Berlin Dispatch: The Way to (Good) Junk Food
I didn’t believe the taxi driver when he told me the pizza at Zeus – a tacky storefront near the party streets in Friedrichshain in what used to be East Berlin – was worth stopping for.
It wasn’t the McDonald’s-colored sign that put me off. It was the impression that Zeus is trying to do too much – besides pizza, he makes pide (folded flatbread with toppings), falafel, köfte (sausage), hamburgers, cheseeburgers (sic), and salads. If you’re a restaurant, even if you’re a fast food restaurant, how can you do all of these things well?
Zeus has an answer: “Maybe I can’t do all of things well, but pizza, and pide, I can do these so well that people write love notes and leave them on my walls.”
All of Zeus’ bakers roll out the dough for each pizza when you order it. And then they bake it in a brick oven. Zeus does not believe in par-cooked pies (Unlike most pizza parlors in Berlin, and in New York for that matter). What you get here is a New York-style thin crust that toes that delicious line between soft and chewy, tomato sauce that’s not too sweet, and a teasing sprinkle of mozzarella and maybe Gouda, too.
I should have trusted the taxi driver when he recommended Zeus. Viktor may be an ex-building engineer who’s only been driving a cab for a year, but he’s lived in Berlin since he was 15, and he’s picked up everyone from clueless tourists to famous authors like Wladimir Kaminer (who spent most of the ride arranging appointments on his cell phone, but was still ‘very nice’).
I should have trusted Viktor, because days before I followed his pizza recommendation, he led me and a co-adventurer to Hakiki, his favorite doener kebab stand in the city, where the three of us sat in his taxi (it was below freezing outside) and devoured one of the best versions of this sandwich that I’ve tasted in Berlin to date.
Hakiki is just outside the Osloer Strasse U-Bahn station, next to a taxi stand in Wedding, a neighborhood in what was West Berlin that’s not far from where Viktor lived with his parents (who emigrated to Berlin from Tartarstan in the former Soviet Union in the mid 1990s) until he moved to Marzahn, on the eastern edge of the city, to be on his own.
Every time Viktor is in the neighborhood, he stops at Hakiki for a doener. And judging by the taxis lined up next to the kebab stand, his colleagues do, too. There are two reasons:
1) Sauces here – spicy, herb and garlic – are not sweet, as at so many other doener kebab stands that cater to the local palate. Spicy sauce (scharffer Sosse) will make you sweat. Garlic sauce (knoblauch Sosse) will make your breath stink. This is what you want.
2) They are honest about their meat. This is the only doener kebab stand I’ve noticed in Berlin where they’ve posted a sign certifying the halal origins of the beef and listing ingredients (which unfortunately include soy protein and flavor enhancers, but we should probably expect this if a sandwich costs less than 3 Euros).
At Hakiki, Victor recommended the classic doener, on Turkish flatbread, with herb (Krauter) and spicy (Scharffer) sauces, and I was glad we took his suggestion. Besides the soy protein and the flavor enhancers in the meat, the only thing keeping this from being a perfect sandwich was the bread. Imagine how good the doener at Hakiki could be, I thought, if they made their own bread?
We who love doener kebab can dream – and in the meantime be grateful for taxi drivers like Viktor, who know the way to good junk food, and aren’t afraid to show us.
Boxhagener Str. 29, 10245 Berlin – Friedrichshain
Tel. 030 29009100
Open: Sun-Thurs, 11am-3am; Fr-Sat 11an-5am
Recommended: Pizza with ham
Tromsöer Straße 8, 13359 Berlin – Wedding
Note: There are 2 other Hakikis in Berlin – on Muellerstrasse 24 in Wedding and in the Schoenhauser Allee Arcade in Prenzlauer Berg, but the Osloer Strasse location is the original.
Recommended: classic doener on Turkish flatbread with herb and spicy sauces