...did Anthony Bourdain ever visit Berlin?
August 29, 2017 8:12 AM   Subscribe

I'm getting ready for a trip to Berlin; my current conception of "German food" is "uh....sausages and chocolate, I think." There's got to be more - hit me.

I'm meeting a friend there; she chose Berlin as the place. My European foodie and travel interests have been more about cuisines like French, Italian, etc., so when I went there I happily dove in and dug checking out the foodie scenes. But I know zilch about Berlin, and even less about traditional German cuisine, and don't know where to start.

I'm looking both for things to do there, and things to take home:

* Are there traditional dishes I should track down and try? Is there a "foodie" scene tucked into corners of the city?

* Are there any pantry staples I should watch out for (like how everyone recommends looking for fleur de sel or French lentils in France, or good olive oil in Italy, because it's way cheaper there)?

posted by EmpressCallipygos to Food & Drink (45 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
posted by cakelite at 8:18 AM on August 29, 2017 [11 favorites]

This list/map from Eater.com might help: The 12 Hottest New Restaurants in Berlin: Where to find everything from hearty brunch to a Japanese dinner

I realize you can Google these yourself... but some of these sound great. Not a bad little list.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:21 AM on August 29, 2017

Berlin has great Turkish food, both the doener kebab variety at u-bahn stations and stuff a little higher end.

It's the perfect time of year to head to Prater Garten in Prenzl. Berg for the real Biergarten experience.

Berlin has a huge international food scene. It's not Barcelona but it's pretty good. By far my favorite city in Europe.
posted by dis_integration at 8:24 AM on August 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

Whoops - I realize I should have mentioned that I will be visiting in late October (don't know if that affects whether it will still be the perfect time to go to Prater Garten).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:35 AM on August 29, 2017

Pantry-wise, you probably have a good variety of schnapps available. Kirsch, possibly some sort of bear-flavoring, not just Jagermeister.

(This could have been a Bavaria thing.)
posted by Huffy Puffy at 8:41 AM on August 29, 2017

Besides baked goods and sausages, some traditional foods are rouladen, saurbraten, schnitzel and Hawaii toast.
posted by maurreen at 8:48 AM on August 29, 2017

possibly some sort of bear-flavoring

Either this is a typo or German cuisine is way more fascinating than I anticipated.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:49 AM on August 29, 2017 [8 favorites]

@dis_integration has it with the recommendation to go to a Biergarten. I haven't been to Berlin, but it looks like the Prater Garten only has snack sort of food. I strongly recommend going to a Bavarian restaurant while you're there—a different part of Germany, but very stereotypical "German" food. I suggest Schweinshaxn ("pork knuckle," but trust me it's a lot better than it sounds), some kind of wurst (sausage) + sauerkraut, etc. This place looks decent?
posted by dondiego87 at 8:50 AM on August 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

October is also a great time for Biergärten, just arm yourself with a cozy sweater: edit, actually it looks like Pratergarten closes at the end of Sept, but they have an indoor restaurant, though it won't be the same without the Chestnut trees.
posted by dis_integration at 8:51 AM on August 29, 2017

Either this is a typo or German cuisine is way more fascinating than I anticipated.

Well, there is a liqueur called Bärenfang (bear trap), sold as Bärenjäger (bear hunter) in the US. But assuming that was a typo for beer, whenever you order the local Weissbier (a cloudy, slightly sour, low-proof white beer) you may be asked if you want it red or green. Those correspond to raspberry or woodruff syrup, added to the beer before serving.
posted by fedward at 9:01 AM on August 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

UK chef Rick Stein did a series of shows where he went to different cities and ate the local food. There is one on Berlin, so worth checking out on the streaming service of your choice.
posted by crocomancer at 9:10 AM on August 29, 2017

Schweinshaxn ("pork knuckle," but trust me it's a lot better than it sounds)

Not if it's served in a college cafeteria, it isn't. It was treated like a special meal with one ticket per person for the main course (most stuff at the cafeteria was all you can eat) but it was literally never appetizing there. I ate a lot of Spätzle on those days. I'd like to believe both that it's delicious and that my palate has expanded in 25 years but I might still have a hard time getting over the flashback if you put one in front of me.
posted by fedward at 9:11 AM on August 29, 2017

posted by Huffy Puffy at 9:16 AM on August 29, 2017

Here is a "man on the street" clip about eating habits in Berlin. There's another one about visiting a bakery, and one talking about typical breakfasts.

