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Ethnic foods in Berlin?


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Hello,

My wife and I will be in Berlin this summer for a week, and were wondering if anyone had suggestions for great places to go for a change from the meat heavy German basics. What are the places you go to when your not feeling up for another schnitzel? (of course I'm going to try to expand my understanding of German foods while I'm there).

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Anzu will probably have more specific local advice, but I daresay you will have an easier time finding non-German food in Berlin than you will finding schnitzel. I've been to good Indonesian, Ethiopian and Indian places there, but I can't remember for the life of me what they were called. There is also (duh) lots of good Turkish food and falafel/shawarma joints.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Finally got enough time to write a reply.

Restaurants here seem to open and close at near-lightning speed. My favorite Thai, Vietnamese, and Turkish places have all closed recently, and I haven't yet found anywhere where the food was as good. In fact, the last few meals I've had have been downright awful. :sad:

Because of the fast closure rate, I'll start off with a few rules of thumb instead of specific restaurant names:

- Chinese is the ethnic cuisine most likely to be messed-up to the point of inedibility. Avoid it in general, as the chances are extremely high that you will be served over-cooked slop served in a sweet glue-ey sauce. Large numbers of Germans inside eating with signs of satisfaction are NOT an indication that the food will be any good.

There is one definite exception to this in Berlin, I'll give the address below.

- Thai cuisine is quite likely to be good. Vietnamese is also quite likely to be good. (There are significant numbers of Thais and Vietnamese living in Berlin). However, any restaurant - and there are many of them - that serves a mixture of cuisines e.g. Thai and Vietnamese food, Vietnamese and Chinese, etc. is almost certainly better avoided.

- Italian can range from so-so to good. But no place that I've eaten at yet, here in Berlin, was even half as good as food actually eaten in Italy. (Icecream/gelato being an exception to this. :wub: )

- If seafood interests you, try visiting one of the many Portuguese restaurants.

- There are quite a lot of restaurants serving food from the regions of former Yugoslavia. These, together with Greek cuisine, tend to be okay. However, probably catering to Geman tastes, they also tend to be awfully heavy on the meat, with not many other menu options.

On to actual recommendations:

BTW, when I know it, I've also listed closest train station (S-Bahn) or underground (U-Bahn). In addition, be warned that with Berlin street numbers, all numbers run consecutively along one side of the street, then consecutively along the other side. There is often a small sign hanging under the street sign with the numbers of the buildings in that block so, as long as the sign is actually there, this can be a useful guide to how close you are to your destination.

Chinese food:

Good Friends

Address: Kantstrasse 30 (corner of Kantstrasse and Schlüterstrasse).

Tel: 313 2659

S-Bahn: Savignyplatz

Cambodian:

Angkor Wat

Address: Paulstrasse 22

Tel: 393 3922

S-Bahn: Bellevue (cross the foot-bridge, turn right and walk along the Spree up to Paulstrasse). Or alternatively, if coming from the Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag area, this can also be reached by a nice 20-30 minute walk along the Spree past all the flashy new government buildings and - for part of the way - along the former course of the Wall.

Vietnamese:

1) Monsieur Vuong

Address: Alte Schönhauser Strasse 46

Tel: 308 72643

U-Bahn: Weinmeisterstrasse (or less than 10 minutes walk from S-Bahn: Hackescher Markt

(gets good reviews, but I have not eaten here)

2) likely to be good: any of the Vietnamese restaurants along Kantstrasse, in the segment of road corresponding to S-Bahn station Charlottenburg and S-Bahn station Savignyplatz

High concentration of ethnic restaurants :

The stretch of Oranienburger Strasse between S-Bahn: Hackescher Markt and U-Bahn: Oranienburger Strasse.

I cannot remember the name of even a single restaurant along this area. However, there are at least two Turkish restaurants (i.e. proper restaurants as opposed to Turkish fast food which is available pretty much everywhere), Indian, Kosher, and Thai restaurants.

Turkish and Arab fast food:

As Behemoth said, it is hard not to trip over a shawarma or döner kebap stand wherever you turn. Most are pretty good. They range from a hole in the wall, where you walk away trying not to drip yogurt sauce down yourself, to proper sit-down places with other Turkish or Arab food options. If a place has two spits of meat on the go at once, one of them will usually be turkey meat (Pute).

A lot of places also sell lahmaçun (also labelled Türkische Pizza). I found the "pizza" name off-putting and their appearance rather lacklustre, and put off trying these for far too long. They taste far better than they look, and are worth trying.

