Forgive me, Reader.
For I am apparently incapable of posting travel photos unless they were taken over a year ago. And since so much time has elapsed, I am also terrible at coming up with words to accompany them.
Over the past four months, I’ve written and posted multiple entries with these photos, only to change my mind and take them down. I’ve been having a hard time finding a story to accompany these photos.
I don’t want to write a travel blog. I’m sure that anything I could write about Iceland has been written before a thousand times; I’m sure there are hundreds of blogs out there with more interesting things to say about Iceland than I do after having only been there for four days. Why should I assume that my personal take on Iceland would interest anyone other than myself? I’m self-involved, but I don’t like to kid myself.
But I still wanted to post these photos. They are nice photos, and I enjoyed taking them.
The problem was coming up with a text to accompany them, since I’m also reluctant to post pictures without words. It just seems like a wasted opportunity. I had the opportunity to subject the world to my words and ideas, and I didn’t take it.
I considered weaving passages of a completely fictional story between the photos. But that seemed too non-sequitur; these photos are personal, and to post them alongside a story that has nothing to do with me seemed a bit odd.
I tried writing a story about my earliest memories of food and cooking. Stories from when I was a child, barely tall enough to reach the stove. Stories from when I was a college student, living on her own and cooking spaghetti for the first time. But that also seemed weird, and somehow forced.
I could tell those posts would end up not working because I had such a hard time getting them down on paper. I toiled over those posts. The words didn’t come flowing out, as they tend to do with my very best posts.
And so, as I sit here drinking Spätburgunder and eating Käsespätzle out of a take-out container (how German can one get?), I will write about a topic that comes easily to me — my own life, in recent memory. This trip to Iceland took place almost exactly a year ago, and I’ve been thinking about how much my life, and how much I, as a person, have changed since then.
So, what has happened to me in this past year?
It’s easy to see what direction my life has taken. Wellness, adulthood, coming into my own as a professional womyn. So what does that mean for this blog? Well, there might be more health-conscious recipe posts than I’m historically known for. And, I might experiment with some more varied content. What does that mean? Basically marrying my love of food and data in the form of data-driven food-related blog posts. I’ve always been interested in food trends and other people’s eating habits. And I’ve spent the last decade or so of my life learning how to (and making a living by) drawing insights from data. What if I did posts like this one on death row meals but backed with quantitative instead of qualitative analysis? Yeah, it’s a tall order (heh), but we’ll see how it goes.
A few years in Berlin has made me realize just how perverse the burger culture here is. I like mixing and matching ingredients as much as the next person, but after a disenchanting experience earlier this year that involved me spitting out a burger that would later go on to win second place at that super hyped burger contest, I realized just how very much in the minority I am with my staunch purist burger ideals. Why over-complicate something that can be so beautiful in its simplicity?
Berlin is a city where places like BBI and Schiller Burger are flush in repeat business and five star Yelp reviews. Now I don’t want to be that uptight curmudgeon who rains on the parade of the thousands of people in Berlin who love ordering their burgers with a bunch of crap on them, but all this extra schnick schnack does not make up for a lack of quality ingredients. If you like your burger smothered in so much sauce that you (a) can’t even tell whether the patty was frozen or not and (b) don’t even care, then you need to reevaluate your burger priorities. To the people who leave rave reviews for places that serve burgers with grey patties that don’t have the slightest trace of pink in the middle, I ask – are you in it for the burger or are you in it for the gimmicks?
A good burger, to me, is all about the meat. It should be good quality and properly cooked, preferably with some tasty char on the outside. Second priority is the bun. It should be a legit one that remains true to its purpose as a carrying vessel for your burger patty. Add some lettuce, tomato, cheddar cheese, classic condiments, and that’s all you need really.
That’s why I love Tommi’s Burger Joint so much. Some people will violently disagree with me, but I like the burgers there even more than those at The Bird (where the “bun” a.k.a. English muffin falls apart in your hands within seconds after the first bite). At Tommi’s they keep it simple and are unapologetic about the admittedly smallish portion sizes. The patties are thick, consistently cooked to perfection, and served in American-style brioche buns. The meat is of the best quality, and you can actually taste the difference. They also keep it simple with the french fries, preparing them thin, crispy and generously salted, McDonald’s style.
Should one ever ask me where the best burger in Berlin is, I would answer Tommi’s without hesitation. This is undoubtedly a controversial opinion, and I know many who would protest on the grounds of portion-to-price ratio or the variety of options on the menu. (Sorry, no BBQ bacon burger here guys.) The burgers at Tommi’s are everything a good burger should be — nothing more, nothing less.
