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I’m on a Boat

View from the ferrySo here’s something interesting (at least I think it’s interesting, and since it’s my blog, you’re just going to have to deal with it): while on a bus from Germany to Sweden, the bus stopped at an area that kind of seemed like a border crossing.

It turned out that it was actually a line-up to board a ferry; the bus eventually drove inside the boat, and we all had 45 minutes before we had to come back.

Bus in a ferry

There’s something about being inside one vehicle that goes into another vehicle that’s kind of crazy to me, but then maybe I’m just easily impressed.

The ferry was actually pretty enormous on the inside — there were a couple of restaurants, a convenience store, and an extensive duty free shop.

Shops inside the ferry

I figured, hey, I’m on a boat, I should probably get seafood, so I ordered the fish and chips from the cafeteria.  It was pretty standard cafeteria fare (i.e. it kind of sucked), so obviously this was a bit of a miscalculation.

Fish and chips on a ferry

Something’s Fishy about this Sandwich

Fischbrötchen in Hamburg, GermanyI mentioned, in my last post, that they’re pretty seafood crazy here in Hamburg.  Specifically, they seem to really love fish sandwiches, because pretty much everywhere you go near the water, there are about a million different vendors serving them up.

The most famous sandwiches are the Bismark, which consists of pickled herring and onion, and Matjes, which consists of a different type of pickled herring, also served with onion.

I should probably note that the last time I had pickled herring, I hated it.  I also really don’t like raw onion.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: Michael, if you don’t like pickled herring, and you don’t like raw onion, why would you eat a sandwich that consists entirely of pickled herring and raw onion?

That’s an excellent question.

I mean, other than the fact that I’m clearly insane?  I just felt obligated.  These sandwiches are such a big deal here that I needed to know what all the fuss was about, even if I was pretty confident I wasn’t going to enjoy it.  I was hoping to be pleasantly surprised.

Fish sandwiches from Fischbrötchen in Hamburg, Germany

I was not pleasantly surprised.

The pickled herring was as I remembered it — fishy, vinegary, mushy, and in your face. It’s an acquired taste if there ever was one, and it’s a taste that I have very decidedly not acquired.  Though I typically don’t like raw onion, it was actually kind of welcome here, if only because it was the only thing to cut the pungent intensity of the herring.

Of the two sandwiches, I definitely preferred the Matjes — it was, at least, a bit mellower.  It wasn’t quite the unforgiving assault of fishy sourness.  But no, it wasn’t particularly good — just slightly less unpleasant than the other one.

Adding insult to injury?  That fishy, oniony flavour lingered on my palate for the entire day.  It  was the worst.

Like Fish and Chips, but Better

RestaurantSeafood is huge here in Hamburg — aside from the fact that the Elbe river runs right through the city, the North Sea and the Baltic Sea are both super close.  Notwithstanding a tragic incident involving a dropped fish sandwich worth 12 Euros, this was my first time eating seafood here.

And oh man, it was so good.

Delicious

I went to a place called Fisch & Co. and had the Pannfisch.  This consists of fried pieces of a couple of different types of fish topped with some kind of mustard sauce, served with a side of pan-fried potatoes and a salad.

That fish was absolutely perfect.  The breading was nice and crispy, but without ever distracting from the star of the show.  And the fish itself — which consisted of pieces of some kind of whitefish along with salmon — was moist and flaky and amazing, with the mustard sauce complimenting it perfectly.

The potatoes were really good, too — sliced thin to maximize the crispy-to-creamy ratio, they were basically like hash browns, but the best hash browns you’ve ever had.

Sometimes You Just Need to Have a Burger

BurgermeisterWhile searching for the best places to eat in Berlin, a burger joint called Burgermeister came up a lot.  Typically, this would be the type of recommendation that I’d dismiss without much thought; I’m sure there’s great Mexican/Vietnamese/whatever cuisine in every city I visit, but unless I’m in Mexico/Vietnam/Whateverland, I just have no interest in that food.

But I have to admit: the only burger I’ve eaten since starting this trip has been a fairly abysmal one from McDonald’s.  My burger blog — which I kept going right up until I left — had me eating burgers regularly for years.  I was jonesing.

Which is all a long-winded way of saying that yeah, I ate a burger.  I’m weak.

Burgermeister

It’s in a really unique location under a bridge, and it is insanely popular.  When I went, I had to wait about fifteen minutes in a very long line, and then another half hour or so for my burger to be ready.

I don’t know if my burger craving made it seem better than it was, but it was quite good.  The patty was beefy, juicy, and had a decent amount of crust from the griddle.  It certainly wasn’t perfect — the beefy flavour was a bit subdued, it could have been juicier, and it was a bit heavier on the condiments than I typically like — but if I were reviewing it for Tasty Burgers, I’d give it three-and-a-half out of four.  I quite enjoyed it.

Maybe the Cheesiest Thing I’ve Ever Eaten

Cheesy, deliciousThere’s a dish they serve in Berlin called käsespätzle, and basically it’s spätzle — a German version of pasta that’s normally served as a side dish — cooked with soft fried onions and a ton of gooey, stringy, super-melty cheese.  I think they fry the whole thing around, because there were brown crispy bits of cheese throughout.

I wish you could get a better sense of how cheesy this was from that picture, because it was nuts — the ratio of cheese to pasta was practically 1:1.  I’m not sure what cheese they used, but the flavour was sharp enough to keep things interesting throughout.

It was amazing, obviously.  I mean, how could it not be?  It was just gooey cheese and chewy pasta.  It was ridiculous.

