Friday, 2 November 2012

On the Kebalfe trail

I just got back from Berlin. It was pretty awesome. When I told people I was going to Germany to research döners, kebabs and Middle Eastern street food, lots of them wondered why not go to Istanbul? Well Istanbul is next on the list, and with a lot of the Middle East out of bounds at the minute, Berlin, with the highest concentration of Turkish people outside of Turkey, seemed like a sensible choice. Plus I also needed to let off some steam after a busy summer, and Berghain / Panorama Bar on a Sunday morning is probably the best place in the world to do just that.

It's claimed that the döner was invented in Berlin, at a place called Hasir in Kreuzberg - the centre of Berlin's Turkish community. From there came the genius of wrapping the meat, sauce and salad in a flatbread, and rolling it around itself to create the portable meal that is now enjoyed by drunk people from Wellington, New Zealand to Welling Garden City, Hertfordshire. Hasir, we owe you. Big time.

So nowadays kebabs - or kebaps, as they say there - are all over Berlin and there's a Middle Eastern takeaway on every corner, plus a few more on every block for good measure.

The main thing that struck me was how different each product was. No two döners, falafels or shawarmas were the same. The regional variations in spicing, sauces and garnish were extremely apparent. A bit of cardamom here. Peanut sauce instead of hummus there. Pickled vegetables sometimes in place of salad. Foccacia bread or flatbread. The variations were endless, and damn tasty.

So here's my top three Middle Eastern takeaways in Berlin.

Mo's Kleiner Imbiss. Gräefstraße 9, Kreuzberg

This place calls itself "The king of falafel", and they do rightly lay a claim. The falafel balls are huge, and the sandwiches are served with loads of salad and a splodge of nicely hot and sour chilli sauce. The thing that make's Mo's standout, though, is the walnut paste they smear all over the bread. That and the cute little old lady that's running the show. The queen of falafel, clearly. 

Dada Falafel. Linienstraße 132, Mitte

In at number two is Dada's. It's a bit more up market than some of the places we visited. It's a slick operation, fitting of it's high end surroundings in Mitte. The prices are a little higher, and the portions are a little smaller, but it's made up for by the quality of the food (and cleanliness of the shop). Veal shawarma was dripping with meaty juices, grilled aubergine had a sour hint of sumac and the falafel had the added depth of cardamom. Spicing and seasoning in general was spot on. Check this one out.

Mustafa's Gemüsekebap. Mehringdamm, West Kreuzberg 

Ok, this is the one. Mustafa's is simply the bomb. They have a kiosk on the street just up from Curry 36, outside a hostel, and next to an off license. That could be your weekend right there. Mustafa's do chicken shawarma with fried vegetables, or fried vegetables for the veggies. You get the choice of durüm (flatbread) or pocket (pictured), or plate. The durüm wraps were huge, and packed with juicy meat, crisp salad and fresh herbs. We got there about 7pm, and there was already a long queue forming. It's well worth the wait though. Grab a beer from the liquor store, and settle in for a serious dose of street food. Exceptional. 

Also on the Kebalfe trail were a few non-Middle Eastern joints that are worth a look. This was my fifth trip to Berlin, and it's taken me til now to get around to visiting Curry 36 (just down the road from Mustafa's). It's a sloppy and saucy and bit fake-tasting (in a good way..?), but an institution none the less. Sausage fans, go take a look. And while we're on the quick and dirty theme, Burgermeister, housed in an old public toilet, is also pretty damn tasty. Burgers hit the spot, but are let down slightly by the bun. The fries on the other hand... Whoa. Try chilli, bacon & jalepeno. 

Curry 36. Mehringdamm, West Kreuzberg

Burgermeister. Oberbaumstraße 9, Kreuzberg

This lot may seem a bit South East-centric, but if you're elsewhere in Berlin, fear not. The Kebalfe has got that covered. In fact, I even made a Googlemap... Just click on the image below. Have a look and go get exploring! 

View Kebalfe trail Berlin in a larger map

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