If you’ve been reading this blog for a bit, you know that Rumen, my man, and my favorite cab driver on earth, knows as much about Nietzsche as he does about sausage. When I met him five years ago, I had no idea how modest he was being when he described himself as “a little gourmet”: Not only does he have a incredible palate (I don’t know anyone else who can correctly identify brands of bottled water in blind taste tests), but after over 20 years on the road, he also has a keen eye for good, cheap food.
Rumen is always finding new places to eat when he’s on duty, so I’m always asking him about his latest favorites. As of today, these are his top five spots. All of these places are near or next to taxi stands. And all of the dishes Rumen likes best cost less than five euros.
1. Hamy (Hasenheide 10, Berlin/Kreuzberg, Tel. 030 616 259 59, Open 7 days, 12pm-11:30pm). Rumen has tried many others, but he says this is still the best 4.90-euro Vietnamese curry in Berlin. Whether red, green or yellow, you’ll always find fresh basil, kaffir lime, and plenty of spunky chili peppers in Hamy’s curry, and they serve it with a side of shredded cabbage and fennel, which makes for a nice textural contrast. (He doesn’t recommend pho here, though – as at many/most Vietnamese places in Berlin, they throw all the condiments in the soup, neutralizing both the flavor and the fun of eating it.)
2. My Soup (Osloer Str. 20, Berlin/Gesundbrunnen, Tel. 030 22 68 77 01, Open M-F, 8:30am-2:30pm) This little cantina, where they make five to seven soups and stews fresh every day, is around the corner from Rumen’s taxi company’s office in Gesundbrunnen, on the north side of Berlin. Owners Erol and Metin Kaya use “mostly” organic ingredients to prepare soups “to counter the monotonous and mostly unhealthy fast food” that’s too common around town. Vegans, vegetarians and carnivores can all be happy here, sitting in the fluorescent-colored chairs under the linden trees, either with a bowl of green bean and ham stew (3.90 euros) or carrot and ginger soup with coconut milk and garlic (2.90 euros). (They may look tempting, but Rumen recommends you skip the non-soup/stew dishes here, like stuffed peppers or lasagne.)
3. Hasir Schöneberg (Maaßenstraße 10, Tel. 030/2156060, Open: Sun-Thu, 9am-3am; Fri-Sat 9am-4am). If you’ve lived in Berlin for any length of time, you know Hasir, and you know it’s the most famous Turkish restaurant chain in town. Whether or not you think its fame is well-deserved, Rumen recommends the dürüm döner kebab (i.e. döner in a tortilla-like wrap) at their restaurant near Nollendorf Platz, which costs 3.50 euros. Here, in contrast to most of the döner stands around town, they serve only real beef and lamb — no soy or MSG added. And here, unlike at the more well-known Hasir locations in Kreuzberg and Mitte, the crowd is thinner (except during the market at Winterfeldtplatz), the staff more relaxed, the taxi stand just a few steps away.
4. Rissani (Spreewaldpl. 4, Berlin/Kreuzberg, Tel. 030 61629433, Open Sun-Thurs, 11am-3am, Fri-Sat 11am-5am) “Früher war besser,” says Rumen of Rissani. It was better before. But it’s hard to let go of a place you’ve been going to for ten years, especially when you’ve built a relationship with the people who make you a decent but not great falafel for 2 euros or good chicken or vegetable soup for 3 euros. The Lebanese food at El Reda may be better than the Baghdadian food at Rissani, he adds, but Rissani stays open later, the nocturnal crowd is more entertaining, and the tea is free.
5. Curry 36 (Mehringdamm 36, Berlin/Kreuzberg, Tel. 030 2517368, Open 7 days, 9am-5am) Rumen is not a man who likes to follow the crowd, so if I were Curry 36, I’d take it as a sincere compliment that he’s a fan: This is one of the most popular currywurst stands, if not the most popular currywurst stand in the city. “It’s always fresh,” says Rumen, “because it’s always busy.” The price isn’t bad, either: you can get an organic currywurst with French fries and mayo for four euros (On the Ku’damm, it would cost five). And somehow the staff always seem to be in a good mood, which isn’t too surprising in a place where “Liebe zur Currywurst” (love for currywurst) is a job requirement.
Finally, if you’re ever starving at Bahnhof Friedrichstrasse and wondering how to choose between all those ominous-looking fast food places, Rumen has two bonus tips. First, try the Leberkäse (2.30 euros) or the Krakauer sausage sandwich (2.50 euros) at Damisch, the Bavarian snack bar on the ground floor, toward the west end of the station. And if you like fish, there’s a good Matjesbrötchen (herring sandwich) at Klässig’s Fish & Chips for 2.50 euros. “I haven’t found a better herring sandwich until now,” Rumen says. “It’s better than Rogacki and better than Marheineke Markthalle.”