Stephan Palmié

University of Chicago
Chicago, Illinois


I first met Sid at a conference on "Slavery in the Americas" held at a Franconian castle near the former border to East Germany. The dates, ironically, were November 8-10, 1989, and as we all were to realize during a reception given by the French cultural attaché who had sponsored part of the conference, the Berlin Wall had probably come down somewhere around the time that Sid gave an early version of his "Tasting Food, Tasting Freedom" essay[1]. By the time I drove back to Munich two days later, thousands of little East German Trabant cars were piling onto the Autobahn, their owners eager to see if capitalist freedom tasted like the bananas that were sold to them at phantastically inflated prices by stores given an exceptional permit to stay open that Sunday.

I had been rather nervous about meeting Sid. I had defended my dissertation only the summer before, and I had written a paper for that conference that offered (what I hoped was) a constructive critique of his and Richard Price's An Anthropological Approach to the Afro-American Past (Mintz and Price 1976, Palmié 1993). Since Sid had been one of my intellectual heroes all through graduate school, I had written to him and sent him the piece beforehand. Would he want me to re-write or tone down my critique? Of course, he didn't. Instead, he suggested that we take my car and go for a drive through the Franconian countryside. As if to inaugurate a pattern, my car broke down after we had a lunch of cold cuts and beer in a quaint old inn. By now Sid is convinced that I am incapable of buying or driving a reliable car. And sad to say, he may be right.

Two years later, Sid accepted an invitation for the University of Munich's School of Social Sciences Eric Voegelin Visiting Professorship, and spent a semester in my department. They put him up in an outrageously expensive furnished apartment near the Englischer Garten—a beautiful park which had always found favor with our American visiting professors because of its well-established reputation as a place where people were sunbathing naked during the summer. Whether Sid, too, developed a taste for observing human nature in its most unadorned state during that time I don't know. But I know that he enjoyed some of the food and drink—such as the delicate, ever so lightly smoked Lachsschinken, (perhaps the closest thing to pork sushi one an imagine), the succulent white asparagus which was coming into season when he arrived, and, of course, the potent dark Doppelbock beers such as the Spatenbräu brewery's Salvator. What I also know is that Sid learned a few lesson in Bavarian culinary culture—and not, mind you, simply because he is at once an amazingly observant ethnographer, accomplished cook, and insightful theorist. No. Since I originally took him to Schneider, and since he liked it and went back several times, I know that he couldn't have avoided acquiring such knowledge.

Schneiders Weißes Brauhaus im Thal is a gastronomic institution in Munich. Few other of the large beerhalls consistently feature as exotic an array of traditional Bavarian dishes on their menues. Not just Schweinsbraten mit Knödel (roast pork with dumplings), Tafelspitz (boiled beef), or Schweinswürstl mit Kraut (small spicy pork sausages with sauerkraut), but the real stuff: from Saures Lüngerl (stewed lungs), Kalbskopf (head of veal), to Pressack (head cheese), Knöcherlsülz (jellied meat-ends), Blut und Leberwurst (blood and liver pudding), and breaded cow's udder. But Schneider is also a great place to go in the later morning hours and eat Weißwürst[2]. Weißwurst (sing.)—literally: white sausage—is the queen of Bavarian sausages. Technically is a type of boudin blanc, and at last one theory of its origins ascribes its 19th century invention to the traditional francophilia of the kingdom of Bavaria before its incorporation into the German Reich in 1870. It is also a thoroughly commercialized, urban food. Different from some other sausages which people in the countryside may still have made themselves until a few decades ago, it is, and probably always was, bought from the butcher, or consumed in a restaurant. Hence no cookbook that I know of features a recipe[3].

