Friday, June 29, 2012

Vöner der Vegetarische Doner

June 17, 2012
After our wonderful morning burgers at the flea market, Cindy and I hopped on our hired bikes and headed across town. The main target was Berlin Tempelhof, the airport made famous during the Berlin Airlift, which was decommissioned in 2008. Since then some of the buildings have become occasional venues for festivals, concerts and other events, while the runways and airfield have become Berlin's largest public park. It's really a pretty bizarre place to explore, and on Sundays is filled with people flying kites, riding bikes, having barbecues and generally making good use of it - check out the photos at the end of this post if you're interested.

Our post-Tempelhof plan was to bike home via Friedrichshain, with a stop at one of Berlin's most famous vegetarian joints: Vöner. Vöner is mostly famous because of this:

That's right, that's a rotating spit of vegan kebab meat made out of seitan. Thanks to a substantial Turkish community, doner is everywhere in Germany - indeed Berlin claims to have to be the home of doner and after wandering around the city I could well believe it. So some enterprising Berliners decided that they'd give vegans and vegetarians a chance to join the party. Bonkers. Of course we had to order it. For a piddling 3.50€ (~AU$4.30) you get this ridiculous plate:

I'm not sure how you're supposed to eat it - Cindy started out trying to use cutlery, while I tried to fold the bread around all the filling and just dive in. Neither of us was that successful. The seitan 'meat' was excellent - far better than the version at YoYo - it was tender and a little moist, had a great spicy flavour to it and was complemented by the tahini and herbed yoghurt sauces (vegans note: you'll need to make sure they exclude the yoghurt sauce). The amount of salad on top of it was a bit crazy, but at least it helps you pretend you're eating something vaguely healthy while scarfing down a ridiculous over-sized kebab. This is a must-do vegetarian Berlin experience.

We decided to continue with the Berlin food theme by ordering a vegan currywurst and chips (4.5€ ~ AU$5.60) as our second dish. Currywurst is another takeaway delight that's particular to Berlin - according to the ever-reliable Wikipedia, 800 million currywursts are eaten in Germany each year and Berlin has its own currywurst museum! A few places provide veggie versions of this German classic (try YoYo, Yellow Sunshine and Vego for starters), but Vöner seemed like a good place to give it a shot.


To be honest, it's not that exciting - it's basically a veggie sausage slathered in a sweet and mildly spiced sauce that seems to be a pretty simple combo of tomato sauce and curry powder. Still, I'm glad I got to try it. Vöner does a good job of the chips too - they work nicely dunked in the leftover curry sauce.

The menu includes a few other goodies that I'd love to try - four kinds of  burgers, seitan nuggets and a range of cakes and other sweets - everything is incredibly cheap. Beers are a typically ludicrous 2€ (~AU$2.50) and they sell a range of organic soft drinks. The staff were super friendly and spoke great English and the menu helpfully included English translations too.
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Vöner seems to be a must-visit place for vegetarians and vegans in Berlin - we're the third Melbourne blog to review it (after In the Mood for Noodles and easy as (vegan) pie)! Loads of others have also given it the thumbs up, check out: vegan 'miam' (French), Kikertterroristen (Norwegian), Muffin Topped, seitan is my motor, The Vegetarian Diaries (German), Vegan Backpacker, Trying Veganism, No More Sad Geraniums, Food 'n' Fotos, A Daring Adventure for Two, bit(t)e, Berlin Is(s)t Organic, Artichoke Zine, Catch Us If You Can, The Urban Housewife, vegan.in.brighton, All about... (vegan) food, Berlin, Totally Veg (German), Vegan Mage (Swedish), Erika and Erika's Excellent Adventure, Trauerklosschen (German), A Finn in Berlin, Veltenbummler (German), berlijn blog (Dutch), veganblog.it (Italian), Lubeck Vegan (German), Home of the Carrot Hunter, Absolutely Veg (German) and Deutschland is(s)t Vegan (German). Only Taxi Gourmet was a bit disappointed in the Vöner experience.
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Vöner der Vegetarische Doner
Boxhagener Strasse 56, Friedrichshain, Berlin
030 99265423
3.5€ to 5.3€ ($4.30 - $6.60)
https://www.facebook.com/Voener

