Travel

How to spend 48 hours in Berlin as a vegan

From beetroot-glazed doughnuts to meat-free doner kebabs, vegan dining is revolutionising the German capital. Wednesday, 5 June 2019

By Christie Dietz
Brammibal's Doughnuts

I look down at the earthy arrangement of pine nut-crusted celeriac adorned with chestnuts, redcurrants and shallots, and I’m slightly concerned: I’m only halfway through my seven-course tasting menu and I’m already rather full.

I’ve come to Kopps, a vegan fine dining restaurant in Berlin’s central Mitte district that has dark walls, low lighting and a relaxed, friendly atmosphere. The dishes thus far have comprised a creative, playful mix of textures, colours, shapes and flavours: there’s been neat orange cubes of sous vide turnip with radish, parsley and lingonberry; a creamy black salsify soup poured over beetroot, horseradish and pear; and stewed lentils with leek and balsamic, which came in a small glass jar. I’m also taken by the drinks pairings, which have included a locally brewed IPA, a Sardinian grenache and a yuzu cocktail that’s simultaneously bitter, sweet, salty and sour. I only have 48 hours to explore Berlin’s vegan scene and I’m wondering whether I’ve already peaked with this first meal.

The next morning, I go in search of something completely different: the handmade, deep-fried confections at Brammibal’s Donuts, arguably Berlin’s best-known vegan treat. I wander through the bustling weekly Turkish market by the Landwehr Canal, which marks the border between Neukölln and Kreuzberg. The sun is shining, and the queue at the bakery is nearly out the door. They regularly sell out of doughnuts here, so I’m lucky to snag both a table and a taste of the goods. I try two: chestnut-filled chocolate, and walnut-white chocolate, topped with a bright pink beetroot glaze. Cutting the first of these in half, the dark chocolate dough breaks into soft flakes and the chestnut custard squelches out pleasingly. It’s light and fluffy — and in a city known for its traditional jam-filled Berliner, this is a very good alternative indeed.

I find plenty more vegan offerings an hour’s walk away at Berlin’s historic indoor market, Markthalle Neun. At the TofuTussis food stall, there are shallow trays of fresh organic tofu, made in the cellars downstairs from German-grown soybeans. Marked in coloured chalk on the blackboard is today’s special: a barbecue-sauce-marinated tofu burger with jackfruit, salad, pickles, mustard and vegan mayonnaise. By the time I’ve circled the market hall and arrived at traditional organic bakery Endorphina, I’m ready to eat. I choose a vast triangular scone with whole raspberries bulging beneath its golden crust; it’s crumbly, delicious and not too sweet.

Going out for vegan food appears to be more than a trend in the German capital, and in the neighbourhood in which I’m based (alternative, artistic Friedrichshain), it’s clearly here to stay. My hotel, the Almodóvar, lays on an organic, vegan-vegetarian breakfast spread involving the tastiest, flakiest croissant I’ve had in years. On the short walk there from the station, a number of eateries catch my eye: a pizza joint advertising the arrival of vegan cheese; a hip vegan doner kebab shop with a hunk of seitan rotating steadily on its back wall; and a Mexican restaurant with vegan rolled tacos on the menu. At the other end of the neighbourhood, between a graffiti-covered former train repair yard and the double-decker Oberbaum Bridge, is a branch of vegan supermarket Veganz, into which I pop to pick up a snack in case I get hungry between meals. I needn’t have worried; it stays untouched in my bag until I’m on the train home.

On my final day in the city, I take an early-morning stroll around the weekly Boxhagener Platz market, inspecting pickled Spreewald gherkins and bottles of bright orange sea buckthorn juice, then head for brunch with friends. We eat at Happy Baristas, a light, modern multi-roaster cafe decked out with hanging plants, ‘no laptops’ signs and a colourful mural by Berlin street artist El Bocho. The daytime-only menu caters for omnivores, but there are vegetarian and vegan options available. My dal makhani is hearty and warming, the dark mound of spicy black lentils topped with crunchy chickpeas, cubes of potato, fresh coriander and two long, crisp leaves of cavolo nero, all swimming in a pool of pale, creamy coconut milk. I wash everything down with a pot of fresh mint tea.

For dinner, I make my way to Kanaan, a lively Israeli-Palestinian restaurant in Prenzlauer Berg that serves a mix of vegetarian and vegan dishes. As I sit at a bare wooden table, a large piece of black slate is slid before me. In its centre, a spoonful of chickpeas nests in a thick swirl of hummus, accompanied by two plump, handmade falafel. They’re straight from the oven and, when broken in half, their vibrant green insides release hot puffs of steam. I’m also served a chunky Arab-style potato salad with red onion, sumac and tahini sauce; half a roasted cauliflower drizzled in date honey and sweet pomegranate molasses; blood-red beetroot roasted with Moroccan spices; and a freshly chopped salad finished with pomegranate-date dressing and a sprinkling of za’atar. Once again, I find there’s no need — or indeed room — for any meat at all.

I’ve ticked off a lot of vegan boxes during my weekend stay, from a mouthful of currywurst at the hotel breakfast (points for the curry ketchup, fewer for the sausage itself) to a generous serving of rice noodles with peanuts, salad and crispy baked tofu at casual Vietnamese restaurant Com Nam. Despite my best efforts, I’ve still barely scratched the surface of Berlin’s plant-based offerings, which include Michelin-starred dining at vegan-friendly Cookies Cream. I’m usually an omnivore (albeit at the vegetarian end of the scale), but my mind is made up: if I ever make the move to giving up animal products altogether, Berlin is where I want to be based.

Brunch buffet at Kopps

Three to try

Sabich at Kanaan

This traditional Israeli sandwich is served in a deconstructed, make-your-own format at Kanaan. Stuff soft pita with Iraqi-style hummus, chickpeas and slices of oven-roasted aubergine, then add fruity mango pickle and spicy zhug
(hot sauce). Cool yourself down with a glass of homemade orange blossom lemonade. kanaan-berlin.de/en

Baumstriezel at Street Food Thursday
You’ll find countless vegan options at Markthalle Neun’s weekly street food market, including momos (South Asian dumplings), empanadas (Latin American pastries) and tempeh rendang (a spicy soy dish). If you’re craving something sweet, go for traditional Hungarian baumstriezel. This doughy, sugar-coated, charcoal-roasted sweet treat is usually basted with melted butter, but you’ll be able to pick up a vegan version here.

Brunch at Kopps
On weekend and public holidays, the brunch buffet at Kopps is a popular option. There’s soy yoghurt with fruit and muesli; vegan cheeses and cold cuts; and warm options including vegan scrambled ‘eggs’ and kaiserschmarren, a classic Austrian dish of shredded pancakes  served with fruit compote. kopps-berlin.de/en

Published in Issue 5 of National Geographic Traveller Food. 

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