Looking at the menu of a typical Berlin restaurant, you can’t help thinking that this might just be the city with the greatest appetite in the world. The organising factor of Berlin’s cuisine is meat in every form. Smoked, roasted, boiled or marinated pork knuckles, suckling lambs and wild boars rule the culinary stage of the capital. Though influenced by various ethnic traditions, the Berliner culinary canon remains quite stable.
Eisbein, literally meaning 'ice leg', is the world-famous Berliner take on cured knuckle of pork. In its most traditional form, it's a heavily marbled piece of pork knuckle covered with a crispy layer of fat. The meat takes hours to be braised, but as a result it's very tender and aromatic. The knuckle is always served with a hearty portion of sauerkraut, mashed peas and boiled or roasted potatoes or potato dumplings. According to local legend, the dish was first prepared around 100 years ago in a small restaurant named Görlitzer Bahnhof.
Berliner Potato Soup
This hearty and filling soup is a smooth cream of potatoes mixed with carrots, as well as a variety of herbs and parsley that give it its characteristic flavour. Chunks of cured meat and various kinds of sausage are also added to the soup. It's best served with a topping of bits of roast onion and accompanied by several slices of fresh rye bread. The Berliner version of potato soup was a special favourite of Kaiser Wilhelm.
Boulette is a traditional Berliner fried meatball made from ground beef meat and usually served with mustard, pickled eggs and gherkins. Sometimes it's served in a halved bun, which makes it a local version of the hamburger. Not as heavy as the roast pork knuckle, it's still very filling and is considered by locals one of the best snacks to accompany a large glass of cold beer. It should even satisfy those with the biggest appetite, as most bars serve an extra-large version of this specialty.
Foreigners sometimes joke that Berliners seem to think that Doner Kebab is their national specialty. Well, it's actually true. It was the Turkish immigrants inhabiting Berlin's district of Kreuzberg that invented the dish in 1971. The original recipe for a Turkish specialty was simplified and adjusted to western European tastes. Its popularity steadily rose throughout the 70s and 80s, and today it's one of Europe's most popular fast food dishes. Usually, it's a mixture of lamb, beef or chicken strips, various vegetables and sauce served in a Turkish pita. A variety using a durum pancake instead of a pita is also quite popular, though a bit more expensive.
Traditional rouladen is a dish consisting of cooked bacon and onion bits wrapped in thin slices of beef. Berlin's restaurants usually serve it topped with gravy and accompanied with pickles, red cabbage and a large amount of mustard. It's delicious, though it requires a bit of effort and skill to prepare it the right way. It's an absolute favourite for all local and visiting meat-eaters. Vegetarians can enjoy a version using cabbage instead of beef, stewed tomatoes instead of gravy, and a variety of vegetables in place of bacon.
Currywurst is one of the best-loved take-away snacks of Berliners. It's a sliced boiled or roasted pork sausage sprinkled with curry powder and covered with a hearty portion of ketchup. It's often served with chips or fresh bread rolls. Attempts to popularise a supermarket, prepare-at-home variety of the sausage have hardly been successful. Berliners still prefer to buy it off street stands specialised in the preparation this German fast-food classic. They are to be found on nearly every corner of the city, and there’s usually a machine, into which the sausage is inserted to come out sliced, hot, spiced and ready to be eaten.
The name for this hearty dish literally means 'butcher's plate'. One serving of this speciality in a Berlin restaurant is enough to satisfy an entire group of people. It usually consists of an enormous plate of sauerkraut and potato or bread dumplings topped with an impressive selection of grilled, cooked, smoked and roasted meat chunks of every kind: pork chops, bratwurst, strips of bacon, blood pudding, wieners, knackwurst, slab bacon and many others. It normally comes with a side dish of mashed peas.
Berliner Weiße is a kind of wheat beer which is brewed exclusively in the area of the German capital. It became the city's favourite drink as early as the 18th Century. Top-fermented, barm-clouded and rather sour, its taste clearly stands out from other German wheat beers. It's also one of the weakest, as it contains just over 2.5% alcohol. Bars and restaurants usually serve it in a large goblet with a straw. Raspberry, lemon and woodruff syrups are sometimes added in order to balance out its sour taste, thus creating the famous Berliner Weiße mit Schuss, a perfectly refreshing drink for hot summer days.
In its classic form, Berlin's famous doughnut consists of fried sweet yeast dough filled with marmalade or jam and iced with powdered or conventional sugar. Recently developed versions of the treat feature such fillings as chocolate, mocha, champagne or advocat. Regardless of the type, the filling is added to the doughnut after the baking process by means of a large syringe. The residents of the German capital traditionally eat this treat during New Year's Eve celebrations and carnival holidays, such as Shrove Thursday. Berliner doughnuts filled with mustard instead of jam are also often used for practical jokes.