Caveat: I (clearly) don't live in Berlin.
posted by vignettist at 9:19 AM on August 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

If you'd like to try something sweet, check out the café at Rausch Schokoladenhaus on Gendarmenmarkt. There's a shop on the ground floor that sells delicious chocolate and has models of some Berlin sights made from chocolate, like the Brandenburg gate. Take the elevator one floor up and have a hot chocolate and/or one of the mini tortes - they are to die for! It does get busy in the afternoon, though, so it might be worth to make a reservation before you go.
posted by amf at 9:20 AM on August 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

to the point about the great Turkish food in Berlin, there's a great Turkish street market in Kreuzberg on Tuesdays and Fridays.

Also, Markthalleneun is another great public market if you're looking for pantry staples (besides aforementioned kirsch, the other thing I love to pickup in Germany are good mustards)
posted by bl1nk at 9:21 AM on August 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

Schweinshaxe, honestly. You must try it.
posted by humboldt32 at 9:24 AM on August 29, 2017 [5 favorites]

Germany has excellent bakers, both bread (Bäkerei) and cake (Konditerei). Breakfast is often rolls and butter and jam (the hotel will probably have a buffet with fruit and lunchmeats and yogurt and muesli). In the 70s and 80s when it was all squishy white bread, German bakers kept up the tradition of crusty, multi-grain breads. Three o'clock is the traditional time for a coffee and cake break. You might not be too late for Plum cake (probably called Pflaumenkuchen in Berlin), made with those small, firm plums sold in the US as Italian or prune plums. Certainly, it will be apple season, with lots of delicious apple tarts. I'm prejudiced, but I think the Germans are as good as French or Italian bakers.

It will be cool enough for spiced, hot wine, especially in open-air markets. And for stews and goulasches served over noodles. Schweinhaxn. Mmmmmmm. It might be the right time for Neuwein (new wine), just pressed and starting to ferment. It's often eaten with Zwiebelkuchen (onion tart) or Krautkuchen (cabbage tart).

German food can be heavy; often we would have a big breakfast at the hotel, then hold off until dinner. We carried a bunch of fruit for snacking, or a yogurt. There always seemed to be a fruit and vegetable stall in the city center.

Pantry staple: Maggi! Which, of course, you can get in any Asian grocery in America. If you bake, and you want big sugar lumps for decoration, Hagelzucker is what it's called in Germany. You can get bitter almond essence (Bittermandel, Dr. Oetker brand). Kinder eggs of course.

Currywurst and Döner Kebab didn't thrill me. You can get Currywurst ketchup in many major cities in the US, and Döner is very similar to a gyro. So, delicious, but not totally new.

Have fun!
posted by JawnBigboote at 9:27 AM on August 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

Also, the most famous Currywurst is sold at Konnopke's Imbiss.
posted by amf at 9:35 AM on August 29, 2017

One of the more amazing meals I've had while in Berlin this summer was from BRLO, a brewery built out of old shipping containers. Farm to table, local, really good. And their beer was top notch.

Cocolo Ramen (in X-berg) is damn good ramen.

Meisterstueck, beers and sausage platters.

Drunk foods: Doner (kebab on a toasted bun), Currywurst, both great post drinking options.

Eater and the usual food lists are pretty up to date.
posted by mrzarquon at 9:41 AM on August 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

No mention of Berliner Weisse yet?

I stood in line for at least half an hour for a Döner Kebab somewhere, probably this place: Mustafa's. It was delicious but I'd also been waiting for a long time and I was getting HANGRY.
posted by invokeuse at 9:49 AM on August 29, 2017

I'm not much of a beer person and my travelling companion doesn't really drink, so while the beer recommendations are kind, they may not be put to use...any ciders, though?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:13 AM on August 29, 2017

Seconding currywurst and pork knuckle, although I have not eaten them in Berlin.
posted by madcaptenor at 10:16 AM on August 29, 2017

(That's because I have not been to Berlin, or in fact Germany. But I have been to adjacent countries where they also have these foods.)
posted by madcaptenor at 10:17 AM on August 29, 2017

I had a great time at Max und Moritz restaurant in East Berlin. It's a traditional German restaurant and it just has a really German...vibe. A lot of schnitzel, beets, pickles, cabbage, potatoes and the like.

