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On finding foods from home

Making-chocolate-cake

We were huddled under the awning on a rainy summer’s evening at Shaniu's House of Noodles (which, in my mind, is the glorious House of Dumplings). Ash was writing down the Cantonese name for the off-menu beef and Szechuan pepper dish she had ordered for us (and which we had devoured in a thrice); Giulia was telling me about the readable, well-researched book she had just published on moving to Berlin. One regret, she mentioned, was not having enough space to write about finding American ingredients in Berlin. “You should write a guest post!” I said, and lovely Giulia, she did.

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    Demerera sugar. Cane sugar. Sugar in the Raw. It’s the bane of my existence as an American! What the Germans call brauner Zucker is nothing like the sweet, wet, clumpy masses I grew up with. No, my brown sugar had to be carved out of a block with a large spoon (or a chisel if you didn’t have a microwave and piece of apple handy to soften it up). It had to be pushed down into a measuring cup with the spoon, a sandy-sweet lick its own reward....

    Naturally, when I first moved to Germany in 2008 and started missing home, my instinct, like many Americans, was to make chocolate chip cookies. But where was the brown sugar I knew and loved? For that matter, where were the chocolate chips? The tiny cardboard packages I’d seen at normal supermarkets labeled Schokotropfen looked more greyish than chocolate brown. When I went to bake gingerbread around Christmas time, molasses, it seemed was out of the question.
    Over the years I’ve come to realize that American or English ingredients, like any specialty item in Germany, are not to be picked up at the corner grocer, but rather must be sought out like buried treasure, rooted out like truffles and then hoarded as though life depended on it. Some things will always have to wait until the next trip home—or at least until a friend who owes you a favor takes that trip. For others, there are Asian-run grocers, a few food boutiques, and, in desperation (or depth of pocket), the almighty KaDeWe.

Baking          
Brown sugar: The first and most important ingredient, since a number of classic American baking recipes depend on your having oodles of this stuff on hand. The easiest place to find this is at every single Asian grocer (Asia Markt in German) in the city. Look for the baking aisle (which often includes things like cake flour, corn flour, corn starch, baking soda, and cream of tartar as well).
    These shops are some of the best resources in the city for just about everything. They stock all manner of hard-to-find vegetables, Asian leafy greens (kai lan, bok choy), and fresh herbs (coriander with roots still attached, Thai basil).  The most central are the Asia-Mekong Supermarket at Hackescher Markt and now also at Alexanderplatz, Go Asia (formerly known as Amazing Oriental) on Kanstrasse in Charlottenburg and Turmstrasse in Moabit, and the Vinh Loi chain, which has locations as far apart as Wedding and Steglitz as well as one just north of KaDeWe.


Vanilla extract: Some of these places will even have vanilla extract, although don’t count on it. If you’re all right with tiny amounts of the heavenly stuff for high prices (in other words, if you need it for a one-time-only baking venture, and don’t use it regularly), head to the baking or spice sections of either Karstadt or Galeria Kaufhof. Be careful what you end up buying, though: you may find tiny bottles of vile stuff labeled “vanilla aroma.” This is not vanilla extract, but rather an artificial flavoring similar to vanillin. (Most Germans in need of vanilla flavoring use vanilla sugar—also an option, although the taste won’t be as intense.)
   
    The best place to get vanilla extract is, unfortunately a bit exclusive: The membership-only bulk supermarket known as Metro.  Fortunately, gaining membership is as simple as being a freelancer or business owner. The point of this place is to fulfill bulk orders for restaurants and other businesses, but it’s also full of foodies flying under the radar, picking up goodies from the excellent fishmonger, butcher and the extensive wine and cheese selections. There you’ll find vanilla extract, real and true, in 100ml bottles labeled Vanillaschoten Extrakt.

