Berlin's Must Eats
I love cooking. Yet Berlin is one of those cities that does any amazing job at convincing me to hang up the apron and leave the cooking to the professionals. Its colourful history has led to a wide-variety of cuisines and offerings from around the globe, and the prices are very reasonable when compared to other major urban centres, particularly in the "West." Read on for my recommendations on Berlin's must eat foods, and where to get them.
Communism wasn't all bad. There are a few things we can thank Stalin for—albeit not very many. One of the few lingering benefits of the old communist regime in Berlin is the large community of Vietnamese people. Due to the communist buddy-buddy relationship between the USSR and VIetnam, it was relatively easy for Vietnamese people to move to Berlin back in the day. Not only has this added some cultural diversity it the mix, it has also turned Berlin into a hot bed of amazing Vietnamese restaurants. I'm not talking "Vietnamese" food, I'm talking legitimate Vietnamese cuisine that rivels the food found in Vietnam, with the added benefit of sanitary cooking conditions.
The main concentration is definitely in Mitte around XXX, with my favourite being a modern, cafe-style eatery called Qua Phe. Not only do they serve some good old-fashioned Vietnamese coffee (espresso coffee mixed with other-worldly sweet, condensed milk), they have all the favourites; fresh spring rolls, pork buns, rice pyramids, stir frys, and more. Although, sadly, it's not a place for pho. But stumble into any of the other Vietnamese places and you'll find pho aplenty.
The capitalist Americans have also left their mark on Berlin's culinary map. Berlin is a huge burger town. Why? Well I suspect it's because Berlin was filled with American military and politicians doing their best to battle the Reds, and of course, they brought their burger culture with them. There are various high-quality burger joints spread out through the city that will suit even the pickiest or refined of tastes.
I checked out a local chain called Shiller Burger, which serves pretty excellent burgers with a decent variety of meats like pulled pork and beef, veg options like haloumi and veggie patty, and excellent toppings like blue cheese and avocado. Just watch out, the pulled pork is so juicy it will actually explode with the first bite. I definitely do not recommend having it for a first-date or business meeting unless they particularly like pork juices in their face.
It is truly astonishing how kebab has taken over Europe, and nowhere is that more true than Germany's capital city. Berlin takes it to a whole other level. Berlin has the largest Turkish community outside of Turkey, making the Turks the most populous minority in town. Luckily Turkey is legendary for its love of quality food.
Kebab joints are absolutely everywhere in Berlin. At any time of day, at nearly any major square or transportation hub, do a 360 and you'll see upwards of a dozen meat spindles being trimmed by burly Turkish dudes. I'm not even exaggerating. Some of these spindles contain dozens of chickens slammed on top of each other, others contain that weird, unidentifiable mish-mash of meat. But they all include some lettuce, tomato, onion, and garlic and hot sauces at a minimum. A "doner" kebab is in a bun, a "durum" is in a wrap, and a turkish pizza kebab uses a turkish pizza (flatbread with cooked tomato sauce and veg). They're meaty, saucey, and always hit the drunken spot.
If you want the best kebab experience of your life, however, you need to get a Gemuse Kebab. Gemuse means vegetable in German. No, this is not a vegetarian kebab, calm down. It's a normal kebab with roasted vegetables like eggplant, peppers, onion, and sweet potato, with a dousing of feta cheese, and a spritz of lemon. One bite will make you wonder why you've been wasting your time with the normal one.
The most infamous place in town to get one is at Mustafas Gemuse Kebab, a simple stall near Mehringdammplatz that has a long line 24 hours per day. The wait is worth it. Oh god is it worth it.
Okay you're out and about, possibly intoxicated at 3 in the morning, and you're vegetarian, or god dammit you've had way too many doner kebabs and ho-hum pizza. What can you do? Get a falafel sandwich of course! It's hard to knock this vegetarian alternative even if you're the staunchest of meat eaters. Spiced chickpea flour formed into balls deep-fried and served piping hot in a bath of hummus, garlic sauce, hot sauce, with a side of veg all gorgeously squeezed into a pita. Delicious. Or if you like to craft each mouthful or have a larger appetite, get a falafel plate, which has more of the same ingredients and spread out on a plate.
Any kebab or schwarma joint, or any middle eastern restaurant for that matter, will also sell falafels. If you're looking for the highest-rated place in town, hit up Dada Falafel near Orananienburger for a excellent falafel pita or plate. The ingredients are fresh, and the falafels are served straight from the fryer. And the prices are no higher than a lot of stale, cold falafels you'll get at a lot of places. Enjoy.