Mezcal is one of those spirits that was all the rage in San Francisco five years ago but is just beginning to gain a foothold in Berlin. When I first moved to Berlin two years ago, I was quite disappointed when I realized it isn’t commonplace to see mezcal on a drink menu here, even at many of the more hip and upscale establishments.
I’ve asked about mezcal in just about every fancy bar I’ve set foot in, from Butcher’s in Mitte to The Antlered Bunny in Friedrichshain. It’s just not really a thing here. (That’s not to say that the cocktails at the bars I just mentioned aren’t köstlich.) I have, however, found three places in Berlin where one can order a decent, even outstanding mezcal cocktail.
1. TiER (Weserstraße 42, Neukölln)
Tier is one of my favorite bars in Berlin, in spite of the fact that it’s usually way too crowded and smoky, even on weeknights. The interior is super old school and gemütlich and it’s one of the few places where I’ve seen Bulleit Rye behind the bar. My go-to mezcal cocktail is the Selma Hayek.
Favorite mezcal cocktail: Selma Hayek
2. The Bar Marqués (Graefestraße 92, Kreuzberg)
In spite its being around for a while, this place is a bit under the radar. I never have trouble finding a seat here. Located in the basement of a not particularly bumpin’ tapas restaurant, this bar features old style furniture, hospitable service, and of course, top notch drinks. We first heard about the bar about a year ago through a friend who has a thing for gin and tonics. I remember inquiring about mezcal back then only to be met with a “leider nicht.” My mild disappointment was assuaged by their formidable selection of tonics and the presence of complimentary nuts.
But the last time I was there, I noticed something new. I was handed a menu when I sat at the bar (previously the bar had no menu, and a conversation with the bartender was offered in its place). Flipping through the pages, I saw it: a mezcal cocktail. Confused, I asked the guy behind the bar if they really do have mezcal. He pointed to not one, but several bottles behind the bar, including my old SF standby. Turns out The Bar completely changed its bar program and staff in September. Now it’s even better than ever! (As evidenced by the fact that we spent 100 EUR there last night.)
Favorite mezcal cocktail: Mezcal Last Word
3. Würgeengel (Dresdener Straße 122, Kreuzberg)
Funny story about Würgeengel – it was one of the very first cocktail bars that K took me to during my first few months in Berlin. I was ecstatic when I saw they had mezcal on the menu. We used to go there quite often and I would always order the Last Call with mezcal, but one evening, I was in the mood for something different. I asked the bartender to make a custom cocktail — something kind of warm and spicy, perhaps with chocolate bitters and a bit of citrus — using mezcal as the base spirit of course. The resulting drink was perfection — so good, in fact, that the bartender said he would put it on the menu and asked me to choose a name for the cocktail. After consulting with K, we decided, jackasses that we are, to call the cocktail “The Entschuldigga”, a portmanteau of the expressions “Entschuldigung” and “Digga”. The bartender was not at all amused by this idea, and urged us to come up with a more Spanish-sounding alternative. We stood our ground.
The next time we were at Würgeengel, which was some months later, we saw that my drink had indeed made it onto the menu, but that it was called the “Santa Ana”. (As in, that city in Orange County.) Womp womp.
Favorite mezcal cocktail: Santa Ana
At last! There’s a critical mass of eating establishments in Berlin that I can call favorites. Why not turn it into a series? Today I’ll post about my absolute favorite. I eat here more often than any other restaurant in Berlin. And I always get the same thing.
Cocolo Ramen was one of the first restaurants that Kai took me to after I’d only been in Berlin for a few months. It was the first restaurant meal in this city that I actually thought was good, and I remember feeling so relieved.
Since then, the restaurant hasn’t lost its game. They’ve even expanded and opened a second location in Kreuzberg (as most successful Berlin restaurants tend to do). I still think the location in Mitte is better though.
If you do go there, remember to keep it simple: order a Tonkotsu ramen and an ice cold Asahi, maybe some edamame if you’re feeling especially hungry. Do not, however, make the mistake of ordering any ramen other than the Tonkotsu, for you will be invariably disappointed. (I’ve seen this regrettable fate befall many a dining companion, and now I always give them warning if I see them straying from ol’ faithful.)
Soy-braised pork belly, soft boiled egg, rich cloudy broth, and some pickled ginger to balance it out. What could be better than that? I drag poor Ryan here after work at least once a month.
Can I get this poster for above my bed please? Kthxbai.