It’s been almost exactly a year since the pandemic hit Berlin, and the restaurant casualties keep piling up – latest among them Santa Cantina, the modern-Mexican offshoot of Kreuzberg taqueria Santa Maria. The fusion tacos were just okay and the prices not always justifiable, but as a relatively chill expat hangout between the Scylla and Charybdis of R.A.W. and Simon-Dach-Straße, it’ll be missed.
Meanwhile, though, aspiring home chefs have it better than ever. With restaurant demand plummeting, a few of the city’s gastro-wholesalers have opened their doors to civilians, placing a literal world of new ingredients at our fingertips. Thanks to a tip from a couple savvy Moabiters, I recently found out that the Hamberger Großmarkt, a Metro-like megastore close to the Beusselstraße station, has been offering lockdown-only access to anyone with a valid ID and proof of Berlin address. Needless to say, I was there in an instant.
I could wax rhapsodic about the culinary wonders of this place (the live lobsters! the hard-to-find spices! the discounted booze! the giant-scale cooking equipment!) but for me, nothing was more exciting than the Mexican aisle. Mind you, Mexican groceries in Berlin are no longer the white whale they used to be, but import costs are steep enough that I’ve still been smuggling dried chillis, tortilla flour and the like back after every US trip. Now here everything was, for dirt-cheap prices and in mostly reasonable quantities, give or take a 10-kilo can of nacho cheese sauce. I left weighed down with bags of ancho, pasilla, guajillo and árbol peppers, canned poblanos (the earthy green capsicum essential for chilli rellenos) and chipotles in adobo, fresh jalapeños from the produce section, refried beans, corn tortillas and much more. Santa Cantina’s loss is, apparently, our gain.
If you’ve got even a passing interest in Mexican cooking – or food in general, or just comically oversized whisks – get thee to Moabit and stock up before lockdown ends. If you don’t make it, or you’re reading this in the post-Corona future after some frantic Chicano Eats-inspired ingredient search, here are some more reliable, albeit pricier, picks for Mexican goods.
Chili & Paprika Equally devoted to spices from Mexico and Hungary when it opened in 2013, this Friedrichshain storefront quickly jettisoned the latter to become Berlin’s best source for all things Latin American. Dried and fresh chillis, locally made tortillas, queso fresco and chorizo, a huge selection of salsa and hot sauce, beverages from mezcal to Clamato – you’ll find it all, courtesy of East Berlin-born owner Mathias Jung. Danziger Str. 118, Prenzlauer Berg
Pfefferhaus Mexican cuisine isn’t all about the Scoville units, of course, but it does tend to attract its share of chilli masochists. If you’re one of them, get your fix at this long-running temple to capsaicin, featuring not only fresh jalapeños and habaneros but ghost peppers and Carolina Reapers. Alongside all the dried, pickled, powdered or flaked chillis, there’s a tastebud-obliterating house brand of hot sauce and the sweet treat Pulparindo, tamarind or mango paste flavoured with sugar, salt and plenty of spice. Niederbarnimstr. 11, Friedrichshain
Asia Supermarkt Neuköllners already speak in hushed tones about the Mexican aisle in this otherwise-generic Asian market. It’s actually been expanding since the beginning of the pandemic and now includes canned beans, vacuum-packed corn tortillas and basically everything else you’d need for a proper taco feast, minus the fresh veggies. Bonus points for the junk food section – I never thought I’d see Takis in Berlin, yet here we are. Karl-Marx-Str. 242, Neukölln