For my beloved Brother who introduced me to the art of cooking, who taught me how to taste and truly love food. Without him I'd never be able to be where I am today.

November 2, 2011

 – an almost complete
Culinary A to Z

A couple of weeks ago I did my fourth trip to Berlin. After each trip I love it more and more. Berlin has been hyped for years now and I'm sure many people have left their hearts there, myself included. Of course there are many reasons behind my adoration, but the most obvious is the city's vibrant, pulsating and always surprising culinary culture.

My first time in Berlin was about three years ago. I had no expectations what so ever. The only bells ringing were the highlights related to the second world war, the Berlin wall and so on. German food in general was nothing that interested me. In fact I have to admit that my appreciation for what possibly could be German food was extremely low. Stereotypes of Weiss wurst, sauerkraut and beer were limiting my imagination... All in all, let's say that Germany didn't come up when thinking about great food nations. This was probably why I got so positively surprised when arriving to Berlin.

My latest trip to Berlin was my fourth. Because I knew what was to come, I started meditative breathing exercises a week earlier to prepare to stomach for a colossal food tsunami. I also warned my boyfriend: this would be a culinary vacation par excellence! I guess he got the message when he saw me preparing a list of food markets, cafés and restaurants to visit already one week ahead. I also decided to challenge myself a bit regarding my blog posts. It was obvious that I'd write about Berlin, but I wanted it to be something at least slightly different. I had this idea of making the Berlin culinary A to Z list. How difficult could it be to eat for 26 letters worth in four days...?

… Definitely harder than I thought. I mean I ate, and believe me when I say 'I ate'. Germans have astonishingly many dishes and food related names starting with the same letter though. Stuff starting with the letter S almost killed me!

When the last day in Berlin turned to night and I still had half of the alphabet uncovered, I had to admit failure. Being the stubborn, decisive person that I am, I couldn't bare “killing my darling”.  I loved my culinary A to Z idea way too much. So what I have for you, dear readers, is the best attempt of a A to Z I was able to accomplish within the limits of my digestive capacity and the (too) short time spent in the magnificent city of Berlin.
Alnatura & Alverde. Two product lines and two reasons behind me traveling to Berlin by plane with an empty suitcase and returning home by bus with a suitcase filled with affordable, good quality biological food (and some cosmetics too). If you've never been to Germany I guess you won't know what I'm referring to. I'm talking about the dm (drogeriemark Deutschland), a drugstore/daily goods chain offering a pretty decent selection of anything you could possibly need. I simply love it. Most of all thanks to the perfect balance of price and quality. It's the absolute best place for gluten free products too!

Bàhn mi. Vietnamese foodgasm in a baguette! Perfect for breakfast, lunch or just as a quick heavenly snack taking you far, far away to a country of exquisite and exotic flavours. The place doesn't look like much when passing by, but it is definitely worth entering. The owner was very nice and listened to my childhood Vietnam -stories very patiently. Cảm ơn người bạn của tôi! Most importantly, the food was authentic. Berlin is blossoming with small Vietnamese restaurants and most of them look pretty okay at the first glance. But when the menu is too Europeanized or worse, when traditional Vietnamese dishes are turned into a German version, I really wouldn't stay for a meal. CôCô looks a bit too trendy and jet-set to my taste, but the food and especially the stuffed baguettes called bàhn mi really won't leave you cold. Try it!

Rosenthaler Staße 2
(Mitte, U: Weinmeisterstraße)

And for a pretty authentic Vietnamese restaurant, go to Chén Chè. You won't be disappointed!

Rosenthaler Straße 13
(Mitte, U: Weinmeisterstraße)

Curry Wurst. This is a Berlin 'must'. Especially 'Curry 36' because it's said to be the best place in town for this local speciality. It's a rather curious postwar addition to German cuisine, I would say. The woman holding the patent for this rather porky, but yet so yummy dish is Herta Heuwer. In 1949 she came up with the future grand hit mixture made out of ingredients she got a hold on from British soldiers: ketchup, Worcestershire sauce and curry powder. She then had the brilliant idea of pouring the sauce over a grilled pork sausage, giving the final dish a German touch. Heuwer started making money with her creation selling the cheap but filling snack at a street stand in the Charlottenburg district of Berlin. In 1951 the dish was patented as “Chilliup” and was selling 10 000 portion a week! As the story often goes with these small street stands, so went Heuwer's spicy sausages story. In 1974 the street stand turned into a little restaurant. Nowadays, curry wurst is eaten all over Germany but of course it remains a true Berlin special.

My first curry wurst experience was actually elsewhere and I have to say that I preferred that one over Curry 36. But as I'm unable to remember where the better place according to my taste was, I'll give you the next best thing. Even if a curry wurst doesn't make your mouth water, it's kind of fun to see this place. People actually form long queues to get their portion of crispy fries and greasy sausage with curry sauce.To my disappointment there were way too many tourists holding firmly on to their travel guide booklets. I guess the word is out for this place. Good for them.

