Category: Uncategorized


The Church of St. Elizabeth, or the "Blue Church" in Bratislava

My husband and I spent less than 24 hours in Bratislava, Slovakia. At least 5 of those hours it was pouring. At least 7 of those hours I was sleeping.

So, my experience in the country and its capital is not broad. But I really, really want to go back. And you should want to, too.

Me on the train between Wien and Bratislava

Why, you ask?

Lots of reasons are good ones:

1) It’s an easy and cheap train ride from Vienna.

2) It seems way more “Eastern European” than Austria, for sure, and even more than the Czech Republic, both of which it borders.

A narrow alleyway in old Bratislava

3) It still has a tinge of the Soviet/Eastern Bloc/Old Communist feel to it, which is intriguing.

Bratislava cityscape

4) The old city of Bratislava is enchanting with stone streets (that glisten in the rain).

Nighttime in Bratislava's main square

5) Prices are cheaper than in many of its neighboring countries.

A gelato shop in old Bratislava

But the reason I most want to go back and the reason you need to go at least once is this:

Halušky.

Three Halušky varieties from U Remeselnika

Specifically, the most popular national dish, Bryndzové halušky, which consists of small gnocchi-type dumplings covered in a sharp sheep cheese with bacon on top. Oh. my. goodness.

It’s warm and creamy. The cheese has just enough sour bite to make the bacon a perfect salty complement. The gnocchi are small and firm (sort of like Spätzle, maybe). We had the halušky with other toppings (one was cheese with some sauerkraut-like topping), but the bryndzové is the best we tried.

If there’s a place I can get this in a three-state radius of me, it might tide me over. Otherwise, I’m booking my plane ticket direct to Slovakia the next chance I get. That halušky was some good stuff.

I’d had a tiny sample of it when I was in Prague. Further, my guidebook highly recommended it. So, we had it for lunch as soon as we arrived in Bratislava.

A view into the courtyard of U Remeselnika

That was the best we had, I think. Halušky #1:

Charlie and I shared a trio of Halušky at a folk-craft-center cafe, U Remeselnika

Then I had halušky that night for a late dinner at a great restaurant in a downtown basement. (And Charlie wished he’d ordered it, too!)

We winded down narrow Bratislava streets to reach Prasna Basta, where we had dinner

(We did also try an amazing smoked trout appetizer.) But the star of the meal was Bryndzové Halušky #2:

Lots of traditional Slovak food on the menu at Prasna Basta

Prasna Basta was busy, maybe because of a glowing endorsement of its “charm” in the Lonely Planet guide.

From our table at Prasna Basta

And their halušky was really good, too! But it was too dark to get a clear picture of it.

Then, when we got to the train station an hour early for our departure the next day, we had an early lunch of halušky at the next door eating and drinking establishment.

It sure wasn't fancy, kind of "other side of the tracks"

It wasn’t much to look at, but their Bryndzové Halušky was still great! Bryndzové Halušky #3:

Bryndzové Halušky from the Antic Caffe, next to the train station

It’s just that good. (And the breakfast at our boat-hotel, aka Botel, was just so bad that we were quite famished at 11 a.m.)

Even though seeing all the cheese and bacon drippings I’m no longer wondering how I gained 5 pounds on my trip, I am still begging you: Please tell me where I can get Bryndzové Halušky in these ol’ United States!

Los Pinos – 571 Monmouth Road (Route 537), Cream Ridge, NJ 08514 – very near Six Flags Great Adventure

Tacos from Los Pinos

Now, don’t get me wrong: Los Pinos was pretty stinking good. But I think the search still continues for the best Mexican food in New Jersey. While I really liked a lot of what we had at Los Pinos, I still had some major complaints. Where are the Mexican restaurants where the chips and salsa are superb and each thing you taste gets even better? I know they exist elsewhere (hello, I’ve been to some in Idaho, New Mexico, California).

I had read some really positive Yelp! reviews about Los Pinos. And ever since I spotted them (and because it’s about the closest sit-down-restaurant to our rural dwelling) I’ve wanted to go.

So, today Charlie and I took a day-cation. (Could this be a Kara-coined synonym for day-trip?) We had Mexican food for lunch, visited Point Pleasant beach and boardwalk (well, technically just the boardwalk, but that’s another New Jersey story for another day), and saw a movie. A nice vacationey day.

