Shake Shack, Burgers, Miami

Shake Shack! SHAKE SHACK! SHAKE SHACK!

dream about this place when I’m in Berlin.

The burgers are petit, similar in size to a McDonald’s burger but that is where the similarity ends.  Shake Shack burgers come on a pillowy, yellow bun, grilled on the inside.  The thin patty is freshly ground on site every day and is cooked to medium.  The standard fixings are tomatoes, onion (sliced in rings), lettuce and crinkly pickles and a slice of cheese.  The burger comes in a waxed envelope, with the Technicolor red and green of the lettuce and tomatoes beckoning at you.

It doesn’t take long to eat.  Boys should order two.  I eat one and never suffer the burger regrets, the junk food shame.  Even if I’ve shared a paper dish of crinkly cheese fries.  And gulped down a Dr. Pepper.  It’s when I venture into Shark Attack custard territory that I start to think that I am going slightly overboard.  But listen – chocolate custard, peanut butter, chocolate truffle cookie dough, Valrhona chocolate pearls, and chocolate sprinkles – I mean? Who out there can resist a roll call like that?  I certainly can’t!

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Das Lokal, German Bistro, Mitte

True story.

Day before yesterday, car full of all my Christmas food shopping, I returned to the garage to see that someone was parked in our spot. (Yes, we own a car. No, it doesn’t keep me up at night, wondering if I will go to emissions hell – it’s a hybrid, although we didn’t know that when we got it…)  I huffed and I puffed, I got out and touched the offending car’s bonnet.  Hot.  He’d just arrived, parking spot stealing bastard!  I took a picture of the car with my iPhone, emailed it to the garage landlord.  I turned my car around, found a parking spot on the street, got out (in the rain) fed €3 into the meter went upstairs.  Printed out  VERMIETET (yes the capitals are absolutely necessary) on an A4 sheet of paper, put in it a plastic sheet and stomped back out of the house (in the rain but this time with an umbrella) to the garage where I fixed that to the wall.  I also left a note, the gist of which was ‘call me on this number once you’ve moved your vehicle out of my parking space pinhead!’.  Meanwhile the garage landlord writes to let me know I can park in the dentist’s bay.  I go back down (in the rain, still with the umbrella), move the car and because I am feeling petty, affix the €3 ticket to the car’s windshield.  Then I putter around my kitchen until 1 hour later, the phone rings.
Hello?
Hello. I am the man who parked in your space.
Ok – so you’re leaving now?
Yes, I am so sorry.
That’s fine.
Um, well, where should I leave the €3?
The wha..?  Oh – yes, don’t worry, it’s fine.
More apologizing.
I hang up.Once again, the disparity between most German people and every other European citizen is glaringly apparent.  Most German people will always do the right thing, even when no one is looking.  So if I left someone in a room with a jar of cookies and these instructions.  “Do not eat the cookies.  If for some unfathomable reason you do eat a cookie, pinch yourself really hard on the arm as punishment.”  I think, the majority would not eat the cookie and the minority would eat the cookie and pinch themselves.  No one would say, scan the room for hidden cameras or strain their ears to make sure no one was approaching before saying…What? F**k it, I’m leaving and I’m taking the cookie jar with me. Read more of this post

Muret la Barba, Winebar and Bistro, Mitte

After having lunch with my friend Katie at Muret la Barba the other day, I’ve decided she should definitely have a Berlin restaurant blog.  She eats out about 3 times as much as I do and is always trying new places.  She’s already been to Hartweizen on Torstrasse (her verdict, good, a lot of game dishes).  Restaurant 3 (which I had never even heard of but of course the New York Times had already written about in 2009 for chrissakes!).  And she’s been to Das Lokal  or Kantine which was featured in Cee Cee‘s 24th newsletter.
When she suggested a long over due lunch, I said “Let’s go to Muret la Barba.”

“Don’t tell me you still haven’t eaten there!” she teased.

As a matter of fact, I hadn’t.  I don’t know what I’ve been eating lately?  (Oh yes, I do!  The large krakow sausages, straight off the grill with jagged blackened pieces covering one side and an obscene amount of mustard at the Christmas Market behind Galeria.  It’s a Polish sausage and Polish sausages, IMHO, RULE.  They’re firm fleshed, dry, smoky, spicy, with an extraordinary snap to the skin, you need to give it a really good tug before it breaks off.  I’m particular to a stand directly behind Galeria, exiting through the make up and bag department.  They only sell two things; a bratwurst – €2.50 and the Krakow – €3.50.  Confession? As I write this I am plotting one last trip to the Krakow stand before I fly of to Miami on the 27th).
Back to Muret la Barba.  It’s one of Katie’s lunch places, she always get’s the homemade ravioli (whatever the filling) and a salad.  I followed her cue and did the same.  Out came 5 large square ravioli, the size of my entire hand, filled with ricotta and greens, sitting in about 150g of Parmesan flavoured butter (€7.50).  We shared a salad of beetroot, apple, cracked wheat and lettuce – something I could imagine making for myself at home, the freshness of which cut through the richness of the ravioli.

