A Culinary Tour of Berlin
The capital city of Germany has had an eccentric and dramatic history. This history is reflected in Berlin’s food scene, which retains a classic German structure filled with plenty of hearty and meat-centric dishes, as well as influences from around the world, in particular, the city’s Turkish immigrant population. You can throw a stone and find a place to eat any kind of wurst. Here’s a rundown of the most essential and recognizable Berlin dishes and the best places to eat them.
Fast food that’s actually good. This grease dive staple was invented in 1949 when a culinary experimenter mixed ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, and curry powder and used the concoction as a topping for a grilled pork sausage. Today, it is an enigmatic part of Berlin culture and food scene. There is an entire museum devoted to the Berlin Currywurst. The sausage and sauce can be served on its own or with a side of fries or Brotchen (bread rolls). Although it is a relative of the hot dog, this creation stands on its own. You can amp up the spice level or leave it mild. The best place to get a classic Currywurst in Berlin is Konnopke’s Imbiss.
Also known as the Berliner, Pfannkuchen is a doughnut-type pastry made from deep-fried yeast dough and typically filled with jelly or other sweets. The classic version consists of two doughnut halves are which are stuck together with lard during the frying process. The doughnuts are then topped with powdered sugar. You can get a Berliner filled with almost anything and a Berlin New Years tradition involves a plate full of jelly-filled Pfannkuchen with one mustard-filled for the lucky individual who is about to have a good year. The Berliner name was placed forever in linguistic infamy with American President John F. Kennedy’s famous use of the term in a speech promoting peace between the two nations. But if you just want to eat a classic jelly doughnut sans political statements, head to Backerei Siebert.
The Berlin version of the Doner Kebab, alternatively known as shawarma or gyro depending on where you’re eating it, was invented in 1971 by a Turkish immigrant aiming to make a portable version of a Turkish meat and salad dish. Rotisserie cooked meat, usually lamb, seasoned in the Turkish style is sliced and wrapped in a pita or other fluffy bread along with Turkish salad. It is a street food and fast food staple great for on-the-go and cheap eats. You’ll have to wait awhile, but when you bite into your Doner Kebab at Mustafa’s Gemuse Kapab, you’ll be glad you did.
You can’t go to Germany without trying the traditional breaded and fried veal cutlets (also available with other meats). It’s a simple dish, but can be made into something special and unusual with a choice of toppings. Either way, you try it, it is classic Berlin and tasty. You can go pretty much anywhere with “schnitzel” in the name and be happy, but the options at Restaurant Schnitzelei may be your best bet.
Pork and German cuisine go hand-in-hand. You almost can’t have on without the other. A staple pork dish is the pork knuckle. In Berlin, it is boiled or steamed in sauerkraut for several hours then served with a side of potatoes and pea puree. Traditional food is best served in a traditional restaurant, as in the oldest in Berlin (1621), Zur Letzten Instanz.
You’ve heard of Bratwurst. Well, bockwurst, invented in 1889, is the veal sausage plus pork plus whatever other crazy kinds of meat you want to throw in there and today even comes in an all fish version. The sausage is simmered and seasoned with salt, white pepper, and paprika and sometimes chives and is typically served with mustard. It’s Berlin so obviously beer is going to play a large part in the cuisine and bockwurst is traditionally eaten alongside bock beer, a strong lager. Head to Curry 36 in Kreuzberg for a taste.
Mustard eggs are a staple meal many Berliners think of fondly in memories of childhood. It a mother’s classic that is also a hit at canteens and street vendors. It’s a very simple dish of hard-boiled eggs served with a creamy mustard sauce. Just don’t ask mom for the secret ingredient in her sauce. Instead, stop by Kantine in the Mitte district and eat your mustard eggs with mashed potatoes.