Accessibility: There are a couple of tables on the street and then a small step into a relatively well spaced indoor area. There are some low tables and a few higher benches. Ordering and payment is at a waist-high counter.
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Some photos from our ride around Berlin Tempelhof Airport









Thursday, June 28, 2012

Sun Day Burgers

June 17, 2012
The Mauerpark Flohmarkt (fleamarket) is widely recommended to visitors of Berlin so we blocked out some time to see it on Sunday. There's food, hand-crafted items, imported trinkets and touristy souvenirs but the market is actually dominated by folks selling second-hand goods. We didn't find much to excite us besides the Sun Day Burger stand, which opens at 11am.

The name's a good fit, seeing as they serve almost exclusively tofu burgers (~3.5€ ~ AU$4.30 each), and here only on Sundays. The tofu is sliced thinly, marinated in soy sauce and ginger, barbecued and stuffed into a wholemeal bun with lettuce tomato, beetroot (!), cucumber, fried onions, fresh coriander, sprouts and your choice of chipotle chili marmalade, Thai peanut sauce or mango chutney. I love the nutty not-too-chewy bun and the freshness bursting from this burger; you won't go wrong with any of the condiments.

On this day they were also offering fruit punch with the burgers for a little extra - definitely worth the punt. And I noticed that in addition to being totally vegan, Sun Day Burgers offer a gluten-free option, something we rarely observed in Berlin!

If you have the time to stick around 'til mid-afternoon, we hear the Mauerpark Sunday afternoon karaoke is worth a look. We had to get on our bikes and cross town, and missed it.
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Mauerpark's Flohrmarkt and Sun Day Burgers are also recommended on after hours, Vegan Miam and Lense Fare.
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Sun Day Burgers
Mauerpark Flohmarkt on Sundays
Bernauer Straße 13355 Berlin
burgers ~3.5€ ~ AU$4.30
http://sundayburgers.com/

Accessibility: The stand is set within the Mauerpark Flohmarkt, which is crowded and has uneven ground. Ordering, payment and pick-up all happen at a high counter (see photo).
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 Market entry from Mauerpark

Fresh produce for some...

 ... second-hand stuff for all!

 Vegan cake, purchased from a bakery near the Bernauer Strasse entrance

 Stickers near our hired bikes: 'vegan' vs 'FUCK YOGA'

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Kopps II

June 14 & 16, 2012
The Kopps dinner menu is excellent but short so we resolved to return for breakfast. On weekdays they have a page-long menu, starting with muesli and rolls with jam,  working up to baked beans, scrambled tofu, potatoes and pancakes then cheekily finishing with the amazing chocolate mousse.

Michael tried their biggest plate, the English breakfast (6.5€ ~AU$8.10). It still didn't seem a blow-out in portioning or price - a small scoop of scrambled tofu, two slices of smoky tofu 'bacon', a single sausage and sample of baked beans.

Though I hardly had a hard day's labour ahead of me, I ordered the farmer's breakfast (4.8€ ~AU$6), a skillet's-worth of potatoes, scrambled tofu, onions and shredded tofu 'bacon'.

While both breakfasts tasted great we wondered at the lack of toast, so ubiquitous at Aussie cafes. It turns out our waiter had just forgotten the bread basket, which she brought out with a laugh and an apology just as we were finishing. She kindly offered a compensatory bowl of mock egg salad for spreading and lots of invaluable advice on vegan eating around Berlin (especially urging us to visit Yoyo Foodworld).

