• Berlin

Radish Berlin: Was Gibt’s Zum Essen?

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Our days in Berlin are long, partly because we’re working across two time zones, but also because the sun rises around 5:30am and sets close to 9pm. And it’s still only May. One thing that helps us get through the long days is enjoying inexpensive and delicious food within easy reach. In my last post, I mentioned short dinner breaks filled with currywurst. I was just being dramatic. Berlin’s culinary options abound, and in our first three weeks here, we’ve explored the gamut. So, although a trip to the Deutsches Currywurst Museum might be worth the novelty, we just don’t have time for currywurst.

When dining out in Berlin, we have a secret weapon. Actually, it’s more like our bible. Berlin Food Stories has been essential for finding the best spots and knowing what to order. The reviews are detailed and succinct, and so far every recommendation has delivered. Cycling back to betahaus from a recent Rockstart Answers event, where we pitched Radish Berlin to a group of entrepreneurs and potential clients, we decided to consult BFS for a quick lunch in Schöneberg. That’s how we discovered Da Jia Lie, a heavenly Chinese spot where the delightful proprietor personally served our food and complimented us on our savvy order (which we cribbed from the BFS review). Another confession: the review insists that ordering from Da Jia Lie’s unique beer list is obligatory, so we indulged in a very rare mid-day drink. We promise we won’t make it a habit!

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Vietnamese food is to Berlin what Thai food is to New York City: ubiquitous, inexpensive, and largely reliable. But where to find that down-home, authentic joint where Vietnamese locals actually eat? BFS pointed us to a gem just a few blocks from our apartment in Prenzlauer Berg. According to the review, Banh Xeo Saigon “may not be the most beautiful restaurant, but damn do they serve tasty food.” It’s also home to one of the more unlikely culinary innovations I’ve ever encountered: crazy-good crispy fake duck. We also liked the Bo La Lot (leaf wrapped beef) a whole la lot.

When you ask Berliners what the next up-and-coming neighborhood is, many will say Wedding. (Not exactly insider information, considering this New York Times article essentially says the same.) But whereas Mitte, Kreuzberg, and Neuköln are so very SoHo, Williamsburg, and Bushwick, Wedding still has a Ridgewood-like, off-the-beaten-path charm. You can’t do much better than a decommissioned city bus repurposed as a dining room, which is where our BFS oracle led us. Café Pförtner sits at the edge Brunnenplatz Park and its stunning, castle-like Amtsgericht. The service is dicey (our waiter had a protracted conversation with a random skateboarder while absentmindedly pouring our wine), the menu is limited (only a couple of starters and three hauptgerichte), the atmosphere might best be described as post-industrial shabby chic, and the food is superb.

While Berlin Food Stories has been indispensible, we’ve come across excellent eateries through other channels. The best of them by far is Themroc, recommended to us by our newly minted Berlin communications director, Romy Krämer. Themroc serves one appetizer, one main course (plus a vegetarian alternative), and one dessert every evening. That makes ordering in German a lot easier. The walls are plastered at all angles with black-and-white photos of American, German, and French pop-culture icons. The service is exceptionally warm and friendly–our waiter spontaneously poured us a shot of the house rum mid-meal. It felt like the kind of meal a gifted foodie friend might serve in their home, prompting you to say, “You should open a restaurant!” The folks at Themroc aren’t shy about their politics either. The chalkboard outside announces that all are welcome, except members of AfD (Alternative für Deutschland), Germany’s far-right, anti-immigration party.

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As you may have gathered, eating out is a seductive option in Berlin, not least because particularly restaurant prices are generally 60-75 percent of what you’d pay in Brooklyn. But there are tons of other purveyors of good food for those on the fly. Kebab joints serving döner (the Turkish version of gyro), falafel, and halloumi cheese sandwiches are on just about every other block. The best of these is probably Tekbir at Kottbusser Tor, where they bake a fresh piece of durum bread with every order. If we’re on a tight schedule but want to cook at home, we often grab a bag of pre-packaged ingredients from one of the Home-Eat-Home fridges at betahaus or our local grocery store. Home-Eat-Home is similar to Quinciple or Blue Apron, with the added advantage that you don’t have to wait for delivery; you pick up the two-person meals, which run about 14 euros, at convenient locations throughout the city. They take about 30 minutes to prepare at home and they’re pretty tasty.

When we have time to cook a more ambitious meal at home, we shop at Kaiser’s (think D’Agastino) or our local Bio Markt, which carries exclusively organic products. In general, prices are lower than in NYC and quality is, well, higher. On the weekend, you can’t beat the Wochenmarkt (farmer’s market) at Kollwitzplatz. Aside from every cheese, sausage, or vegetable you can imagine, there are stands with hot Turkish, Thai, and Vietnamese food, smoked tofu burgers, fish stew, and, of course, beer and wurst.

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On the subject of beer: if you like beer, Berlin is the place for you. Does it offer insane variety comparable to NYC? Not even close. Can you get a great all-day IPA? No, you can’t get an IPA all day. Want a Coors Light? Sorry, it’s probably illegal. But if you want every variety of the world’s finest pilsner brewed to the exacting standards of the Reinheitsgebot and served with loving reverence (always ice-cold with a 3 cm. head of foam), then Berlin is your beer nirvana. You pay about $3 for a tap beer in most bars, and about the same for bottled beers. A lot of convenience stores have little tables outside, so you can go in and grab a half liter bottle for about $1.75, pop it open at the counter, and enjoy it right on the premises. Or, if you prefer, while strolling down the street. That’s right, if you want to enjoy a beer while wandering the city in search of your next great meal, it’s totally cool in Berlin. No brown bag required.

This is part of an ongoing series following Radish Lab during their 3-month fellowship in Berlin, granted by the MINY Media Center, Startup Germany, and Medienboard.

Header photo by Ard van der Leeuw / CC BY Desaturated from original.

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