And for brunch I loved the buffet style place called An Einem Sonntag im August which has a really cool hipster vibe.
posted by winterportage at 10:40 AM on August 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

Thai Park is amazing and I ran into Michael Stipe there once.

Seconding both of bl1nk's suggestions – the Turkish street market along the Landwehr canal, and Markthalleneun. Both are mob scenes but worth it (the former in particular). At the Turkish market, grab one, or several, of the long flute-style flatbread wraps with feta, tomato, and mint in them. Sheeeeeeit. There's also a lot of good hole-in-the-wall ice cream places around there, a Euro for a scoop.

As a cider alternative, if you like drinking radlers, or if you think you don't like radlers, try picking up some of the nice lemon radlers at a Späti (corner store). In North America I can only find oversweetened grapefruit ones, which are apparently unheard of there.

Also, if you're buying liquor at a liquor store, in my experience the cheapest and best selection is at Lehmann's.
posted by Beardman at 10:49 AM on August 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

My god, don't miss the Turkish food. Head down to Kreuzberg/NeuKolln and just sample everything.

My fondest memory is the freshly baked bread at Tandur Lasan which we ate right there, still hot from the oven, with a bit of fresh goats cheese
posted by vacapinta at 10:51 AM on August 29, 2017

If you're around Charlottenburg, go to Rogacki (link to NYT review) -- it's a huge old school deli with amazing fried fish and kartoffelsalat. Also Cafe Einstein is great.
posted by drapatz at 11:12 AM on August 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

Enthusiastic second to Thai Park. If you want a fancy tasting menu, I really liked Nobelhart und Schmutzig.
posted by EmilyFlew at 11:18 AM on August 29, 2017

Don't miss street food. I don't remember anything specific in Berlin, but the cone of fries with a big dollop of real mayonnaise seems pretty ubiquitous, and of course pretzels. I also had one of the best hotdogs from a street cart over there. (The bread is so much better. And instead of slicing the bun, they cut of the tip and make a little tube and fill it with condiments, then slide in the hotdog. So much better like that!) And maybe find a traditional restaurant to get Wiener Schnitzel and spaetzle.

Since you're going in October, you might find this podcast an interesting listen: The Feast - Oktoberfest And don't forget to check out some bakeries. In a more recent episode of the same podcast a guest talks about the importance of bread in German culture. I think he cites that there are 3200 different types of German bread, and I definitely remember the delicious pastries we ate when I was in Germany.
posted by catatethebird at 11:21 AM on August 29, 2017

Here's the episode of "No Reservations" where Anthony Bourdain went to Berlin, just in case you really wanted to know about that.
posted by briank at 11:46 AM on August 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

Haven't seen anyone mention it yet but I really like German bread.
posted by M. at 12:34 PM on August 29, 2017

Get chicken at Henne, which has saved the letter from jfk's staff regretting that he couldn't visit.

Get a bulette at a cozy kneipe (of which Berlin has many).
posted by brujita at 1:10 PM on August 29, 2017

Schinken (kind of like prosciutto) on hard rolls with butter for breakfast. Fritz (french fries) from a dedicated shop or cart are also excellent.
posted by ananci at 1:16 PM on August 29, 2017

If you ask me, the best food I've ever had in Germany has been the simple dishes done with the freshest ingredients possible. Not that the Germans can't do fancy high-touch plated dishes correctly, there's just nothing in the vocabulary there (pork, veal, potatoes, vegetables) that really comes through in my opinion.

So I'm going to second catatethebird and go with street food here. Döner kebab, wursts, frites, flammkuchen... all of it.

Want to have the best bratwurst EVER? Go find a supermarket like an Edeka or Rewe that has a brat stand outside in the parking lot near the store entrance. You can get a brat on a roll (or a currywurst) plus drink for Euro or two. Bonus points if they have green Waldmeister slurpees. Both the brat and the crisp bread roll (brötchen) will be insanely fresh because they're typically made inside the store. A warm fresh brötchen will make your entire day.

Best schnitzel ever? Same idea. Find a butcher that has a small restaurant or gasthaus attached.

