A Berlin Invention- The Doner Kabab

My love affair with Turkish food started in 2000 in NYC when i was young, poor intern. I dicovered $2 Falafel sandwiches in a pita at the legendary Mamouns. Thus began the exploration of the cuisine, gyros, humus, babaganoush, grape leaf rolls, pine nuts, and so much more.
My sister tipped me to eat at the Donar Kebab places outside the subway stations. Turns out the Doner is Berlin's most popular fast food. They are cheap, good and very filling.
I requested my Berliner friend Alexej who lived in the trendy Neu Koln area to take me to his favourite Donar place. And that he did. He explained to me that Turkish immigrants had been invited to Germany during the 60s after the war as Guest Workers as there was a shortage of labor. Here they establised large communities especially in big cities like Berlin and adapted their food and created uniquely Berlin- Turkish cuisine. The Donar sandwich in Berlin is one such speciality. What makes this Doner different from the rest- Well the Turkish doner is mostly lamb. Germans prefer a mix of veal and chicken. Instead of the traditional hummous and tahini sauces the Germans make their Doner with hot sauce (scharfe Soße), herb sauce (Kräutersoße), garlic sauce (Knoblauchsoße), or yogurt (Joghurtsoße) in any no. of combinations. They also serve it mit pommes or with fries instead of the salad.  In a thin nicely toasted, crispy, sesame encrusted pita bread lay the gyro meat or shwerma , yogurt with garlic sauce, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, hot sauce, and tahina. Fold it and serve. You have a massively beautiful Donar sandwich. Alexej told me that the doner in Berlin is probably more popular than the hamburger. Wah!
Berlin's beautiful NeuKoln area

The courthouse
Gorgeous veal rotating roast

Sauces and other meats

Grilled fish
Rice pudding a bit like kheer
Tomatoes, lettuce, thin slices of Shwerma, garlic and yogurt sauce, all wrapped in one crunchy, sesame laden thin pita bread. Since we were sharing - no hot sauce.

Alexej- my lunch date and tour guide for the day. A true Berliner- born and brought up in Berlin. A rarity I believe.

A testament to how good the sandwich was. Great hangover food!
Spelling my name to a foreigner. The Y always throws people off.

Adventures of the Thai park, the Best Ramen Noodles and A Not so great Korean Bibimbap

It would seem like I am somewhere in East Asia but as a matter of fact I am still in Berlin (well actually I am back in Bombay now). Irene's friend Ringo told us about this park outside Berlin where the Thai community congregates and picnics. Thai aunties cook copious amounts of homemade Thai curries and fish and sell it to the people who come to the park. The three of us decided to head over there on Saturday evening. I told this to some of the Berliner folks I was hanging with. No one seemed to have heard about this mysterious park.
It took me a couple of Metros to get to Pruessenpark. Surprisingly this was a hugely popular park on a Saturday evening. The place was abuzz with Thai families. Teenagers playing frisbee and ball games. Thai aunties with little grill frying up different types of fish, prawns. There were large bowls of soups, curries, sticky rice. And my favourite the tapioca, red bean, jelly coconut milk icy drink.

I chatted with some of the ladies. They were reluctant to let me photograph them. One them told me she has been coming here for 16 years. That the police does show up and they all just hide the money and pretend it is a family picnic. It has been the practice for many many years. She could not recall how far back the Thai community of Berlin had been congregating at the park. She did smile and say - More people here than Buddhist Temple.

Thai fried fish, fried chicken
The famous Thai mortar and pestle

Thai candy
Liver? Heart? Testicles?