Many places also sell cheese or cheese-spinach börek. These come in 2 types: a thicker (oil-based?) pastry, and a flaky pastry (yufka) similar to filo but slightly thicker. I've found the yufka ones are better avoided. They look tempting, but have invariably been sitting too long and are soggy. I've been sucked in far too many times with these.

A few places also sell gözleme. These are made to order, with the person behind the counter rolling out the pastry, adding your choice of about 10 fillings and cooking it on a brazier. There is sometimes a stall selling these among the stalls selling cruddy food and tourist stuff by the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche, but more often than not it is not present. (S-Bahn and U-Bahn Zoologischer Garten or U-Bahn Kurfürstendamm.)

Although Turkish or Arab fast food are readily available, I would still highly recommend the area near U-Bahn Turmstrasse (two stops from Zoologischer Garten). Go out the northern-most exit, then walk along Turmstrasse towards Beusselstrasse. Once past the city hall, i.e. from the intersection Turmstrasse/ Bremer Strasse you are in a region where about 80% of the population is non-German - mostly Turkish, Kurdish, and Lebanese. Fresh gözleme are available on Bremer Strasse, (about three shops in from Turmstrasse), there are countless places on and just off Turmstrasse selling shawarma and döner as well as other foods. There are also places selling Turkish sweets, Arab sweets (continue on Turmstrasse just past the intersection with Beusselstrasse, or turn right on to Beusselstrasse and look for the shop done up in the colors of the Lebanese flag).

For fresh Turkish breads good enough to eat on their own, try the bakery on Turmstrasse just past the intersection between Turmstrasse/ Bremer Strasse. In particular, try their simit (sesame rings, labelled in German as Sesamringe), and açma (butter rings, labelled in German as Butterringe).

There are actually several other regions (e.g. Wedding, Neukölln) with a very high non-German population that will have similar Turkish and Arab food offerings. However, those areas are almost certainly further away from the areas that you will probably be spending time in. Also, they can border onto areas that are, frankly speaking, a bit dodgy (especially after dark). The area I've mentioned is not so far away, and not dodgy.

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Vietnamese:

1) Monsieur Vuong

Address: Alte Schönhauser Strasse 46

Tel: 308 72643

U-Bahn: Weinmeisterstrasse (or less than 10 minutes walk from S-Bahn: Hackescher Markt

(gets good reviews, but I have not eaten here)

Ate there a few times, though the last time was over two years ago. Nice food at good prices, but quite limited choice. It's always worth looking at the day's specials.

The real problem is that, at least in my experience, it is always packed: one or two people can manage to get a place without waiting too long, especially if you're willing to sit at the "bar", but I've seen larger groups wait quite long, even on mid-week days.

Il Forno: eating, drinking, baking... mostly side effect free. Italian food from an Italian kitchen.
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I agree with Anzu - Berlin is where you are most likely to find good ethnic food in Germany. And please - avoid the Chinese restaurants unless somebody suggestes a good one to you. You will see a lot of places offering "Asiapfanne" - or "Asia pan" which is a slop consisting of meat, veg (with bean sprouts, of course) soy sauce and noodles stir-fried into a Teutonic glop of Oriental Stereotypes. Avoid it.

Kebabs in Berlin are arguably as good as any in Istanbul - they use a nicer Anatolian style flat bread in Berlin. Some of the Felaful I have had in Berlin is as good as any I have had in Israel or NY - these places are usually run by Palestinains or Egyptians. Russian and Georgian food is plentiful. I usually have a ball eating ethnic street foods and snacks and rarely get around to eating fancier meals. Of course, I don't mind a bratwurst now and then.

There are a lot of Indian places staffed by Indians and some I have tried are quite good, but remember: food will never be really spicy hot in Germany. A restaurant that truly adds hot pepper to its food will lose business and possibly get sued in Germany. I once asked an Asian shopkeeper why the dried red peppers I had bought in his shop were not really hot, and he said his German customers would complain if the peppers burned their mouths. I am not exaggerating. I carry hot sauces on me when I have to travel in Germany.

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There are a lot of Indian places staffed by Indians and some I have tried are quite good, but remember: food will never be really spicy hot in Germany. A restaurant that truly adds hot pepper to its food will lose business and possibly get sued in Germany. I once asked an Asian shopkeeper why the dried red peppers I had bought in his shop were not really hot, and he said his German customers would complain if the peppers burned their mouths. I am not exaggerating. I carry hot sauces on me when I have to travel in Germany.

