I also fantasized about breaking bread with drivers at their favorite places to eat, but once I started driving a taxi myself, I realized how far-fetched this fantasy was. Cabbies don’t have time to sit down for a meal when they’re on duty. Or so I thought – until I met Fazil.
Similar to my last adventure, I got rejected by three or four cabbies until Fazil said he could take me to the Turkish restaurant in Neukölln where he eats on almost every shift.
The owner gives discounts to cab drivers, Fazil told me. There are so many Turkish restaurants in Berlin, it’s not enough to make good food. Giving taxi drivers a break was smart business.
Fazil has been taking his breaks at Öz-Samsun for 10 of the 15 years that he’s been driving a cab. It’s not far from his home in Neukölln, where he’s raising four daughters (ages 12, 10, 5, and 2) and has lived for the past 34 years.
“Berlin is the best,” he said. He worked as a welder for six years in Stuttgart (a.k.a. southern Germany’s “cradle of the automobile”), where he said people “don’t speak with other people who comes from outside.”
I wasn’t sure I heard him right when he braked in front of the restaurant and told me to wait for him while he parked his taxi.
I could sense that there were no ulterior motives when Fazil met me at the entrance. He’s a nice guy (in fact, his business card reads “Ihr freundlicher taxifahrer” – your friendly taxi driver) who was ready for a break from the road.
I ogled the döner kebab on the way in, but Fazil told me the best döner in the city was at Hisar on Yorkstrasse in Schoeneberg (I went the next day to taste for myself. The meat was good but way too salty for me).
We chose a table around the corner from a bronze black tea brewing samovar. He ordered red lentil soup (mercimek corbasi, 3 euros), his favorite on-duty snack, and recommended adana kebab (8 euros) for me.
He made a few confessions while we waited for our food. When he’s between fares, he digs his laptop out of the trunk and plays pinball on Playstation.
When he’s hunting for köfte, he heads for Bize Katil (Potsdamerstrasse 161), where he claimed the sausage is even better than Gel Gör‘s (!). When he’s craving baklava, he heads for Öz Gaziantep (Sonnenallee 24/26). I promised to try both.*
In the end, I was more impressed with his red lentil soup (with carrots, tomato, and crushed red pepper) than I was with my adana kebab (the ground, red pepper-seasoned meat had been grilled to tender but so much salt overpowered whatever delicacy of flavor there might have been).
I loved the turnips and flatleaf parsley and green chili peppers that came with it, though – Fazil explained that this was the only place in Berlin where they give you these garnishes with your kebab.
It was a subtle detail that someone like him would notice – and appreciate.
12043 Berlin Neukölln
Tel 030 68089508
Would I go back? For adana kebab, no. But for red lentil soup, yes. And I’d have to try their döner kebab.
* If you’re in Berlin, feel free to join me this Saturday at 5:30pm – I’m going to try both of these spots, along with three other döner kebab recommendations: http://tinyurl.com/2ubsmcl