Sunday, October 19, 2008

Kaiser of Falafel and Inventor of Doner - Berlin Foodlogue

Turkish citizens who came to post World War II Germany as Gastarbeiter (guest workers) would not have realized that half a century later they will be remembered, not for the factories they built but for the food they brought with them. About two and a half million Turks in Germany have achieved success in many walks of life but nowhere is their presence more prominent than on the food scene where Doner Kebab (a German Turk invention – more on that later!) are ubiquitous – the whole effect impact is most evident in Berlin a city home to more than 200,00 Turks and 1,600 Kebab shops!

Döner Kebab exists since 250 years as a meal on a plate (Iskender). In 1971 Mehmet Aygün came up with the idea to put the meal on a plate in bread which revolutionized the oriental fastfood industry. What started at Hasir in Kreuzberg, the focal point of Trukish culture in Berlin, has spread across Germany as the most popular fast food which stands toe-to-toe with glitzier American chains. Hasir itself has expanded to five other locations in Berlin. Now the flagship branch is one on Oranienburger Str 4, Mitte – an attempt to take the cuisine more upmarket in an ambience very distinct from typical kebab shop. We visited the orginal kruezverg outlet, though. The kebab I had was shaved off in very thin slices from the meat stack on the skewer making it crispier than most common versions. The kuver bread served alongside was fresh and a welcome relief from the pita that is used by the kebab shops. Even the grilled aubergine that my wife, who is a vegetarian, ordered were good enough for her not to complain about a dinner at Hasir.

Another salient feature of Turkish food is the mangal (charcoal grill), and a popular mangal is the Adana Grill on corner of Manteuffel Strasse and Oranienstrasse. The concept is simple with the variety coming from different marinades and cuts of meat, while cooking method remains the same – grilling on a open charcoal pit. My mixed grill included lamb chops, chicken, and lamb mince grilled on a skewer – all of it served on a bed of bread along with very sweet (for an Indian it is acceptable but would be too sweet for most Europeans) but refreshing tea.

While Hasir is about the imagination of its founder who turned his country’s kebab into convenience food, Dada Falafel is about the personality and skill of its owner – a Lebanese gentleman with rock star looks and an attitude to go with it. Not one to consider virtues of of humility he advised me, “When you go back to your country tell them that you met the Kaiser of falafel”! Falafels were made fresh before us, with the perfect crispy crumbly texture. A blogger who seems to know a lot more about falafels considers it the best he has had in life. The servings of hummus and baba ganoush were generous and tasty. (sorry for a Lebanese guy featuring in a post on Turkish food but how could I ignore the Kaise?)

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