When Merle, an attractive woman with smiling eyes and a tropical flower in her hair, says she came here “before you were even born” you think she’s being coquettish. But no, Merle is actually 68 and made it all the way from her native Trinidad to Berlin 46 years ago, at a time when West Berliners would literally point their fingers at Ausländer in sheer wonderment.
Two grown-up German sons and a long versatile career later – she’s worked at Bauhaus, Pan Am and Avis and spent 19 years as an alternative healer – the resourceful Merle decided it was time to initiate Berliners to the flavours of her island homeland. And so, Merle’s Rum and Roti opened last April.
Get in the mood with a homemade rum punch – a potent concoction of fruit juices, lime and alcohol. The drink is a perfect balance of strong and sweet, ideal to ease your way into the discovery of Trinidadian cuisine… Which we knew little about.
We were awaiting Creole or Jamaican-style dishes and were surprised with some incredibly flavoursome Indian-style food – only less oily, differently spiced (no cardamom!) and overall of a much higher standard than the bland curries usually served at Berlin Indian restaurants. This is real, homemade Oma cooking: Merle and her sidekick Veronica make everything from scratch, from pickles and chutney to breads.
We started with a mixed plate of accra (salt-cured codfish blended with spices in batter), channa (chickpeas) and split-pea fritters (Trinidad’s answer to falafel) served steaming hot and perfectly golden brown alongside house salsas (€3.50 each): red and yellow, bursting with chili and garlic, damn hot and tasty! Condiment lovers should also order the mango chutney made with habanero, mango, pepper and garlic for an electrifying tastebud experience.
No two curries taste the same at Merle’s: the beef is a caramelised affair served in a lush, dark-carmine sauce (€8.90); the chicken is bright yellow with bardana (burdock) and potatoes (€8.90); while shrimp Creole is prepared as a similar stew – with red curry and garlic (€9.80). They are all deliciously spicy, hotter than most German palettes you imagine would tolerate, but ask Merle to adapt her chilli levels to your taste.
All curries are served with roti (unless you absolutely insist on rice). We learned that the Indian-style flatbread is a staple of Trinidadian food, served as an accompaniment to most dishes or sold as a street snack filled with a curry stew. Merle’s are of course homemade, soft-textured and served warm, either shredded in pieces (paratha), or rolled up and filled with dry pea powder. They’re totally addictive.
The charm operates through dessert: the Casa Pone, a delicious freshly baked cassava and coconut pudding, is served slightly warm alongside a scoop of vanilla ice cream. We ate it to the last crumb.
All along, we quenched our thirst with cold Carib beer, a slightly sweet, clear lager imported from Trinidad. There’s also a nice collection of rums – from Caribbean brands to the Guatemalan premium Zacapa. Drink it straight to wrap up your feast.
Don’t get turned off by the deceptively plain interior – it somehow lacks the warmth, fun and flair of the food and the ladies that serve it; don’t be intimidated by the bold promise of “Real Trinidad Food” – it might sound a bit obscure to most passers by. But we really wish more enlightened Berliners would open Merle’s door and try it out (on the night we went, the place was nearly empty). If they do, we bet they’ll be back!