Currywurst Should be a Bigger Deal

Curry 36There are certain dishes that are popular in one country but virtually unheard of in most others, yet they’re so approachable and tasty that it just makes you scratch your head. Like, why does the whole world eat stuff like pizza or tacos, but not this?

Currywurst is one of those dishes. It’s absolutely everywhere here in Berlin. I doubt you can walk more than a block or two without stumbling across a place that serves it.

Currywurst

There’s absolutely nothing gourmet about it — it’s a greasy sausage that’s been cut up, slathered in ketchup and sprinkled with curry powder, typically served with a mound of fries. The balance between the sweetness of the ketchup, the savouriness of the the sausage, and the mild spice from the curry powder just works.  It might not be the best thing that you’ve ever eaten, but it’s cheap and satisfying, and sometimes that’s all that matters.

Also: you have the choice of mayo or more ketchup on your fries, and I’ve been going with mayo, because that’s one thing the Europeans are dead-on about: mayo is the perfect French fry condiment. But man, they aren’t kidding around with it. They pour it onto the fries like they’re trying to put out a fire. It seems like too much, but I always wind up eating it all, so what do I know?

Currywurst

Seriously though: there’s nothing weird or unusual about the flavours in currywurst. It’s pure comfort food, so why this isn’t a bigger deal outside of Germany is kind of mystifying to me.

On Grayness and Strudel Pipes

BerlinI mentioned how, in places like Rome and Vienna, it’s such a joy to walk around the city because of all of the beautiful old architecture everywhere you look.

Yeah, that’s not so much the case in Berlin.

Berlin

Not that it’s entirely lacking in eye-catching architecture, but mostly it’s just drab gray buildings everywhere you look.  Which is understandable, considering that the bulk of the city had to be rebuilt after the destruction of World War II.

Thanks a lot, Hitler.

Berlin

But of course, that assessment is unfair to Berlin — it certainly has a personality of its own, it just lacks the old-world charm of some of the other big European capitals.

Strudel pipes

There are also these bright blue pipes running all over the city, and every time I see them I chuckle; there’s a great bit in Patton Oswalt’s standup special Tragedy Plus Comedy Equals Time where he jokes that those pipes contain strudel filling.  I won’t spoil where that joke goes — you should just listen to it if you haven’t.

McDonald’s Around the World: Germany Edition

McDonald's in Berlin, GermanySo the McRib is just on the regular menu at McDonald’s in Germany, and it has been for a while.  Here we are in North America waiting for it to come back once every few years like chumps, and the Germans can just mosey into a McDonald’s and order it whenever they want.  Like kings.

Obviously that’s what I got.

McRib!

Let’s face it though: the McRib isn’t as good as you remember.  At least, that was my experience the last couple of times that they brought it back, and that was definitely my experience here.  Aside from the fact that the meat was rubbery and dry, I’m pretty positive that they’re not using the same BBQ sauce they use back home — and since that sweet, smoky sauce is pretty much the only thing making a McRib edible, that’s kind of a problem (the sauce here has a much more subtle flavour).

McDonald's in Berlin, Germany

I also got something called Frühlingsrollen, which are basically bite-sized versions of the cheap frozen spring rolls you can get in the freezer section of your local supermarket.  These probably would have been okay if they were fresh; alas, they were lukewarm and chewy.  Still, they were decent enough when dipped in the provided sweet chili sauce.

Dessert

For dessert I got the Caramel Nuggets, which kind of tasted like fried balls of raw pancake batter injected with caramel.  I don’t know if they were supposed to be like that or if they were just undercooked, but either way they weren’t bad.  They were obviously fresh from the fryer — it’s hard to go wrong with anything that’s sweet and freshly fried.  Plus they come with a tasty berry dipping sauce, so there’s that.

Doner Kebab Perfection in Berlin

KebabPrepare yourself: this is going to be one of those posts where I rave about something that I ate, and where you think “jeez, this guy needs to get a grip.”

Because I just ate a kebab sandwich from Rüyam Gemüse Kebab, and holy frigging moly you guys. Holy frigging moly.

Doner kebab isn’t necessarily the first dish that comes to mind when you think about German cuisine, but kebab joints are everywhere here.

At Rüyam Gemüse Kebab, you can get either a wrap or a sandwich; the sandwich was named “gemüse kebab,” and since it’s typically a good idea to order a restaurant’s eponymous dish, that’s what I went with.

Kebab perfection

You can choose between three sauces — I think the first two were a parsley sauce and a garlic sauce, and honestly I’m not even sure what the third sauce was because I was pretty much immediately like “I’ll take all three!”  I’m not sure if that’s what people typically do, but if that’s wrong then I don’t want to be right.

Here’s the problem I have with a lot of shawarma, or gyro, or doner, or any number of similar rotating meat dishes that I’ve had back home: they frequently carve the meat before it’s fully brown and crispy, and you wind up with something that’s just soft and boring and bland.  That’s absolutely not the case here.  I mean, just take a look at this picture:

Doner

I took that about a minute before the guy carved off the top layer of crispy amazingness.  A lot of times you have a sandwich like this and you’re lucky to get one or two pieces with crispy bits.  Here, they’re all crispy bits.

They then mix up the freshly carved meat with little cubes of fried potatoes, which adds even more texture and flavour.  The sandwich is served with a bunch of veggies, the meat, and the sauces, and the ratio of sauce to meat to vegetable is dead on.  Every bite has just the right amount of everything and it’s a goddamned flavour explosion.  I’ve eaten a lot of great stuff since starting this trip — this was right up there among the best.