Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Nur ein Hop, ein Hopserlauf und ein Sprung nach Nepal

For a while every cuisine I sampled featured cevapcici. The kebabs resurfaced recently in Macedonia, but now we are on a different theme - in Mongolia they are buuz and in Nepal, momos (expect them to resurface also as momos in Tibet). According to Wikipedia, momos (or whatever you prefer to call your steamed dumplings) were introduced from Han China (although I'm always skeptical about claims of "inventing" something as basic as a flour and water dough wrapped around ground/minced meat and steamed) and you can also find them in Bhutan, as well as, the Himalayan bits of India. Momos can be fried or steamed and the filling varies a bit - mildly spiced ground lamb or beef is common, but there are also vegetable, potato, and cheese fillings depending on where you are. It's hard to say whether Cafe Tsetseg or Nepal Haus has better buuz/momos. Both restaurants are making them from scratch, so it's hard to go to wrong. Cafe Tsetseg's beef buuz are bigger and juicer (and cheaper), but Nepal Haus offers three different fillings - lamb, spinach, or vegetable (mostly potato) and the lamb, while also quite plain, was a seasoned a bit more precisely. Nepal Haus' momos come with a peanuts sauce (which I didn't care for, but my friend found to be a good compliment to the spinach momos) and a delicious tomato chutney that beat Tsetseg's bottle of sriracha hands down. Of course, if you love starch, Tsetseg serves potato salad with their buuz. In a perfect world, we would have Cafe Tsetseg's big doughy buuz with Nepal Haus' lamb filling and tomato chutney, but either place can easily handle your dumpling craving. Nepal is a more diverse country than Mongolia, in terms of ethnic groups represented, as well as, climate and terrain and this is reflected in the cuisine and on the menu at Nepal Haus (although some of the dishes go too far - I don't think there is a lot of shrimp curry to be found in Nepal). In addition to an order of momos, we also sampled a bean soup with Nepalese herbs and an okra curry. The soup wasn't great - the broth tasted like canned fried onions and there weren't many herbs - mostly green onions and maybe cilantro ... the beans were straight out of a can. I'm not sure what about it was Nepalese at all. The daal, was much better - not life-changing, but a good homemade bowl of soup. The okra curry, while not quite remarkable, was enjoyable, especially in a city where okra is hard to find. All-in-all, Nepal Haus is a decent, but not an earth-shatteringly special restaurant. I can't recommend you trek across town for dinner there, but if you're in the area or have a hankering for dumplings, the lamb momos are worth an order (the spinach are pretty tasty too). Nepal Haus Gneisenaustra├če 4

Friday, March 8, 2013

Marokko: Mitte ist beschissen

I know there are a few exceptions to this statement, but dinner at Kasbah last night was yet another reminder that Mitte is full of trendy looking restaurants with terrible (blah at best) food. Mitte is home to lots of expats and yuppie Germans - for the most part, educated people who are well-traveled. Why aren't these people shunning places like Hashi and Kasbah for their dumbed down flavors and demanding food that tastes like it did when they were backpacking through Asia or wherever. The Germans I met on the Camino de Santiago who were carrying crackers and other supplies purchased at home and the people (as in more than one couple) I know in Berlin who stock up at Lidl/Aldi before driving to a rented summer cottage provide the answer, but somehow I can never quite accept this. Anyway, as you can tell by now, Kasbah was no good at all. The place is nicely decorated without being over the top, most of the music they played (from classic Moroccan to French-language rap) was fitting, and the service was friendly if not five-star...but it comes down to the food and that is seriously lacking. In taste. In quantity. In (as much as I hate this word) authenticity. We shared a kefta (think meatball) tagine in spiced tomato sauce with green olives and vegetable couscous. The tagine was very mildly spiced and over-salted, the olives were of very poor quality and few in number, and the portion size (eight small meatballs in just a little bit of sauce) was really not acceptable considering the price (12.50 Euros). If it had been delicious or enough to feed an average adult, the price might have been justified, but in this case, neither was true. Any restaurant is going to have a dud, but the vegetable couscous was even worse. The menu describes the vegetables as "marinated," which they were absolutely not. This was a smallish serving of couscous with 8 or 10 pieces of cooked vegetables for 11 Euros. The sauce on the side was an insipid broth that tasted mostly of bouillon cube and the harissa was just ok (good harissa is more than spicy, it's fruity and adds real character to food). I will say that the flatbread served at Kasbah is pretty good and although I didn't sample it, they do offer Moroccan wine. Good bread and regional wine do not make up for flavorless food served in tiny portions for too much money. Kasbah Gipsstrasse 2