Ultimate goal would be to get away from the city and find some kind of outdoor fest going on in a public area and eat/drink into the evening. Germans will find any reason possible to set up a festival with beer tents and food and let the whole town congregate. Food always tastes better with the proper Gemütlichkeit .
posted by JoeZydeco at 1:49 PM on August 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

You asked about cider; Germany has a tradition of Apfelwein which is worth exploring. Nowhere near as common as beer, but present. I have in my head this is a particular specialty in Frankfurt, but I'm certain you can find Apfelwein in Berlin too.

In October you should also be on the lookout for Federweisser, which is a very fresh young wine that tastes more like sparkling grape juice juice than dry wine. It's not subtle but it's one of those things you enjoy because they're of the moment, you'll find it for sale in little kiosks and places all over when it's the season.

We always make a pilgrammage to the gourmet floor at KaDeWe, the department store. It is IMHO the world's finest delicatessen / food court center, the one single place where you can find the best of fine prepared foods. Particularly the assortment of smoked sausages. You can easily have a very delicious meal although seating is awkward. Or it's a great place to stock up on snacks for a picnic or train ride.

Maultaschen are a fun German specialty, stuffed soup dumplings a bit like pelmeni or ravioli. They're Swabian, not Berliner, but close enough. I know there are restaurants in Berlin that specialize in them but I don't know one well enough to recommend.

Königsberger Klopse are a delicious meatball in cream sauce dish. Prussian, albeit not Berliner.

I like traditional German food but honestly find it a little bit boring. A good schnitzel or sausage can be delicious, but at some point it all starts tasting like pork and potatoes with brown sauce to me. If you find yourself getting bored of traditional German fare, Berlin is one of the great international cities of the world with many cuisines. There's a lot of Vietnamese restaurants, for instance, set up from 1970s-era immigrants from North Vietnam. They're famous now for their mai tais (?!), the menus read more Chinese than Vietnamese to me. There's great French food too; Entrecôte for instance felt exactly like a Parisian bistro, only in Germany.

(PS: I'm going to be in Berlin for a few weeks until early October. I'm thinking about trying to arrange an IRL meetup, if that appeals to you MeMail me.)
posted by Nelson at 2:48 PM on August 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

Baked goods are great, the German basics are good once or twice, but honestly, Berlin is crap for food...except for the abundance of outstanding middle-eastern and Turkish fare! Eat that stuff! It's better than brown-and-white German food! It has actual fiber and green vegetables in it!
posted by Joseph Gurl at 9:59 PM on August 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

Paris Bar on Kantstrasse is a restaurant, not a bar, and it serves French food, not German, but it is a Berliner institution, and has an atmosphere that in my view is truly Berlin (words like rowdy and rude are used in the linked timeout review).

Also, having oysters or caviar with sekt (German bubbles) at the food floor in KaDeWe is a traditional Berliner treat. Do it for brunch. You can have smoked salmon instead, but that food market is amazing. Maybe you will find something special there. IMO North German food shines when it is based on fresh seasonal products, and they are surprisingly good at fish, including freshwater fish.
posted by mumimor at 6:06 AM on August 30, 2017

My favourite place for a true-yet-curated German (Alsatian, actually) meal is Renger-Patzsch in Schöneberg.

For a quick fix, I also liked Leibhaftig (near Kollwitzplatz), which bills itself as Bavarian tapas.

For atmosphere, seconding Caffé Einstein.

Also: Manufactum is a concentrated exercise in re-unearthing the best German goods, including from the east; brot&butter (with its Bistro) is their meticulously stocked food-court.
posted by progosk at 8:08 AM on August 30, 2017

Pick up a copy of Zitty magazine's restaurant guide (in german).
posted by brujita at 3:53 PM on September 2, 2017

Dang, I totally forgot I posted this - lots here already, thanks!

If I could re-up the request for pantry staples, though - like how I already know I'm going to hit up this amazing baking supplies shop next time I go to Paris and get more of the funky caramel sprinkles I got last time, becuase they were cool. Are there any particular TSA-friendly food items I could pick up as souvenirs?

