I was still mulling over the decision to move to Berlin or stay put in London when I came across Antonio Carluccio’s article on Rogacki in the Jaime Oliver magazine. Carluccio was cooking in London way back when you could only by olive oil from the chemists. I am lying, that was Elizabeth David but eating out options where nevertheless pretty bleak back then. To see this jolly grand daddy of Italian cooking in the UK get all excited about a deli in Berlin was surprising.
A few months later when I visited Rogacki, I instantly agreed with him! If this place was in London, it would have already had 6 face lifts, the people serving would all be students that didn’t understand your order and there would be a sushi bar in the front window – maybe with a conveyor belt. That is one of the great things about Berlin, it’s not in such a hurry to modernize that they throw out the baby along with the bath water! Shoppers can appreciate an old-timer and although most Rogacki customers were over 50, there were plenty of young people as well.
Rogacki has been in this location since 1932. Once you go inside it’s like walking into the past. The ladies that serve you are elderly and have hair do’s that necessitate sleeping with curlers and a hair net. All wear the same doctor like robe and their manner is formal and unhuried. The younger waiters sport green trousers and green bow ties to match the Rogacki green.
Cheese, poultry, game, sausages, offal and fish are all on offer. In copious quantities and bewildering varieties. You have to have a plan if you plan to go grocery shopping at Rogacki or at least an inkling because as you go from counter to counter your mind will pull you every which way – everything looks so good.
Let me clarify, the raw (and smoked) ingredients look good, the majority of the prepared food is scary and in some cases unidentifiable. There are a lot of “salads” featuring gallons of mayonnaise and pickled fish – I don’t know a thing about pickled fish so I steer clear of that section. I wasn’t bowled over by the bakery section either.
There is a hugely popular eat-in section at Rogacki. You can either eat around the various bars or at some high tables (no chairs) close to the self-service canteen section in the back left of the shop. People do, every time I have visited Rogacki the tables are packed! People standing close together and chowing down. It seemed everyone was having the same thing, some breadcrumbed fried fish with potato salad. I tentitavely went up to a guy, who had his mouth full (Rogacki customers don’t seem to pause much in between mouthfuls) and asked him what he was eating – “Fish Fillet” came the confused answer.
I lined up and asked for half a piece of fish fillet and some potato salad. Deep fried fish is not normally my thing. I prefer my fish grilled or at most pan fried in butter with a helping of parsley, capers and wedge of lemon. When in Rome and all that… Even the half portion of fish was filling. The crumbly vinegary potato salad that I had been hesitant about turned out to complement and cut through the greasiness of the fish well.