A delicious homemade ravioli lunch for €7.50? Perfect.  More than that however, I’m totally seduced by the vibe of MLB.  It takes leave from the typical Italian places around here, which feel contrived, the available Italians working within, turning up their Italianess to pander to the locals who seem as addicted to all things Mediterranean as they are to the sun.  Instead they keep things simple with a few unexpected bits, each one telling me a story, like: Read more of this post

Dolores, Mexican Fast Food, Schöneberg

It’s a different world in the West.  Not better or worse.  Just radically different.  There are a lot more fair-haired people.  They seem, on average, taller (probably because they are actually German as opposed to the primarily foreign population in the former East).  They wear a lot of beige, caramel, brown, suede and fur coats.  Without a hint of irony, men in their early 30’s match their belts to their shoes.  Most perplexing of all? They don’t seem to get* Dolores.  Which is a crying shame because this branch is much larger than the one in Mitte.  With high ceilings, comfortable chairs, music turned down (probably in a bid to lure in a patron in a camel haired coat).  Even though it’s just off Wittenbergplatz, which is packed with bodies eating vertically, Dolores never has more than a quarter of its tables occupied.  It makes me want to go out in the square, throw out their Witty’s bio Curry Wurst and lead them by the hand to Dolores.  Where for 2 more Euros on average, they can eat good food, sitting down in a warm room (and there are hooks onto which they can hang up their camel haired coats).   Read more of this post

Cocolo, Ramen Shop, Mitte

Cocolo is open for dinner only, from 6pm to midnight. After spending last week reading about David Chang’s pilgrimage down the ramen route in Tokyo in issue 1 of Lucky Peach, I had an acute craving.  I got there early, at 15 minutes to 6. Not so much because I anticipated a line but because I was starving and couldn’t trust myself not to stop off somewhere and ruin my appetite (as the half eaten butter pretzel from Hofpfisterei in my handbag could attest) or fill my belly up with a liter of sweet flavoured tea from the newly opened ‘Starbucks of the east': Comebuy.  My stomach was growling as I approached Cocolo and there, hoping from one foot to another to stay warm, were three people.I took out issue 2 of Lucky Peach, leaned against the wall and tried to steady myself with thoughts of noodles.  A Japanese family of 4 arrived to join us.  5 to 6.  1 to 6.  Doors open.  We shuffle in.  In the next 5 minutes all the seats are taken and there are people standing by the wall waiting for us to order, eat, pay and go.I sat with my back to the front window, looking into the kitchen (which I think is the best place to sit because you can see what they are doing and are sheltered from the regular opening of the door).  You do get splashed a little because on the other side of the bar is the sink in which they wash the dishes (by hand) during service (spoons go into the adjacent ceramic hand wash basin for some reason).I had already tried the Tonkotsu (a milky looking broth made from pork bones, fat and collagen) so I ordered the Shoyu: a broth salty from soy sauce.  Hrabi ordered Tan Tan, a spicy soup with minced meat and corn. We also got kimchi, gyoza and edamame.  Embarrassingly, the only gyoza I’d had previous to these were at Wagamama (not that I am knocking Wagamama you understand, I would kill to have a Wagamama in Berlin! It’s fast food but it’s good fast food.), these were in a different category altogether, I would go back for the gyoza alone.  The edamame came in a slated wooden box, with a sheet of paper from a Japanese magazine fashioned into a box perched on top – for discarding spent edamame shells.Details like that get me because they are indicative of a perfectionist at work.  To take the time to fashion a paper box, when any old dish would do, is rare.

There are more details and quirks.  The small but deep wire noodle sieves that line the wall, the timers over the heads of cooks that are set when a new batch of noodles go in.  The orders displayed on the white fridge, fastened with black magnets, because there isn’t one centimeter of space left in the kitchen, let alone a 30 cm for an order slide rack.  There is only one cutting board (black) meat is sliced on it, eggs are halved.  The gyoza are cooked on a grill the size of a paperback novel.  The bare bulbs sport coffee filters as lamp shades, yellow with age (Hrabi spotted that one).   Read more of this post

The Best Shawarma in Jordan, gelatinous Mulukhiya and celebrating sumac with Musakhan