Remember how Yelp! reviews work and my problem with over-rating?

This time, I had the opposite problem. I waaaaaaanted to score Los Pinos higher, but I just couldn’t. Here’s my review from Yelp! (with some photos added for fun):

The side plate of rice and beans that came with my tacos

This may just be the best Mexican food in New Jersey. Buuuuuuuuut that’s not saying too much. Sorry! It’s still really good, but I’ll need to go back (and I will!) before I can raise the score above a solid three stars.

The GOOD:

Los Pinos's "Orchata" = delicioso!

Affordability: My tacos were $8.95 for a platter and some were $7.95. My husband’s burrito plate was in the $9 range. More elaborate dishes went above $10, but it was really an inexpensive price range for the good food we received.

Their Horchata (or Orchata as the menu says) was excellent. Perhaps the best we’ve ever had. Try this milky Mexican drink!

I had the tacos Al Pastore (pork, pineapple, with spicy sauce) and they were very good. The meat was certainly of good quality (some Mexican restaurants can try to hide poor quality meat under heavy spices). The “soft” tacos are in corn tortillas, which is delicious and very authentic. I would recommend the soft over the hard shells (which were good, but just not as good) here. My husband, the true Mexican-food-critic, was really pleased with his carnitas burrito. Everything was presented well and the service was impeccable. Our meals came to us piping hot. The beans were tasty and the rice wasn’t dry. They use fresh cilantro and romaine instead of iceberg. Portions are generous without being obscene. All of this is really excellent!

Charlie's Carnitas Burrito plate

The NOT-SO-GOOD:

Maybe the cooks have over-compensated for a previous review (see Yelp! review by C.S.) that said some of Los Pinos’s food was too salty, because I found it to be the opposite: I really had to add salt in order to taste some of the flavors in my tacos. This does a disservice to the good ingredients and spices they’re using; salt is a flavor enhancer and should be used as such.

My only other complaint is the salsa … it tasted kind of like cold tomato soup with cilantro mixed in. The tomato component did not seem fresh and there were almost no chunks at all. That really, really needs to change. I know that people in New Jersey can be wimps when it comes to spice, but PLEASE! I think it is the tastelessness of the salsa that really pushed their score from a 4-star rating to only 3 stars.

Overall, I highly recommend Los Pinos and I plan to go back. I hope it’s soon! And I hope the salsa is better.

Here, Charlie is tasting the chips and salsa. He is neither repulsed nor elated. Things could be better.

Daily Radar: 07.15.10 – Intelligent Travel Blog.

See a predominant brand?

Lonely Planet is the guide I trust for travel. They’re not always right in their praise or nay-saying, but they’re good at finding what’s really worth seeing in a place, and ignoring what turns out to be only touristy hype.

My stack of travel guides in the photo to the left demonstrates that they’ve won my allegiance. I don’t know where my guides for Great Britain, Turkey, Austria, and the Czech and Slovak Republics are … but those are all Lonely Planet too! Quite the stash!

So, when I found out from the linked blog post above that Lonely Planet is posting suggested U.S. Road Trips to their Facebook page, I said, “Yes, please!”

(It’s item #2 of the Intelligent Travel Blog’s Daily Radar. I’ve found great things–like the International Food Festival in Prague, for instance–by subscribing to National Geographic Travel’s blog presence.)

I already looked through the New Jersey Diners road tripping guide and it makes me want to try some of them out. I mean, I’m a bit put out that they entirely scooted by MY AREA of New Jersey (Central Jersey) and just went for North Jersey and the Shore … but it’s also even more helpful that way, since I already know about most of the good diners around here. And if you want to know good diners in Central Jersey, you can just ask me. 🙂 A win for us and a win for Lonely Planet again, eh?

It’s sadly incomplete, but this map from National Geographic is an embryonic start to my sort of dream map for finding unique local specialties, not only in the U.S., but wherever I go in the world. I mean, they don’t all have to be weird like “Livermush” (see North Carolina’s contribution to the map the above link takes you to), but alerting travelers to local cuisines and unique flavors is a good start!