And adding in the additional angle that I am also going to be visiting Budapest for 2 days during the same trip. Most of my restaurants for Budapest are sorted (I found there's a ruin bar that has a farm-to-table brunch, which sounds so unbelievably Brooklyn that I plan to drop in and marvel at that), so I'm more interested in the pantry staples from there too. (Paprika, I believe, but what else?)

posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:56 AM on October 19, 2017

Oh - and I am apparently going to be staying somewhere that's a 10-minute walk from a place you can get organic currywurst. I can't help but feel like that's missing the point; is it?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:57 AM on October 19, 2017

Currywurst is basically a hot dog with ketchup. I am not a fan, but it is honest Berlin snack food. As mentioned above Konnopke's is iconic currywurst and the place is awesome and very convenient if you're in the area. But I'd absolutely go for a fancified organic one if you know of one. I would not spend a lot of time thinking about currywurst.

I found the Döner Kebap much more interesting. Each place has its own little spin.. Chicken, lamb, or beef? What kind of sauces? I love the way the salad is arranged for display with pride at the stand. Gemüse kebap is the popular upgrade, either fully vegetarian or just some roast vegetables with your meat and salad sandwich. I also appreciated how it's kind of low key, no one gets worked up about their favorite Kebap stand the way we do burritos in SF. Except maybe Mustafa's but the locals all told me not to bother waiting in line, it's not that good.

Somehow we got a whole food thread about Berlin with no one ever mentioning Eisbein. Pickled pork knuckle. It looks sort of gross but once you peel the skin off the meat is very delicious and easy to eat. There's other kinds of Haxe too, I had a fantastic one with crispy skin that was amazing. It's a lot like American barbeque (or rather, BBQ is derived from German food).

More foodie advice after my month there...

Seek out local cured sausages. There's some really amazing good ones. The KaDeWe department store is the easiest place I can recommend to do it, focus on the German sections. But there's shops all over with amazing sausage. I am unclear whether you're allowed to bring them into the US. We haven't tried.

The local farmer's markets are worth a visit. Here's a very comprehensive list but you may want to narrow that down to the most interesting ones. We went to the Saturday market near Kollwitzplatz every week, a nice mix of ordinary useful groceries and interesting specialty items. There's a Tyrol cured sausage stand there that had amazing venison sausage. I suspect the market at Hackeschen Markt is also good.

As I mentioned above, Maultaschen was my favorite German speciality food. I never did find a place that specializes in it, but it shows up on some menus. If you see it, order it.

My favorite restaurant for traditional Berlin food was Max und Moritz in Kreuzberg. It's a traditional Kneipe but very lively and kinda hipster. Nice folks. The Eisbein is proper, the Klopse were good, also a good Wiener Schnitzel. It's a very laid back place but a reservation isn't a bad idea because it's quite popular.

I'm also fond of Berliner Republik despite it being nothing special. It's comfortable and very convenient to tourist sites near Friederichstrasse. They have a good currywurst but not traditional, they put curry in the sausage itself. OTOH I regretted ordering the currywurst flammkuche, it did not work.

One last point; part of what's fun about Berlin is it is very international. In my neighborhood near Kollwitzplatz we had very good Thai, Japanese, Korean, Indian, Russian, New York bagels, French, Italian, ... You're in Germany so you want German food but a lot of what makes Berlin Berlin right now is the mix of world cultures there.
posted by Nelson at 9:12 AM on October 19, 2017

I am also going to be visiting Budapest for 2 days during the same trip. Most of my restaurants for Budapest are sorted

Can I just plug Beszálló, though? That and Mák Bistro were two places that rose above the rest, the last couple of times I was over there.

Would love to help you with your pantry staples from there, but beyond paprika (which is sweet more often than hot, there)... maybe stock up on caraway seeds (the other iconic local spice) and the foie gras they're absolutely obsessed with? Sadly, for all their wine-talk (and -history)... nothing enological that really warrants their insularly-inflated prices.
posted by progosk at 2:56 PM on October 19, 2017

Currywurst is basically a hot dog with ketchup. I am not a fan, but it is honest Berlin snack food. As mentioned above Konnopke's is iconic currywurst and the place is awesome and very convenient if you're in the area.

I had a currywurst at Konnopke's and I was struck by how plain and unremarkable a food it is. It's a hot dog with ketchup and curry powder. That is what it is.

I would kill to have a currywurst right now. It has been on my mind for hours. If I went to the window and looked at the sky I would not see a moon, but a huge currywurst.

With a side order of fries, with mayonnaise. Or ketchup.

Don't knock the simple things in life, is what I'm saying.
posted by tel3path at 3:30 PM on October 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

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