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Berlin Dispatch: First Food Sweep

An informal food survey of the cabbies at the Helsingforser Strasse taxi stand in Berlin (Friedrichshain) in my horrible German led to some stellar (and not so stellar) things to eat.

After following their leads from East to West, here’s a round-up of what I tasted during my first few weeks in the German capital. All in all, an auspicious culinary overture, don’t you think?

Cabbage Rolls at Cafe Rossia
What would a Berlin cab driver do without a 24 hour Russian snack bar (complete with surly staff)? Some dishes are better than others at this Charlottenburg Imbiss: skip microwaved beef ragu (Rindergulasch) and lamb empanadas (Tschebureki) unless they’re freshly fried and go straight to cabbage rolls (Kohlrouladen).

Stuffed with beef and smothered in tomato-carrot sauce, these rolls might make you rethink the seductive powers of cabbage.

Cafe Rossia – Stuttgarter Platz 36, Berlin (Charlottenburg) – Tel. 030-232-720-22. Open 24 hours.

Bavarian Pretzels at Hopfisterei
Yes, it’s a chain, and, no, organic bread from a Bavarian bakery may not be a typical cabbie meal – but the 80 Eurocent pretzel (Brezel) at this starch-lovers’ paradise is a near-perfect snack for a driver in a hurry.

Hofpfisterei – Rosenthaler Straße 31, Berlin (Mitte) – Tel. 030 24342583

Other locations:
Goethestr. 39/40, Berlin (Charlottenburg) – Tel. 030 30827752
Schloßstr. 107-108, Berlin (Stieglitz) – Tel. 030 72011416

Midday Tapas at Mitte Meer Market
Never underestimate the gourmet predilections of a Berlin cab driver. This is one of the best Mediterranean grocery stores in town, and 7 euros for midday tapas is a great deal given the quality of the food at Mitte Meer. Also on offer here: triangle pasta with chanterelle mushrooms in cream sauce (4.10 Euros) and salad with chicken breast or antipasti (4.70 Euros). The menu changes every day, depending on what’s in season.

Mitte Meer – Kantstr.42, 10625 (Charlottenburg) Berlin – Tel. 030 / 31 51 72 6

Other locations:
Invalidenstr. 50 /51, 10557 (Mitte) Berlin – Tel. 030 / 39 80 163
Gotlandstr. 6-10, 10439 (Prenzlauer Berg) Berlin – Tel. Telefon 030 / 44 67 49 90
Note: Mitte Meer also hosts wine tastings on a regular basis. Check out for dates and details.

Vollkornbrot at Altberliner Baeckerei
The cabbie who pointed me to this East Berlin bakery wisely advised me to forget the Pfannkuchen (a.k.a. Berliners, a.k.a. jelly doughnuts) and proceed directly to Vollkornbrot.

This is the real, dense German bread deal, and each loaf is made with 100% rye flour and fermented with sourdough. Vollkornbrot is the kind of bread Germans miss most when they leave home, and master baker Udo Drescher knows how to do it right.

Altberliner Bakery – Strausberger Str. 46, 10243 (Friedrichshain), Berlin – Tel. 030-429-2613

Vegetarian Döner Kebab at Vöner
Is it possible to make a good döner kebab without the meat? I secretly hoped that this brave little shop could defy the odds and create a good veggie version of my favorite Berlin sandwich, but…no. The ‘meat’ in this ‘Vöner’ is textured vegetable protein, and it tastes as appetizing as it sounds.

I have to give them kudos for their kraeuter (herb) sauce, though – the sweet mayonnaise that’s infiltrated so many Berlin döner kebabs is nowhere to be found here. If you’re a vegetarian – or a lapsed vegetarian, like the cabbie who pointed me here – you might not mind this sandwich. If you’re a carnivore, consider yourself warned.

Vöner – Boxhagener Str. 56, 10245 (Friedrichshain) Berlin – Tel.: (030) 99 26 54 23

Whatever’s for Lunch at Die Garbe
Everyone who works at this cheerful Frankfurter Allee cafe is a recovering addict, and all proceeds from the restaurant go to fund rehab programs for locals. Cabbies are fond of the hot lunch special – it changes every day and never costs more than 5 Euros.

This ghoulash was a little heavy on the oil, but the bread-stuffed dumplings (!) were starch on starch at its finest. They also make decent espresso.

Die Garbe – Frankfurter Allee 40, 10247 (Friedrichshain) Berlin – Tel. 030 29385204

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