Saturday, June 18, 2016

Berlin: We eat

When Sam has done workshops with this group before, they've pretty much just done all the work of figuring out where and when to eat, and all we've had to do is show up. Which has been great. But this time we had a little more time on our own, which was also great in its own way. Sam and I love finding good things to eat! Maybe our favorite food of the whole trip was this bread and cheese and salami from some little market, which we bought and then just sat outside and tore into with our hands. They know their bread and cheese, these Europeans!
We walked through the farmer's market and drooled over the strawberries and white asparagus. I still remember how good the white asparagus was at some function or other I attended in Frankfurt when I went with the Halvorsens after high school. It was somewhat of a regional specialty, if I remember right. Anyway, I was strongly tempted to buy some here and try to steam it in the coffee maker or something, but better judgement prevailed. Not without a pang, though.
This was a restaurant up on the roof of the Reichstag Building. We had breakfast there with our group and it was beautiful.
The cheeses and meat were made into these little flowers. So fancy! And there were tiny jars of yogurt with jam on top, and soft-boiled eggs in egg cups, and round medallions of butter, and my favorite, the wee little pots of jam and marmalade to go with the crusty rolls. Everything was so good.
One day while Sam and I were walking around, we looked up "chocolates" on Yelp (as one should always do, when one is in Germany) and found this huge chocolate emporium. It was called Fassbender and Rausch, and it had huge chocolate sculptures all around the store, like this Chocolate Brandenburg Gate:
…and this Chocolate Reichstag Building. (There was also a bear, an airplane, a volcano, and several other buildings.)
The counter, where you could order individual chocolates by flavor and filling, was ENORMOUS. It went on and on; so many different kinds!
I thought you would like to see Herr Rausch himself, as featured on one of their catalogues. Isn't he the soul of casual elegance? "That means we've become more personal." Thank you so much, Robert.
The best (? If one can make such a judgement?) part of the store was a café above it, serving chocolate everything, of course. We ate lunch there. Hot Chocolate for me (I never miss a chance for it) and Cold Chocolate for Sam, both amazing. And bread with cocoa nibs that tasted dark and sort of pumpernickelish, with a mustard spread on top. We made something similar for school during our Chocolate Unit. It's quite surprising how savory it tastes.
All the food contained chocolate in some form. Mashed potatoes with grapefruit and cocoa nibs (so strange! and good!) and some sort of dark chocolate in the mushroom and beef stew.
And the dessert! It was so hard to choose which one of the cakes or mousses to try; we wanted to try them all. They were such elegant little creations, too. Everything amazing, from start to finish. They know their chocolate, these Germans!
(We interrupt this rhapsodizing about chocolate to show you some sort of turnip swan at a Thai place we went to.)
Right down the street from Fassbender and Rausch was this Ritter Sport store, which I only later remembered reading about (and thinking, "How fun it would be to go there, but when would we ever be in Berlin?") during our Chocolate Unit! I had forgotten all about it, and it makes my blood run cold to think we might have missed this place. RitterSport has been my favorite chocolate for a long time now, so this was like a chocolate wonderland!
Biiiiig chocolate bars. Yum.
And even bigger! We had never even imagined a Ritter Sport bar so big. And there were tons of different flavors to try, too. One of my favorite things was their make-your-own chocolate bar area. You could choose what kind of chocolate and add things into it (nuts, or caramelized rice, or bits of dried lemon, or chili powder, or whatever—a few dozen options to choose from), and they would mix it into the liquid chocolate and pour it into one of their square bar molds, and you could pick it up in a half hour when it had hardened. SO fun. We did buy several bars of chocolate to take home, but I must say it was not enough. Sam was worried about fitting it in our suitcase even though I pointed out very reasonably that there were many other things that could and ought to be jettisoned before limiting the Ritter Sport. But ultimately I deferred to his wishes. He admits now that not bringing home a larger quantity of chocolate was, like Einstein's overlooking of the gravitational constant, his greatest blunder.

This was hummus from an Israeli restaurant I ate at alone while Sam was busy "meeting and greeting." It was crazily crowded and busy, and the first employee when I went in started to shake his head at me apologetically, but then another waiter took pity on me and let me sit at the bar. It was so strange, and not unpleasant, to sit there alone in that strange city, as the darkness fell outside, watching people laughing together at their tables, and listening to different languages swirl around me. It was very warm inside, and there were candles on candelabras like menorahs, and Middle Eastern music playing over the hum of voices. I seemed to be forgotten for awhile, and the bartender finally took pity on me and asked if I'd like something while I waited (yes please; hot chocolate, and it was wonderful) and gave me friendly rueful glances every now and then, as I sat and sat and sat. It was wonderfully relaxing for awhile, but after quite some time I began to wonder if there was some sort of mistake or some German etiquette that I was unaware of, and without which I was unable to be waited on, and I could feel a wave of panic rising up in me at the unfamiliarity of it all, and with the strain of trying to decide what to do. (Thank heavens everyone spoke English to me after trying German first, or I would have been even more at a loss!) It was funny that I had been alone several times on this trip, even out running by myself or walking alone at night, as I had to this restaurant (and I did keep to the busier areas, of course; I wasn't trying to be idiotic)—and I had never felt any real fear—until this moment, when I was in no danger of anything, but just sitting quiet and forgotten in a sea of people and unsure about the social niceties of how to proceed.

At last, as I sat there frantically praying and running through scenarios in my head, the first waiter, who had been rushing past in a harried sort of haze for the past hour, seemed to notice me with a shock, and he turned his head as he ran by and asked if there would be anything else, and I said apologetically there hadn't been anything at all, yet, and he waved his hands toward me and called, "Oh, how terrible, why didn't you TELL me!" feelingly over his shoulder as he ran off to another table. I felt my shoulders and back release about 400 pounds of tension as I smiled back in relief. In a minute he was back, and he sat down next to me in a companionable, now-you-have-my-full-attention sort of way and said I must be starving, and I gestured reassuringly at the hot chocolate mug, and he said I must please forgive him and order whatever I liked. What I liked was the hummus and extra bread and the Israeli salad. And when he brought it (with admirable promptness; the place had somewhat emptied out by then, anyway) it was worth the wait. I loved it. And he didn't charge me for the hot chocolate or the extra bread. So that was an adventure with a happy ending!
Lastly, the gelato. I don't know why we only got this once; I can only explain it by saying that it was quite chilly most of the days and we weren't thinking of ice cream. But that's really no excuse. I remember having gelato in Germany before and being so amazed at the flavors, like cantaloupe and sesame, that I'd never even heard of in the U.S. Now, of course, there are lots of gelato places even in Utah and you can probably get anything you like, but it still seems like there's something special about this European kind. This little shop had a cute way of flattening the scoops and putting them in the cone like petals of a flower. I think it made it taste even better! My flavors were mango and passion fruit and grapefruit and banana, and Sam's were pistachio and caramel and hazelnut. All of them amazing. Why didn't we eat here one more time before we left? Why? Why?

And that wraps up this tour of the food we ate in Berlin. I wish I could eat all of it again! Yum!

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