When I think of a lifetime of eating sausages, three moments come to mind: First, those lazy,
humid days growing up in Atlanta, Georgia, gnawing on hot dogs at 4th of July parties and
smothering the link in squeezable ketchup, the whole mess kept inside (sort of) by an oblong
bun. Second, that night in Bavaria, ordering what I thought would be a plate of grilled sausages and getting a bowl of bloated white sausages bobbing around in the water they were cooked in next to a gigantic salted pretzel. Third, the time I bit into morcilla, Colombia’s version of the beloved blood sausage, and realizing what I’d just eaten was not pork.
And the one thing that binds them all? Lots of napkins.
That’s the reality about eating sausages: it’s kind of a sloppy process. Condiments squeezing out of the sides of a too-small bun, water spilling over the sides of a bowl all over the pretzel, congealed blood exploding from the casing when opened….there had to be a better way to serve sausage.
When I got to Hungary, I knew I’d be eating a lot of them; after all, traditional Hungarian cuisine basically relies on sausage for everything. Sausages are in soups, stews, pastries, even salads, and are, more often than not, the main event — the epicenter around which everything else is prepared and flavored. I knew, too, that there’d be no better way to experience Hungary’s sausage culture than to spend an afternoon wandering around Budapest’s three-story indoor market, Central Market Hall, where there were rumored to be stalls upon stalls of butcher shops, sausage shops, street food kiosks and bakeries.
It was there — on the top floor of Central Market Hall — that I first encountered two-year-old Kolbice, Hungary’s answer to the messy sausage-serving problem. After walking through rows and rows of beautiful freshly-packed sausages dangling from the ceilings, Kolbice’s kiosk is a little loud, but where it lacks in discretion, it makes up for in inventiveness. Every dish on the sign looks nearly identical: large triangle-shaped objects with the tops of sausages peeking out at the top. They almost look cheerful, as if they are dancing across the banner on top of descriptions like Sajtszószos pirított hagymás, cheese sauce and roasted onion. The food is playful, inventive and fully embraces its unabashed love for sausages. It’s also affordable: the cone I just mentioned costs 1290 Hungarian forent, or, at the time of this writing, about $4.63.
The triangle-shaped objects are whole wheat bread cones, designed to hold two kinds of mini
sausage links (spicy Hungarian flavored with paprika and traditional Bavarian) and whatever
condiments the customer wishes to add, from sauerkraut to cabbage to chili paste to Velveeta-style cheddar cheese sauce to deep-fried onion slices. They have a few predetermined menu items, like the “Classic,” the “Cabbage and Bacon,” and the “Cheese and Onion,” but people can (and do) add whatever they want to their cones. Kolbice is inclusive, too: for consumers who can’t or don’t eat wheat, they have a gluten-free cone, and for those who don’t want or can’t possibly eat any more sausage, they have something called the “Fitness Cone,” which is stuffed with grilled chicken strips carrots, and cucumbers.
(As an FYI, I saw a lot of sausages fly off the grill, but I didn’t see anyone order the Fitness Cone.) According to Kolbice’s owners, the cones originated out of the idea that traditional Hungarian food needed an update—basically, it needed a take-away option. It had to appeal to a wide demographic, too, from Hungarian grandmothers who’d been cooking sausage for 50 years to young millennials who never wanted to sit still and spend the time cutting up a sausage. The owners wanted to create something that would be easy to serve, easy to eat and easy to replicate, so they brainstormed a list of the world’s best edible food containers and decided to turn the sausage bun into something that resembled an ice cream cone. Even the word that now defines their invention, Kolbice, is a mashup of the Hungarian word for sausage, kolbász, and ice cream.
The concept is ridiculously simple: it’s fully portable, completely edible, incredibly affordable, and 100 percent sustainable.
The result, too, is pure decadence. I won’t say it was a perfect, seamless exercise in cleanliness, as some of the cheese sauce did leak out the side after I took a big bite of the bread cone, but it beat any bun or roll I’ve ever had. I was able to walk around the market, nibble politely on my bread cone sausage, and shop for souvenirs—all at the same time. When I was done, I tossed out the one napkin I’d used, licked my fingers, and went on my way.
As the editors of the new The Wurst of Lucky Peach, a collection of Lucky Peach’s best sausage stories, write, “wherever there is meat, there is sausage.” Those oblong tubesteaks, full of meat not suitable for any other immediate purpose, wrapped in a casing….they’ve been around just about as long as modern cooking has.
In Hungary, they just happen to be eating them out of bread cones. At festivals, in markets, on the street, in the park, street food just doesn’t get any better.
Special thanks to Viking River Cruises for hosting me in Hungary and for including the Central Market Hall in the Budapest City Tour excursion. The bread cone sausage, however, was bought by the author of this article and all opinions are, of course, her own. If you want to read more, check out Kolbice’s website for more information.