I wonder if DNA has memories? Besides being responsible for the color of my eyes, is there an imprint of my origin? Birds know to migrate south for the winter, salmon swim upstream to spawn. It’s conceivable isn’t it?  I ask because despite living in large cities like Athens, Paris, London and now Berlin for the past 20 years – when I go to Jordan I feel…there is really no other way to put this…I feel at home?The dusty city of Amman is teeming with cars and colorful trucks. Except for the road to the airport, most don’t have any white lines to delineate lanes. I initially attribute the drunken weaving of the cars to their absence. Until I notice that most cars are hampered by other considerations: like drivers that are simultaneously on two mobile phones or little vans so stuffed with people, they have their arms around each other’s shoulders. When a car in front veers perilously close to another, the car horn is lightly tapped, so a faint teet-teet can be heard (nothing like the way they lean on the horn in Berlin when some imperceptible offence has been committed, sometimes I think the driver has expired on the steering wheel, it’s that bad.)To me, one thing is unique in Jordan, the twinkle in people’s eye, the ready smile, the teasing that starts within moments of meeting someone. There is something childlike, a cheeky inquisitiveness. They seem capable of enjoying my enjoyment and wonderment as if it was their own.

I see this most the last day, when the perpetually barefoot Egyptian gardener brings up a plate of 3 Poussin, a bowl of Mulukhiya and a big pot of glistening rice with dark vermicelli noodles scattered throughout. (My father had mentioned that I liked it when I was a child.) There is an almost audible hum of pleasure emanating from the small man as I exclaim my hapiness.“Hadda min tahat” he grins, swiping his index finger across his throat in a rapid motion. It means: “These are from down there.” ‘These’ being the chickens. I don’t mourn them; I reach in and begin tearing into the small birds. There is no trace of the exaggerated rubber skin that is the standard in Europe (even in organic birds). The skin literally shatters. There are secret pockets where I know the most succulent meat will be: behind the shoulder blades, the oysters, the leg meat is the color of bark. Mulukhiya is a dark green soup made from the serrated leaf of  Corchorus olitorius or Jew’s Mallow (Very interesting post about the journey of Mulukhiya from Africa to Egypt’s national dish on the blog Food Bridge).  It has slimy properties, which are augmented when you add lemon. And you always add lemon. Then the soup takes on the property of raw egg whites, when you scoop your spoon through it, the entire contents of the bowl try to come with it. I’m not sure why I love it so much when things like creamed spinach, which I would think, is similar but nowhere near as pronounced, make me gag. (Maybe it’s the DNA thing again?)  I get through 4 bowls.

Even though only a couple of hours before I had been driven to the Christian city of Salt (the one from the bible) to have a chicken shawarma from the rather oddly named Golden Meal TM.Take everything you believe to be true about shawarma.
Got it?
Good.
Now scrunch it up and, with flourish, throw it out the window.
We are going to start again. Read more of this post

Building a Gingerbread House

Christmas is a bit of a pastiche at our house.  Mostly because I don’t have any family traditions to import from when I was growing up.  My father is Muslim and my mother is Christian.  They didn’t really have a holiday strategy  – you know the way Debbie & Danny made a dinner strategy in “About Last Night”:

“Two nights a week I cook. Two nights a week he cooks. Two nights we go out. And then there’s sandwich night.”  (Totally unrelated but in reply to that, Debbie’s acerbic friend Joan quips “I bet your sex life is a real thrill.  Two nights a week you’re on top, two nights a week he’s on top. So what is it you do on sandwich night?”)

There was no plan.  Christmas trees would invariably go up but it was furtive and short-lived, certainly not fun.  My father, who gives the best gifts in our family, would forgo taking part in the restrained festivities.  Mostly, my sister and I received sweaters – itchy ones.

Sometimes we celebrated with my Romanian grandmother, she is a talented cook and gifted hostess but her traditional Christmas dish is ‘Piftie‘, a medieval style dish of smoked pork leg in aspic (served cold).  Not exactly the roast-turkey-with-cranberry-sauce-bread-sauce-gravy-stuffing-sprouts-sausages-spuds-bacon-wrapped-prunes-with-plenty-of-leftovers-for-sandwiches Christmas spread that I make every year.

It was slim pickings at our house.  I would look enviously at what my American friends were getting, eating and doing for Christmas.  Or my Jewish friends “How come Angie Schwarz get’s presents 7 days in a row?!” I would complain to my parents?!

Not having and wanting as a child is the biggest impetus to have as an adult.

Since I moved out of my parents home, I have celebrated Christmas in a big way. Not for any religious reasons but because it’s excess at it’s best: so you put felt reindeer horns on the dog and roll your eyes good-naturedly at the lame joke in the cracker.  You eat too much and rent 10 DVD’s, you make a pillow tower to support your neck so that you can continue to eat christmas cookies while maintaining a reclined position.  After 15 minutes, you stop the movie and get up to make Christmas sandwiches. Read more of this post

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