I mean, without my husband telling me the state question in New Mexico is “Red or green?” I don’t think I’d have known. I mean, my answer is nearly always, “GREEN!” But it’s good to have the choice!

Now I know, however, that I missed something special when we were in Buffalo, NY, so I’ll have to go back.

I’d love to expand the list. I mean, sampling the various BBQ sauces is a must in Kansas City (Arthur Bryant’s, Jackstack/Smokestack, and Oklahoma Joe’s come to mind). In New York City, you’ve got to have a street vendor’s hot dog and really good pizza (might I suggest Grimaldi’s?). In New Orleans, although it’s hard to narrow it down, beignets and gumbo come to mind. We had several people (kindly) point us toward shrimp and grits before we headed to Charleston, South Carolina.

But what else might make the list in this fair country of ours?

Ich wohne im Kiez Pankow

This sign is on the street that leads to where I live, about one bus stop away.

Ku'damm/Pankow

Ku'damm/Pankow

Do you understand it?

Of course not, Kara, it’s in German.

But I bet, even after I translate it for you, you still won’t get what it means:
Glasses like on Ku’damm, Prices like in Pankow.

Pankow? Ku’damm? What?

This sign, which displays an apparently successful marketing slogan, since it’s painted directly onto the window’s glass, exploits Berlin neighborhood stereotypes to sell its products, which are eyeglasses.

Neighborhood (Nachbarschaft), City-quarter (Stadtviertel), Area (Bezirk) … however you entitle it, for city-dwellers, your neighborhood says a lot. It says a lot about who you are, your personality, how much money you make, what you value, etc. There are real differences.

I guess I didn’t really get it until I lived in Kansas City. I mean, in Nampa (ID) or Bourbonnais (IL) or Thornlands (QLD), we had streets and housing developments, but we didn’t usually know their specific names. Or if we did, it was really just a matter of how big the houses were there. But when I lived in Kansas City, you could tell a Lenexa person from a Westport person, not to mention the distinctions between Plaza, Brookside, Waldo, etc. Of course, there are big exceptions, as in the case of any sweeping stereotype. But these neighborhood personalities have always been interesting to me.

In New York, there’s Chelsea, the Village (and its various sub-parts), the Upper East Side, etc., etc. In Washington D.C., there’s Rosslyn, Georgetown, Adams Morgan, etc. etc. You name the city, you’ve got neighborhoods and their accompanying personalities.

Berlin is no exception. In fact, the neighborhood distinctions may be even more pronounced than in the U.S. because they’re entwined in the much longer historical expansion of the city (and its formerly growing city wall) and because, much later, the infamous Berlin wall served to effectively isolate certain portions of the city from one another for long enough that their “cross-pollination” was seriously hindered. I’m not sure whether the broad-reaching and often complete destruction that was experienced at the end of WWII eliminated some of the architectural signals of these distinct neighborhoods, or if the reconstruction that took place in the districts illustrates their differences.

In Berlin, a neighborhood is called a “Kiez” (pronounced keets).

Okay, this bear has nothing to do with neighborhoods, but EVERYTHING to do with Berlin. He's one of the city's mascots: a Berliner Bear. A gift from the city of Bern, Switzerland (which shares the Bear mascot).

Okay, this bear has nothing to do with neighborhoods, but EVERYTHING to do with Berlin. He's one of the city's mascots: a Berliner Bear. A gift from the city of Bern, Switzerland (which shares the Bear mascot).

When I visited the Rote Rathaus (Red Courthouse) on Alexanderplatz, there were these awesome windows that illustrate the symbols for Berlin’s various neighborhoods. I thought I’d post the pictures I took here and cite some of my (foreigner’s) impressions of what each Kiez is typified as/known for. Some of this is informed by Germans with whom I’ve spoken or by whom I’ve been taught.

Mitte - See the bears? (Told you!)

Mitte - See the bears? (Told you!)