P.S. The dish is such a big thing that there's even a song written to honour it. “Currywurst” on Herbert Grönemeyer's 1982 album “Total Egal” is a tribute to the snack. Gotta love those Germans and their love for wurst!

Mehringdamm 36
(Kreuzberg, U: Mehringdamm)

Restaurant Doyum. If you think you've had authentic Turkish food in Berlin where you can pretty much find a more or less skanky Döner Kebap shop in every street corner, you've seen nothing if you don't know this place. Doyum is an authentic Turkish restaurant with a range of tasty Turkish specialties apart from the well known Döner.
The quality comes with a price, as it is often the case, but it still remains pretty cheap. What I loved was the whole concept of the place. The decoration is very Turkish (at least to my eye), families come and go eating there or ordering takeout, there, strong smells from the open kitchen hypnotize you while you sit there sipping on the Turkish tea served before the meal... No fuss, nothing extra added. I ate something called Halep. It was a kind of stew made of aubergines, sliced lamb, tomatoes and loads of garlic and Turkish yoghurt. I don't think I said a word during the whole meal. I was totally and completely mesmerized by the richness of flavours.

Admiralstraße 36
(Kreuzberg, U: Kottbusser Tor)

Essen. I don't speak German, or at least I would never say I do so to a German speaker. Of some reason unknown to me I still managed to communicate my eating needs to a bunch of waitresses and restaurant keepers. Some laughed, some didn't. Okay, most of them laughed, a lot. I laughed too. I think I probably invented a hand full of German words only clear to me and my enormous appetite. Here's a hint on how to make even the driest German smile: step in to a restaurant, a café, a food store, what have you and express the obvious: Ich will essen. Or even better, Yoda -style: Ich essen will. (I thought the verb always comes in the end of a German phrase. Not.) They'll think you're a retard, but at least it can only get better from there on.

Frühstük. During our trip to Berlin, we followed the guideline “the breakfast is the most important meal of the day” religiously. Hungry and grumpy, we got out of bed every morning to go on a pilgrimage leading us to a perfect place for frühstük. From my earlier visit to Berlin this meant a pretty hard core plate of different wurst, leberwurst, schinken and nice little brötchen. The first place we went to was something totally different though, a little cosy French breakfast café called Fleury. We felt silly going to a French place in Berlin. Anyhow, it seemed to be a pretty popular café. The place was nice, we were hungry and the breakfast tasted lovely. Fleury is a bit overpriced, to be quite honest, especially compared to the more typical breakfast places in Berlin. It also didn't really attain the level of French finesse that I'm used to, having lived in France for 2 years, but kind of the next best thing to the real deal.

Weinbergsweg 20
(Mitte, U: Rosenthalerplatz)

Guten Apetit! “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” is my absolute favourite motto to follow when travelling and especially when eating in a foreign country. In order to follow this motto, it's always good to learn basic vocabulary even though you otherwise have to knowledge of the local language. For me the first words and sentences I learn always are food related and insults. Both vital for suvival.

Hackesche höfe. This buzzing courtyard complex built in 1906/7 is not a place I'd recommend for you who get claustrophobic and hate masses of people like I do. But it's a beautiful place filled with restaurants, boutiques and galleries. The reason for us to go there was a cinema on the fourth floor screening films in their original language. But best of all, you were allowed to sip on wine in the cinema. Sure sounds to me! However, note that this place is a major attraction in the Mitte district. We went there pretty late on a weekday to see a movie. It was the perfect moment to see the beauty of the impressive construction in peace.

Hackescher Markt
(Mitte, U8: Weinmeisterstrße)

Berlin Burger International. I really wish my belly wouldn't have been at the point of explosion when we passed by this tiny, luring and super fresh hamburger bar. I can't say whether it was the very cute and very hungry looking German men or the luscious, juicy hamburgers they hand in their hands that made want to enter the place. Let us be diplomatic and say both. My fascination for this little factory of delight grew even bigger when I understood that not only do they have a amazing hamburgers made out of only the freshest ingredients and real 100% meat, they also have vegetarian and even vegan variations in on their list of burgers! I'm thinking a perfect place for Saturday afternoon munchies. I'm happy there still are honest people preparing honest food.

Pannierstraße 5
Closed on Sundays!
(Neukölln, U: Hermannplatz/M41)

Kumru. This place is heaven for a birdfood lover like me. This guy dries, rosts and marinates everything, nuts, fruits, seeds, olives, cheese. Salty and sweet. 100% natural. What really impressed me was the huge variety of types of pates made of nuts, sun dried tomatoes, cheese, veggies, mushrooms... Everything is sold by weight. Perfect place for an easy and delicious aperitivo.

