German food is one of my favorite ethnic cuisines…schnitzel, sauerbraten, bratwurst – I could go on and on. They’re all staples for me and I love finding a good German restaurant in the US.
But despite being the thriving capital city of Germany, eating out in Berlin typically doesn’t involve dining on the traditional German staples. You’re far more likely to encounter trendy Thai restaurants or sushi dives. Berlin is a city full of immigrants, and it is this international flair that has contributed most to the food scene in the last several years.
Perhaps nowhere is this more apparent than in Berlin’s street food where two internationally inspired dishes are duking it out for the claim to fame as Berlin’s favorite quick meal on the go. During my time in Berlin, I decided to give each a try to determine which of the dishes I liked best. Inspired by my Kansas City Barbecue Showdown, I put these two epic contenders to the official Travel Rinse Repeat tastebud test.
So what are the two ethnic foods that have surpassed the popularity of any traditional German food on the streets of Berlin?
Currywurst – A sliced bratwurst served with a drizzling of curry ketchup, currywurst is the ultimate in street food fusion. The ultra traditional German sausage has been given a new twist with a southeastern flair. The dish is typically served with a side of fries and a tiny wooden or plastic fork to eat it with.
Döner Kebab – Turkish residents make up the largest ethnic minority in Berlin, and their culture and way of life has had a major impact on the city today. Though the Döner Kebab was developed in Turkey, it has been modified to suit German tastes. The original version is traditionally served with lamb, but the German version is more commonly served as veal and/or chicken.
The issue of where to get a döner kebab or currywurst is almost as contentious as the debate between the snacks themselves. So in order to find the best, most representative purveyors of these dishes, I asked a Berlin native/good friend of mine for her opinion on restaurants. Born in the East, Laura is a lifelong Berliner who has sampled many of the cities offerings when it comes to both currywurst and döner kebabs. Her recommendations? Konnopke’s Imbiss for currywurst and Max & Moritz for my döner kebab.
Both restaurants are in quieter, residential Berlin neighborhoods – off the well worn tourist paths, but both are easily accessible via Berlin’s extensive U-Bahn and S-Bahn public transportation networks. And both focus on their respective dishes, expertly preparing them for the hungry visitors.
The Taste Tests
First up was the currywurst at Konnopke’s Imbiss. Thankfully, the rain had let up long enough for us to sit outside at the small roadside stand. After a short wait in line and a few quick exchanges in German, Laura came back with currywurst in hand.
This wasn’t my first go-round with the curried-sausage, but it had been some time since I last tasted it. Everything about the flavors of currywurst are familiar, but in a wonderful new combination. Bratwurst, ketchup, and curry are no strangers to my tongue, but paired together they are truly greater than the sum of their parts. I’m normally not a huge fan of ketchup, but something about the curry powder makes it that much better. Why can’t all ketchup be curried?
The sausage was high quality, but nothing necessarily better than other wurst stands. What really made this dish standout was the curry ketchup and curry powder. It had a bit of spice to it which certainly kicked the flavor up a notch. The fries were fresh, hot, and crispy and served as the perfect sauce-mopping device once I’d polished off the wurst.
For me, the döner was a much more familiar meal. Kebabs were a staple meal of mine when I traveled around Germany four years ago. At around 2 or 3 euros, it made for an incredibly delicious, filling, and most importantly, cheap meal for an unemployed recent college graduate. Occasionally, I’ll still pick up American versions of this dish in big cities around the US.
The shaved kebab came out fast on a sesame seed covered bread pocket. Döner meat is similar to gyros meat – something I had become familiar with in Greece. The döner was topped with fresh lettuce, tomato, and cucumber and finished off with a garlic herb sauce, giving it a distinctly different flavor from its Greek cousin. The meat was fresher and juicier than many of the American versions I’ve found, and the crunchy sesame covered bread added a unique twist.
The Final Verdict
Though the döner kebab was my go-to meal four years ago, times change and tastes change. In 2012, the currywurst is the hands-down winner for me. Why? Perhaps I’m more grown up now, eschewing the late-night (read: drinking) food that kebabs represent or perhaps it’s my budding preference for South Asian spices, but when ketchup, curry powder, and bratwurst come together, magic happens.