How to eat well in Berlin

Paris has dozens of restaurants which are better than any in Berlin, and then hundreds more better than the rest.  Yet it may be the case that you have, overall, a better food life in Berlin than in Paris.

Berlin has a weak reputation among foodies, but culinary life in the city is much improved.  Here are my tips for a good eating life in Berlin:

1. Find a steady source of innovative rolls, buns, and dark breads.  These are the glories of Berlin and in many parts of town there will be at least one such source per residential block.  The more irregular the colors, seeds, and topologies of the breads, the more enthusiastically you should buy them.  Do not treat this as the French bread buying experience.

2. Find a source for good spreads, such as cherry, raspberry, etc. and stock up.  Repeatedly apply the spreads to the breads, until death of the researcher intervenes.  This procedure is the basis for everything else you will do.  It ensures that all of your food days will be good ones.

3. Seek out mid-level German restaurants, of the kind promoted in the Time Out Guide; Renger-Patzsch is a good example.  The vegetables in such places will be consistently excellent.

4. The speed and service quality of most meals will be much better if you arrive before 7 p.m.

5. Don't obsess over German food.  It's underrated, but still a lot of it isn't that good.  In Berlin, and many other parts of Germany, you have first-class delicatessens or stores with foodstuffs from France, Italy, and many other parts of the world.  Use them.  Berlin offers one of the best overall selections in this regard, better than New York City or Paris, for instance, in terms of real access.  You can eat first-rate French cheese every day.

6. When it comes to Berlin German food, don't eat anything in a sauce.  It will be either boring or disgusting.  Sorry.

7. The sausage spread at the KaDeWe (make sure you live near that place) is probably the best in the entire world.  Go there regularly.  They also have first-rate sausages from France, Spain, and other countries, as well as an unparalleled selection of sausages from the different regions of Germany, organized one region per case.  This food source, like #1, insures that each of your food days will be a splendid one.

8. Go to Berlin's numerous and varied ethnic restaurants, especially in the slightly lower rent districts.  If the food is supposed to be spicy, you must repeat the following incantation several times: "Ich will es essen, genau wie Sie es zu Hause essen.  Ich bin kein deutscher."  [I want to eat it exactly as you eat it at home.  I am not a German."]  Repeat especially that last part: "Ich bin kein deutscher."  Repeat it even if you are a German.  This will usually work and typically your Chinese or Thai or Indian server will smile and laugh in response.  If they view you as a German, you are screwed no matter what.  Simply asking for the food to be "spicy" or even "very spicy" is laughable.  It is showing yourself to be a fool and a sucker.

9. Food here is much cheaper than in Paris, and it is much easier to get into virtually any restaurant.  Take advantage of both features.

10. Italian food here is almost always reasonably good, and reasonably cheap, but it is rarely great.  Lots of cream sauces.  It's a good enough fall back and you find it virtually everywhere.  A quite good pasta for $6 or even less is a common experience.  Sometimes it's actually German food in disguise, or not in disguise, such as when you get Carpaccio with Pfifferlinge.

11. For ethnic food, I recommend the following: Tian Fu in Wilmersdorf (very good Sichuan), Suriya-Kanthi (Sri Lankan in Prenzlauer Berg), Genazvale (Georgian food in Charlottenburg), Degirman is one good Turkish place of many, a slew of authentic Mexican restaurants (more than in Virginia), DAO restaurant in Charlottenburg (Thai food, best papaya salad I've had, all-around excellent), and Schneeweiss has first-rate Wiener Schnitzel.

Overall Sri Lankan and Nepalese and East bloc cuisines are better here, or more available, than in the USA.

If you visit for one day, you won't be so impressed with culinary life in Berlin.  If you stay for a month, you won't want to go back to what you had before.

Comments

You're missing a #2.

Thanks, now fixed...

Oh my gosh, it sounds absolutely wonderful. But Tyler I'm concerned about your health (breads, spreads, researcher deads). A subsequent post could treat the German health system? I understand it is great if unaffordable?

I would definetly get at least one Gemüse Kebab from Mustapha's Gemüse kebab stand outside the Mehringdamm subway exit, if its still there. Was my favourite in Berlin, served with grilled vegetables, feta cheese, and extra spices.

aww this post makes me miss Berlin so ..

I have never heard of curry wurst until now But I love curry and I love sausages also...Thanks for putting this stuff here.

Nice Post! You can't emphasize #1 enough. I still disagree with #6. Yes, 'Currywurst' is disgusting and the quality of other sauces varies a lot. But it is not that difficult to find good ones and there are some gems to be discovered. #8 is very well put--and true. I'm very surprised by your endorsing of a Mexican restaurant in Germany. I've long given up on those. Maybe there's new hope?

One thing your list is missing is the pastry. German 'Konditoreien' sell by far the best cake I've had, anywhere. Seek out the cafes with the highest number of pensioners--they are the experts.

