After a whirlwind few months of nonstop transitions and different life chapters being written and read with a speed and intensity I simply couldn’t keep up with, I finally found some time to head out of the country for a few weeks. My first stop was in Berlin, where my best friend has been living for the last half a decade.
If you’ve never been to Berlin before, you might be surprised to find out that the food scene doesn’t exactly revolve around German food. One of the most common things to eat is a döner kebab, which is meat, salad and/or veggies, sauce, inside a flatbread. The closest phenomenon I can compare Berlin’s döner obsession to is the taco craze in San Diego (sorry SF, but you’re no match for my beloved San Diego tacos). Turkish immigrants have been migrating to Germany since the 1960s, and as a result, there’s quite a bit of Middle Eastern influence in the dining options around the city.
Though döner meat and flatbread have roots in the Middle East, Germans put their own spin on it by adding salad and sauces straight into the flatbread so that a meal could easily be eaten on the go. There’s probably a döner shop on every corner of Berlin, and each one has its own special variations on the salad and veggies, sauces, and how the meat is prepared. It actually does parallel the taco shops in San Diego in this regard; although there are an endless number of options that are all pretty good and all have their unique selling points, there are a few standout places that completely convert you through near-spiritual experiences. Despite the fact that you can get a döner anywhere in the world (from SF, to NY, to London, and even in Shanghai!), Berlin’s döner game simply puts everyone else to shame. And in the land of delicious döner kebabs, our favorite is called Mustafa’s.
I have to say that I was originally highly skeptical of Mustafa’s. There’s a lot of TripAdvisor hype around it, but when my best friend (who’s also well-versed in anything related to food) tells me that this is still the best döner kebab place she knows of after living in Berlin for 5 years… well, I just don’t question that kind of authority. The wait can be anywhere from 10-60 minutes, the longer end of which can be a long time to queue for a quick meal. It’s not a restaurant, but a small shack where you eat your food on the street after ordering it.
The verdict? Mustafa’s is definitely the best döner kebab I’ve had in Berlin (which means it’s safe to say it’s the best one I’ve had in the world). The flatbread was warm, soft, and soaked up the sauces wonderfuly without becoming soggy and falling apart. The sauces were just the right amount of heat, and they coated the meat luxuriously. One thing Mustafa’s does that I haven’t seen many other döner places do is to add grilled veggies instead of just cold veggies, and it gave the döner an entirely new dimension of flavor and texture. The meat was fantastic – perfectly cooked chicken that wasn’t dry at all, yet wasn’t so fatty it felt dense in your stomach. I could honestly have gone back for another if I didn’t have more plans to eat later in the day. That’s not to say it’s not a lot of food; I just have an obscenely large appetite.
I’ve been to Berlin maybe 4-5 times in the past few years, and make it a point to eat at least 1-2 döners every time I’m there – it’s that good! Though it doesn’t hold a candle to my friend’s 5 years of digesting döners, Mustafa’s is the one place I’d go out of my way to eat again the next time I’m in town, one that is definitely worth going out of the way for.