The ingredients would seem fairly obvious, though: very finely ground veal, some pork fat, possibly egg whites, perhaps cream, but certainly mild onions, and the crucial spice mixture of parsley, lemon peel, and mace. Stuffed in fine translucent natural casings, Weißwurst is steamed, left to cool, and then very gently reheated in water that must be kept well below the boiling point. The result is a truly delectable marvel of a sausage: completely white with an occasional speck of parsley shimmering through its skin, it is mild but subtle in taste, with a delicately soft and almost fluffy consistency. It is eaten with freshly baked Brezen[4], sweet coarsely ground mustard and washed down with one of the sweeter types of beers—my choice would be an unfiltered Weißbier[5], preferably Schneider's own cloudy and very yeasty brew, but some people swear on dark lager or bock[6]. As far as I remember, Sid might go for the latter.

But eating Weißwürste is not a matter to be taken lightly. Their consumption is surrounded if not by ritual and taboo, so at least by very strict etiquette —at least at Schneiders im Thal. For one thing, since freshness is conceptually absolutely critical, they are to be eaten on the same morning they were made. As the saying goes, Weißwürste must never hear the churchbells ring at noon. Walk into Schneiders at what otherwise is a perfectly normal lunch hour—say 12:30pm—and the waitress will gruffly remind you of the hour, and suggest you better order something else. At Schneiders they make no exception. They will not serve Weißwurst after noon—not even to tourists. Despite the fact that beer is the obligatory accompaniment, Weißwurst is, technially speaking, a breakfast food—perhaps best consumed after morning mass[7]. Timing, however, is not all there is to it. Say you have made it to Schneiders at 11:30, and found a place at one of the long dark wooden tables at the end of which you will invariably encounter a small group of elderly native regulars, mostly men, grumbling over their beer in heavy local dialect. They will mumble a greeting and motion you to sit down. You may think you are ready for a pair of Weißwürste now. But no: you will first have to prove yourself.

When Jackie was visiting Sid during his stay in Munich, he took her to Schneiders for Weißwürste. They must have been on time. Sid already had gathered as much. But being an adventurous eater, Jackie asked the waitress if she could have a side dish of sauerkraut with her Weißwürste. As Sid himself told me, at this point their Bavarian table companions burst out in horror: "but you cannot do this!" "it is impossible!" "to eat Weißwürste with Sauerkraut!" "it will not do"—and they immediately launched into a friendly, but strict lecture on the only way to eat them: with Brezen and sweet mustard. Never with hot mustard. Oh no!

They really give such lectures. The son of a colleague of mine just visited Munich, and I recommended he go to Schneiders. He, too, got the lecture. My wife and I have sometimes wondered if the old guys at Schneiders are on someone's payroll—perhaps the city of Munich's Chamber of Commerce, the tourist board, or something like an Association for the Upkeep of Public Order and Bavarian Civilization. But the choice of a culturally proscribed side dish is only one of the many possible breaches of Weißwurst etiquette. For the next challenge for the uninitiated invariably arises once the waitress deposits a nicely plump pair of Weißwürste swimming in their heated broth in a lidded metal bowl next to your plate. What to do with them? The minute you commence to cut off a piece at the end and bring it to your mouth, you will have your native table companions groaning with exasperation. As they will momentarily explain, there are only three possible ways of eating Weißwurst, and successively cutting off pieces, or ingesting the peel[8] that adheres to the rings so produced is not one of them.

Here are the three acceptable methods: the first, and to my idea easiest (but hardest to describe!), is to spear the sausage with your fork, and cut it in half. Then insert your fork into the round opening of one of the sausage halves, and make a lengthwise incision down its middle, taking care that your knife doesn't break the casing at the bottom. Then, pushing your knife away from the center of the sausage, gently peel the meat from the casing. Discard the empty casing, cut off a piece of the sausage, spoon a liberal dose of mustard on your plate, dip the piece in it, and voila! The second method involves slicing the entire sausage lengthwise which, for the layperson, is a somewhat more complicated procedure since the sausage can easily slip away sideways, producing an uneven cut that will make it far more difficult to extract the meat from the casing in a single, unencumbered movement. Never should you use your fingers to peel off remaining pieces of casing. The third method surely appears the most rustic, perhaps even primitive one, but all informants agree that it is perfectly acceptable, and conforms with good table manners. Here you take the entire sausage in your hand, bring it to your mouth and suck out its soft and fluffy contents until you are left with the empty, but otherwise intact casing. The native term for this operation is "auszuzln"—a clearly onomatopoeic compound of the High German adverb "aus" (out) and the Bavarian verb "zuzln" (to suck) which is rarely used in contexts other than eating Weißwürste.