My favourite tapioca, fruity, corn, beans, coconut icy drink
Irene's lovely bangles and our very colorful rug
Barbequed chicken or pork?
A pho kind of chicken soup

Vietnamese spring rolls

The lady I chatted with requested me not to take pictures of the park. I wish I had photos to share with you how wonderfully colorful this picnic was.
Can someone translate for me please. I saw this on the way to Pruessenpark

On another night after experiencing the beautiful Sauna performance by my host Peter, which I will have to write about in a separate post, we (Peter, Ringo, Joey, Irene and I) headed out to this Ramen Noodle place another recommendation by Ringo. This place was quite simple and lovely and was called Next to and the restaurant it was next to was called Kuchi. So the story goes that Kuchl has been a very popular Sushi restaurant in Berlin so the Ramen Noodle bar which is fairly new decided to call itself Next To. Clever. Another lovely feature was that all the bowls, plate, glasses, were hand made japanese ceramics and wooden spoons. They have a lovely backyard with benches.

It was a beautiful night. We ordered Edemame beans and ramen soup. Ringo and I ordered the Tonkotsu soup and the rest the Miso soup. Ringo promised me it is a soup I will not forget with slices of pork and a nice chunk of pork belly that has been cooked for over 12 hours. The broth is basically made with boiling the bones for several hours. Can I tell you by far the most beautiful soup I have ever had. EVER.  There were sprouts, vegetables, boiled egg, slices of pork, seaweed, miso, ramen noodles of course and a sexy piece of pork belly. The noodles wrapped in basil leaves with the flavorings of this perfect broth was lovely to slurp. The broth reminded me why all the times I have looked for comfort in my food.

I looked into my soup and smiled savoring every bite. I took a small bite of the belly, it melted. It was delicate, soft and succulent.  I sighed. Ringo was watching me and smiled giving me the see I told you look. Joey- Peter's friend a photographer helped my food pose for me. Later we ordered a large bowl of green tea ice-cream. We sprinkled the sesame seeds generously on the ice cream.  The conversation light and fun. Another night where I felt completely at home in Berlin - a real Berliner. After dinner we got on bicycles and headed back home where we some more wine- I for a change stuck to trying another German beer.

Our merry group

Joey and Ringo

Edemame beans

Peter explaining the edemame

Boiled egg in the Miso soup. 

Joey posing with the soup
'Im in love with you' Pork belly
The Tonkotsu soup
The Ramen Noodle Soup

Peter- A lovely hand made ceramic mug.
Save the best for last
Green tea ice cream

The walls were made of printed wooden plywood planks. More translations in order.

The soup prep bar

My soup

Handmade ceramic bowls
The other soups
The last meal I want to write about in this post was really my first dinner in Berlin. Irene and I went to Cafe Yam Yam a Korean cafe near our home. We ordered a beef Bibimbap and a seafood Korean pancake. The bibimbap was alright. It had all the ingredients, the beef slices, the shredded vegetables, sprouts, carrots, eggs, rice, sesame. The Korean pancake with seafood was very greasy. The interiors were delightful though. It was my first dinner in Berlin- I really could not complain. I was there with the lovely Irene staying at her friend Peter's who lived in a remarkable artist community and had a lofted bathtub. He lent me his bicycle so I could get around Berlin. The building had beautifully graffiti all over it. One evening I found two musicians playing on the landing above our floor. The sound echoed beautifully throughout the halls. Such will be my memory of Berlin and Berliners. Life in a fairytale land of slightly rebellious and proudly poor youngsters.

The Bibimbap and iced tea

Loft or Love. (convert into upscale condos or leave it for the squatters) Liebe Liebe Liebe I say!

The Peter's Apartment building:
The view from my room and my bed

the neighbours wall
the gorgeous staircase.

The breath taking mind-blowing Tacheles right next to Peter's
Finally I leave you with this beautiful piece that these two musicians were playing on the landing as their friend video-graphed them. The sound is still embedded in my memory. For me its the Berlin piece.