We returned a couple of days later for Kopps' weekend brunch buffet (10.9€ ~AU$13.60 per person), where you can pile your plate high. The bain maries to the left house the same style of scrambled tofu and fried potatoes that we'd already enjoyed. But there were so many more new things to try!

I started with bread, herbed butter and mock-egg salad, 'meat' slices and salads. There were far more salads and fresh vegetables than I sampled - we were both particularly struck but the one pictured on the left, featuring peas, mock meat strips and the richest, tastiest vegan mayonnaise I've ever eaten.

There were multiple varieties of cereal, yoghurt and fruit, as well as rice pudding! The dairy replacements really were outstanding.

I saved room for waffles and mystery sweet blobs. Though it has roughly the dimensions of a scone, I believe the mystery sweet blob is a buttery yeasted pancake. Sitting on display for some time, the waffles and scones weren't at optimum texture but still quite delightful slathered with peanut butter and jam.

Melbourne turns out some damn fine breakfasts but I think that Kopps is putting it to shame, especially on the vegan front. I have never encountered better quality and variety, the mock dairy was superb and they charged us less than $14 for the all-you-can-eat privelege. It's a must-visit for veg*ns in Berlin and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to omnivores either.
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You can read about our dinner at Kopps here. The breakfast and brunch options are loved by all who blogged them; they turn up in German on A Cherry On Top, fryda's blog, Selphies Corner and Berlin Blog.
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Kopps
Linienstraße 94, Berlin
030 432 097 75
weekday breakfasts 2.5-6.5€ (~AU$3.10-8.10),
weekend buffet brunch 10.9€ ~AU$13.60
http://www.kopps-berlin.de/

Accessibility: Street tables are relatively accessible, but to get inside you have to make your way up a small flight of steps. Once you're in, it's spacious around the bar and a little more crowded at the tables. There's full table service, except for the self-serve weekend brunch buffet - this holds most food at a low-medium height with a few items at bar height.
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On the streets of Prenzlauer Berg...





An afternoon gig at Schokoladen

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Viasko

June 15 & 18, 2012

One of the key (non-food) recommendations that the Moody Noodles had given us before we hit Berlin was that we should do a tour with Alternative Berlin Tours. So on Friday we spent a good chunk of the day wandering around Turkish markets, old ballrooms, neighbourhoods jammed with street art and generally getting a good sense of some of the (slightly) less travelled parts of the city. It was pretty great, and if you want to see some of our photos scroll to the end of this post. The other great thing about the tour was that it left us within walking distance of Viasko, a place that was high on my Berlin priority list. And it turned out so well that we visited it twice! Our combined experiences are below.`

Viasko is an all vegan restaurant in an old Irish pub, which is tucked away in a leafy part of Kreuzberg. There's a lovely front courtyard (where we sat on the first night) and a roomy interior that feels very much like the inside of a pub (where we sat the second night). On both occasions we had very friendly staff who were happy to speak English with hopeless tourists, and on the first occasion we also got to hang out with their very friendly dog (not pictured, sadly the camera battery was dead and I lacked the dexterity with my phone to get a decent shot).

The menu is a fair bit smaller than the place we'd had our previous dinner - there are 9 mains, 6 starters and 4 desserts, all vegan and supposedly rotated fairly regularly (we only have them 3 days between visits, and nothing had changed over that period!) We skipped the appetisers across both visits but sampled four of the mains and one of the desserts.

First up: the soy schnitzel 'cordon bleu', filled with rocket salad and tomatoes and served with green beans and potatoes (14.5€ ~ AU$18).


This had a much crunchier crumby coating than the version at Kopps, and was probably a tiny bit on the dry side. Although that problem was easily solved by smothering it using the massive chunk of herbed 'butter' that came with it. It was nice to taste a different version of the cordon bleu - this had more texture and maybe a bit more flavour in the filling but didn't have the wonderful Kopps sauce to mush into it. It's hard to pick a winner.

