What does a Berliner eat? We were about to find out!
About an hour later, I bluntly interrupted the conversation to triumphantly blurt out “maple syrup!” Yep, it took me all that time to think of the most obvious answer in the world. Clearly I needed to up my local food game and it took a tour in another German speaking city – this time, Berlin – to give me a blueprint into what recipes and ingredients can mean to a region.
Food journalist Dirk Engelhardt runs a food tour unlike any other that I’ve experienced. For one thing, it’s a "full belly" tour – there’s no sharing of samples or small plates here. We’re talking full bottles of beer, massive plates direct from the menu, and mighty servings of cake. It’s more of a neighborhood supper crawl, where each stop gives you another full course. But generous portion sizes aside, the real stars of the tour are the venues.
I’m not talking just traditional German food, the culmination of centuries of tradition from all the different regions of the country. What does Berlin contribute to that mix? What does it offer to the German food legacy? What have Berliners been eating for the past one hundred years that no one else in Germany really does in quite the same way? I suspect most Berliners are as stumped by these questions as I was when it came to naming Canadian ingredients!
But this archaeological quest of food evolution is Dirk’s passion and he is the only one in Berlin offering food tours that focus on authentic, traditional Berlin cuisine. There’s no curry-wurst or sauerkraut within a mile of his plates.
Hopple Popple is hearty comfort food at its finest. It’s seasoned potatoes, fried up with eggs, onions, (and maybe cheese?) and small chunks of what Dirk described as pickled meat – kind of like a cross between the end pieces of a roasted ham and bacon. On the side, there were pickled veggies and a huge salad. I didn’t make it through even half of my plate – and that’s with Ryan looking over my shoulder, stealing generous bites.
It was delicious, filling, and nutritious and, while it was nothing like anything I had ever tried before, it reminded me so much of the various potato hashes I had growing up. I think all potato, onion, and egg dishes must have a secret kinship with one another. I can just imagine how every family has their own special variation on the tradition and it was clearly the kind of dish whose ratios could be easily adjusted to accommodate full harvests and lean times alike.
We visited a beer store specializing in locally produced brew and got a brief lesson on the Berlin beer scene. Speaking with the staff about the emergence of the craft beer industry, the changing attitudes towards beer brands, and even seemingly innocuous things such as local preferences for bottles versus cans was a fascinating discussion.
I am not much of a beer drinker, something that has always worked out well for Ryan on previous food tours as he would always inherit all my discarded samples. But this wasn’t the case in Berlin, as we found a beer that perfectly suited my taste. And again, no samples here – everyone got a full bottle to enjoy. Germany is synonymous with beer and gaining some valuable local insight into the changing beer scene was a highlight of the evening.
Dirk is a wealth of knowledge of what to see, do, and eat around the city and we were so incredibly touched that, prior to our arrival in Berlin, he sent us an email with a list of his favourite restaurants in the city. It felt like a tour that was designed for one evening really guided us throughout our entire time in Berlin and, in our adventures in the following days, we kept seeing things that he had mentioned to us and we suddenly had a real sense of the city.
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For more information on Dirk's tours, visit his website. Tours start from just 45 Euros - a fantastic value.
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Our participation in the tour was complimentary and our visit to Berlin was supported in part by the local tourism board. All research, writing, and opinions are our own.