Berlin, food, Life in Berlin, things to do

The Berlin Neukölln Tasting Tour

When people first settled in Neukölln in the very south of Berlin, it was like a new colony, hence the name. King Friedrich Wilhelm I welcomed Czech refugees to the area in the 18th century. The farm houses he provided for them can still be seen in the neighbourhood of Rixdorf. But even today, Neukölln retains the feeling of an area that is still developing, with much to be discovered.

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Neukölln Food Tour Guide Iris has lived in the area for fourteen years. Among the many changes she has witnessed, some of the most exciting are the new restaurants and cafes that have opened in recent years. In other Berlin districts, eating establishments open and close at a surprising rate, but in Neukölln new places are rare novelties, and they thrive.

Iris leads a three hour walking tour through Neukölln, punctuated by stops at a range of eating establishments, from bakeries to vegan cafes with coworking spaces attached to them. It’s a lovely way to discover the area – by literally getting a taste of it.

There are seven stops in all, and the tour is careful to select good quality owner-run places. This specification is representative of the shift in Neukölln – departing from one euro donor joints to places that cater to a more gentrified clientele. It is a source of controversy and conflict, as can be seen by the graffiti that reads Hass auf Yuppies (Hate for Yuppies) on the wall of Zuckerbaby, one of the first cafes we visit.

Despite this, Zuckerbaby is packed. It has a warm, living room atmosphere. The two sisters – one of whom lived in the United States – play with their different backgrounds by offering dishes such as grilled cheese with sauerkraut.

One of my favourite places on the tour was CocoLiebe, a vibrant cafe decorated with bright colours. It’s Lebanese-owner offered us a taste of one of his ‘pizza’ creations, which mixes aspects of Lebanese, French, and Italian cuisine.

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This unique mishmash of different culinary cultures is typical of Neukölln, the district with the highest population of immigrants in Berlin. At Alfred-Scholz-Platz, Iris pointed out the cobblestones, which are different colours. Each colour represents a different ethnic group of the population, to proportion.

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Part of the pleasure of Neukölln is its diversity. And the particular pleasure of this tour is that you get the chance to know and chat with the diverse group of strangers you find yourself meandering through the area’s streets and stopping every now and then to share a bite with.

Eat-the-worl’d Neukölln Tour costs 33 Euros per person and is available to book via phone or online.

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Berlin, food, Life in Berlin

Pieoneers: Bringing British Pies to Berlin

Winter is coming.  Berlin winters are harsh with Siberian winds and temperatures dropping to -20 °C.

Spectacularly, the Deutschens carry on as normal; schools stay open, people go to work, trams run on schedule. I, however, remain true to my London routes by going into hibernation. I only come out when The Bavarian bribes me with a nice meal in a restaurant, which he does because, like all Germans, he believes in fresh air. Apart from our lovely restaurant trips though, winter is a time of canned foods and pizza deliveries.

I recently came across something that could help. Pieoneers delivers traditional British pork pies, vegetarian pasties and homemade chutneys to your door.

Pieoneers Berlin

Made by Brit Laura Harker and delivered by James Marnagh, the pies are authentic. Pork pies and vegetarian pasties are €2.50 each and you can order online for a Thursday or Sunday delivery.

The Pioneers are celebrating their six month anniversary at 20.00 on Thursday 7th November 2013 at Das Gift, Donaustrasse 119, 12043 Berlin (nearest U Rathaus Neukölln) where you can check out their pies. For more details look at their Facebook Page.

food, restaurants and bars

Neighbourhood Italian: Mami Camilla

The Bavarian and I have recently finished watching HBO’s Boardwalk Empire and have started watching Rome. We tend to get immersed in our dramas. While watching Boardwalk Empire, which is about boot-legging in 1920s prohibition era America, we got through one bottle of Laphroig and three bottles of Woodford Reserve. Rome, set in the 1st century BC during Ancient Rome’s transition from Republic to Empire, is more difficult. In lieu of being able to buy slaves, raise armies, or crucify people, we settled on going out for a nice Italian.

This may sound simpler than buying slaves, raising armies, or crucifying people, but finding a good Italian restaurant is no easy task – even in Italy. I once stayed with an Italian family in Montalto di Castro, about 2 hours from Rome, and when we visited the capital, we did not eat. According to them, the restaurants in Rome were for tourists; most of them were not run by proper Italians, and they did not use good tomatoes. It was not until that night, when we got to the pizzeria down the road from where they lived, that we finally got to eat.

So, the rules are clear; the restaurant should be local, run by Italians and use good produce. Mami Camilla in Bötzowviertel, Prenzlauer Berg, ticks all these boxes.