Meat and butchers
    First-time visitors to Berlin can be surprised by the general dearth of good butchers in this town. Those who may have wished for a good-humored neighborhood butcher with a sinister, blood-spattered apron should have perhaps headed to the small-town cobblestone streets and half-timbered houses of southern Germany. The rest of us head to the backs of Turkish markets, where halal butchers carve up beef and lamb. In fact, Turkish markets are the only places in town to get good cuts of lamb at non-outrageous prices: your only other option is a department store like Karstadt, which will inevitably charge you much more, and won’t carve the cuts to order.
    There are still a few local meat purveyors that have not yet succumbed to the almighty supermarket display case: look for Neuland Fleischereien, which many Germans and an increasing number of non-Germans swear by: they sell humanely raised, free-range meat, with no antibiotics. If you’re going for that old-world charm in addition to good quality, however, Fleischerei Naesert in Friedrichshain and the Blutwurstmanufaktur in Neukölln are both worth a visit.
    
    If you’re looking for a whole chicken (especially an organic one), the best selections will be at Ullrich, the supermarket in Bahnhof Zoo (inexpensive) or the poultry counter at Galeries Lafayette (expensive).  From time to time, Ullrich has also been known to carry ground turkey meat, but if you’re looking to get something as “exotic” as that on a regular basis, you may be out of luck.

Americana

There were rumors several years back about an American food shop somewhere on the outskirts of the city. Happily, the place still exists, even though there aren’t too many American servicemen left to frequent it. Head down to American Lifestyle in Tempelhof for an astonishing array of baking products, dry goods, preserves and sauces, peanut butter, and of course the crucial breakfast cereals. They even carry vegan versions of a lot of popular products, and it’s probably one of the only places in the Germany capital where you can stock up on childhood candy delights like Nerds, Twizzlers, Lemonheads, and Red Hots. Oh, and the real Hershey’s semi-sweet morsels you need to bake classic American chocolate chip cookies? They’re here.

Have you been on the hunt for a product not mentioned here? Know another great store for brown sugar or carved-to-order rib eye steaks? Leave a comment – this post will be updated to incorporate reader tips.

Giulia’s book Finding Your Feet in Berlin: A Guide to Making a Home in the Hauptstadt is available here, here and in select Berlin bookshops.

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Shaniu House of Noodles, Pariser Str. 58, Berlin-Wilmersdorf (map)

Asia-Mekong Supermarket, Henriette-Herz-Platz 1, Berlin-Mitte (map)

Go Asia, Turmstr. 29, Berlin-Tiergarten (map) and Kantstr. 101, Berlin-Charlottenburg (map)

Vinh Loi, Müllerstr. 40, Berlin-Wedding (map), Ansbacher Str. 16, Berlin-Schöneberg (map) and Gutsmuthsstr. 23-24, Berlin-Steglitz (map)

Karstadt, Hermannplatz, Berlin-Neukölln (map), Kurfürstendamm 231, Berlin-Charlottenburg (map) and Müllerstr. 25, Berlin-Wedding (map)

Galeria Kaufhof, Alexanderplatz 9, Berlin-Mitte (map)

Metro, An der Ostbahn 5, Berlin-Friedrichshain (map)

Neuland Fleischerei, many shops in Berlin carry the label, but a few are Frank Bauermeister, Danckelmannstr. 11, Berlin-Charlottenburg (map) and Neuland Fleischerei Kluge, Fuldastr. 56, Berlin-Neukölln (map) and Rüdesheimer Str. 3, Berlin-Wilmersdorf (map)

Fleischerei Naesert, Koppenstr. 31-32, Berlin-Friedrichshain (map)

Blutwurstmanufaktur, Karl-Marx-Platz 9-11, Berlin-Neukölln (map)

Ullrich, Hardenbergstr. 25, Berlin-Charlottenburg (map)

Galeries Lafayette, Friedrichstr. 76-78, Berlin-Mitte (map)

American Lifestyle, Attilastr. 177, Berlin-Tempelhof (

Comments

thanks for the tips! my search for brown sugar last week brought me to the local bio supermarket/denn's, where a kilo of fair trade muscovado cost 6.99.

