Berlin

Fast food

more than a year ago
Berlin is known for several simple dishes, but its most indigenous dish is a hard sell to tourists: Eisbein (pork knuckle) with sauerkraut and puréed peas. Though it comes from an animal that most people have nourished themselves on for years, there’s something about this chunky bit of anatomy that intimidates those who botched their dissection exams in biology.

It’s a meal to wrestle with at a proper tavern with dim lighting and dark wood to hide any mess. But ultimately, the meat on a joint bone clearly reminds us that it’s a barnyard animal we’re consuming, and that can make even devoted carnivores queasy.

Berlin’s other adopted hometown recipes are perfect for those who don’t like their food to remind them from whence it came: Currywurst, Buletten and Döner kebab - all sold at fast food stands (Imbiss), which number about 2,000 in Berlin.

There are various claims to who first put the curry in the German Wurst, but a front-runner is the late Herta Heuwer of Berlin. She ran an Imbiss in Charlottenburg, and her culinary contribution to the city in 1949 is commemorated with a plaque on Kantstraße, corner of Kaiser-Friedrich-Straße.

The snack’s name is an overemphasis of just one of its many ingredients - the chubby smoked pork sausage (Dampfwurst) is served with ketchup that’s been laced with spices such as mild curry, ginger, cumin, cardamom, cinnamon and cayenne pepper. Frau Heuwer patented her curry sauce in January 1959. The sausage itself is considered ‘finer’ than Bock- or Bratwurst and in the west Berlin version, has an extra thick skin to make it crispier. Before it’s fried up, cuts are made into the sausage to make it puff up.

East Germans did not suffer deprivation of this exotic blend during the 28 years of Berlin’s separation: Konnopkes Imbiss in Prenzlauer Berg, which has been grilling sausages since 1930, made its own concoction which it still serves today. In eastern Berlin, the snack is traditionally boiled and served darmlos (without skin).

Berliners have the French Huguenots to thank for many of the cultural refinements they introduced to the city in the late 1600s, including hamburger patties known as Bouletten (or Buletten). The ground beef is mixed with eggs, butter, and onions and is served either warm or cold. It was considered a good ‘to-go’ meal for the traveling armies of Friedrich der Große.

The Döner kebab is the most recent addition to Berlin’s fast food scene, and it arrived with the Turks who began immigrating to Germany 40 years ago. Pressed lamb or chicken spend the day rotating on an upright spit, and your share is shaved off upon ordering, and layered into a pocket of pita bread. Salad, onions, and sometimes a choice of dressings are stuffed in for a balanced meal. The number of kebab stands has surpassed Currywurst joints and you’ll find them outside nearly every U-Bahn station and on the blocks in-between.

Find reviews of the city's finest fast food establishments here in our Where to Eat section.
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