Mitte (pronounced Mit-teh) means “middle” or “center.” It’s the center of city and the axis from which the roads branch outwards like spokes on a wheel. In the earliest days, what is now Berlin was actually Berlin and Cölln, two tiny towns separated by the Spree River, each with a Rathaus (courthouse), Cathedral, and a monastery. Very little remains of these early towns and they were both so small that their medieval boundaries would not even comprise today’s compact Mitte. My class/Goethe-Institut is in Mitte, as are tons of museums, historical buildings, and shops. People live here, too, it’s got a very metropolitan feel. Berlin’s Mitte was badly damaged in the bombardment in the end of WWII, so that it was a wasteland taken over by the Soviet government, with the division of Berlin post-war (4 sectors: Soviet, American, British, French; Soviet = East Berlin, which was the worst damaged in the war; the other three = West Berlin). Many repairs were made, but the damage was so extreme that many buildings were razed or are still being repaired today. The mixture of old and new in Mitte is interesting, one should always look for the tell-tale Communist architecture, the Plattenbau, which are pre-fabricated buildings, now known for their ugly boxy-grayness. Alexanderplatz is central in Mitte, and is a mish-mash of Soviet-styled workers buildings (Haus des Lehrers, for example), modern, western shopping centers (like Alexa), small cafes here and there, and a public transportation hub. From wherever you are in Berlin, if you locate the towering Fernsehturm (TV Tower), you’ll know where Mitte is.

Prenzlauer Berg - so named because of its miniscule mountain (Berg)

Prenzlauer Berg - so named because of its miniscule mountain (Berg)

Prenzlauer Berg (pronounced Prince-low-eh Bay-ugh; “low” as in cow) is, nowadays, a hip neighborhood occupied by young people and young families. It has lots of great cafes and shops that are available in the day time. In the evenings, it’s a key locale for the Berlin Szene (scene, clubs, parties). Formerly a fairly working-class, East Berlin place, after the fall of the Wall, cheap rent attracted a young crowd. Businesses and a sense of “hip-ness” followed. There are a lot of old buildings in this Kiez, so not everything is DDR (Deutsche/German Democratic Republic = East Germany) Plattenbauten. I live right on the edge of Prenzlauer Berg. The Kiez was very involved with the resistance movement that developed in the DDR era. Two churches in particular, Zionskirche (where Bonhoeffer had been in the late 1930s) and Gethsemanekirche, led the peaceful revolt against the growing repression of the regime and were key in the events of Herbst ’89 (the Autumn of 1989).

Pankow - where I live

Pankow - where I live

Pankow (pronounced Pahn-koe) is where I live. It’s just north of Prenzlauer Berg and remains a fairly middle-class/working-class neighborhood. It’s not flashy, but has neighborhood shops, cafes, and small parks. It’s got some old architecture, but was also home to a lot of state officials during the DDR era. Things aren’t open too late and some people dress in an ’80s throw-back style. That’s how I can tell that some of the old East German markers aren’t dead yet. Yet, the Obst und Gemüse Laden (fresh produce shop) down the road is run by a Vietnamese family and the bakery around the corner is owned by a Turkish family, whereas immigrant really weren’t prevalent in the DDR. Times are changing. They’re just changing slower here, much slower than in Prenzlauer Berg or Friedrichshain, for example.

Friedrichshain - The bridge depicted is the Oberbaumbrücke

Friedrichshain - The bridge depicted is the Oberbaumbrücke

Friedrichshain (pronounced Freed-ricks-hine) is becoming hip-ified, but has a long history as a grimy working-class neighborhood. Workers movements and communist affiliations ran deep here. In fact, most of the dwellings were so unappealing, unrenovated, and decrepit, that many stood abandoned during the DDR era, in favor of the more modern Plattenbauten in other areas. So, after the wall fell, the dilapidated, long-empty buildings attracted squatters, usually of the young, anti-establishment sort. Anarchists, punks, and nonconformists abound in the imperially named Kiez. If you visit, I’d highly recommend scouting out some of the awesome street art/graffiti to be found adorning buildings. Be aware that the use of the colors red and black is an anarchistic symbol, which will give you an idea of the meaning behind some of the art. Don’t expect it to be too rough, though, the neighborhood is softening. As an example, I saw an extremely pierced and tattooed punk couple pushing a nice, new stroller and walking a well-groomed dog.

Tiergarten - There's the Tier!

Tiergarten - There's the Tier!

