Best of 2011: My Favorite Foodie Finds (Berlin)

2011 was quite a year – full of travels and culinary adventures!

In the course of 12 months, I spent time in Berlin, Scotland, San Francisco and New Mexico – not to mention Alsace, the Loire Valley, and Bordeaux. I’ve never traveled so much – and, uh yes, sorry to admit, written so little! I’ve been taking notes though, and here is the first in a series of posts on my travels and favorite foodie finds in 2011.

Berlin, I must say, was one of my favorite trips of the year. I remember watching the Wall come down on TV when I was nine years old and have since had a deep fascination with the city. When we arrived on a Friday night last November, it felt exactly how I had imaged – modern (most of the city was destroyed during World War II and has since been rebuilt), yet full of history.

DSC05642We only spent a long weekend, so it wasn’t enough time to see and taste everything, but we took full advantage of the time we had. It helped having good friends to show us around and take us to their favorite spots. The first place we headed was the Winterfeldtplatz Market in Schoeneberg. It had a different feeling than Parisian farmers’ markets. For one, it was rather calm (no one banged into my heels with their caddy) and most people were just arriving at lunchtime (when markets here begin to close up shop). For two, there were lots of samples and yummy items ready to eat (we tried melted “käse” on bread and “apfelkuchen”, apple cake). People didn’t seem to be doing their weekly shopping, but going to have Saturday lunch and buy a few apples or whatnots. The funniest difference, though, were the little children – instead of nibbling on pain au chocolat, they were happily walking around with sausages. I’m serious – miniature chubby hands and huge slimy sausages!

Our friends also introduced us to some of Berlin’s innovative ways of preparing and serving food. Kochhaus (also in Schoeneberg), for example, is a one-of-a-kind grocery store that specializes in “ready-to-make” meals. Basically, several “recipe stations” are set up around the shop and at these stations you find every ingredient you need to make the proposed recipe (down to a teaspoon of spice). The directions are printed on leaflets for you to take home. It reminded me of paint-by-number, but for cooking. Check out this article in the New York Times: “A Streamlined Approach to Eating at Kochhaus”

While it was fun looking around this “walk-in-cookbook”, we also had innovation in restaurants to check out. That’s how we ended up at Vapiano for lunch one day. Though it has since gone international, the first spot opened in Germany in 2002. This is an Italian restaurant where you use a “clip card” (kind of like a credit card) to keep track of your bill. You hand over this card, order from a menu on the wall, watch your food being prepared before your eyes and then sit down to enjoy. I appreciated that the restaurant used fresh ingredients. I even saw one customer picking basil off a plant to sprinkle on his pasta – apparently this was allowed!

We also stumbled on the mittendrin restaurant/café where I had a “flammkuchen” (I like to translate this as a “flaming kitchen”) with spinach, feta cheese and olives. Quite nice.

Above all, one of our favorite spots was the Solar, a bar on the 17th floor of a 1970s skyscraper. The view was amazing, the DJ excellent and the drink menu as long as a novel (I chose the raspberry mojito).

Last but not least, we ended our trip with a traditional German meal at Joseph Roth Diele (Postdamerstrasse 75). The restaurant is named after the 19th century writer and was bustling on a Monday at lunchtime. The decor was warm and inviting, and the menu fully in German! Fortunately, we had our friends to translate. I got my fill of German spaetzle just in time to take the plane back to Paris that afternoon…

Though nothing to do with food, here are three must-sees while visiting Berlin:

The Reichstag Dome (admission is free, but advanced booking required)

German Historical Museum (you’ll spend hours here)

East Side Gallery (the longest remaining stretch of the Berlin wall decorated with colorful murals)

Like I said, a weekend isn’t enough and I’m sure we left lots to be discovered in Berlin.

Any other recommendations to share?

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