And on the seventh day, Robyn tried to do all the things, which ended up being impossible, but she made sure to eat doner kebap and some cake and some schnitzel.
The problem with not planning aggressively for a vacation is that on the night before your last full day you might realize, "Crap, I still haven't done these 20 other things I wanted to do." And thus you spend that night figuring out how to smush all of those things into one day, basically writing the plan you should've written before your vacation began. You figure out how many minutes it takes to get from one place to the other, and you write out the subway stations (along with termini and transfers) and addresses of every place you're going to, and you make a schedule that you'll inevitably be unable to stick to. But it's mostly successful.
First stop: KaDeWe.
I'm not much of a shopper, but I love department stores—as long as the department store has a bitching food hall. What am I going to do with non-edible things? Eat them? What's the point? What has non-edible ever done for me? Case closed.
And that's why I, alone with most other people who like to eat food, put KaDeWe on my "must visit" list. The 105-year-old luxury department store KaDeWe—short for Kaufhaus des Westens, "Department Store of the West"—is Europe's second largest department store (after Harrod's in London) and boasts 645,000 square feet of stuff you can buy. Out of its eight floors, the top two floors are dedicated to food, although the seventh floor is really where it's at (the eight is a 1,000-seat wintergarden). Here's where you'll find grocery items from all over the world, fresh produce, meats, and fish, wine, cheese, tea, baked goods, baking mixes, candy, chocolate, snacks, jams, pastas, soups, prepared food stands, and more and more and more.
I wasn't planning to buy anything; I was mostly interested in seeing what a luxury department store stocks to represent food from around the world, like curating a museum of modern food. What products would make the cut?
Pop-Tarts! Swiss Miss! Fluff! Marshmallows! Jolly Time! Snapple! Peanut butter! THIS IS (THE UNITED STATES OF) AMERICA, FOLKS.
Yup, I love seeing what American products trickle into other countries, how America is defined in a limited amount of shelf space. I don't have anything analytical to say about the subject, but I'm sure someone has already written that research paper. "Fluff, Pop-Tarts, and Peanut Butter: How American Processed Food Products Define the American Identity Outside the USA."
- Chocolate! So much of it!
- Candy! So much of it!
- Tea! So...much of it...
- And for some reason I took a photo of the matzoh section.
- A few of the food counters.
- Shelves by the escalators.
- Fancy-pants ground floor: You do nothing for me.
I didn't take many photos in the store, although on retrospect I wish I had. I could've taken an extra hundred photos with no problem. But since I only gave us less than half an hour to browse the store—hours would've been more appropriate—it's probably a good thing I speed-browsed.
Before heading to lunch, we stopped by DoubleEye, a highly rated coffee shop recommended by one of Diana's friends. This stop was just for Kåre; being the uncultured, uncaffeinated heathen that I am, I don't drink coffee (or alcohol; I can't handle the flavor of pois—I mean, extreme bitterness). I waited outside as he grabbed a little cup of his most favorite brown liquid, along with a pain au chocolat.
And then it was time to revisit our old friend from two days prior...
Mustafa's Gemüse Kebap
Mustafa's Gemüse Kebap, famous for being one of the best (or the best) places to get a doner kebab in Berlin. You evaded us once, but not again. The line, while ever-present, was much shorter than during our last attempt, and we only had to wait about 20 minutes to get our food.
- Mounds of vegetables, yessss.
- Shaving a rotating meat column with a knife the length of my arm, yessss.
- Another view of the rotating meat, looking flayed on this side, but probably nicely browned on the other.
- A peek behind the counter.
Kåre and I ordered the same thing: the hähnchen döner mit gemüse (chicken doner with vegetables; €2.90, about $3.70). On retrospect, I made a dumb choice. I could've ordered the menu's grand total of three items for about $12—in addition to the chicken doner, a vegetarian version, and a chicken (or vegetarian) dürüm wrap. (Okay, this is actually four items, but I'd just go for the chicken dürüm.) Obviously, we should've ordered all three of them. Considering that I've been working at Serious Eats for five years, "order everything on the menu" should come naturally to me by now. My lapse into moderation disgusts me. And who knows when I'll be back in Berlin. I don't. :(
If only I had known that my reaction to the sandwiches would go a little something like this:
And the source of such joy:
I should point out that that was my first time eating a doner kebab. I've eaten gyros before—which seem to be the closest popular thing we've got in the US—but rarely. As my introduction to the world of thinly sliced rotisserie meats stuffs into bread with other stuff, it was glorious. Someone who's eaten many a doner in their life may disagree, but that person isn't here right now, so deal.