Yeah, I've rarely had good chinese food in Germay -- mainly because I think people expect it to be "cheap" food so the quality is really low. I have had okay Indian food but it really depends on the place -- rumor has it (at least in Munich) you can get it extra spicy by asking for "English hot". I've had decent and quite spicy thai though, and keep in mind that younger germans are well-travelled and more open to new stuff so they don't break out into the white person "sharf" sweat quite as quickly as the old crowd. Never heard of a place getting sued for spicy food though -- sounds like Snopes.com material. Anyway, go to neighborhoods with recent immigrants, or cheaper artists neighborhoods for the good ethnic eats, but that's true pretty much everywhere.

I have a trip coming up to Berlin in March so I'll make note of the recommendations. Mainly I need "my people" food: I'm craving a good shawarma, falafel and a lahmajun with a bottle of Ayran. And of course a currywurst...

Jackal, even Berliners refer to themselves as Berliners. But in Munich the donuts are Krapfen. That JFK speech could have come out much worse in Bavaria. :wink:

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Well, if you must have a curry wurst, must go to Konnopkes Imbiss, in Prenzlauer Berg, East Berlin, Schönhauser Allee 44a, under the elevated Metro line.

Within a five minutes stroll you'll also find some damn good Vietmanese, Thai, and Palestinian felaful, as well as good old fashioned German take-out baked chicken.

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T thought that the food ethnic to Berlin was a jelly donut "ein Berliner". although why JFK claimed to be one, is one of those culinary mysteries lost in time...

The funny thing is that a jelly donut is actually called a "Pfannkuchen" (a pancake) in Berlin. It's only in certain other parts of Germany that they are called Berliner.

BTW, if JFK had said "Ich bin Berliner" rather than "Ich bin ein Berliner" he would have been calling himself a Berlin resident rather than a jelly donut.

Zaelic,

Georgian food? Do you remember the name or address of a place you particularly liked?

I love your line about a Teutonic glop of Asian stereotypes...

However, I think your Asian businessman was just coming out with a glib answer to excuse the inferiority of his red pepper rather than reflecting the reality of the red pepper buying public in Germany. Most ethnic groceries catering to Thais, Africans and people from the Indian sub-continent do have decently hot fresh red peppers (habaneros, chilis imported directly from India and Thailand, etc.) as well as red pepper powder. It's just that most of the people buying them are not German.

I've been buying my dried red pepper in Turkish groceries. There's one type that is most definitely hotter than any dried red pepper I buy in Indian grocery stores. It's little flakes of powdered dried pepper, brick-red in color. All of the seeds from inside the peppers are still retained in the mixture. Any more than a generous pinch of this in a dish and my husband (who is Indian) complains that it's too hot.

As far as hot food being served in restaurants is concerned: I'm not so sure about being sued, but I would agree that restaurants with truly spicy food are probably not going to do that well. The restaurants which I had liked and which - as I complained above - have closed down, had been serving spicy food. Clearly such food wasn't popular enough to keep them in business. And the lousy meals I complained about above had all allegedly been 'hot' and were actually just cloyingly sweet instead (extra sugar being added to counteract the alleged heat??)

I can't really comment on Indian food in Berlin. Indian food is what I tend to cook on a daily basis, and so when I see what the restaurants offer - which is pretty standard Indian restaurant fare featuring Moghlai/North Indian type stuff - I always tend to feel that I can make far more interesting food myself at home, and go to some other type of restaurant instead. But I'm probably just hyper-critical because Indian home cooking and Indian restaurant cooking are very different beasts.

I've recently come across a couple of addresses for Sri Lankan restaurants. If I make it to them, and they turn out to be good, I'll add them to this thread.

Edited by anzu (log)
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T thought that the food ethnic to Berlin was a jelly donut "ein Berliner". although why JFK claimed to be one, is one of those culinary mysteries lost in time...

The funny thing is that a jelly donut is actually called a "Pfannkuchen" (a pancake) in Berlin. It's only in certain other parts of Germany that they are called Berliner.

BTW, if JFK had said "Ich bin Berliner" rather than "Ich bin ein Berliner" he would have been calling himself a Berlin resident rather than a jelly donut.

Sorry to disagree, but this is a myth. Germans I have spoken to about this (incl. my German husband and his colleagues) have told me that what JFK said was not only not perceived as odd or funny by the audience at the time, but was not even linguistically incorrect. German speakers leave the definite article out when talking about their profession, for example, but otherwise it is an issue of style, and the definite article may be added in for emphasis. (eg I am one of many Berliners.)

link to a collection of discussions about this.

