“Is there something for free?” I heard passersby say in more than one language as I stood in the 30-strong queue along Reichenberger Straße. And indeed, why loiter on the sidewalk in subzero temperatures for up to an hour, if not to get free stuff? I let others in the line deliver the explanation: we were waiting for the privilege of paying €12 for a sandwich. Not just any sandwich, mind you: a one-off collaboration between two of the Berlin food world’s hottest young stars. The WAP of sandwiches.
It’s not like street food queues were uncommon before the pandemic, but lockdown has taken the phenomenon to the next level. As standing around outside remains one of the only acceptable ways to meet friends, restaurants normally known for prohibitive prices and elusive reservations are offering approachable, (comparatively) affordable to-go specials. Certain dishes are now the object of Instagram oneupmanship, the same way that travel destinations used to be – no, you couldn’t go to Lisbon or Reykjavik this year, but you managed to get your hands on a Shiori bara chirashi box and a fish shawarma from Prism.
And now, the perfect storm: Barra, the Bib Gourmand-winning Neukölln wine bar and maker of Berlin’s most sought-after fried chicken burger, teaming up with the universally beloved ChungKing Noodles for a spicy braised beef focaccia sandwich in celebration of the lunar new year. I showed up at ChungKing just before its doors opened at noon, by which time a good-sized line had already formed. I got the dish at 12:45. Not long afterward, they sold out.
It’s a very, very good sandwich. Worth €12? Sure. Worth the wait? Ordinarily, maybe not, but these are extraordinary times, aren’t they?
I won’t leave you in suspense: it’s a very, very good sandwich. It isn’t warm, or at least, given the current temperatures, it won’t be by the time you find a spot on the Landwehrkanal and tuck into it, but that doesn’t matter. The thinly sliced meat — tender, juicy and redolent of chili, five-spice and Sichuan pepper — has a heat level you don’t really notice while you’re eating it, but that stays with you for quite a while afterwards. Springy focaccia provides a surprisingly solid base, although between the olive oil on the bread and the chili oil in the overflowing filling, it’s a messy eating experience on par with the aforementioned chicken burger. As an accompaniment, I recommend beer and several extra napkins.
So, is it worth €12? Sure. Worth the wait? Ordinarily, maybe not, but these are extraordinary times, aren’t they? Go early, dress warmly and bring a non-vegetarian friend you haven’t seen in a while, and by the time you’re caught up you’ll have a hefty meal to enjoy in the sun while watching swans fight over the few square meters of non-frozen canal water. Or they’ll have sold out again, in which case there are no shortage of other places to grab lunch in the area. Either way, it’s not like you have anything better to do this weekend.
ChungKing Noodles, Reichenberger Str. 35, sandwich through Sun 14.2, 12pm – sold out