Six and a half months. That’s how long it’s been since it was last legal to sit at a restaurant, drinking from a real glass and eating off a non-disposable dish. Over half a year without awkward check-splitting conversations, without asking to see the dessert menu, without servers eagerly explaining “our sharing concept”.
As sit-down dining looks set to really, truly, finally, hopefully-not-another-false-alarmly resume next week, I’m psyched – but also already a little nostalgic for the DIY food ecosystem that sprang up in the vacuum restaurants left behind. Will our post-pandemic future still have room for enterprising home chefs like Nam and Oli (the two Instagram noodle wizards featured in this month’s print issue), or scrappy delivery collectives like Khora, or Michelin chefs serving mind-blowing sandwiches to anyone with €12 and the patience to queue? We’ll have to wait and see… but in the meantime, we’ve got one last, long weekend to take it all in.
One last ghost restaurant
It hasn’t just been culinary amateurs getting in on the Instagram delivery action – “real” chefs are using the platform to sling home-cooked creations as well. Chefs like Jamie, a Mancunian who worked at Friedrichshain Thai heavyweights Khwan and Khao Taan before the pandemic left him jobless. Since last spring’s lockdown, he’s been whipping up homestyle Thai dishes and delivering them to anyone in his Bezirk – first Prenzlauer Berg, now Neukölln – under the name Khun Xyu Ban (aptly, “you are home”). Just a couple specials make the rounds each week, usually involving hand-pounded curry paste and local ingredients. Whatever your feelings about white guys cooking Asian food (and I have a few), you can’t deny the flavour-packed punch of curries like gaeng som pla cha om, citrus-spiked southern-style fried mackerel with asparagus and an acacia leaf omelet; or khua kling moo, ground pork neck loaded with lemongrass, long beans and plenty of chilli. It’s some of the best Thai food in Berlin, definitely the best in Neukölln, and worth faking an address in the neighbourhood if you don’t live there. Jamie plans to keep the deliveries going “until corona is fully over”, so you’ll have at least a handful of chances if this weekend sells out.
One last pop-up queue
What’s the deal with Khwan and ghost restaurants? In addition to Khun Xyu Ban, there’s Fai, a similar, Prenzlauer Berg-based project from the Thai barbecue shack’s original founder; and Tiffin, the Indian delivery service co-run by its manager. The latter is setting up shop at gastropub St. Bart this Saturday in order to sell patties – that’d be St. Bart’s flaky puff pastry, normally seen enclosing sausage rolls and meat pies, wrapped around Tiffin’s keema (ground mutton curry) or vegetarian aloo (spiced potatoes). I can’t imagine a world in which that combo isn’t insanely delicious. And with the food-as-lifestyle crowd all clamouring to return to restaurants next weekend, this could be your final chance to huddle up next to Instagrammers and start-up marketing associates and confused-looking bandwagon hoppers, doing your best to maintain Abstand and drinking two Sternis on an empty stomach before reaching the front of the line just in time for them to sell out. God, I’m getting sentimental just typing that.
One last home-cooked luxury meal
Lockdown has transformed even the most food-ignorant Berliners into sourdough-starting, noodle-rolling, cast-iron-skillet-owning kitchen powerhouses, but c’mon, are you really gonna spend three hours on that Ottolenghi recipe once you’re fully vaxxed and it’s spritz o’clock? With the Himmelfahrt weather looking less than himmlisch, now’s the time to stock up on gourmet ingredients before restaurants start calling first dibs on the good stuff again. Get your Mexican staples, truffle oil and bargain-priced liquor at bulk superstore Hamberger Großmarkt; pick up truffles and dry-aged local steaks at Markthalle 20, the Havelland Express consumer outlet that opened south of Tempelhof last summer; or look for fresh sea urchins and blue crabs at Fish No. 1, the Prenzlauer Berg fish supplier that started selling to civilians during lockdown. Just don’t invite too many friends over to share the bounty, lest the Inzidenz rise and we have to do this all over again next weekend…