Though it may seem daunting at first, the art of eating Weißwürste is generally quickly mastered, and the natives will nod their approval once the foreign novice ("der Zuagroaster[9]), understands the seriousness of the matter and conforms to their advice. Alas, it is hard to keep in practice in the US. Even if you disregard the temporal restrictions and take some Weißwürste back to the State[10], the Department of Agriculture agents at the airport will invariably confiscate and destroy them, if they find them in your luggage. I have so far discovered two outlets for Weißwürste in New York, but in both cases, the product was inferior—either the texture was too dense, the seasoning not right, the casing far too tough, or it adhered too much to the meat, making it near-impossible to remove in the proper fashion.

Perhaps Sid has figured out a way to make them from scratch. If so, you will have to ask him for the recipe. As to his preferred manner of eating them— you will have to ask him that as well.


Binder, Wolfgang (ed.). 1993. Slavery in the Americas. Würzburg: Königshausen und Neumann.

Grigson, Jane. 1983. The Art of Making Sausages, Pâtés, and Other Charcuterie. New York: Alfred Knopf.

Hage, Per. 1972. "Munich Beer Categories" in: James P. Spradley (ed.) Culture and Cognition. New York: Chandler, pp. 263-278.

Mintz, Sidney W. 1996. Tasting Food, Tasting Freedom. Boston: Beacon.

----- and Richard Price. 1976. An Anthropological Approach to the Afro-American Past: A Caribbean Perspective. Philadelphia: ISHI.

Montagné, Prosper. 1961. Larousse Gastronomique. New York: Crown.

Palmié, Stephan. 1993. "Ethnogenetic Processes and Cultural Transfer in aribbean Slave Populations" in: Wolfgang Binder (ed.) Slavery in the Americas. Würzburg: Königshausen und Neumann.

Scherer, Francine and Madeline Poley. 1983. The SOHO Charcuterie Cookbook. New York: William Morrow.

[1] First published in Binder (1993) and included in Mintz (1996).

[2] Pronounced waiswyrst (pl.).

[3] The recipe for boudin blanc de porc given in the 1961 American edition of the Larousse Gastronomique (Montagné 1961:758) provides a vague guide to the preparation, but will surely result in a rather different-tasting saussage. The same holds for the boudin blanc recipes in Grigson (1983) and Scherer and Poley (1983).

[4] Bavarian pretzels, crusty on the outside, soft on the inside.

[5] A top fermented, bottle conditioned wheat beer with a thick sediment of yeast at the bottom that is swirled around and poured onto the head that forms in the tall and slender half-liter glasses in which it is served. Wheat beer actually accounts for how Schneider's Weisses Brauhaus im Thal its name: according to royal Bavarian law, wheat beer could only be brewed by appointment from the Wittelsbach court. Appointed breweries would then be designated as Weisse Brauhäuser or "white breweries".

[6] On the culture of beer in Munich see Hage's (1972) delightful "ethnosemantic" analysis (an essay which, I should add, might make a great reading assignment for courses on the history of abandoned theoretical fashions in American anthropology).

[7] As the author can attest to from his own experience of working as a mailman during his student days, beer consumption in Bavaria can commence as early as 6am, and will continue during much of the working day.

[8] It is, of course, perfectly edible.

[9] High German: "Zugereiste", i.e. immigrants—a generic term traditionally applied in Munich to anyone who is not a native of the city or its immediate environments.

[10] Though their consumption is highly frowned upon in Munich, canned ones are a fair substitute for the real thing.