I definitely agree about the merchant with the stale peppers though. nice excuse! :laugh:

Edited by Behemoth (log)
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A lot of places also sell lahmaçun (also labelled Türkische Pizza). I found the "pizza" name off-putting and their appearance rather lacklustre, and put off trying these for far too long. They taste far better than they look, and are worth trying

Can anyone tell me more about this? Exactly what is lahmacun?

Monsieur Vuong is good, very fresh vietnamese... but yes, there were four things on the menu the last time I was there. Two of which they had already sold out of!

I think the place we went to for currywurst is Fritz & Co outside of KaDeWe, nice. But being from Chicago, I wanted my currywurst in a bun. I'll have to go to Konnopkes this time around, thank you for mentioning it!

Similarly, I wanted my doner kebab in a pita bread... Does anyone know of a good stand where they do this "street style" and give you naan or pita to wrap your meat in? And separately are most of the doner kebab places the same? Or are there a few that standout?

I'll be there in a few weeks too. We missed Lutter & Wegner on our last trip and I've been wanting to go. Is it good? Or just well known?

But I will definitely go to Monsieur Vuong and have to have a currywurst as well as a doner kebab, leisurely cafe at Cafe Einstein, and the chance to buy Dolphin masala chocolate at KaDeWe.

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A lot of places also sell lahmaçun (also labelled Türkische Pizza). I found the "pizza" name off-putting and their appearance rather lacklustre, and put off trying these for far too long. They taste far better than they look, and are worth trying

Can anyone tell me more about this? Exactly what is lahmacun?

What is known as lahmajun in turkey and sfiha in lebanon is essentially a flat bread dough topped with ground lamb, tomato, onion and spices, then baked at a high temperature. It's like a lamb pizza without cheese or sauce, sort of. Unfortunately in Germany they tend to pile it up with all sorts of stuff like tatziki and salad (sort of like the american approach to falafel) but the traditional way to eat is plain, with a bottle of ayran (salty yogurt drink) to wash it down. I don't know where it is good in Berlin, but if you are ever in Hamburg there's a very good place for it in Sternschanze.

I think the place we went to for currywurst is Fritz & Co outside of KaDeWe, nice.  But being from Chicago, I wanted my currywurst in a bun.  I'll have to go to Konnopkes this time around, thank you for mentioning it!

Bah, I suppose you'll want it polluted with neon green relish and tomato wedges next. :raz:

Similarly, I wanted my doner kebab in a pita bread... Does anyone know of a good stand where they do this "street style" and give you naan or pita to wrap your meat in?  And separately are most of the doner kebab places the same?  Or are there a few that standout? 

As far as I know, anytime you buy doner kebap from an imbiss place it comes as a sandwich, oder?

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Bah, I suppose you'll want it polluted with neon green relish and tomato wedges next. 

:raz: no no! but on a chicago dog, ketchup would be as much a sacrilege on your sausage as what you're suggesting above! Even ketchup that has curry powder in it!

hmmm, I went to hasir (that is what its called isn't it?) and no pita or naan type flatbread... just lots of meat and veg. I missed the bread... but that "turkish pizza" is sounding lovely.

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Does anyone know of a good stand where they do this "street style" and give you naan or pita to wrap your meat in? And separately are most of the doner kebab places the same? Or are there a few that standout?

Although I do see some places that also offer the food on a plate, the default is always in bread. I would think if you specify "In Fladenbrot" or "In dürüm", it should ensure that you get it wrapped in the bread. Or take it 'to go' (Zum Mitnehmen) - that way it would have to be served in bread.

On the subject of 'sameness': the majority of places apparently buy their döner already put on the skewer from one particularly Turkish business located here in Berlin. So most will be the same.

This information appeared in a newspaper article a few months back when there were a series of scandals here in Germany about unscrupulous wholesalers selling meat that had been classified as no longer fit for consumption and/or past its use-by-date. So the article was less about the taste of the food, but was more to reassure the consumer that the meat being used in döner was actually being prepared under hygienic and strictly supervised conditions.

However, the same article did give a list of places which made their own döner, places where the taste was utterly outstanding, and so on, and now I can't find the article. :sad: I was sure I'd saved it, but apparently not...

However, look out for the signs "Eigene Herstellung" (i.e. that they have made it themselves) or "Holzkohlengrill" (charcoal grill). With any luck that should give you a döner that tastes different from the run-of-the-mill places. Incidentally, in the section of road along Turmstrasse that I mentioned above, at least one place advertises making their own, and at least one place cooks over a charcoal grill.

The best lahmacun I ate was not in Berlin, but in a city of Germany very far from here. So unfortunately I can't offer recommendations.

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