Tiergarten (pronounced Teah-gah-ten) is home to … tada … the Tiergarten, which is a park for which this area is named. Tiergarten means, literally, “animal garden,” and was formerly the royal hunting grounds. Now, it’s just a rambling, expansive city park, filled with ornate monuments. Especially on weekends, it’s packed with people grilling out, playing sports, chatting, or sunbathing. I hear that nudity is permitted in the park, but I’ve yet to see it. In regard to the Kiez itself, I don’t have a feel for its personality. It feels more professional and governmental than residential, but I may be merely citing what I have seen there. That is, many government buildings line its eastern edge (closest to Mitte), as does the iconic Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate). Potsdamer Platz – the once glorious and central home to the first stoplight in Germany; then after the war and division by an ugly wall, a virtual wasteland; and now once again an architecturally modern marvel – is also on the edge of this neighborhood.

Charlottenburg - home to a palace and other lovely things

Charlottenburg - home to a palace and other lovely things

Charlottenburg is Berlin’s equivalent of New York’s Upper East Side. It’s wealthy, it’s western, it’s capitalistic, it’s pretty, it’s sophisticated. In Charlottenburg is Ku’damm, that is, Kurfürstendamm (which means, literally, Elector’s/Viscount’s wall), which is kind of like saying “Fifth Avenue.” It is fashionable and elite. When I stepped out of the U-Bahn onto Ku’damm, I literally could not believe I was still in Berlin. I’m not saying that Berlin is grimy – it’s not – but this was like … picture perfect Paris, kind of. The first stores I saw were Tommy Hilfiger and Starbucks, if that indicates anything.

Maybe now you can understand the meaning of the above ad. It’s like seeing an eyewear shop on Long Island that says, “Glasses like on Fifth Avenue, Prices like in Queens.”

I am, unfortunately, a little sick. I’ve caught a cold.

Sooooooooo, I might just reverse my horrible record and write a few make-up posts before Charlie arrives on Saturday. It’s a shame to use my last solo days in Berlin sleeping and hovering around online, but it’s better thank coughing in my dear husband’s newly-arrived face, I reckon. I’ll keep you posted.

This blogging thing has me so scattered it’s not even funny. I have so much more Berlin to talk about, yet I was inspired to share these amusing photos displaying my celebrity. I apparently am the namesake of a store in Prague. I have since looked it up and have discovered that my name means “cart” in Czech. I think that’s a little less glorious than Kara meaning “black” in Turkish. Nevertheless.

(Obviously, more on Berlin, food, and Prague later.)

KARA

KARA

There I was in Prague on Monday, June 1, absolutely lost, running out of time to find an entrance to an underground Metro station, which I needed because my booked train back to Berlin was leaving in less than 30 minutes. I was starting to get really freaked out when I saw this:

A male model and Kara

A male model and Kara

What?!

Kara? Hello … ?

I couldn’t help but stop in my tracks and smile. All my nervous-travel-anxiety melted away. It, and the first photo, were like a beacon of hope for me. I’d had a great weekend in Prague, but I was very conscious of being alone. And pretty clueless in the Czech language, to boot. (About all I could manage was a word that sounds like “Ahoy” and means both “hello” and “goodbye.”)

I pulled out my iPhone, snapped these two pictures, then looked up and saw my metro entrance, Mustek. I breathed a sigh of relief and made my next two connections in record time (with some unfortunate sprinting up one of the longest escalators ever) in order to–at the last second–slide through closing doors of an almost-departing train. But I did it.

I felt like a traveling Wunderkind. I defied the odds: 1) was lost alone in a city where I speak one word of the local language; 2) am already a nervous traveler regarding departure times [just ask poor Charlie! But, I say, it’s with good reason: I’ve missed a few flights, etc., in my day]; 3) time was dwindling; and, 4) a miraculous store with my name directed me with its signs to the right entrance to the public transportation!

And then I arrived at my outbound train station, Praha Solevice, about 4 minutes before the scheduled departure of my train to Berlin …

and discovered that my departure was delayed 25 minutes anyway. Impromptu stair sprints and miracle store signs may not have been necessary after all.

But still. I am kind of a big deal in Prague.

I wrote the following brief biography of my dear husband Charlie for class on the 11th of May. My writing in German has likely improved greatly since then … but I still thought I’d put it up here. 🙂 And, no, I won’t translate it for you. I have many friends who claim they want to practice their German. Here’s the easiest way to do so: Baby-Deutsch.

