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An Istanbuler’s Berlin food odyssey

Falafel joints are a dime a dozen, but authentic? Exberliner follows Idil Mese, a born and bred Istabuler as she follows her stomach in search of the best, closest-to-home Turkish delicacies Berlin offers and just a bit more.

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Photo by Danilo Sierra

We’ve all been to the Maybachufer market and bought into the Hasir hype. But where does a born and bred Istanbul native go? We asked Idil Mese, an Istanbuler on a journalism trip to Berlin, to name her favourite spots.

Grandma’s garden

The smell of warm mücver (zucchini pancakes) lured me into Weser Vegetan, a pocket-sized vegetarian café. Inside, owner Ayse Acar offered warm greetings along with homemade, all-vegetarian cuisine. Most dishes come from Acar’s native Adana, though some, such as veggie icli köfte (fried bulghur balls stuffed with spinach or lentils, €1.50) are her own creations. If you don’t know what to choose, get the mixed plate: a large platter filled with everything from dolma to stewed okra for only €6.50, definitely a great deal.

Although I was surrounded by Weserstraße hipster hangouts, I suddenly felt transported all the way back to my grandmother’s garden in the Turkish countryside. The only difference was the dessert: Ayse confessed to me she was a poor baker, and it’s her daughters-in-law Melanie and Sabrina who make the (tasty but German!) cakes.

Weser Vegetan, Weserstr. 52, Neukölln, U-Bhf Rathaus Neukölln, Tel 030 6823 7598, Mon-Sun 13-24:00

Simply delighted

Whenever I visit a new country, I take some Turkish delight with me – I brought six boxes to Exberliner when I first arrived! But believe it or not, barely anyone eats the sweet treat in Turkey. There, it’s called lokum and reserved only for religious holidays and special occasions.

So it was a rather funny experience to visit Cemilzade, a fussy little cafe in Mitte where urbanites go to eat lokum (€3.95) and ezme (squashed pistachio or almond, €4.94) over Turkish coffee. The desserts are delicious, though served in very small portions. Since my friends and I were drinking coffee, I read my friends’ fortunes from the grounds (like most Turkish women, I’m a natural fortune teller). When Istanbul-born owner Sevgi Gürez saw what I was doing, she stopped by my table to get her fortune read as well.

Cemilzade Confiserie Orientale, Linienstr. 113, Mitte, U-Bhf Oranienburger Tor, Tel 030 6092 5957, Tue-Fri 11-19:00, Sat-Sun 12-18:00

Baba knows best

At most Berlin kebab places they throw your döner in your face (unimaginable in Istanbul). Not so at the friendly and polite Bal Köfte. The super-delicious spicy Turkish meatballs, served inside fresh warm bread (€2.50) or on a plate with rice and hummus (€5), are just a plus.

Nearly everyone who walks into the shop asks for Baba (“father” in Turkish), meaning owner Mehmet Balci, a self-made man who founded this little shop in 1999. I soon found out that it’s not just a nickname.

Balci wouldn’t stop bragging to me about his three brilliant, accomplished daughters as he was preparing my order. The one thing he wouldn’t tell me was his köfte recipe: it’s a secret only he and his staff know.

Bal Köfte, Kottbusser Damm 101, Neukölln, U-Bhf Schönleinstr, Tel 030 6957 9765, Mon-Sat 10-24:00, Sun 12-24:00

Shisha chic

In Istanbul, shisha bars are cosy yet glam lounges with great food. Fed up with the no-frills smokeries of Neukölln, I fled to Charlottenburg, where Marooush (actually Arabic – but Turkish girls don’t discriminate when it come to shisha!) gave me a taste of what I was looking for.

As I was smoking some kick-ass El Fakir apple tobacco (€8.50), a tall, perfectly tanned, black-haired young woman in a one-shouldered silk white dress walked in with her gorgeous friends and settled down at the table across from us. A table of lean, preppy-looking boys turned around to catch a glimpse of these beauties and went back to their heated conversation, sipping their Piña Coladas (€7.50). This fashionable off-Ku’damm hotspot is always packed with a twenty- and thirty-something Turkish, German and Arabic crowd, as well as occasional tourists from nearby hotels.

Order the excellent Mashawi M’Shakal (€31), a mix of lamb, beef and chicken kebab skewers that supposedly feeds two but is enough for an army, or take a pan-Arabian trip with the Nil plate (€22 per person, minimum two people) with 16 different cold and warm mezze including hummus, baba ghanoush, kibbe and sambuski.

On the Saturday I went, a stunning belly dancer shimmied from table to table, sometimes even with candles on her head, encouraging us to join in. After the show, we danced to Turkish and Arabic hits all night long. One or two Sex on the Beach cocktails (€7.50) later, I was even ready to try out some of the belly dancer’s tricks.

Marooush, Knesebeckstr. 48, Charlottenburg, U-Bhf Uhlandstr., Tel 030 887 118 335, Mon-Sun 15-close

Spanish substitute

After a disappointing experience at a rather insalubrious Turkish fish Imbiss in Schöneberg, it was clear I’d have to look elsewhere to satisfy my seafood cravings.

I did just that at a Spanish tapas bar called Gastón, which offers fried calamari, prawns, sardines and more for only €3.80 per dish. “Would you like some marinated octopus?” asked the waitress. How can an Istanbuler say no to that?

In addition to the great seafood variety, Gastón reminds me of Istanbul taverns because of its youthful vibe and cheap but great wine and beer. I felt as if at any minute classical Turkish music would start and people would start dancing on tables while waiters served raki and mezze… but a flamenco guitarist started playing instead. So my friends and I drank to honour as the Turkish do: “Şerefe!

Gastón, Weichselstr. 18, Neukölln, U-Bhf Rathaus Neukölln, Tel 030 2234 3156, Mon-Sun 15-23:00