It is raining, tonight, and the smell of wet concrete drifts in through Cora’s open window, rifling past the cheap lace curtains. In the distance, wetly, there are sirens.
It seems that recently the sensations of places have become as important as the sights. Berlin, this trip, has been as full of tastes as Dundee has been of smells.
First on the taste front was falafel, the best I’ve ever had. The crunchy, granular treat was hand molded before our eyes by a man in a tiny stall, a galley kitchen scarcely wider than a closet. He formed the falafel, tinted green with herbs, spinning his stainless steel falafel form, scraping off the excess with another steel implement, occasionally smooshing the falafel to be more flat than round. While they fried, he carefully lined bread with snappy slices of cucumber, fire-engine red tomatoes, and a generous helping of spaghetti-noodle-thin grated carrots. He arranged mint leaves among and across the crispy brown falafel, and spread a ginger nut paste on the bread, followed by a spicy mango sauce and a drizzle of yogurt.
It was a divine combination of textures and tastes. Hot falafel, crunchy on the outside but almost mashed potato smooth on the inside, layered against the cool vegetables and yogurt. The ginger was subtle, and the mango sauce had a character not entirely unlike mustard. The sweet carrots and the warm bread and the occasional suprising pop of mint all played in a suprisingly harmonious symphany, the complexity never quite descending into complete chaos. This, upon reflection, is much like Berlin herself: divine.
Today, Cora introduced me to handmade licorice candies. Walking along the tree-lined streets of Kreuzberg after a lunch of flatbread pizza (hers with mushrooms, arugula [that’s rocket to the non-yanks], and Parmesan, and mine with eggplant [aubergine] and grilled zucchini), we discovered a shop selling only licorice sweets. Four standing cases, golden wood with clear panels to allow for people to view the candies, stood in the store. Each case held two rows of shiny black candies of various shapes and makes. One case was even labeled as very strong candy for adults only. Cora, whose great love is licorice, had the young gentleman pick her a few candies from numerous bins, occasionally asking questions as he spooned the candies into a cone-shaped brown paper bag.
A few pieces of these, she would say.
Of the mice? He would ask. (This was all taking place in German, of course).
Yes, and a few of those there as well, describing the next candy that caught her interest.
And so it continued, until she was satisfied with our treasure and we left.
We tasted the candies as we walked, starting with thin strings of candy, black and flexible. They were soft almost to the point of being cake-like, dense like fudgy brownies, and so reminiscent of molasses that the licorice was undetectable to me.
The second, small and round like a shiny black button, was complex (so complex!) and herbal, or maybe even floral, like roses (or maybe chamomille and lilac).
The third, light in color, and covered in sugar, tasted so strongly of anise that it left no doubt about its licoricy origins.
The final treat from our walk was a mild one, filled with a honey-nougat and tinged with mint. The salty warm softness of the honey nougat provided an interesting textural contrast to the elastic anise of the enveloping licorice candy.
Now I am trying a strange one, squishy like a jelly snack but cubic and covered in sugar. It is surprisingly salty–Cora says strong licorice is often paired with salt.
I used to hate licorice. Now I am a convert. More crazy complexity than dark chocolate, folks.
Also this week I have dined on currywurst, at what is purportedly the best currywurst in Berlin (though Steven disagrees.) Steven bought my dinner, curry wurst with pommes -rotweiss, meaning with both ketchup and mayonnaise. For the first time in my life I willingly ate mayonnaise on my french fries, and found it, to my surprise, delightful. The currywurst was nothing to write home about–having the texture somewhere between the texture of a hotdog and the omlette used in sushi. It is served with ketchup, and is only very subtly spiced with curry. I am not quite sure what the big deal is. The fries, hoever, were amazing. Long and thin, salty and crispy, dipped into the smooth mayonnaise and paired with the punchy ketchup. Divine.