After a long Saturday night in New York City, when I’m inhaling a glistening slice of 4am pepperoni pizza, my thoughts waver to one delicious thing—döner. It’s the epitome of non-commercial fast food in Berlin. Created by Turkish immigrants, the döner is a magnificent piece of work: sliced bits of lamb, a scoop of salad, and either scharfe (spicy) or weisse (white) sauce inside crispy flatbread. Chomping into that sandwich of flavored grease after bottles of cheapish Berliner Pilsner will settle any agonizing stomach. Case in point, when I was waxing poetic about Berlin döner, my roommate, who grew up in a small German town, began a sentence with, "I remember my first döner…"—as if talking about her first love instead.
I used to be a fan of the döner place in the Friedrichstrasse S-Bahn station, but this time around, their version was disappointingly skimpy on the meat and those serving it were of the scowling sort. Days later I discovered my latest obsession nearing 5am, on the corner of Hackescher Market and Rosenthaler Strasse, called Shark Döner. The two guys behind the counter were eerily cheerful for that time of night. Per my usual request, I asked for both a bit of scharfe and weisse to create a spicy yet creamy topping to the mounds of lamb they piled inside. We returned the next afternoon for breakfast, or lunch actually.
A different, younger Turk asked for our order, but he had the same wide, grinning smile and bright eyes of those the night before. Acknowledging my odd German accent, he, like many others, assumed I was from England. I corrected him, and again like many others, the thought of New York City widened his eyes. As with all Berliners, the conversation turned to politics, although he was subtler than most, innocently asking how it was in America. He nodded with sympathy and shook his head at my answer, then handed over the döners and practically skipped off to serve the Asian tourists behind me. To survive in the tourist haven of Hackescher Market, I guess you have to be accepting of everyone who comes your way, even us "stupid Americans".
Döner is just one culinary effect of Turkish taking up residence in Berlin, most notably in Kreuzberg, where on Fridays, a Turkish market lines Maybachufer. You’ll find vendors hawking traditional foods and cheap clothing, along with some Turkish candy (just avoid the ginger kind). For a larger assortment of sweet nibblings and glazed pastries, head up to the store Melek Pastanesi, at Oranienstrasse 28, and for some falafel with your dessert, visit Babel in the northern district of Prenzlauer Berg, at Kastanienallee 33. Babel dishes out large platters of falafel, hummus, and salad, with a basket of soft flatbread. In warmer weather, after placing your order at the counter, opt for the benches outside to watch 20-something Berliners mosey by—all the while thinking how your feast beats German cuisine.