Soy Milk Lattes and A lovely Cafe

I fell in love with Soy milk lattes in Berlin. Yummy, creamy, frothy, and yet so light. The Soy milk is a nice substitute to milk which can make a tall glass of Latte very heavy. But the soy milk- much lighter still gives that creamy satisfaction of hot milk in my coffee. Of course it was not the first time I had Soy Milk. But I hated the smell of the Soy Milk in Chicago let alone let it come close to my coffee. Once I think my soymilk curdled and I had tofu falling into my cereal bowl. I try soy milk for no reason apart from maybe some health benefits. I love my milk. A good glass of cold milk takes care of every craving. But I had a change of heart with the Soy Milk in Berlin. My hosts and friends all seemed very happy with Soy Milk so I thought to give it a try as well. I guess the Germans have figured out how to make it really tasty. And soy milk lattes were my morning indulgences.
I came across this lovely cafe - St. Oberholz on my way to the train stop Rosenthaler Platz. The simple white facade and the stenciling of the cow and bear is what caught my eye. After a lovely night out with a friend, I decided to check out the cafe for my morning allowance and a brunch sandwich before I hit the town to see more museums and galleries.
The large windows, lots of natural light, a winding staircase, a red wall with the behind of a cow painted on it. Upstairs there were many people hanging with their Macs and lattes. The windows had a fun rounded shape looked on to the lovely street outside. Across the street was the Circus Hostel which has a beautiful facade as well. The graphics were strange and eye catching. I loved this cafe- St. Oberholz. If I had more hours in my day to just hang out and enjoy the mornings, I would spend them here. When in Berlin do give the Soy Milk Lattes a try.

Beautiful street art

The view from my friends apt
St. Oberholz

Horse- check out the windows


The soy milk latte

The charming space

Fun illustrations

Beautiful hardwood staircase

Coffee and a olives, cheese and salami panini

Absolutely delicious

Beautiful couple. Gorgeously styled dress

The lovely windows

A perfect place to spend the day with your Apple

The lovely graphical facade of the Circus Hostel.

Large arch

Big Community tables to sit at and work
Beautiful white facade with black trim

Cock- maybe someone can translate what it says below

The doorway around the corner

My walk back home.

Car advertising for Circus berlin!

A Midsummer's Night's Dream...

Oh so it felt like one when I got to this strange location. We had to cross abandoned rail tracks, hike downhill through the forest, walk through tall grass meadows, along side a creek, cross this strong metallic grill bridge and along a narrow path through the forest to a clear opening under the trees where you could hear repetitive beats with people swaying slightly to the music. There was a definitive smoke in the air and a general sense of looseness. I walked around the groups of people- listening to them talk in a language alien to me. The sun was bright and beautiful. I did not know Berlin would be like this. I thought it would be more cult. It felt like a gossamer elf's party. The sun shining on the blonde hair, people sitting on swings under the tree, flower children. It was like a dream. People dancing, talking,smoking, drinking, making love. All to repetitive beats. I made some interesting friends here. How did I even end up here? Well Irene and Martina knew of many lovely parties that were happening and I just tagged along. But was surprised to find people interested in wanting to talk to me. Not strange questions about origins and India, but a general sense of excitement when I told them I had just arrived from Mumbai and on day two was at a Berlin party. I guess that made me tres cool (a term I picked from Amsterdam Lucas). I shall never forget these friends I made- they gave me a sense of what it would be like if I did belong there. It was easy, light and happy. Such was the day, and such should be life.

Hunting for the Best Curry 'Worsts'

While I am still trying to put together my thoughts on my recent travels to Berlin, Amsterdam and Swizterland, a reader reminded me that he is kind of tired of staring at the Banana Pie. And while I love the Banoffee, I have to get my blog moving especially if I want to share the fantastic trip I went on. Of course travel writing is a whole different ball game, so I will keep it simple and anecdotal and full of photos that I took.

I got recommendations and warnings about this typically Berlin food. The Curry Wurst. I was told not to get it from a cheap Turkish joint because I will suffer forever and that I cannot leave Berlin without trying one. So the hunt for Curry Wurst began. In my humble imagination I thought a curry wurst would be a nice spicy sausage. Till I was explained by my vegan host that it is a simple pork sausage doused in red sauce (a not so sweet ketchup) and served with a healthy sprinkling of curry powder. What?!?! That's it. I must try though.