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Von Mauritius (Es lebt!) bis die Mongolei (ohne Pferdefleische (so weit ich weiss))

Mauritian cuisine reflects its colonial and immigration history, offering an interesting mix of native African, French, Chinese, and Indian cuisines. It would have been really exciting to discover an actual Mauritian restaurant in Berlin. Alas, I was forced to make do with ice cream. Sadly, I didn't manage to find out why the Eiscafe-Mauritius is so named. Actually, a visit to its website and an unanswered phone call led me to conclude that it was no longer in existence (turns out it was, in fact, closed for a spell). It was pure coincidence that we stumbled upon it heading to our Mongolian dinner. Normally, I wouldn't eat ice cream as an appetizer, but seeing as Theodor-Heuss-Platz is not on my regular circuit, it was now or never. We decided to share one scoop of the most Mauritius-esque flavor on offer (at the end of a sunny, but chilly March day, they only had a handful of flavors): mango. All the ice cream at Mauritius is homemade and according to internet sources, they offer some interesting flavors, such as rosewater and white coffee. Based on the half scoop I sampled, I deem the ice cream pretty good. I wouldn't go across town for it, but if I lived nearby or happened to be at Theodor-Heuss-Platz on a warm day, I would be more than willing to try more flavors. On this day, however, it was on to Cafe Tsetseg for a Mongolian dinner. Cafe Tsetseg seems to be the only Mongolian restaurant in Berlin, though there are several spots offering Mongolian barbecue (a meat and vegetable stir-fry cooked on a large griddle. Don't be fooled -- there aren't all that many actual facts behind the myth that the dish was the traditional fare of Mongol warriors who sliced meat with their swords and used their helmets as a griddle. It's unclear just why this dish was ever linked to Mongolia, but it was invented (if stir-frying meat and vegetables can be considered an invention) in Taiwan in the 1970s. Ironically, the first American restaurant to open in Mongolia was BD's Mongolian Grill. You won't find any Mongolian barbecue at Cafe Tsetseg. When we arrived, they quickly switched the television from a German spaghetti Western to a dvd of Mongolian wildlife and brought us mugs of salted milk tea (a beverage which tastes first salty, then of milk, and faintly of tea). While I haven't taken to making my own salty milk tea at home, it was a very good sign that they aren't dumbing down the cuisine for the locals, and for a brief period it actually hit the spot. The small menu offers a couple types of dumplings, noodles, and soups, as well as, potato salad. This is not the place to go when you are looking to load up on vegetables. We ended up with a plate of buuz, which was served with potato salad and a beef dumpling soup. Buuz are steamed dumplings with a meat filling - to me they were indistinguishable from Tibetan and Nepalese momo. The potato salad (mayonnaise-based with bits of carrots, ham, and peas) was very Russian - in fact, I've eaten the same thing in Spain as ensalada rusa and in the US at Russian establishments in Coney Island. The soup had a nice broth and the dumplings (essentially mini buuz) were accompanied by a good amount of carrot and onion, as well as, slices of briskety meat. This isn't food that will wow you with its depth of flavor and it isn't likely to introduce you to any new tastes, but everything was clearly homemade and everything was good (not to mention cheap - we spent 12 Euros on dinner for two, 13 if you count our ice cream prelude). Eiscafe-Mauritius Theodor-Heuss-Platz 2 Cafe Tsetseg Behaimstra├če 12 bus 15:15