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It’s a quiet place. Simply decorated, softly lit, with solid wooden tables and background music that does not try to compete with the sound of conversation or the clink of cutlery.

The food has a strong South Italian influence; the owner is from the Amalfi Coast and the chef is from Puglia. They get special produce delivered from Italy as well as adapting their dishes to suit the season (working with berries in the summer, pumpkin in the autumn).

10For starters (between €10-15) we had burrata, an Italian cheese made from mozzarella and cream, with apples, and cardoncello mushrooms baked with pecorino cheese, for the mains (between €15-25) the Bavarian enjoyed swordfish with baked red pepper and squid tagliolini, while I experienced the best ravioli I’ve ever tasted (made with rosemary, lemon-zest and goats cheese, topped with berries).  For dessert (between €5-10) we shared a tiramisu. To accompany, we had a bottle of Negroamaro Primitivo from Puglia.

pizza at mami camilla'sThe fact that everything is freshly made to a high-quality is reflected in the price and the time it takes to make certain dishes. It’s worth it, but if you don’t feel like going all out, they also have a wide selection of excellent, regularly-priced pizzas – made Neapolitan style.

There’s something for everyone, so the clientele range from couples to groups of friends and families with children. It’s refreshing to find a place like this that has a relaxed atmosphere and friendly service.

The Bavarian’s verdict: “You can say what you like about the Italians, but they know what they’re doing when it comes to food.”

Mami Camilla, Hufelandstrasse 36, 10407 Berlin, is open from Monday to Saturday 17:00-23:00, and Sunday 12:00 – 23:00. For reservations, call 030 40981537 / 0176 24686552, email info@mamicamilla.de or contact them via their Facebook Page.

Berlin, food, Life in Berlin, restaurants and bars

Top Five Burger Joints in Prenzlauer Berg

Oh dear, I’ve been neglecting the blog. Apologies. My first children’s book is coming out in a couple of weeks and The Bavarian and I have been very busy. One of the things we’ve been doing is conducting some research. A survey in fact, of burger places in Prenzlauer Berg…

5. Stargarder Burger, Stargarder Straße 75, 10437 Berlin

Stargarder Burger Prenzlauer BergThe main reason this place made the list is the price. You can get a burger, chips and drink for €6 – bargainous!

There’s plenty of choice, including a couple of vegetarian options, but nothing mind-blowing.

The Bavarian says, “Average burger, average chips, average burger place.”

4. Kreuzburger, Pappelallee 19, 10437 Berlin

Kreuzberger Prenzlauer BergBerlin’s very own burger chain. The first one opened in 1996 in Kreuzberg and now there’s one in Friedrichshain and Prenzlauer Berg too. They have a wide range of burgers and many are named after different areas of Berlin – Charlottenburger (with Haloumi), Oranienburger (with fried egg), Prenzelburger (with salami, jalapenos and cheese)…

There’s also a selection of vegetarian burgers and, if you feel like something different, burritos and hot dogs.

The Bavarian says, “Try the Bavarianburger!”

3. The Bird, Am Falkplatz 5, Prenzlauerberg 10435

The Bird Prenzlauer BergThis burger and steak joint has been popular since it opened in 2006. It’s run by New Yorkers and in true American style, the portions are hearty and the staff friendly. They make everything from scratch, with good quality products. It’s always packed, so if you’re planning to go, book ahead or be prepared to wait. When we went, there were no vegetarian options, so I ended up with a big plate of chips. The chips were good. According to my fellow researchers, the burgers were also good but overpriced. Overall, we felt the place was overrated.

The Bavarian says, “To save money, take a vegetarian or someone on a diet.”

2. Burgerie, Schönhauser Allee 50, 10437 Berlinburgerie prenzlauer berg

In Prenzlauer Berg fashion, the burgers in this place have been robbed of their greasiness and made wholesome with a dash of je ne sais pas . They are made on a lava stone grill (I have no idea what that is) with organic ingredients and all that lark. The thing is, the burgers still taste great. Highlights include the French Burgy (with Brie and Cranberries), the Whiskey Burger Pikante (with spicy Whiskey-Sauce and red onions) and, if you’re really hungry, the SuperBurgy de Chef (double beefburger with grilled chicken strips, bacon, cheddar cheese twice and a sauce of your choice). There are a variety of vegetarian and fish burgers and the prices are reasonable.

The Bavarian says, “The most politically correct burger I’ve eaten.”