I went with Irene to a fab party by the lake in this far off place from the city (ok a 20 min train ride and not reachable by our bicycles). I will post more about these amazing Berlin parties but I had to show a few pictures as to how remote and cool these locations were. I did have alot of fun.

In the middle of a forest

Abadoned rail tracks

Irene- the excited for the lovely day. The party was on the other side of the bay

I almost got run over

Black glistening watch tower. On our way to the next party

Martina and Irene- waiting for the train

Kind of lost.
Some crazy park

Rummel's Bay - the fantastic location for the next party

An abandoned building which was the bar. No cameras allowed beyond this point.

On our way back we stopped at one of the said Turkish places by the train station and suddenly I had to try a Curry Wurst. I mean how bad can it be.
Well the skin was kind of breaded and fried, unlike the Brats I had eaten before . it was served with ketchup and curry powder sprinkled on it which essentially tasted like turmeric. The meat was kind iof bland and really the ketchup like thing really helped. Cant say I was a fan of this at all.
The deep fried breaded curry wurst. Cant say I was a fan.

As we- Irene, Martina and I went to the next party for the night in this beautiful area called Rummel's Bay- At this other party there was a woman barbequing some brats. Martina said I must try some brats since they look so good. I was once again surprised. They did not seem like the Bratwursts I have had in the US- which seemed to have more color, a little spicier and were cooked in beer. But as Martina suggested they were not bad. Infact the skin was nicer- crispy and bbqed quite nicely. It is all white pork meat inside and definitely very simply salted. It took a minute to get used to it, but the accompanying mustard was amazing and I really enjoyed the bratwurst with the mustard. Lets say I really enjoyed the mustard a whole lot.

Brats on the grill
Simple white meat inside. 

Our Bratwurst chef

The skin is not fried- just grilled a better texture 

Lots of mustard and ketchup

Martina Loves her brats
Definitely super for her- not bad for me.

Irene wanted me to still have a better curry wurst experience and on recommendation with some friends we went to Curry 36 off the Miriamdam stop. (yeh I remember). There was a crowd there. I felt a bit more hopeful. The guy behind the counter had an adorable smile so much so that I kept photographing him almost forgeting the food. This time I was better equipped for my order. I did not want the Wurst with the breaded deep fried skin but the bratwurst with the thin barbecued skin, cooked crisp with the sauce and curry powder and definitely the fries with some mayo with Irene's favourite beer - A Rathaus Pilsner. I enjoyed it better the next day. I was a little more aware of the sausage, the curry powder still flummoxed me. I mean I am Curry Spice- so I was a bit confused about it. But it seems to be incredibly popular with the Berliners. I wonder if many of them would survive the real Curry.

The Miriamdam stop

The vegan doner. A big hit!

Lines for the vegan doner. But my mission was clear.

Curry 36 - definitely popular

The cute curry 36 guy

And what would you like to have.

Finally a good curry wurst. I liked the sausage as well. The curry powder is still a bit much.
The fries were great.

My very Berlin meal. Oh the beer was fabulous.

Oh yes disgustingly unhealthy! I made up for it by having a delicious salad later for dinner of greens, arugula, mushrooms, avocado, cheese and the most wonderful dressing of citrus and olive oil. O yes Irene made this lovely salad. Bless her because it helped me digest all that meat.

The lovely salad that Irene made later

Delicious greens, tomatoes, avocado, cheese, mushrooms.

The lovely Marcus who joined us for dinner. 
Marcus one of Irene's friends is a fantastic designer. We spent the evening talking about design, his work, mine and some works that inspire us. If you want to be wowed do visit his site.

This post is dedicated to Martina - My sister in Wursts and to Lucas who will be disgusted.