrific carnage a few months ago – used to have ‘Fried Children’ on the menu, as well as ‘Scram Bled Iggs’. Sadly, they’ve got someone with decent English to check the copy and it’s more or less standard now, although the intriguing ‘All Hen’s on Desk’ squeezed through the editing process.

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