So there’s me, in Berlin, researching Book #4, checking out Berlin-style food. You can read about some of the locations in my separate blog about Moss Reid’s places. But what exactly is Berlin cuisine?
As a cosmopolitan melting pot, with a population about the size of the Republic of Ireland, Berlin has a superb range of “foreign” restaurants – Thai, tapas, sushi, Italian, French – and Turkish and Arab immigrants in particular have made their mark in areas such as Kreuzberg.
These Eastern culinary traditions include lahmacun – a sort of spicy “Turkish pizza” with an ultra thin crust and a minced meat/vegetable topping (brilliant recipe here) – and the felafel.
One of my favourite Turkish places isn’t a streetfood stall but the Hasir chain’s flagship restaurant in Adalbertstraße. Felafels, lahmacuns, hummus, the lot.
As for the döner kebab (from the Turkish: döner kebap, literally “rotating roast”), it has been claimed by many nations, from Turkey to Greece. Yet some say its modern incarnation was invented in Berlin in 1971, and that there are now more döner restaurants in Berlin than in Istanbul.
To cater for German tastes, though, sometimes the kebabs have veal or chicken instead of lamb. Or it’s turkey (“Truthahn”). At least they warn you. One DNA survey in Dublin last year found that…
7 out of 20 kebabs ordered from independent takeaways in the capital contained limited traces of lamb or none at all, despite being advertised as such on menu boards. Six of these kebabs contained over 60pc of chicken and 30pc beef, undeclared, with only three testing positive for lamb at all (1pc-5pc).
(Now that’s criminal. Advice to Dubliners: if you are worried, try the Guardian’s brilliant recipe for a homemade version, involving real lamb, an empty 1lb tin and a blowtorch.)
Then there’s the stuff with more Germanic roots: Wiener Schnitzel and other rustic, hearty dishes involving pork, goose, fish, peas, beans or spuds (Kartoffeln). And cucumbers (Gurken).
They have a thing about cucumbers. You can encounter a lot of fresh or pickled cucumbers in German restaurants in Berlin, even when you – or at least I, with my particular proclivities – least expect it.
As for all those scrummy pastries and cakes, such as the Berliner Pfannkuchen:
Known as Pfannkuchen in Berlin, Kreppel in Hessen, Krapfen in Southern Germany and Berliner just about everywhere else (excluding various dialectical variations), the jelly-filled donut, the cause of much unintended mirth when John F. Kennedy famously declared ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’, is a quintessential culinary component of Germany’s carnival season.
But back to meat dishes. I’ve had Buletten (sometimes called Frikadellen or Bouletten) – Berlin-style burgers or meatballs, served cold, sans bun, with mustard and gherkins. And Eisbein – boiled ham hock served with sauerkraut and sometimes apples and onion. But I’ve yet to try Currywurst, even though it’s probably right up my street.
Currywurst is a strange Berlin invention: a Bratwurst type boiled sausage with curry ketchup and a dusting of curry powder, with French fries or in a bread roll.
Its inventor is said to be one Herta Heuwer: in 1949 she obtained ketchup (or possibly Worcestershire sauce) and curry powder from British troops stationed there, and it took off as a massively popular streetfood. Then again it might be one of those urban food myths. It might even have been born in Hamburg.
But that doesn’t deter the Berliners. They even have a Deutsches Currywurst Museum, just yards away from Checkpoint Charlie. It opened on 15 August 2009, on the 60th anniversary of its alleged creation.
Watching this bizarre video, I can’t help wondering what an equivalent museum in Ireland might be devoted to. The Dublin Coddle Visitors Centre? The National Batterburger Museum? The Crubeen Cultural Centre? The Irish Foundation of Bacon and Cabbage? The Tayto Park…