1. marienBurger, Marienburger Straße 47, 10405 Berlin

marienBurger Prenzlauer BergIt’s steamy and small, but if you want a good, honest burger, this is the place to go. You can see your food being made, you’ll get yelled at when it’s ready, the portions are good and the prices low. Highlights include the Chilli-Cheese Burger, the marienBurger and the vegetarian grünkernburger.

The Bavarian says, “The original burger, no fuss.”

food, Life in Berlin

Germany wakes up to the fry-up as British cuisine takes off in Berlin

Just read an article in The Guardian about an apparent rise in the popularity of British cuisine in Berlin

Is there really any such thing as British ‘cuisine’? (especially as curry is the most popular dish in England) Is it just that there are more Brits here now? Who knows…

food, Life in Berlin

Supermarkets, Socialism and Chocolate Biscuits

McVities Dark Chocolate DigestivesIn England, you can stroll into a supermarket and pick up almost anything from star fruit to various Indian pickles, Quorn products, tortillas, short crust pastry and frozen, well, everything really.

Here, I’ve had trouble at various times locating; canned chick peas (which are currently stocked in the exotic foods section at the Kaiser’s in Schönhauser Allee Arcaden, and are sometimes available in supermarkets, sometimes not), passion fruit, Mexican food products that I can buy without ending up in the same financial predicament as Italy, Weetabix, mint sauce, maple syrup, frozen sweetcorn, sweet potatoes, decent tea like PG Tips…Things that I consider pretty basic, but are obviously not.

So now I consider recipes very carefully before deciding whether hunting down the ingredients in a manner comparable to cave men of the Ice Age is actually worth it. And, when guests from England come over, I request gifts of self-raising flour, salt and vinegar crisps and dark-chocolate covered Digestive biscuits.

When I was a child, we used to visit India with suitcases stuffed with Cadbury’s chocolates and cheddar cheese, but this stopped several years ago. “We get everything here,” they said.  And they did. Deutschland has not yet reached the same level.

The Bavarian loves it when visitors come bearing gifts. My cousin recently brought with her four packs of Chocolate Digestives. We finished them in one week. (That’s 1.6 Kgs, and around 8000 calories.) I say we, but mostly it was The Bavarian, who stuffed a whole one into his mouth at a time, as one would a Pringle. If anyone out there has attempted to stuff an entire Digestive into their mouth, you’ll know that it’s almost impossible. Even The Bavarian, who has a big mouth and a talent for stuffing as much as possible into it, was struggling. I watched him for a while, to see whether he would catch on to the fact that these things had to be nibbled, or dunked into tea and bitten, but after while I felt it was my duty to intervene.

Me: Why are you eating them like that? They’re not Pringles.

The Bavarian: Because they’re only safe from you once they’re in my mouth.

In our flat, it sometimes feels as if we’re living during war-time, when luxury goods are in short supply and people resort to hoarding or gorging whenever they get their hands on some. I like to think that The Bavarian’s paranoia is not caused by my voracious appetite, but by some kind of collective consciousness inherited from being born in a nation that has suffered two world wars; when his grandmother passed away, they found stacks of food stored not only in the kitchen but in wardrobes and under the bed.

Despite the fact that most supermarkets are useless, they seem to be opening up at the same rate as Bubble Tea joints in Prenzlauer Berg. Within a mile of where I live, there are no less than fifteen supermarkets. This year, Prenzlauer Berg saw the opening of Germany’s biggest Vegan supermarket (Veganz, Schivelbeiner Straße 34, 10439 Berlin) and Kochhaus (Schönhauser Allee 46 10437 Berlin) .

kochhaus berlinKochhaus’s products are organised around recipes. At each table you will find a suggested dish – carrot and ginger soup, spaghetti carbonara etc – along with all the ingredients you will need to make it, a little card to take home with the recipe on it, and any equipment you may need – so in the case of the soup, this would include serving bowls and a hand blender.

At first I was flummoxed as to why anyone would shop here…it’s über-expensive (on the board at each table, it tells you the cost per dish per person, which averages out to about 4 or 5 euros, for which you might as well save yourself the hassle and eat out in this city), and restrictive – you can only buy stuff that relates to the dozen or so recipes they suggest, everything is sold in small quantities measured out for two or four servings, and there is only one choice of product per table – so if you need salt, you’re going to have to pick the only bottle of salt on the table, which is pink and from the Himalayas and has been blessed by the Dalai Lama and is therefore more expensive than gold.

On the surface, this supermarket can be seen as a symptom of just how far Prenzlauer Berg has moved from its poor Socialist past, but essentially, being given just one choice of product per item harks back to the days of shopping during The Wall.

