"Pride is all very well but a sausage is a sausage" Terry Pratchett
There was a short article in The Australian Financial Review at the weekend - well on election day - about the tradition of the sausage sizzle at elections and the importance of political aspirants eating a sausage or two - moreover in the right manner. Bill Shorten when trying for the top spot at the last election was roundly ridiculed for biting into the middle of his bun rather than the end. Did this make him lose the election? Surely not? Although ...
But I won't go on about the sausage sizzle election tradition other than to say that it is indeed a tradition and that these days there is even a digital map showing you where you can get a sausage in a bun, or a slice of white bread, with the obligatory tomato sauce, when you go to vote.
However, it did make me think about sausages and nationalism. I mean if you can get scoffed at for eating your sausage incorrectly there's more to a sausage, than just something minced in a skin of some kind. The humble sausage is, after all, at least in Australian culture, a symbol of the common man. Why else is Bunnings - a massive hardware store - the location for Saturday sausage sizzles? And not just the common man - the middle-class do gooder too, because they are always for one charity or another and besides it makes you look like you're one of us - the 'real people' of the nation. Us being the largest chunk of the population. So perhaps it is important that politicians eat one or two - and in the 'correct' way. One thing's for sure - nobody can look elegant eating a sausage in a bun. Or a slice of white bread, and watch out for the tomato sauce dripping down your tie.
So yes the humble sausage is something that the ordinary man can get all hot under the collar about. And it's so universal, because fundamentally it's a very poor man's food - a way of using up all the bits of an animal, that you wouldn't otherwise eat, padded out with other stuff like bread, and wrapped into other unmentionable bits. Terry Pratchett has a recurring character called Cut-me-own-throat Dibbler in his Discworld books, who sells sausages, and Pratchett has such fun with describing his wares:
"Victor eyed the glistening tubes in the tray around Dibbler’s neck. They smelled appetizing. They always did. And then you bit into them, and learned once again that Cut-me-own-Throat Dibbler could find a use for bits of an animal that the animal didn’t know it had got. Dibbler had worked out that with enough fried onions and mustard people would eat anything."
I also found a picture of a Colombian sausage seller called a butifarrero who the writer of the article called a modern day Dibbler. And you can see what he means, in spite of the plastic gloves.
It's street and festival food isn't it? Any time there is a big event - of any kind - except perhaps the opera, there are sausages for sale. Although when I think about it these days they may even be available at the opera - small gourmet bites made from classy gourmet sausages. Even the supermarkets have classy sausages these days - at a price. And if you wrap them in bacon, or pastry or something else, and cut them up small then they can look quite fancy.
When it comes to basic foods like sausages I always wonder who first thought of doing that - stuffing intestines, with bits of the animal, that might actually have been in the intestines originally. Maybe they actually just cooked the full intestines of the dead animal and eventually thought it might taste better if they put in some real, or almost real meat. They actually think they date back to ancient Sumeria and ancient Egypt around 5000 years ago, but maybe before? Who knows really. By the time you get to ancient Greece though they were definitely a thing. However, it is thought that they were not only a means of using up the less popular bits of the animal, but also a way of preserving the meat - by smoking them. And then you get into a whole new way of thinking about sausages - not street food.
But getting back to that nationalism that was so amply demonstrated on Saturday. It seems that just about every country in the world has a sausage of some kind, and it also seems that to some of those countries the sausage is a source of national pride. As in Australia. Sure there are other iconic Aussie foods - the list is too long to reproduce here - but the 'snag' is definitely one of them and one that comes out on every important and celebratory occasion. So here are a few of those I know about with brief mentions of others here and there.
Bangers and mash, the Full English and Black pudding, maybe even Haggis. Yes let's start with the country of my birth. After all that is what Terry Pratchett was ultimately mocking. And let me say that the British do not eat sausages wrapped in a slice of white bread and smothered with tomato sauce. I was quite taken aback when I first encountered this. Bangers and mash is the quintessential British way of eating sausages I suppose, followed closely by the full English breakfast - which consists of sausages, baked beans, bacon and a fried egg - maybe some fried bread too. Bangers and mash are making a minor comeback with fancy gravies, gourmet sausages and probably caramelised onions. I have to say I'm not really a fan. I do love mashed potatoes, but actually prefer chips with sausages.
And this is not street food either. It's family fare and as such it says something about how the British see themselves at home. We ate these things a lot when I was a child, but I'm not sure whether the wealthy did/do. And did I say - British sausages are mostly pork sausages. My sister is constantly amazed at the preponderance of beef sausages here.
Then there are the British outliers - Black pudding - the ultimate in using up the bits we normally don't eat - the blood - and it's a Northern thing. Well I think of it as a Northern thing, but others may not. And even further north in Scotland there is the haggis. Now if ever there was a national dish this is it. It's even piped to the table on Robbie Burns night I think. There are probably poems in its honour. It certainly stirs up nationalist feelings. Not technically a sausage I suppose but it is innards stuffed with - well stuff.
Germany - well Germany is not Germany without sausage and sauerkraut. I remember driving across Germany on the way to Yugoslavia and finding that almost the only thing you could eat at all the autobahn service stops, and in the beer halls of Munich, were platters much like this one - sausages of all kinds with a hefty dollop of sauerkraut and some boded potatoes not he side. And there are so very many different kinds of sausages in Germany. They could be said to be the kings of sausages, with their influence spreading across the whole of central and Eastern Europe.
What about the French? Toulouse sausage, and a veritable plethora of saucisson - the equivalent of the Italian salami - although not quite. Somehow they taste different. Often a bit harder and drier, with a powdery dusting on the outside and often eaten with a dab of butter - fat on fat. All intensely regional of course, and it's the same with dishes made with sausages as the star. No I don't think the French can be said to have a hugely national dish constructed around sausages. Definitely more regional - though they do have choucroute in Alsace - which has sometimes been Germany anyway - and Cassoulet - which varies from village to village, probably household to household.
I admit I cannot think of any 'fresh' Italian sausage or sausage dish but there are, of course endless varieties of salami. Which has travelled across Europe and now the world.
Chorizo for Spain, Lap Cheong for China, cevapi for Yugoslavia - well all those countries that used to be Yugoslavia, but there we move into the kind of sausage that is not really a sausage like a good 'snag' or 'banger' is, because there is no skin. But a national treasure though.
I am quit sure that virtually every country in the world has some kind of sausage. When we first started cooking, the sausage was the answer to keeping food for longer, and for using every bit of a slaughtered animal. And these days, of course we have vegan sausages galore. What is interesting is that such an inventive solution to a problem of scarcity has developed in so many different directions and has, become, so often, a symbol of national pride. It seems, that a bit like language, evolution is from the bottom up, so that today some sausages can cost a fortune. This man claims to have produced the world's most expensive sausages in Britain - at £57 a link.
"To create the fancy meat links, he uses a combination of Mangalitsa pork that is the same quality the Queen of England receives, $107 truffles, $385 Stilton cheese and a 1947 vintage port that goes for $693 a bottle"
Wasted on a sausage surely? And not something you would be serving on election day or at a game of footy.
And how could I have forgotten the hot dog? - maybe more New York than America but then again maybe not. Only a hamburger could be more American. And it certainly confirms that comment about mustard:
"with enough fried onions and mustard people would eat anything."