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Berlin Dispatch: Blue Tango, China Snack

China Snack's menu. My co-adventurer noticed that the delivery fee is still in Deutsche marks.

Steve has probably never listened to tango music – and he’s probably never traveled to Buenos Aires. But the Berlin cab driver wears his melancholy on his sleeve as well as any Buenos Aires tanguero.

Steve was trained as a marine biologist, but he can’t find work in his field (“They told me I was too old.”). Twelve years ago, three construction worker passengers beat him up in his cab when he took them to their favorite bordello and it was closed (“They blamed me,” he said.)

Several years ago, the cabbie went off the technology grid for reasons he didn’t have time to explain. He doesn’t have an email address. Or a cell phone.

He uses the down time in his taxi to learn languages: so far, he’s mastered Spanish, French and English. He spoke so flawlessly – and with such a perfect American accent – my co-adventurer and I were surprised to learn that grew up and still lives in “the Bronx of Berlin” (a.k.a. Neukölln). He’d like to move – he’s not a fan of the junkies in his building – “but it’s difficult.”

When he’s hungry in Charlottenburg and driving near the Ku’damm (west Berlin’s inexplicably popular shopping street), Steve stops at China Snack, where the delivery fee is still listed in Deutsche Marks on the menu outside, where he dropped us off after a short ride from Schöneberg after giving us no clues about what to order.

My co-adventurer and I flipped through the pan-Asian menu under fading fluorescents. Between Thai curry, Indonesian noodles and Chinese stir-fry, we couldn’t figure out where the owners were from or what they might cook best. We were the only customers besides a couple who smooched at a table against the wall.

Duck on the left. Black bean stir-fry with "various types of meat" on the right.
Duck on the left. Black bean stir fry "with various types of meat" on the right.

I picked A la China Kanton: “various types of meat (!), prawns with bamboo, paprika [red bell peppers], black beans, onions and garlic.” I connected my hopes to the black beans. But they were what knocked my stir-fry off balance in the end – the brown sauce was salty to start with, and the black beans took it over the sodium edge.

My co-adventurer’s duck was better than she expected – cooked to tender, resting on crispy bell peppers and onions, surrounded by (but not drowning in) brown sauce that tasted suspiciously similar to mine (minus the black beans).

But neither of us could imagine going back to the pan-Asian snack bar, which felt as blue, as defeated, as indecipherable as the cabbie who’d delivered us there.

China Snack
Lietzenburger Straße 74 – Charlottenburg
10719 Berlin, Germany

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