The last photo we took together before my departure for Berlin.

The last photo we took together before my departure for Berlin.

Mein Mann heißt Charlie. Er ist Amerikaner und kommt aus dem Staat New Mexico, der im Südwesten der U.S.A. liegt. Er wuchs auf einer Ranch auf und war deshalb natürlich ein “Cowboy.” Aber als er 18 Jahre alt war, wünschte er ganz weit von der Wüste wegzugehen. Er studierte Religion an einer Universität im südlichen Kalifornien, in der Stadt San Diego. Er hatte den Ozean viel lieber als das Leben mit Vieh und Pferden.

Charlie machte mir einen Heiratsantrag auf dem “Observation-Deck” des Empire State Buildings. Natürlich sagte ich: Ja! Obwohl es in Filmen viele Heiratsanträge am selben Ort gibt, überraschte er mich!

Jetzt arbeitet Charlie bei der Kirche als Pastor für Jugendliche von 14 bis 18 Jahren alt. In seinem Beruf muss man freundlich und geduldig sein. Er ist beides. Obwohl seine Frau oft zu genau and nervös ist, ist Charlie fast immer ruhig und lässig. Er ist auch kreativ und macht graphische Kunst. Am liebsten schaut und dreht er Filme.

Am 27. Juni wird er erstmals nach Deutschland reisen!

“Wir backen – Sie genießen” = We bake, you enjoy. (I have been trying to translate that into a rhyming slogan. I’ve come up with a couple: We bake, you intake! or We flavor, you savor! But I guess it doesn’t really rhyme in German, so why should it in English?)

I believe love for BRIE more than cancels out hatred for cold sandwiches.

I believe love for BRIE more than cancels out hatred for cold sandwiches.

I should first admit that deutsche Bäckereien (German bakeries) may just be my downfall. They are all havens of tasty German baking, filled with sweets, beautifully designed and displayed sandwiches, and usually have some variety of cappuccino or coffee to be had. In the last category, my neighborhood bakery lacks a little. John’s Bäckerei (around the corner of Berliner Straße and Elsa-Brändström-Straße, near the Vinetastraße U-Bahn Station) only has brewed coffee these days and weak brewed coffee at best. (I believe their cappuccino machine is broken; Or at least I believe that’s what I understood the nice employee to have told me in German on my first visit.) BUT I consider that merely a thoughtful cost-saving measure on their part. I need to cut back on coffee purchases.

Their baked goods, however, are amazing.

See them peeking out from under their wrapping?

See them peeking out from under their wrapping?

My first visit, I bought two half-sandwiches, which were both very filling.

The sweets case looked so good I couldn’t resist. But it was also difficult to decide! I asked the girl working in the bakery if she could recommend something. Or, more likely, I muttered an incomprehensible phrase that ended with an intonation upswing and included the word “Spezialität.” That would account for why she seemed flustered at my question (read: I made no sense) and why she eventually got what I was asking for and recommended something (read: I said the word I “Spezialität,” that is, specialty.)

She mentioned that since John’s Bäckerei is an East-Berliner bakery (that is, it was in the Eastern portion of Berlin when the city was divided by the wall; What Americans typically call “East Germany,” is more properly referred to as the former DDR, the German Democratic Republic, as opposed to the BRD/Bundesrepublik Deutschland/West Germany), it has some specialties that you won’t find in West-Berliner bakeries. One is what I think was called a hazelnut torte. (I will check and report back.) Of course, I bought just that. Unfortunately, I didn’t take a picture of it. I believe that was because I saved it to eat until late at night when I was tired and not thinking clearly.

They package their goods so nicely.

They package their goods so nicely.

You can’t see it through the bag, but imagine that it’s a layered petit-four with hazelnut flavored frosting dividing each layer. It is covered by a sugary hard icing, but is soft and cakey inside. I guess I’ll just have to buy another to photograph it.

The open-faced sandwiches are delightful to behold. I’ve had them for lunch twice. I belieeeeeeeeve that today I ate liverwurst, but I’m trying to ignore that fact.

