Berlin Dispatch: Turkish Pizza, Found in Translation
If it hadn’t been for David and Sandra, it’s pretty unlikely that Thursday’s taxi adventure would have led to the restaurant that serves ekmek like they make it in Eren’s home village near Konya, Turkey.
The cabbie said he spoke English when we asked him to take us to his favorite place to eat – and he agreed to be filmed along the way for a story for Spiegel TV.
But after a couple of questions from me (How did you find this restaurant? What’s your favorite thing to eat there?), it was clear that we barely understood each other.
Eren met my gaze in the rear view mirror. We were lost. My words didn’t match his. A part of me panicked (There are other journalists in the car!). I could see the apologies in the cabbie’s eyes.
David and Sandra came to the rescue. Thanks to their English-to-German and German-to-English, we discovered that Eren has been driving a cab for two years. Despite working as a hotel restaurant manager for 15 years on the Turkish coast, his English wasn’t good enough to get a similar job in Berlin. He missed the beach and the sea in Turkey. He hated the traffic in Berlin. He wasn’t sure if he would stay, even though his wife’s family lives here.
“It depends on where we decide to send our kids to school,” he said. Where that happened is where he would ultimately end up. They still had a few years to figure it out.
We were heading for a Turkish restaurant in Neukölln when we got talking about Eren’s home town of Konya in central Turkey. He confessed that he missed his mother’s cooking (something his wife didn’t appreciate hearing at all). And he changed his mind about where he was taking us. We were now on our way to the only place in Berlin – according to the cabbie – that makes Konya etli ekmek, a rendition of ‘Turkish pizza’ that comes from his village.
Lahmajun, or what most people know as Turkish pizza, has its origins in Eastern Turkey, he told us. Pide, or etli ekmek, comes from Konya. The cabbie cracked a smile when we made it clear to him that we’d love to try it.
Eren parked the taxi in front of Konyali, turned off the car and led us into the restaurant. The manager greeted him with a smile, and he ordered for us: two Konya etli ekmeks (with beef and herbs), a Peynirli ekmek (with cheese and herbs) and künefe (You have to ask for this dessert at the beginning of your meal, the cabbie explained, as it takes them a while to heat it up).
Like a lot of the people in the neighborhood, Eren was fasting for Ramadan, so he didn’t order anything for himself. If it was torture for him to walk into the restaurant, inhale the perfume of the giant doner kebab in the window and watch the baker slide pide into the brick oven, he didn’t show it. After a few handshakes, a few photos and a few smiles, the soft-spoken cabbie was gone.
While we waited for our ekmek, David noticed the chandeliers overhead and the etchings of whirling dervishes on the wall, “I’m seeing this more and more in Berlin,” he said, “Turkish restaurants are going a little more upscale.” It’s a sign, he noted, that the Turkish community is getting more entrenched here, going beyond hole-in-the-wall doner kebab stands.
Still, our ‘pizzas’ were just 4 euros apiece. Thin-crusted, chewy and heat-blistered, they reminded me a little of a New York slice on the bottom.
But the top half was all Konya: minced, rare beef seasoned with thyme and sprinkled with flat-leaf parsley. I squeezed lemon over the whole thing, folded it in half, and sampled. Simple and brick-oven delicious, yes. But was ekmek so different from other Turkish pizzas I’ve tried? Not really.
I was less impressed with David’s gouda cheese ekmek – the cheese hadn’t kept the dough from drying out, and thyme – or some sort of exciting herb – was missing.
We washed our ekmeks down with ayran – slightly saltier than Hasir’s version of the yogurt drink, but still tasty and wildly complementary. Everyone except me was finished with their pizza when a server brought our künefe.
I told David and Sandra about the extraordinary künefes I’d tried at Hasir and Gel Gör, “It’s shredded filo with butter and honey, stuffed with Turkish cheese.” A near perfect dessert, I said: rich, sweet, and built on colliding textures.
In the end, Konyali’s version couldn’t really compare to the others. The cheese didn’t have the punch of Gel Gör’s, and it got lost in a thick layer of shredded filo, which didn’t have the crunch that made Hasir’s rendition so remarkable.
“Don’t make a decision about whether you like künefe based on this version,” I said. I think they were a little taken aback by my evangelism on behalf of the dessert. I glanced at the whirling dervish on the wall.
Etli Ekmek Salonu
Reichenberger Str. 10
10999 Kreuzberg Berlin
Note: Konyali has been open for just six months. During Ramadan, the restaurant is quiet at lunch time, but when people break their fasts after 8pm, the place gets packed. You may want to reserve or go early if you want to be sure to get a seat.