I posted on the things to do in Berlin a few months back, but didn’t cover too much of the food culture. Eating in Berlin doesn’t have to be bogged down in the heavy sauces, meats, or abundance of carbohydrates that equate themselves with traditional German food. Here is my short list of Berlin’s “must-eat” foods, from the obvious to the (likely) unexpected:
Currywurst: Pork sausage is dipped into a curry-laced ketchup mixture, cut into bite-size chunks, and placed on a paper tray with a little plastic fork and a mound of fries – also served with a dipping sauce of ketchup or mayonnaise. The best we had was at Curry36 where both the sausage and the fries were dusted with an extra layer of curry spice.
Döner Kebab: Berlin contains the largest number of Turkish immigrants in the world, so it only makes sense that their food culture would be heavily influenced by the flavors of Turkey. The Döner Kebab is a traditional kebab, complete with meat, cucumber, cabbage, and tomato, dressed with garlic, spicy, and/or yogurt-herb sauces, and shoved into a flatbread. Some locations serve it with a slight twist in either secret-sauces or sautéed vegetables, but even the basic is tasty. We got ours at Mustafa’s, a cultish little street stand near Curry36 that always seems to have a decent line (for good reason).
Club Mate: Made from yerba mate tea, this nonalcoholic drink is bubbly and not-too-sweet. Drink it like a local: order it at a bar, have a few sips, and hand it back to the bartender to fill with rum or vodka.
Köfte: These herb-infused minced meatballs, usually made with lamb (though sometimes with veal) are served with a mint sauce and the basic salad (cabbage-based) in a baguette.
Half a Hen: Half a grilled chicken served with potato salad and bread is typical fare at many street stands. You can probably smell crispy skin and tender meat from a few blocks away if you happen to be near any one of the outdoor rotisseries.
Berliner Schnitzel: Most places will serve this as a breaded-and-fried veal slab on top of a potato or cabbage salad. However, if you’re daring and near one of the restaurants that still serve it the traditional way then it will be made of cow’s udder instead of veal.
Eiswein: A sweet ice wine invented in Germany.
Mohnkuchen: You’ve probably noticed that I have a thing for poppy seed anything, but this poppy seed cake just about tops my list. It’s light and buttery with just the right amount of crunchy almond crumble and sweet, but not too sweet, glaze. The best I had was at Backer Walf.
Bockwurst: This bratwurst is made of pork, chicken, lamb, and turkey meat all shoved into a single casing. There are also fish-only versions.
Senfeier: Boiled eggs, mashed potatoes, and greens are smothered in a creamy mustard sauce for a dish that doesn’t sound all that appealing but is quite tasty and harkens back to the childhoods of many Berliners. It’s also filling without containing a single speck of meat that is so prevalent in German food.
Prasselkuchen: This tart has a thin, puff-pastry crust, streusel topping, and a vanilla pudding center. It may also contain apricot jam or almond paste and is a perfect complement to a cup of coffee.
Spätzle: This dish is made with a fluffier sort of dough for the pasta and a ridiculous amount of cheese. Vegetables might be added in some places, but if not, it is usually served with a side salad that locals tend to mix in with their pasta.
Pfannkuchen: The Berliner, or jelly doughnut, is often synonymous with the city that gave it its namesake everywhere else in Germany. These are your basic jelly doughnuts, though the pastry dough isn’t quite as heavy and the tops are just dusted with a powdery sugar or are lightly iced – the point, after all, is what’s in center.
Location: Kreuzberg, under the Schlesisches Tor Station in a former public restroom
The handmade patties are heavily-peppered and topped with fresh lettuce and pickles like any classic cheeseburger. It’s the sauces and the other burger types (the tofu burger is divine) that make this place stand out. Also, the fries.
Location: near Tiergarten, under the Tiergarten Station – it’s easy to miss so keep an eye out
It doesn’t matter what you order here as long as you have a beer, are open to rubbing elbows with locals at communal (but not stifling) tables, don’t mind unromantic but dimly lit restaurants, and are looking for comfort food. Everything we ate was delicious and the atmosphere could not be beat. Also, the portions are huge and it’s inexpensive.
– M. Ray Hall