Monday, September 26, 2011

WuPa Meals

A Finnish man who was being transferred to America decided to hire an architect to build him a new house. He asked that a sauna be built in the basement and gave specific instructions on how this was to be done. When he and his family arrived, the architect gave them a personal tour of their new home. It was a beautiful house, and he took particular pride in leading them to the basement, opening the door to the sauna. And what a beautiful sauna it was! The Finnish man, however, was a bit shocked to see wall-to-wall carpeting on the floor.

On Küüni Street in Tartu, among the myriad of other fast food joints that have appeared in the past couple years, there is a new place called WuPa Meals that sells bratwurst. Bratwurst, you may ask? It’s a German sausage. Russians may read the word and think “brother sausage”. WuPa Meals, you may ask? Hip-hop fans might get excited about the Clan. The Wu-Tang Clan.

Mrs. Mingus told me about the sign outside that advertised “German sausage”, fully knowing that I would be there within a few minutes. When I arrived, I just couldn’t believe my eyes. It was true. You can now buy “brats” in Estonia. Why am I so excited about brats?

Where I’m from, brats are a regional specialty. They are as common on the grill as “šašlõkk” in Estonia, and like šašlõkk in Estonia, brats are an imported concept, like racism. We typically boil them in beer, then throw them on the grill. You can buy them at bars, ball games, fairs and festivals. Fat men stand in the backyard sprinkling water on the coals to put out the fat flames dripping from the meat. Brats are served in a large hotdog bun with ketchup, mustard and sauerkraut. Estonians should be familiar with all three of these condiments.

Mine was served in a most peculiar manner. I was reminded of the Finnish man’s sauna. The brat was on the plate, next to the bun, which had been sliced in the wrong direction, ketchup and mustard on the side. This was the first time I’d ever eaten a brat with a fork and knife. Cut off a piece of meat, dip it in mustard, dip it in ketchup, make an awkward movement of putting the fork in your mouth while simultaneously biting off a chunk of sliced bread. But at least it wasn’t a standard hotdog bun. Freshly-baked mini-baguette.

But it was good. I grew up eating brats, and I can honestly say this WuPa brat was decent. Is it imported? Local? No clue. My only suggestion for the owners is that they serve it like a hotdog, and consider making sauerkraut available. Stick a grill outside too, serve them to go. They’ll make a killing! Less than two euros. This is a great, wonderful alternative to the mystery meat burgers that run rampant through the streets of Tartu.

Everything is cooked as it’s ordered. That said, ask Krista the waitress to serve the brat in the bun in the proper manner. If you order fries, ask her not to put potato seasoning on it, or salt. That was simply overpowering. Here’s an idea: when I make fries at home (not very often), I bake them, put them in a paper bag, sprinkle in some garlic salt, paprika and chili powder, close the bag and shake the hell out of it. Chili fries rock.

In WuPa Meals you can also get baguette sandwiches. Not sure where they get the baguettes from, as I didn’t smell anything resembling a bakery when I was there, but these baguettes are free of burned cheese on top and they are relatively free of spelling errors as well. Most places that have any sort of baguette describe them as “baquettid”, “bägett”, “paakueetid” or even “pägot”. That last one is a tad offensive. WuPa is the one place in Tartu that appears to have cared enough about their business to put their menu through a simple brat-damned spell-check before printing it out.

Afterwards, I went to the shop to buy some gum. As I walked through the security gate at the entrance and turned to go straight to the only register open, a rather tall man, studenty-looking, rushed in front of me with his basket and then snail-walked, not letting me pass. We got in line. One item at a time, he slowly emptied the contents of his basket onto the conveyor belt. Sour cream, bread, a kohuke, doctor sausage, a Red Bull. One…at…a…time… Krista the cashier gave him an exasperated look. Then it came time to pay.

He pulled out his wallet, which I could see was completely empty save one card. He flipped through his wallet so slowly that even time got bored and started going in the opposite direction. He put his wallet back in his pocket. It was now three minutes earlier than when I entered the shop. He searched his pockets, turning them inside out. Now it was yesterday. He opened his wallet again, located the single card and put it in the payment terminal. He entered his code over the course of the last decade and then it was my turn.

Even though time was moving in reverse, Krista had somehow become an elderly woman. I wanted the man to move so I could pay before she retired. As I was handing her the pack of gum, the man interrupted and asked for a bag. Krista mumbled her dying words, “Ten cents”, then collapsed into a pile of dust. The man pulled out his wallet again and began the whole routine once more. I put exact change on the counter and started walking away. The man grabbed my sleeve and asked, “Can I have ten cents? I can’t find my card.”

I walked outside and almost got trampled by a horse. The rider shouted at me in German, eating a bratwurst. It was the day before the Second World War. I walked to the Estonian border and changed the direction of the arrow on the road sign that would tell the advancing Nazi and Soviet armies how to get to Estonia.

Seventy years later, when time caught up, Estonia had been spared the war, the occupation, the now-defunct political ideologies and massacres and deportations and decades of forced ketchup-consumption. Estonia had been free to develop in its natural manner. It was richer than Norway, the roads smoother than Sweden, the trains more modern than Denmark, there was not a single shaved guy in construction pants standing outside his old BMW drinking a Red Bull complaining about gay people. The man from the shop was walking ever so slowly down the street with a bag full of vegetables. I walked into a new restaurant that had just opened called WuPa and ordered a brat. It was served with chili fries and sauerkraut. Krista the waitress was smiling. A Finnish man moved to America and his sauna was still carpeted, however.


Anonymous said...

OMFG! That's hilarious! Why would they slice the bun like that? Are you supposed to assemble your own triple-decker sandwich?

Anonymous said...

Have you ever ordered a bratwurst in Germany?

Mingus said...

Yes, I used to live in Germany.

Anonymous said...

Then you noticed the Germans don't serve bratwurst in a proper manner either.

Mingus said...

Actually I saw it served hot dog-style a few times, but usually just with a slice of bread. Never a whole pägot sliced crosswise, no, but with a single slice of bread.

You the owner? If so, you provide me with a few brats and I'll poach 'em in beer and grill 'em for you, topped with hapukapsas. With chili fries. You won't regret it. (smiley face)

Anonymous said...

I'm speechless... what? how? why?!?

Anonymous said...

Ever heard of cloves? I just saw in Vali Mind how they prepear the food. No cloves at all!! If I would you then I would never eat there. Never know where theyr hands have been before making a sandwich!