Wrangelstaße 49
(Kreuzberg, U: Schleisisches Tor)

Lazare – The apple of my eye. Call me silly, but I had to give the letter L to Lazare, a very special two year old little boy. Not because I didn't find something better for L, but because in my eyes, he's as cute and sweet as a cupcake. You really can't help but take the little creature in your arms and squeeze him tight! If only I could get a bite. I met him and his parents for the first time this summer on the island of Gotland, at Hablingo Crêperie where I worked as a waitress. His dad used to work their too a while ago and nowadays they're good friends with the owner who invites them to their big house for summer vacation reunions. I got the privilege to babysit Lazare one evening and ever since he's the undoubted invincible number one on my cutest baby ranking. He totally and utterly stole my heart.

Maybachufer Open Air Market. A foodie (or anyone else for that matter) should really not miss this street market when visiting Berlin. Food, veggies, fruit, nuts, fresh pasta, cheese, fish, meat, you name it! People pushing and screaming, eating and drinking. I felt so at home. To quote a Turkish salesman there “almost everything cost almost nothing”. How can you not like the sound of that.

(Neukölln, U: Schönleinstraße)

Näturlish-Bio Market. This is certainly nothing special or astonishing for a German. For all you others, I have to say that nowhere have I found such an impressive spread of biological supermarkets and exhaustive range of biological food and ingredients as I have in Germany. But Berlin really is the promised land of bio! It's actually harder to find food that is not biological than vice versa. That's pretty amazing to me. I love it when people don't look at me strangely, like I'd be the biggest freak they've ever encountered when I empty the little box with flaxseeds in my food. In Berlin, it just made me one of them.

Rudimarie. Bubble wrap yourself and your kid and find the childlike enthusiasm lurking inside of you. Rudimarie is a café you shouldn't miss, especially if want you're kid to have a blast. Home made waffles, cheese cakes, rye bread, warm delicious soups, almost anything you could wish for! And the coolest thing: while you eat and relish of all delicacies, you're kid can run around freely consuming all that extre energy in the awesome playground right next to the café. That playground was wild! I mean there's even a cool skatepark! Lazar was ecstatic and fearless! Luckily, I got out with minor bruises...

(Neukölln, U7 / U8: Hermannplatz, U7: Rathhaus)

StreuselschneckeHello there lover! Was all I could say when I saw this vulgar piece of pastry. Ladies and Gentlemen, meet the guiltiest of my guilty pleasures, the pastry that will guaranteed make you high and sick simultaneously. I swear it's seriously worth the bombastic stomach ache and the feeling of being uncomfortably full. It's basically white flour yeast dough with a crazy amount of butter and sugar glaze on top – tout con, tout simple like one would say in French. I'd say you can get our hands on this baby in pretty much every street bakery in town.


Vux. If I wouldn't know better, I'd say that this tip for a café is pretty valuable. It's so extremely hidden and unexpected in the surroundings that if you're not ein Berliner I'm pretty sure you wouldn't know where to find it. I say this because just a few blocks away from this pastel coloured little oasis of delicious pastries and hot chocolate, there is the notoriously ugly Karl Marx Straße. At least I couldn't have imagined stumbling upon this place by accident. For me, this is the perfect example of how Berlin doesn't seem to surprise the traveller. The atmosphere in Vux is delicate and it seems that it's (at least still for now) a hide out for the coolest kids of Neukölln – the upcoming hipster district according to my. The tourists with a map get an angry eye entering the café (yes that is me and my horribly bad sense of localization). Don't get discourage though. The great thing is that everything is biological and there are stuff for vegans and gluten intolerants too. It seemed to me that the owner or one of the co-owners was Brazilian which explained the nice Brazilian twist to the menu. A little teaser to awake your taste buds: “Bagels with various toppings such as «salami»-saté, seitan-limão, guava jelly and cheese, houmous with sun-dried tomatoes, cream cheese or seitan sausage with smoky-habanero-mango-sauce – with loads of fresh salad, tomatoes and sprouts. Or as menu of the day various soups such as pumkin-manioc-coconut-soup, parsnip soup or fruits tomato-raspberry-soup with flavoursome homemade bread...” Nice and new surprises like these are always welcome, don't you think? Now I'm just babbling... go and see for yourself!

Richardstraße 38
between Richardplatz and Comenius-Garten, near U7/ Karl-Marx-Straße )

Weltempfänger. “Rent a room, welcome at the table” is the slogan for this Austro-Mediterranean breakfast café/bar as they themselves define it. I like the concept of having a guest house above a café/bar, but alternatively putting the main focus on the café/bar. I mean many hotels and hostels have a breakfast serving or a shabby café which is only open for hostel/hotel guests, but this place is different. The atmosphere was extremely soft and warm, like in a nest or something. The red blind that they roll down to protect your tired eyes when morning turns to day paints the whole interior smooth and mellow. The best thing is to give in and dose off after a heavenly morning feast.

Anklamer Straße 27
(Mitte, U: Bemauer Straße)

So that's all folk! For now. I hope the content of one of the letters at least gave you something new to chew on. If anyone feels like completing my alphabet please do so. I welcome all input with enormous appetite!
Vielen Dank! Schüssi freunden!

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