Our other main on our first visit was the homemade potato gnocchi with herb and lemon butter, served with king oyster mushrooms, spinach and marinated tofu (10.5€ ~ AUD$13).


The standout feature of this was its vegan-ness - they really know how to come up with an imitation buttery taste at Viasko. This was rich and wonderful - slightly creamy little gnocchis, a generous sprinkling of mushrooms, a mini tower of spinach and a smattering of delicious marinated tofu. All drenched in something wonderfully approximate to butter.

Viasko's mock dairy skill was a repeated theme on our second visit, starting with the risotto with smoked tofu and roasted onions, breaded mushrooms and garlic cream (11€ ~ AU$13.70)


The risotto was impossibly creamy, with a lovely subtle garlic flavour infusing it all and the treat of crispy onions and mushrooms to stir through. It feels weird to be so enthusiastic about gnocchi and risotto, which are typically the vegetarian's curse at Italian restaurants but these were both excellent meals, with the added bonus of being completely dairy free. Amazing.

Our final savoury course at Viasko was the lemon pasta with fresh artichokes, spinach and avocado in sesame (11.5€ ~ AU$14.30).


This was going for the same creamy non-dairyness as the risotto and it did an okay job of it, but the whole package fell a bit short of our other dishes from Viasko. There was something a bit limited about the flavours - the sauce was a bit creamy and a lot lemony and needed something else to add a bit of depth to it. Maybe just more garlic? It wasn't a complete loss though  - the artichokes and avocado were great, and we happily polished it off between us.

For some reason we only mustered up enough enthusiasm for one dessert at Viasko, the almond creme-brulee with sour cherries (4.5€ ~ AU$5.60). This is gluten free, along with a couple of Viasko's other desserts and one salad. (None of the mains on offer during our visits were gf - still, it was rare for restaurants in Berlin to even note gluten as an issue.)


I really liked this, although it bore only a passing resemblance to creme brulee. The top had a satisfyingly crackly layer, which couldn't contain the massive mound of sour cherries bursting out of it. The almond brulee had a slightly mealy texture and really wasn't creamy at all but I thought it worked nicely anyway. Definitely worth trying.

Our enthusiasm for Viasko is probably best summarised by the fact that we went back there twice when there were so many other places in Berlin to try out (although this was also partly due to the unfortunate number of places choosing to close on Monday evenings). The food is just a touch on the fancy side of basic Italian and was generally excellent, while the laid back atmosphere, friendly staff and massive beers (not pictured!) made for an all 'round great experience. Word is they do a wonderful weekend brunch as well, but that will have to wait for our next visit to this wonderful city.
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There are plenty of positive reviews of Viasko out there, and for once these aren't only by visiting veg*n bloggers. Check out: vegan antispe (German), Hipster Food (German), All about... (vegan) food, vegan.in.brighton, TheKua Does Food, Vegetarian Runner in Berlin, Vegan Mage (Swedish), Wie ein frischer Veganer die Welt erlebt (German), berlinho (Portugese), Vegetarian Diaries (German), Veganfix (Danish), Deutschland is(s)t Vegan (German), Green Laces (Swedish), Vegan Nom Noms, Vegetalian a Paris (French) and Lubeck Vegan (German).
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Viasko
Erkelenzdamm 49, Kreuzberg, Berlin
030 88499785
Starters 3.5-7.9€ ~ AU$4.40-9.80, mains 8.9-14.5€ ~AU$11-18, desserts 2.3-4.5€ ~AU$3-4.40
www.viasko.de

Accessibility: There's no way to get into Viasko except down a half dozen stairs or so. Once you're on the lowest level of the courtyard everything is pretty flat and reasonably well spaced. There's table service for everything.
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Okay, if you've stuck it out this far, here are some snaps from our alternative walking tour of Berlin, starting with a load of street art:











But also including a picture of a 25 year old tree house

A Chinese art exhibition in an old church
 

And a couple more photos of the wonderful 1920s ballroom at Clärchen's Ballhaus