According to Barry Schwartz, who gave an interesting talk at TED about the paradox of choice, the official dogma of all western societies – that if we are interested in maximising the welfare of our citizens, the way to do that is to maximise  individual freedom, and the way to maximise freedom is to maximise choice – is paradoxical because people don’t actually like having too much choice. It produces a) paralysis – a study of voluntary investment plans showed that for every ten mutual funds the employer offered, the rate of participation went down two per cent – and b) if we overcome paralysis and make a choice, less satisfaction, because the more options there are the easier it is to regret anything at all that is disappointing about the option you chose.

This is all very well and good, and maybe the people of Prenzlauer Berg are happy with less choice, but it probably means that we won’t be seeing any Chocolate Digestives in the aisles any time soon 😦

food, Life in Berlin, restaurants and bars

Unsicht Bar, Berlin Mitte

The Unsicht Bar in Berlin is the first blind restaurant in Germany; you eat in pitch black served by blind waiters and waitresses.

The Bavarian’s sister gave us a voucher for the restaurant as a wedding present, which The Bavarian was positively annoyed about. He whined about gimmicky restaurants for the entire journey there – partly because he’s a conservative guy when it comes to dining out and would rather stick to somewhere like Dressler, and partly because now that we’re married he feels free to whine as much as he likes. He was so grumpy that by the time we got to the restaurant he had concocted a wicked plan to buy a yodeling lesson for her wedding present in return.

I, on the other hand, being unaverse to new experiences and a frequent victim of gimmicks, was rather looking forward to it. It didn’t matter that my date was grumpy; I wouldn’t even be able to see his surly face throughout dinner.

Before being led in to the restaurant by our blind waitress, we had to choose from a number of set menus. These were no ordinary menus; they gave you no clue as to what you were ordering save for indicating whether it was vegetarian, fish, beef, lamb or chicken. It was filled with descriptions like ‘the igneous Spaniard lolls in a harsh-sweet bed and relaxes with voluptuous green’, which irritated the Bavarian even more.

I put my hands on the shoulders of the waitress, the Bavarian grudgingly put his hands on my shoulders and we trotted off into the dark like a choo-choo train. It was a strange sensation – after all, we rarely experience pitch blackness and are not used to placing that much trust in a waitress. It didn’t help that she accidently walked into a chair whilst leading us to our table.

The first course arrived, and I realised that there’s a reason why human beings don’t eat in the dark: It’s bloody difficult. I spent the meal ramming forks and spoons into my face at all angles like a delinquent two-year old. Most of the time, when the fork or spoon was inserted into my mouth, it was empty – either because whatever it was had fallen off on the way to my mouth or else because I was doing it wrong – for example stabbing my risotto with the fork thinking it was fish or scooping up a big piece of fish thinking it was risotto.

The Bavarian, on the contrary, was having a great time. He decided to dispense with the cutlery altogether during the first course and ate his chicken and noodle salad with his hands. This sense of liberation expanded to him randomly hitting me on the head whenever he felt like it, drinking his soup straight from the bowl, stealing my spoon and informing me that he was picking his nose. By dessert, he was licking the chocolate off his plate. Around that time, I too, had dispensed with the formalities and ate my ice-cream with my fingers.

All in all, the concept that you experience your food better through your other senses if you eliminate the sense of sight is flawed. You ended up concentrating more on the basic mechanics of eating rather than actually enjoying the food. There was also the problem of getting just the right mix of things from your plate onto your fork so as to make it an enjoyable tasting experience. Added to that, although there were no bones in the fish, there was skin, which I don’t like. As it was dark, I spat it out onto the side of my plate as soon as I realised what I was eating.

Part of the reason you go to a restaurant is the ambience, and this is not the kind of place where you would feel comfortable sitting around in for ages. The courses followed one another swiftly, and for the price (approx. €50 per head excl. wine) the food was average. Normally, we taste each other’s food and inevitably The Bavarian ends up finishing mine. Here, this proved difficult – when he did manage to find my plate with his fork, he ended up eating the fish skin that I’d spat out. Although we had fun, it’s a one-off place.

A couple of positive things came to light though; when we came out of the restaurant we were given a proper menu which informed us of what we had actually eaten. It turned out that The Bavarian had happily munched through a bunch of courgettes after years of claiming that he hated them and screwing up his nose whenever I cooked them. We also came up with a brilliant concept for a new Berlin restaurant; the bunker experience. You’ll be locked up in our basement with some stale bread and canned meat by while alarms, crashes and booms go off outside. Email to make a booking.