Let's start with the bread—a thick flat bread, like a...fat pita. (I know that's a bad description. It's not quite a bun, nor the kind of pita I'm used to. It may be a kind of typical Turkish bread, but I'm not familiar enough with Turkish cuisine to know. Yeah, just look at the photo, that's easier.) A good toasting in a sandwich press results in an even, light crunch on the outside that contrasts nicely against its soft innards. Within the bread is a layer of chicken shavings, tender and crisp in some areas, piled with what would make for a memorably fresh salad on its own: lettuce, red cabbage, tomato, onion, carrot, roasted red pepper, some thick slices of fried potato (that had gone mushy by the time they met my mouth), and a crumbled feta-like cheese (or maybe it is feta, I'm not sure). The internet tells me it also gets a squeeze of lemon juice on top. There's some kind of sauce smeared into the bread and the chicken is spiced with something, but I don't remember much about either. I just remember the overall feeling of, "Damn, this is good. Yeah. Wait, I want this all the time. Wait, this is one of the best sandwiches I've ever eaten. There's no way that all other doner are like this one."
Not having eaten other doner, I'm not the right person to make the following comparison. ...But I will. I left with the impression that Mustafa's role in Berlin's doner kebab-sphere is like Taim is to New York City's falafel pita sandwich-sphere. In a city with too many places to get falafel, Taim excels in pretty much every way with fresh ingredients, great recipes, top notch frying skills, and knowing how to construct a sandwich that's balanced in every way. Yeah, that's all. In a city similarly overrun with doner kebab, Mustafa's gave me the same vibe, the vibe that said, "We're exceptionally better than most of what you'll find in the rest of the city." Fresh, flavorful, well balanced ingredients, stuffed into some good bread. It sounds simple, but my sandwich-eating history tells me it's not.
With the savory out of the way, it was on to sweets. We met up with Diana at Konditorei Buchwald, a 160-year-old bakery and cafe famous for their Baumkuchen, literally named "tree cake" after the way its layers resemble the growth rings in a tree trunk. If cute, old timey bakeries charm your pants off, then get ready to lose those pants. Or just don't wear pants. (But wear an appropriate pants replacement. I'm really only saying this to Fart Sandwich, who is probably not reading this post. Or is he.)
Aside from Baumkuchen, they make streusel cakes, tarts, cheesecakes, chocolate cakes, mousse cakes, and more, all for very reasonable prices.
Diana's Himbeer-Sahnetorte (raspberry mousse cake; €2.80 to go/€3.30 to stay) was the most impressive. A tall layer of light, tart raspberry mousse on top of what I'm guessing is a sliver of chocolate cake, topped with a thick layer of whole raspberries suspended in gelatin. Diana liked it so much she tried to find a recipe for it when she got home.
Kåre's Tarte Citron (€2.80/€3.30) was also good. I don't remember much about it from the one bite I took, but I'm know Kåre enjoyed it since lemon is his favorite flavor for anything sweet.
And then there was my Zimt-Apfeltorte (cinnamon apple tart; €2.30/€2.70), a sort of double-crusted apple pie that was far more delicate than what I'm used to at home. Unfortunately, it ended up being the worst thing to get in my condition of perpetually swollen nasal passages. While Diana's and Kåre's desserts had punchy tartness to blow through my senses, the flavor of cinnamon is pretty nonexistent if you can't fully smell it, and the apple bits didn't carry much weight without the cinnamon. (If you're wondering how I tasted anything during the trip, I don't know. Some flavors definitely made their way to my brain.) There were also chopped peanuts in there, which added...crunch. I'm sure the tart would taste great to a person with competent olfactory organs. I just wasn't that person.
I did better with a slice of Baumkuchen (€2.50/€2.90). It's not a dessert that will stick with me forever, but it's a perfectly satisfying plain cake, with a good dose of butter and eggs. (...Now that I've written that out, I want one. Due to Baumkuchen's popularity in Japan, you can usually find packaged slices of Baumkuchen in Japanese supermarkets, and sometimes Chinese ones.)
- Don't forget to buy some Baumkuchen for the road, from a single slice to quintuple-layered. They come in chocolate-covered, too.
Many thanks to the anonymous reader for the recommendation! We all loved the bakery and could've spent hours there, but Diana had more plans, and Kåre and I had to go to second lunch. You know, the natural successor to first dessert. More of that coming up in Part II.
- Berlin, Day 1: Dessert for Lunch, Sandwich for Snack, Schnitzel for Dinner
- Berlin, Day 2: Three-Hour Guided Tour, Ice Cream at Fräulein Frost, and Dinner at Hasir
- Berlin, Day 3: Computer Game Museum, Ostpaket, Humboldt Box, Berlin's Oldest Restaurant, DDR Museum
- Berlin, Day 4, Part I: Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp
- Berlin, Day 4, Part II: German Tapas, Schnitzel, and Chipped Pancakes at Schnitzelei
- Berlin, Day 5: Curry 36, Pergamon Museum, and Swabian Food Overload at Die Feinbäckerei
- Germany, Day 6: Moritzburg or Bust (By Way of Dresden)