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The Diverse Restaurants in International Berlin

With Over 190 Nationalities in the City, Good Food is Easy to Find

One of Berlin's street cafes and restaurants, with food and drink from many cultures represented.

Berliners seem to be having a love affair with Indian, Thai, Syrian, and Turkish cuisine. Every other restaurant seems to be Indian, Thai, or Middle Eastern. Even the "fast food," still locally procured and made with healthy ingredients, reflects an Eastern twist: try the Turkish Döner Kebaps of lamb or chicken or the Berlin sausage specialty, Curry Wurst. Curry Wurst? It's the perfect marriage, based on a sausage like the Bockwurst, enhanced with tomato sauce, curry, and paprika — and can be had anywhere in the city at neighborhood stands and subway kiosks. Beyond these offerings, falafel joints and sushi bars also abound. I also ate in one of the best Iranian restaurants anywhere, including those of my childhood from summer visits to Tehran before 1979. The Russian vegetarian food was sublime, using local ingredients like just-gathered forest mushrooms and fresh winter spinach.

Berlin as a Living Museum of Every Food Tradition

Berlin is a living museum collection of every food tradition, and it reflects the vast diversity of people who have made Germany's new capital their home. Here, restaurants range from Tex-Mex, Mexican, Russian, Italian, Turkish, Iranian, Syrian, Thai, Indian, Vietnamese, Polish, Balkan, and beyond. Initially, I thought this diversity was an influx of people worldwide after the Wall came down. I was profoundly mistaken. The rich diversity of people in Berlin resulted from the Cold War and the Wall.

When the Wall went up in 1961, many jobs sat vacant on both the east and the west sides as their former occupants could not commute to work. The vacancies were filled on the east side by people from around the world who were under the Soviet sway or shadow. The same happened on the west side, where job vacancies were filled by migrants from other capitalist countries, including Turkey. By the time the wall came down in 1989, all these people were as much Berliners as natives of their ancestral places. Consequently, Berlin is now incredibly culturally diverse, and this diversity is well-established and is not only a recent phenomenon. Recent statistics count 190+ nationalities in Berlin out of a population of 3.75 million. The diversity results in a wealth of restaurants of all kinds that represent modern Berlin.

In Berlin's restaurants, cafes, and bars, you will discover the warmth of the best Berliners. In these places — Berliners really relax, enjoy the moment, share space and time with others, and take their time over a coffee or a beer. Such gathering places in Berlin are created for such lingering, with incredibly hospitable servers, warm colored walls (rust red, ochre, burnt sienna, café au lait brown), white candles on every table, warm wooden floors, chairs, and tables, and all-natural greens or flowers infusing the spaces.

Below are places where I have had a great meal or cup of coffee and enjoyed the society of the place. I can only hope these places remain open in the future (one way to check is by using sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp as a cross-reference). One of the standard features of Berlin is the opening and closing of restaurants, cafes, and bars in the blink of an eye. The reasons have nothing to do with how good they were. Still, they are about making it in a continually transforming and growing economy. So, take the below as a guide, and follow your instinct: if you wander by a place that calls to you, go in.

An intriguing cultural note: Don't be surprised if people ask to share your table when a restaurant is packed, and there is a spare seat or two where you're seated. It is a very common practice, and most people respect your space by not speaking to you, and they expect the same from you. It makes dining alone more communal while still being non-invasive.

A Few Restaurants Reflecting Berlin’s Diversity

Donath is an earthy and warm northeast Italian (Friulan) bistro. A dish I kept getting each time I visited was homemade pappardelle pasta with porcini mushrooms and truffle oil. This earthy dish is served in a dining area of warm wood and stucco in browns and mustard yellows, earthy wooden tables, and a staff deeply dedicated to creating the best atmosphere for eating, meeting friends, and relaxing.

Restaurant Himalaya offers an excellent selection of classical Indian cuisine for vegetarians and non-vegetarians.

Prater Gaststätte, Kastanienallee 7-9 – Berlin – Prenzlauer Berg. This is a beautiful large hall. In winter, dining takes place in the warm all-wood interior with comfortable small and large tables, bringing communal sharing and privacy to each gathering. A tiny stage with thick curtains stands in the back of the large room where diners sit, announcing that, at times, music and theatre alike unfold here. In summer, there are concerts outside with the open outdoor beer garden. The beer garden dates to 1837. The food year-round is 100% traditional German and shows off German cuisine at its best and freshest. As soon as I sat down and ordered a beer, the friendly waiter brought me a basket of fresh-baked dark-grained traditional bread and a ramekin of a lard spread with caramelized onions. I was dubious about the lard but realized my danger when I tried it. I loved this little thimble of pork fat and dark, rich onions, especially on the healthy, fibrous bread. For entrees, I recommend you try, when it is available, the wildschweinpfeffer (peppered wild boar with red currant sauce and red cabbage). Another excellent entrée is the forelle gebraten, pan-fried trout with toasted almond slices in butter and lemon sauce. Their fresh greens salad was also delightful, with red cabbage, cucumbers, and toasted sunflower seeds. Be sure to finish your meal with one of several brandies (Calvados, Osborne Veterano, Cognac…) and a serving of apfelstrudel with whipped cream and vanilla sauce.

Shayan is a great place to try Iranian cuisine if you are new to it or crave the authentic taste of Persian cooking. The prices are excellent too. I recommend anything on the menu that appeals to you. If you love kebabs, try the marinated lamb kebab with Iranian rice (kababeh kubideh ba berenj). If you are vegetarian and want to sample a rich stew that your flesh-eating friends will also find meaty, try the khoreshteh esphinaj (spinach and greens stew), which comes on a bed of fragrant Iranian rice. Pair it with a Chianti offered as a house wine, and you may not want to leave. Also, the tea here is excellent Iranian tea, brewed with patience to achieve the peak in flavor and color. Be sure to order tea to round out the end of the meal. This is a family-run restaurant, and every corner of it is run with warmth and generous hospitality.

Restaurant Potemkin is a favorite; it serves Eastern European/Russian cuisine and German fare for breakfast. I ordered a sunflower sprout salad for starters and then the handmade vegetarian dumplings, tiernan, with three dumpling fillings: mushroom, spinach, and potato. The dumpling trio was served with two winter salads on the same platter. One was a salad of beets, walnuts, and white cabbage; the other was grated carrots seasoned with white pepper. Each dumpling had its own cream and butter sauce.

For More Information on Berlin

Berlin Tourist Information

The Berliner has all kinds of information about Berlin for locals, expats, and visitors alike.

Eater has some interesting suggestions for a wide variety of restaurants in Berlin that you might wish to check out. There is no shortage of other "Best of" lists on search engines, of course, but wandering around and following your nose is still often a great way to discover your own finds based on your cravings.

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