Food Counter place
German cuisine outside of Berlin is much different than it is within city limits. Outside Berlin, locals frequent butcher shops called "Metzgerei" and eat the more classic, German dishes than they do in the weird capital. In addition to the wide assortment of wursts, head cheeses, and slabs of meat, Metzgerei also have a deli section that serves hot favourites like Eisbein (boiled pork hock), Leberwurst (thick, buttery ham made from a mixture of meats), Speissbraten (slow-cooked fatty pork with onions), and Eintopfs (stews) with classic sides like mashed potatoes, sauerkraut, and a big glob of Senf (mustard).
There's a few of these establishments in town, but the biggest and best is Rogacki in Charlottenburg. It's a giant place with a large, separate counter for all food groups, wursts, head cheese, fish, meat, desserts, pasta, and hot food. Come to lunch with a big appetite and grab a few things like Blutwurst (blood sausage), and take home a few German delicacies to have for later.
I know what you're thinking, fried chicken is hardly unique to Berlin. The American South, and parts Eastern Asia would have strong words for me if I claimed that the fried chicken in Berlin was the best in the world, or that the Berliners invented the stuff. So I won't. I will say, however, that a long-standing restaurant, Henne, is famous for truly sensational fried chicken. This working class pub has a very limited food menu, a couple salads, a few sausages, a couple desserts, and their house speciality—deep-fried 1/2 chicken. The rest is just beer. And honestly, they could have stopped after the chicken and beer.
The chicken is phenomenal, and honestly before Henne, I hadn't really seen an entire half chicken breaded and deep-fried together in one piece. It's perfectly cooked, not overly greasy, and will keep you coming back for more. Do your taste buds a favour and eat a fried bird.
Well I really couldn't make a list about food in Berlin without including the prolific Currywurst, one of the greatest legacies from the days of the Berlin Wall. After obtaining ketchup (or Worcestershire sauce) from British soldiers, a local in Charlottenburg doused her fried sausages in the stuff and topped it all with a little curry powder. The dish was a hit, and continues to be one of the only foods that remotely combats the popularity of doner kebabs in Berlin. Wander anywhere in town and you'll see food counters dishing out currywurst by the plenty to hordes of standing patrons spilling over the sidewalk.
Many people argue over the best place in Berlin for Currywurst, and well I'm not going to fuel the flames. Try any old place that has good looking sausages (the traditional uses a Bockwurst, but you can get any sausage you want) and get one. Some are less than a euro, others are about 5. Or if you're a do-it-yourselfer, go to a supermarket or butcher and buy some sausages ketchup, and some curry powder and make it yourself. Common sides are a small, hard roll, or a mound of mayo-laden "pommes" (French fries).
Despite its appearances and its constant battle against normality, Berlin is a very large, Western-European cosmopolitan capital city. This means it attracts affluent gourmands looking for a German twist on the cuisines of the world. During my time in Berlin, I had the opportunity to visit Germany's top restaurant, and only 2-star Michelin restaurant, Tim Raue. It was gorgeous, and outrageously delicious. Also outrageously expensive.
If you're looking for an excellent German chef to prepare you Asian-inspired dishes, and are willing to drop down the cash for it, definitely visit Tim Raue for a lunch or dinner multiple-course meal. Enjoy delights like wasabi langoustine, dim sum with pork giblets, roast suckling pig, and Tim Raue's interpretation on Peking duck (the foie gras made me grunt and swear uncontrollably). The portions sizes for each course are small, but with the four complimentary appetizers and dessert, and the multiple-course menu, you'll leave feeling extremely satisfied.
Germans love their baked treats. From the humble rye and sourdough breads, to the stunningly sweeting strudels, Berliners, and Streusseltalers, If you're a gluten enthusiast, Berlin will certainly have you covered. There are millions of chain bakeries like Back Werk, XXX, and YYY for your typical German fare, but keep an eye out for the small, local ones—those are always the best.
I reccomend a joint in Mitte called Zeit Fuer Brot which serves various kinds of stunning cinnamon bun-esque delights. Whether you like chocolate, macademia nut, walnut, or white chocolate raspberry, then you'll be in heaven here. And that's only a portion of the options. Just make sure to get them in the morning while their hot.
But let's not forget that the Turkish love their baked treats as well. Berlin is home to thousands of private Turkish bakeries with delicious savoury options like Turkish pizza and borek (pastry stuffed with meat, cheese, or spinach), and sweet options like baklava and Turkish delights. And so much more. Walk the hoods and step in a few and grab some things that look delicious—they are.
Now for the fun part
You're now equipped with everything you need to start wowing your tastebuds, so star these places on your map and get out there and start eating. And please, consider my recommendations as only a start to your culinary adventures in Berlin. The city has far more to offer than I just listed.
Berlin is home to amazing foods, and it would be an absolute shame to miss out on the treasures it has to offer. So just like the crazy art and party scene, start looking in the most unlikely of places and have fun with it.
If you have any recommendations for places or foods that I missed, please let us all know in the comments below. And if you liked what you read and what to read more, check out my other posts and subscribe to my mailing list.