I’ve also had two other sweets there that I’ve failed to photograph. Oh, and one cup of the horrid coffee. But that was better undocumented. I wonder, though, why I’m not taking pictures of all the baked goods I’m consuming? Could it be guilt and shame at eating so many empty calories? I bet so. I’ll try, however, to write down their names the next time I’m there. Which will conveniently allow me not only to take more pictures, but to try something else sweet or savory (süß oder salzig), or both.

Admittedly, I don't know what this is. I believe I saw "Leberwurst" on the sign ...

Admittedly, I don’t know what this is. I believe I saw “Leberwurst” on the sign …

I also bought a loaf of bread to take to a party tonight. It’s all WAY more affordable than American bread of this quality (way, way, way). That’s partially because German food is more consistently bread-based and, secondarily, because they refuse to eat junk-fluff-Wonder-bread. Who can blame them? So, there are tons of loaf options in German bakeries. I settled on the Steinofen Brot (stone-oven bread), which looked hearty and crusty. It cost less than 2 Euros. And when I picked it up to bring it home, I was astonished. It was heavy! Like, several pounds! (I really don’t eat bread that much at home! Should I have known that it would have the feel of carrying a baby!?)

Steinofen Brot

Steinofen Brot

I’ve been in many a German bakery, but I like John’s because of its sense of place (they don’t have every kind of sandwich or sweet pastry, but the kinds they make are local and beautiful), because its employees are kind and patient (geduldig) with my slow German, and—most importantly—because their baked goods taste so stinking good.

Es ist zu früh, eine Äußerung zu machen, aber …

It’s too early to make a pronouncement, but … it seems to me that there are two ubiquitous foods in Berlin, which are, together, somewhat representative of the city.

Currywurst - my first German meal in Berlin

Currywurst - my first German meal in Berlin

There’s the very Berlin-ish, very traditional Currywurst, which as the name indicates is a sausage (wurst) smothered in a ketchup-like substance and topped with curry powder. It has a bit of a kick. It can be served on a roll or not. I opted for “not” because I also wanted to eat its traditional accompaniment “Pommes Frites” (a French loan term for “french fries”). The fries are often served with mayonnaise. But I opted for ketchup instead.  Needless to say, my first meal in Berlin was not the healthiest.

It didn’t really help that I bought these on Gendarmenmarkt (more another time … when I understand more about its past and present significance) on my first night in Germany. Not only were they overpriced (9+ Euro with my bottle of water, which seemed like a lot when it’s supposed to be the “every-man’s food”), but I was super self-conscious about ordering wrong. I also didn’t understand some of the questions asked of me, which would usually amount to: “With or without a roll?” and “Mayonnaise or Tomato Sauce?” Simple, but I was nervous and still getting accustomed to Berliners’ speedy speech.Pommes Frites

Currywurst is tasty. It’s certainly not healthy, but I won’t pretend I don’t like its flavor. I’ve had it one other time since. The thing I’ve noticed, though, is that although it’s a Berlin must-have, I only ever see tourists getting it. Does that mean it’s not accurately described as the city’s main fast food? No, I doubt it. It’s probably just that I’ve been to the most touristy of places.

The food that I see many, many, many Berliners buying and eating, however, is Döner Kebabs. Brought here by the many Turkish immigrants to Germany, Döner are everywhere. In the U.S. we’d call them “Gyros,” but the flavor, “bread,”  and the toppings are quite a bit different.

Mein Falafel Döner mit Salat und Sauce

Mein Falafel Döner mit Salat und Sauce

I’ve had several Döner already, mostly because they’re tasty, cheap, everywhere, and always include some vegetables. The most common kind is Hähnchen (chicken), cut from an upright spit. At the shop right near my house, I had this Falafel Döner (pictured on the left), which has been my favorite so far. It cost only 2,30 Euro (which is about $3.13 U.S.)! The salads (four different types, actually: one that’s just lettuce and onion, another with corn and cucumber, another that seems to be slightly pickled cabbage, and another with more tomatoes) and the sauce, piled in the freshly grilled flatbread, were very filling even with only three small falafels (chickpea patties) in the mix.

This is a Mediterranean/Middle Eastern dish, but it’s everywhere here. Berliners seem to like it even more than their own cuisine. And, as my time in Berlin has already taught me, it’s just one of the traditions of immigrants or of other lands (like France or the U.S.) that has been so assimilated into German life that it’s now fully German.