Robert, this is the first I've heard of a German supermarket selling real brown sugar. I must investigate! Thanks for the tip.

For English and Australian cooks missing proper sticky brown cane sugar (which sounds very similar to American Brown Sugar?)Tate & Lyall brand, British Brown Sugar, is available at the British shops in Kreuzberg/Südstern and Zehlendorf/Dahlem.

Rogacki in Wilmersdorf has the best fresh turkey ever...you need preorder via phone and for Christmas you have to walk in and drop some money....also crabs,lobster and all kind of fresh fish...and ready made fried fish...excellent quality

There is an Indian/African shop on Sonnenallee in Neukölln that sells light and dark brown sugar, I also get my vanilla extract from Galeria Kaufhof, and I've found the butcher at the Karstadt in Neukölln to be very helpful, especially when you're ordering in advance.

The two things that I have been unable to find here are molasses and anything similar to apple cider - I have my suspicions that "süssmost" is similar, but I haven't found any farmers markets carrying it ... I have been meaning to see if I can find it at the Markthalle IX, but so far no luck.

If you're feeling really DIY, you can actually make brown sugar yourself by mixing molasses and normal white sugar together - just google around for the correct ratios. Molasses (Melasse), of course, isn't sold in every supermarket. I got a can of it at Reformhaus inside the Alexa center. Also, vanilla extract (bourbon vanilla, Dr. Oetker brand) IS actually available in supermarkets like Rewe, though it comes in tiny squeezable foil pouches and at a mark up from what you'd pay for a bottle of the stuff in the US (natürlich.) Actually much nicer than the Shoprite brand imitation vanilla extract I grew up with ;)

I've lived here for 10 years and I STILL got a few great tips out of this! Thanks!

sweet! I always have to bring brown sugar back when i'm visiting family, and then ration out my baking until my next trip to the states. I will check out the asian markets, thanks!

Ann, I could do a whole separate post about Rogacki, which I call my "Jewish grandma market" and Leanna, I am so happy to hear I could be of service to a long-time (even longer than me!) Berlinerin...

Andy, I have heard of the DIY brown sugar trick before, but seeing as Melasse can be even harder to get than brown sugar and, well, I am simply lazy, I have decided to leave that to the truly intrepid among us.

And by the way, what is up with those foil or paper pouches for everything? I usually got a bunch of them for baking soda (natron) or yeast (hefe) altogether and then just snip open the whole bunch and empty them into labeled jars. So much more convenient, and the labels are a balm to my slightly OCD soul...

I order American baking products online at The English Shop in Koeln - http://www.english-shop.com/. From brown sugar to Arm & Hammer baking soda to American cake mixes and frosting (now available at Kaiser's), they're reliable and the prices are, if not inexpensive, competitive with other imported items.

Molasses = Melasse. You can find it at the Bio Company or other organic grocery stores. I keep a jar on hand, and use it to make my own brown sugar. (Looks like this: http://www.amazon.de/gp/product/B0080VEOQC/ref=pd_lpo_sbs_dp_ss_2?pf_rd_p=479289147&pf_rd_s=lpo-top-stripe&pf_rd_t=201&pf_rd_i=B001RJ5H5G&pf_rd_m=A3JWKAKR8XB7XF&pf_rd_r=1XH72FTAKA7Y99DDYPEP)

@Rachael For apple cider try Comtoir du Cidre. They carry several cider varieties from France and elsewhere. There is also Ostmost, a local producer of cider (using Streuobst) (http://www.ostmost.berlin/)

Arm & Hammer baking soda I've seen now and then; it's Arm & Hammer TOOTHPASTE I'd give an arm and a leg for!

Thanks for all these usefull recommendations, especiially the "Blutwurstmanufaktur" - brilliant!

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