You wrote: " Find a steady source of innovative rolls, buns, and dark breads. "

Actually, I believe that it's better to find a very traditional locally owned and operated, non-chain German bakery with a good variety of kneaded- and baked-on-the-premises rolls and breads. Unfortunately, "innovation" in the German baking industry means preparation in industrial-scale baking factories through an initial baking and finishing in small convection ovens in the local retail bakeries. This leads to considerable uniformity, a tendency towards ever-lighter breads, and use of chemical leaveners in addition to or in place of pure yeast leavening. The worst evidence of this is the recent innovation by the discount supermarket chain Aldi (Aldi owns Trader Joe's BTW) of roll-baking automats in stores. The pressure applied by the chain baking enterprises on traditional baking is sometimes astonishing. Whereas a medium-sized town might have had 12 to 20 independent bakers 20 years ago, they may now have 6 to 10 chain outlets and a single struggling local baker.

Apparently neither Alan Gunn nor JasonL noticed the weekly open markets in amost every city district in Germany or the major 6-day-a-week market halls in every district in Budpest, with their mountains of peppers, onions, cucumbers and cabbages. And in Germany, the contribution of allotment gardens to the daily vegatable and fruit intake is huge, with imported market veggies now replacing the staple of Sauerkraut of the past in Winter. At home, Germans and Hungarians definitely eat more vegetables and fruits than Americans as it is not unusual for families to have warm meat only two or three times a week.

'Ich bin kein deutscher'

I can only confirm this, especially with Asian food. I first discovered this at a mediocre undistinguished Chinese restaurant in Käftertal in 1990 or so - the same dish served to an American and to a German was very different. And just a few days later, talking to an Indian semi-street vendor a few blocks from the Fressgasse (the Mannheim version), when commenting on his samosas (which my German wife found 'unmöglich' at the time - peas and potatoes together!), he said that it was simply not possible to cook for Germans and make money while using any recipe which more than vaguely resembled the original Indian version.

This is one of the best tips an Ausländer can use to eat well in Germany - practice the expression religiously when ordering, and though it means you won't eat like a typical German in many restaurants, this is only to be recommended heartily. I certainly say this, and repeat it in English for emphasis - no reason not to make that fact clear, after all, at least at any restaurant run by Chinese/Koreans/Indians/Thais/Vietnamese etc.

In fairness to the person that mentioned Rotterdam as a 'nearby' destination, in the Netherlands, this is not necessary at an Indonesian/Malaysian restaurant in that country - the Dutch have no apparent problem with decent spicing in various dishes.

Be careful with #8. Usually works, but I shrugged off a warning at an Indian restaurant in Munich with "Ich bin kein Deutscher", and I got a vindaloo that just about melted the roof of my mouth off.

"and I got a vindaloo that just about melted the roof of my mouth off."

That's what it's supposed to do!

@Oreg: I found German beer to be highly overrated unless you like undistinguished pilsners or hefe- and dunkelweizens. Go to Belgium instead, the variety and inventiveness of the beers there is much greater.

"The secret is to get your cold cuts sliced thin (very thin!) and eat them with dark brotchen. The flavor of the meat will come through, and without as many calories. Focus on flavor, not quantity."

Sounds like going for a kiss with a scarf around your mouth to protect yourself from consuming too much flesh.

Slap those bland, tooth-rotting breads to the floor where they belong and devour the whole hog.

Don't forget the "Torten und kuchen". In a German pastry shop, you can buy any of the store's tortes, tarts or cakes by the slice. In most American pastry shops, only a few goods are available by the slice, and most pastries must be purchased as the entire cake. I took a hiking trip through villages in Bavaria five years ago, and thoroughly enjoyed a slice of kuchen every afternoon.

klaus wowereit should seriously consider giving dr. cowen a prize for raising the culinary reputation of berlin. if you like cured meat, kadewe's section should be your Mecca.

The liquors are good too. I won't touch Jaegermeister (from bad hangovers)

Jager has two other drawbacks: its fratboy image, and the fact that it tastes like cough syrup from the 99 cent store.

Try the best coffee in Berlin: Piadina Bar at Rosenthaler Platz. Don't forget to talk with the owner about making exceptional coffee, why he does not use pure Arabica, the perfect milk foam, and do on. You will be amazed.

What's the "French bread buying experience"?

That Sri-Lankan restaurant is really good. I live here and never tried it. Need to go back with friends and sample more food....mmhh. But Tyler is right...you can get so many differents food stuffs...fresh Antipasti, French cheese.

Actually Berlin is a bad city for dark bread, too much indsutrial stuff thats very dry. Southern oder Western Germany has much better bread especially in smaller towns. But you can find a good bakery in Berlin. Have one that sells kosher bread...quite tasty.

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