Situated in the Western half of Berlin, where it used to abut the Wall, Kreuzberg is the city’s hub for all things hipster. It swarms with attractive people on bicycles, interesting eateries and is home to a vast number of boutiques selling organic cotton t-shirts (many of which I spent an alarming amount of money in). It reminded me of Manchester’s Northern Quarter – a place full of tall, dark buildings, laid-back vibes and excellent dive bars.
I fell in love with Kreuzberg from the first moment I wandered into it. It was a sunny August afternoon – the kind where the heat rises in waves off the pavement and your feet throb and feel heavy. I had an ice cold Club Mate in one hand and my husband’s slightly sweaty palm in the other. When we arrived there, we were both absolutely starving. We had spent the morning wandering up to the top of the Reichstag, darting around groups of tourists and trying to spot all of the landmarks pointed out to me by my audio tour guide (and failing miserably – my geography remains notoriously awful). I had also drunk a significant amount of beer, which meant that my stomach was craving doner kebabs like a Z-list celebrity craves attention. Therefore, when we found a handy grill house, it seemed only right to settle down there for a late lunch.
Doner is the official fast food choice of Berlin and Kreuzberg (the centre of the city’s Turkish community) is its spiritual home, with a grill house on practically every corner. It was here that I learned an important lesson. When ordering a doner kebab in Berlin, all you need to do is mutter “ein doner bitte” and hand your money over. Do not, as I did, point at a giant plates of falafel and kebab meat on a menu overhead and gleefully proclaim, “I’ll have those please!” Well, not unless you’ve got a spare stomach handy.
As it is, this was a serious case of our eyes being bigger than our bellies. Our food was delicious – the balls of falafel were soft, warm and fluffy with a nubby texture from bits of chickpea and sesame seed. The accompanying bread wrapped itself around them like a doughy lover, with globs of thick Turkish yoghurt helping to add a bit of a sour edge to the carbfest. Mr McMc’s leaning tower of doner meat was equally delicious – soft with slightly crunchy edges and wonderfully filthy. We managed to eat most of it, but had to bid a quick retreat to our apartment afterwards so we could snooze most of it off.
I finally got my longed-for doner on our final day there at Maroush – a small Lebanese place that bustled with hungry Berliners. It’s not exactly a restaurant as such, more a place where you sit and watch the world go by while eating some truly sublime sandwiches.
This possibly the best kebab I’ve ever eaten and a world away from the sweaty specimens you get served up in Bootle. A large, fresh pita bread is stuffed full of meat and chips (that’s right – chips. Why don’t people do that in this country? GET IT SORTED, KEBABIERS OF THE UK) and sealed before being grilled over charcoal. It is then doused with an array of yoghurt & garlic-based sauces and handed over to you.
The final product is truly blissful. Each bite is filled with smoky lamb, crunchy red cabbage and a good proportion of chips. And I can’t not mention their Baklava. For just one Euro, you got a hefty slab of honeyed heaven – the perfect bite (or ten) of sweetness to end a meal Extra kudos is due to the staff for the Turkish version of “O Tannenbaum” that was playing when I went in to order.
I didn’t just eat doners during my visit to Kreuzberg (although I was exceedingly tempted to). We enjoyed a wonderful meal at a Persian restaurant called ’Safran’, helpfully positioned directly across the road from the bar where we did most of that evening’s drinking. Meal options come in small, medium and large portions and, yet again, I let alcohol dictate my choices, leading us to order an obscene amount of food.
Persian food is big on stews, grilled meats and delicately scented rices, and we stuffed ourselves silly on great heaps of mashed aubergines with yoghurt, rice pilafs flavoured with tart Iranian limes and broad beans, dips made of goats’ cheese, pomegranate molasses and ground walnuts and a vast amount of lamb. I also managed to try a beef stew that came topped with a handful of chips – apparently, this is the traditional Persian way to serve it, rather than a ploy for luring us in. Chips with everything appeared to be a bit of a theme during our trip.
When we finally headed back to Liverpool, I had gained four pounds in weight, along
with a suntan and a taste for Aperol Spritz. Berlin was one of most fascinating and brilliant cities I’ve ever visited – full of amazing culture and wonderful cuisine. I’m already planning my next visit, if only so I get my chops around more of those chip-filled kebabs.