Monday, July 9, 2012

Ungarn: kein Hunger dafür

There aren't as many Hungarian joints in Berlin as I would have thought. The cuisines seem similar enough and Hungary doesn't really feel all that far away.....I probably should have dragged myself out to the Gasthaus Gémeskút Csárda in Mahlsdorf, but it was hard to get excited about a place with creamy catfish goulash and fried Camembert, though of course they also have pork goulash and a handful of other things cooked "Hungarian-style." In the end, I picked Cafe Szimpla in Friedrichshain for its proximity and because it is the the Berlin branch of the Budapest Szimpla. It's fairly obvious that Szimpla's website hasn't been updated since some time before November 6, 2010 ... but I had high hopes that they would still be serving Flódni or Mákosguba (I'm fairly certain I wouldn't list eastern European as one of my favorite cuisines, but I so love poppy seed desserts), which are listed on their menu online. Alas, off the website and in real life, the surly waitress listed some very average sounding cakes (chocolate and "something with cherries, I'm not sure"). I love chocolate cake at least as much as poppy seed, but I learned long ago that the Germans are not to be trusted when it comes to chocolate desserts (most desserts, really). And I just wasn't sold on "something with cherry." Dejected, we opted for Hungarian beer and an order of Hungarian sausages. Hungarian beverages are pretty well represented at Szimpla - in addition to the beer, which was perfectly fine, they also have a few Hungarian wines and several palinkas, or Hungarian fruit brandies. The sausage wasn't bad...sort of a cross between Spanish chorizo and a German Landjäger, served with bread, mustard, and a bit of salad. Szimpla is really just an average Friedrichshain bar that happens to have more Hungarian beverages than your average joint ... but it's not particularly special or interesting and definitely not worth going out of your way for. Not to mention the false advertisement of multiple poppy seed desserts...... Cafe Szimpla Gärtnerstraße 15

Friday, July 6, 2012

Hong Kong: kein Land mit leckeren Essen

Technically speaking, Hong Kong isn't a country, but rather a Special Administrative Region belonging to China, but it is on and it is famous for dim sum, which is most always a delicious good time ... and therefore, country or not, not to be skipped. Once you start to poke around, you'll realize there is more regional Chinese food in Berlin than you might think (especially if you never venture west of Mitte). Aroma specializes in Cantonese food and according to my Hong Kong sources, it's the only place in Berlin with a Hong Kong-trained dim sum chef. Apparently the other restaurants offering dim sum are reheating frozen dumplings and the like. Unfortunately, even when the food at Aroma is good, some of the dim sum experience is still missing for me. Instead wheeling the food around on carts and marking off your order on a slip of paper, as per dim sum tradition, Aroma has a regular old menu. It doesn't change the quality of the food, but somehow it's a bit less of an experience for me. Like tapas bars outside of Spain. Where are the toothpicks?! Still, food is most important and the food at Aroma can be really good. But, according to my Hong Kong sources, the chef sometimes goes on vacation and when he's not there the restaurant uses the same frozen dumplings, etc. that all the other places use. I am certainly in favor of chefs being allowed to take a vacation and I'm sure the number of chefs in Berlin trained in the art of dim sum is rather small, but ... there's got to be a better solution than this - especially when there's no way to tell when he's there and when he's not until the food shows up at your table. Aroma has a fairly small dim sum selection (as well as many non-dim sun options that I've heard are sub par), but it does feature all the classics. There are several types of dumplings, sticky rice, char siu bao (steamed buns filled with Chinese barbecued pork), chicken feet, and a few other items. It's certainly a wide enough selection to keep a big group happy, but maybe not quite enough variety to entice me to go really often. Most of what we ordered was very good. The only real dark spot was the pork dumplings - the meat had the texture of a hotdog and no real flavor to speak of. If they were handmade, they were nothing to be proud of. On the other hand, our bao were revolutionary. Possibly the best I've ever had. Chinese broccoli is an essential part of dim sum for me because it cuts the sweet starchiness of the other dishes. The chinese broccoli at Aroma, while very, very simple was perfection. Steamed and dressed with just a hint of oyster sauce, I could have had an order of that and called it a day. Well, I probably would have needed a pork bun, too. Aroma (not to be confused with the very good Italian Aroma on Hochkirchstrasse) Kantstrasse 35