How many times did I not wish you were here with us? You would love this city. In a way, you are our travel companion: we brought along the Berlin tips you gave us last year (remember the slight confusion about the Chippendales) and are enjoying the receipes of your great cookbook we brought along, our culinary guide for this year.
Apart from the city’s captivating history, architecture, street art, book shops, urban gardens and many parks to lose yourself in, I would bet on the food being one of your sources of daily pleasures. When listing our year’s cities, Rome seems for many to be the culinary dream. But I already know it won’t even come close to Berlin. Or London for that matter (alas Copenhagen is not worth mentioning – my Danish pride knows its place, and it’s not in the kitchen). It’s all about diversity.
It would take me far too long to discribe Berlin’s food scene, not to say boring as so many have already done it splendidly. Getting to know the savoury places of your kiez or neighbourhood is a full-time job. Once you think you’ve covered one tiny street, along comes a new coffee bar, deli or weinerei. Or your favourite place changes its menu. Or they’ve got a new chef. Or you just feel like going back to test one of the other delicious cakes screaming for your attention. Pretty discouraging, but still, so thrilling. During my first days here, I was walking around with a note book, writing down every seemingly nice place that I eventually wanted to test. Quickly, I understood this was not going to work out. I dropped the planning bit and continued by just walking into the first place that looked nice when feeling like it.
Oh oh, does it seem like we’ve done nothing but eating and drinking for three months? To be honest, we have been eating OR drinking out nearly every day. Now don’t go imagining all kinds of decadent situations. You know us. A good cup of coffee – and a smile from the barista – is often all we need. We might have indulged in a simple lunch or piece of cake once in a while. Or an ice cream. Or a streuselkuchen. Do you know what the problem is? The Berliners won’t agree, but in comparison to other German cities and especially to any other neighbour country, eating out is very cheap here. There are obviously a number of controversial reasons (mini-jobs and low wages) for this, but let’s focus on the ‘positive’ side, shall we? I can’t remember the last time my main course costed more than €7 – often organic. The last time we spent more than one hour and €15 on food was in a classy vegan restaurant (a big thank you to Jo’s colleagues who offered us this treat!). A typical decent dish costs around €5-6. Combine this with the omnipresent vegetarian and vegan options, the crazy serving hours (breakfast until 4pm, bakeries open at 4 am) and the overwhelming choice (love the eastern European/Russian influences but really, there is everything you can imagine ranging from German, Indian, Sudanese, Austrian, New-Zealand, even Belgian and Polish-Italian around our corner) and you know why we haven’t put a lot of effort into resisting temptation these last months.
The best is the ‘alternative’ food scene, although I don’t like to use that word. Food is so personal, and that’s what makes it beautiful. It all depends on how you look at it. But myself being an vegetarian ‘outsider’ in most countries, eating is heaven here. Are you a vegan, do you have a food allergy or only eat kosher, halal, organic or raw? Easy. Food shops and restaurants put such great effort into clear labelling and take their customers’ wishes into account. If I lived here, I would become vegan straight away.
To top if off, they always seem to find culinary concepts with a great twist here: I just discovered a place that only prepares meals with ‘unsellable’ fruit and vegetables. How great is that? But you can also have a meal in an urban farm, only serving their own locally – 15 meters away – grown vegetables. In the middle of the city. Cafés and restaurants often combine different concepts as well, as we are starting to see in Belgium. Food + books, + launderette, + bicycle shop, … You name it, they do it. Well maybe not everything.
Lucky for me, I haven’t yet seen the concept I am thinking about – no I will not tell you. Is it a secret that all this coffee drinking and vegan eating business merely serves the higher purpose of an own café one day? Walking around here can be slightly discouraging, or motivating, depending on how you see it. By the time I get started, nobody will be looking for a good concept any more. There’ll be dozens of other great culinary stories to be discovered in Brussels. But that would only be about time, don’t you think?
Have to go – breakfast is waiting. Our last one here. For now.
Take care, and I look forward to food and drinks with you in London!