Yes, I’m one of the very few who come to Berlin for local, traditional Food.
Tourists come here to see the Reichstag, Gedächniskirche and Checkpoint Charlie and when they leave, they think every Berliner lives on Currywurst and Döner – that’s what you see when you walk the center. Even though cuisine a`la Berlin never has been fancy or upscale, not even well-known in the rest of Europe, it is worth to be explored and since I call myself a travelling Foodie, I put it on my foodie map.
Not even the Berliner seem to be proud of their traditional dishes – on the best off list you find all kinds of restaurants listed, from Italian to Austrian, but not a single restaurant which serves traditional food from Berlin. When I did my research, the challenge wasn’t to pick the most original from a wide range of suggestions like in other European towns – in fact, it was hard to find anything at all!
Berlin, the ethnic melding pot, seems to forget where it comes from. No wonder – there is probably no other city with a comparable history. Think about the changes Berlin went through – from being cut in two to a modern, reunited hipster metropole – people from all over the world moved here and brought their Food and recipes, today you find all kinds of ethnic restaurants in the city.
Who on earth wants to eat traditional Berlin Food?
At this point Dirk Engelhardt from “The German Food Tour” comes into the picture: he offers a walking Berlin Food Tour, exactly what I was looking for. In the pre-emails I pointed out that I’m not interested in the modern craft Food and pop up scene, there are plenty of Food bloggers out there to write about this development. Dirk is a free-lance Journalist with a passion for Food and since he has conducted Food tours in Barcelona for a while, he knows what travelling Foodies are looking for. A nice side effect: he writes about Berlin as a professional Journalist, so he knows many interesting details and stories, a real source of insider information.
Starting with a plate of cold cuts and cheese from the Uckermark (Berlin’s bread basket), paired with local craft beer, we got a typical German Abendbrot. Traditionally Germans eat a full cooked meal for lunch and only a light snack for dinner, called Abendbrot or Vesper, consisting of bread, butter, cold cuts, cheese and salad. In Berlin you get the famous Berliner Blutwurst, we also had two kinds of air-dried hams and three different types of salami, all produced the traditional way, which means: natural farm living animals, no artificial flavors.
The combination of bread and beer is very common, it just depends on the region which kind of bread and beer you get. We were fortunate enough to combine the delicious starter plate with a beer tasting – three different beers from a small local brewery were on offer. The Heidenpeter brewery brews in the cellar rooms right under Markthalle neun and sells at a stall in the Markthalle, three different beers are on tap and you can pick your preference.
The Berlin Food tour claims to be a “full belly tour”, there was more Food to come, but first we had to walk off the starter plate since our next destination, the restaurant “Max und Moritz” is 20 walking minutes away and we crisscrossed the lively and vibrant quarter Kreuzberg.
Dirk points out landmarks and history, he also explains the name: for non-Germans Max und Moritz might sound strange since it’s related to the story of Max und Moritz, written by the famous 19th century author Wilhelm Busch. The restaurant opened 1902, when the story was very popular and used the theme for name and decoration, most of the original paintings are still on the walls and tell the story of Max and Moritz, who played nasty tricks on harmless people. Sure, we admire the high ceiling with the Art Deco glass tiles, the original wooden floor and the paintings, in fact the restaurant could be an Art Deco museum, but we are here for the food, so let’s focus.
On the menu we find dishes like potato soup, Gulasch, Kassler, Berliner ham knuckles, prepared the traditional way. These dishes are called Berliner cuisine, but don’t necessarily origin here – in fact, most of them came with the job seeking people in the 19th century, (industrial era) when people from all over came to Berlin for work. The Gulasch for example came from Hungary, but gets prepared in a special way since the ingredients are simply not the same, the Hungarian immigrants had to think of variations. Same with Eisbein: ham knuckles origin from Bavaria, but there the knuckles get roasted and have a wonderful flavored crust. Space-constraints in Berlin during the industrial era didn’t allow open fire, so they boiled the ham and paired it with smashed peas and cabbage.
One of the authentic Berliner dishes is Kassler, salted and smoked pork meat. It was invented when the Master butcher Casseler from Potsdamer Strasse in Berlin put a pork saddle in brine and smoked it afterwards to make it durable – important in these times. Another advantage: the meat doesn’t need long cooking times, it is ready to be served and is great to combine with cabbage, which is cheap and easy to get. The portions are huge and the dishes hearty and rich, meant to feed a hardworking man in the industrial era of Berlin. The local beer to pair with the meal is Kreuzberger Molle, an unfiltered Lager, brewed by the local Südstern brewery.
Kaffe und Kuchen – a German tradition
We weren’t allowed to order dessert since the food tours last stop would be a Café with traditional Kaffee und Kuchen at Kuchen Kaiser – I have a sweet tooth and was well prepared for this – simply followed Dirk’s advise and left room in my stomach. Even though it was around 9 pm, we still had the choice of app. ten different kinds of cake: German cheese cake, chocolate cake, fruit tarte, hard to pick – all homemade and delicious, everything we tried. If you look for an authentic food experience in Berlin, paired with interesting insider stories, history and recommendations for your time in Berlin, I strongly recommend the Berlin Food Tour of Dirk Engelhardt.
Berlin lives on contrasts, some are hard to take and next to no one would call Berlin “beautiful” – just too many ugly corners where life is rough and unfair, not what you are used to see in Germany. Tourists who want to see the historic Berlin are taken to the Nikolai Viertel, a well restored historic neighborhood close to the Museumsinsel with many cafe’s and restaurants, just a short walk from here you can enter a boat which takes you on the river along the modern Goverment buildings – this way you cover 800 years of history. The remaining historic buildings are brushed up and might let you forget: these aren’t the places where people actually live – to really experience Berlin, you have to go to places where locals go and to eat what they eat – just follow my foodie map Berlin to get an idea how it is to live in Berlin today and how it might have been in former centuries.
Tip: rent a bike to explore the city – there are bike lanes throughout town, it’s safe and fun!