Berlin's food scene is growing in leaps and bounds and maturing as beautifully as a fine Barolo. Sure, you can still get your fill of traditional German comfort staples, from sausage to roast pork knuckle, but it's the influx of experimental chefs from around the globe that makes eating in the capital such a delicious and exciting experience.

Eating Like a Local

Restaurants are often formal places with full menus, crisp white linen and high prices. Some restaurants are open for lunch and dinner only, but more casual places tend to be open all day. Same goes for cafes, which usually serve both coffee and alcohol, as well as light meals, although ordering food is not obligatory. Many cafes and restaurants offer inexpensive weekday ‘business lunches’ that usually include a starter, main course and drink for under €10.

English menus are now quite common, and some places (especially those owned by neo-Berliners from the US, UK or around Europe) don’t even bother with German menus at all. When it comes to paying, sometimes the person who invites pays, but very often Germans split the bill. This might mean everyone chipping in at the end of a meal or asking the server to pay separately (getrennte Rechnung).

Handy speed-feed shops, called Imbiss, serve all sorts of savoury fodder, from sausage-in-a-bun to Döner Kebab and pizza. Many bakeries serve sandwiches alongside pastries.

Locals love to shop at farmers markets and nearly every Kiez (neighbourhood) runs at least one or two during the week.

Local Specialities

  • Pfannkuchen Known as ‘Berliner’ in other parts of Germany, these donut-like pastries are made from a yeasty dough, stuffed with a dollop of jam, deep fried and tossed in granulated sugar.
  • Currywurst This classic cult snack, allegedly invented in Berlin in 1949, is a smallish fried or grilled Wiener (sausage) sliced into bite-sized ringlets, swimming in a spicy tomato sauce and dusted with curry powder. It’s available ‘mit’ or ‘ohne’ (with or without) its crunchy epidermis and traditionally served on a flimsy plate with a plastic toothpick for stabbing.
  • Döner Spit-roasted meat may have been around forever, but the idea of serving it in a lightly toasted bread pocket with copious amounts of fresh salad and a healthy drizzle of yoghurt-based Kräuter (herb), scharf (spicy) or Knoblauch (garlic) sauce was allegedly invented by a Turkish immigrant in 1970s West Berlin.
  • Boulette Called Frikadelle in other parts of Germany, this cross between a meatball and a hamburger is eaten with a little mustard and an optional dry roll. The name is French for ‘little ball’ and might have originated during Napoleon’s occupation of Berlin in the early 19th century.
  • Eisbein or Grillhaxe Boiled or grilled pork hock typically paired with sauerkraut and boiled potatoes.
  • Königsberger Klopse This classic dish may have its origin in Königsberg in eastern Prussia (today’s Kaliningrad in Russia), but it has of late made a huge comeback on Berlin menus. It’s a simple but elegant plate of golf-ball-sized veal meatballs in a caper-laced white sauce served with a side of boiled potatoes and beetroot.

Need to Know

Opening Hours

Cafes open from 8am to 8pm, restaurants 11am to 11pm, and fast-food joints 11am to midnight or later.

Bills & Tipping

  • Your bill won't be presented until you ask for it: 'Zahlen, bitte'.
  • It’s customary to add 10% for good service.
  • Tip as you hand over the money, rather than leaving it on the table (as this is considered rude). For example, if your bill comes to €28 and you want to give a €2 tip, say €30. If you have the exact amount and don’t need change, just say ‘Stimmt so’ (that’s fine).

Reservations

Reservations are essential at the top eateries and are recommended for midrange restaurants – especially for dinner and at weekends. Book the trendiest places four or more weeks in advance. Many restaurant websites now offer an online booking function. Berliners tend to linger at the table, so if a place is full at 8pm it’s likely that it will stay that way for a couple of hours. Some restaurants are introducing a time limit for seatings (usually two hours) but this is still very rare.

Late-Night & Sunday Shopping

  • One handy feature of Berlin culture is the Spätkauf (Späti in local vernacular), which are small neighbourhood stores stocked with the basics and open from early evening until 2am or later.
  • Some supermarkets stay open until midnight; a few are open 24 hours.
  • Shops and supermarkets in major train stations (Hauptbahnhof, Ostbahnhof, Friedrichstrasse) are open late and on Sunday.