We’ve been jet-setters lately. A completely amazing-totally-unplanned opportunity to go to Berlin came up via my husband’s job – with a side-jaunt to Prague – so there was that. Which meant postponing our previously-actually-planned trip to New Orleans. So I’ve been all over the place. And truthfully, I didn’t do the greatest job of documenting our adventures for you, but I did finally get my act together for the last part of the Berlin trip so I’ll share that with you now.
As I was planning our trip to Berlin, I kept reading that, although it’s not readily thought of as a food city, it’s currently experiencing a renaissance. Chefs and food entrepreneurs are taking advantage of the cheap rents and diverse, artsy clientele and creating a food destination worth talking about. We spent a few days exploring the city and sightseeing, did the werky-werk thing that actually got us there, then took a jaunt to Prague. For the last part of our trip, we returned to Berlin for a quick day and a half that was devoted entirely to eating and drinking as much as we could before heading back home. We literally ate and drank our way from one side of the city to the other.
So here we go.
Thursday nights mean Street Food Thursdays at Markthalle Neun. This beautiful market building dates from the 1890’s, and recently re-opened as a weekly market, featuring a variety of special events. Street Food Thursday includes some of the market’s regular purveyors, alongside pop-ups selling items ranging from Columbian arepas to Chinese pot stickers in every variety imaginable. The event runs from 5p-10p and it is crazy-crowded and fun. If you’re looking for cheap places to eat in Berlin, this is it! Get there early so you have time to check out all of the eats before supplies run out! Alas, we missed out on the ribs…
We had cidre steak, the afore-mentioned potstickers, bouletten – one of Berlin’s food specialties, traditional meatballs (or just save yourself the trouble and call them Berlin Beef Balls like this vendor does) – a tray of Italian charcuterie, and ice cream from Jones Ice Cream.
Friday morning meant making sure we were packed and ready to go, because we had to get up at 2:30am (yes, you heard that right) to catch our flight out of Berlin. By the time all of that was locked down, brunch was the way to go. God bless Café Einstein Stammhaus, a Viennese-style coffee house, for serving breakfast all day. A café au lait served the right way (coffee and milk served in separate pitchers for mixing just as I liked, to be freshened at my whim), and a white asparagus omelette. It was asparagus season in this particular region, and it was impossible not to notice. People are crazy for it. Every restaurant had at least one special asparagus dish, some of them had devoted a full-page special menu to it. Every server pointed out the asparagus dish on the menu, be it soup, side or risotto. And we ate it all. And it was good.
The café has a storied past, and if you’re a Tarantino fan, you may recognize it from Inglourious Basterds. We had a leisurely meal and lingered in the elegant surroundings. Put it on your list of cool places to eat in Berlin, for sure.
Afterwards, we made our way over to Charlottenberg, with the ultimate goal of finishing our day at the KaDaWe food hall. But I’ll get to that in a bit… On the way we came upon an outdoor market with vendors selling ready-made lunchtime items, as well as cheeses, baked goods, composed cold salads, dried fruits and nuts, and chocolates. We grabbed a couple of pastries and took our time checking everything out.
Then we popped into Leysieffer for coffee and sweet treats. They’ve been making pastries in Berlin since 1909. They also have loads of chocolate truffles, so we picked some up as gifts to bring back to family and friends.
And on to the main event. The ultimate goal of the day. The KaDeWe Food Hall, at Berlin’s premiere department store. On Fridays, it’s open until 9, so we arrived at 5. Four hours was not enough. Now, there is nothing I love more than a European department store food hall. But this one really blew my mind. It took us an entire hour just to take the first lap around it to get the lay of the land. Oh, did I mention it occupies an entire floor? Of a department store that takes up a city block? They have EVERYTHING!
First order of business: the lap. Look at all of the options, set priorities to return to, and get non-perishable snacks to take on the plane ride home along the way. (Yes, we see you champagne bars, all FOUR of you…we’ll be back.) Fresh fruit and veg, bulk trail mix and nuts of every kind, candycandycandy, charcuterie, cheeses, two sushi bars, raw bar, pastries over here, pastries over there, wine, schnitzel, single giant pickles in a can (WHAT?!), beer and sausage counter, potato counter, loads of licorice, giant cheeseburgers, fish counter, and on and on and on..
Once we got our candy, sausages (properly packaged for air travel), nuts, pastries and other snacks for the plane, we had to get down to business and decide on the main attractions for the evening. Champagne was a given, and we decided to go with the Spanish charcuterie and, believe it or not, the potato counter for dinner. Berliners love potatoes and there are entire restaurants devoted to them, but we hadn’t experienced it yet. As I mentioned there are all types of ‘counters’ serving everything from cheeseburgers to schnitzel to freshly cooked fish plucked right from the display case. The beauty of this system, if you know how to work it, is that you can order at one and sit at another and they will bring it to you. We watched a family at the Spanish charcuterie area enjoy their cava and appetizers, then one chef brought schnitzel over to dad and another brought sushi to the mother and daughter. They just ring it all onto one check for you and you can stay put. It’s fabulous.
We started at the Jacquart champagne bar with a special cuvée rosé. Then we moved on to Spain, and a plate of Iberico ham with manchego, and some cava. My husband had to make a quick stop at the beer bar to get one last dark Budvar – brewed in Prague, and this area offered a nice view out over the city (I had another glass of cava), and then made our way to potato-ville to soak up all the alcohol before our short 3-hour nap prior to heading to the airport. But by this time it was after 8, and although the store is open until 9, our kartoffel-chef didn’t seem to happy to see us sit down. I ordered the baked potato (they actually brought me two!!) with smoked salmon three ways. Heaven. No way you could get that much smoked salmon for the price in the states. Our chef mellowed once we ordered, and even got me some more champagne from Jacquart and added it to our tab for us. Not that I needed it. But it was the last day of vacation, so why not. We gorged ourselves on our potato selections and literally got shooed out of the store. We made the most of every minute.
So, a day of pastries, charcuterie, candy, all the baked potatoes and smoked salmon I could hold, along with four glasses of champagne? Yes, I took some Tums when we got back to the hotel. But it was all worth it. Danke, Berlin, und guten nacht.