It’s that time of year all over again. It’s cold and damp. People seem to enjoy being rude and grumpy. Leaving work in the dark, sunlight belongs to a distant memory of the past. Oh, the gloom. And yet, the Footprints are in a celebratory mode. Yes, you heard me; you are now reading blog’s 40th post, which also marks a whole year of incessant cyber-ranting about Berlin’s culinary landscape! Yay.
It did not take too much brooding to reach the conclusion that the most appropriate birthday gift to readers would be a recommendation about real curry in Berlin.
Just to recap – curry in Berlin is a problem. Always has been. I just blame it on the German psyche, which seems to be inherently incompatible with spicy food. Or with anything all too different from home. You are bound to see where this ends: sweet Vindaloos, creamy Daals, Gouda sprinkled over Naans. In other words: curry genocide. Let’s not exaggerate. Worse things have happened in history than expats unable to appease their ever growing hunger for curry. My stomach rarely stays empty (there is enough non-curry food around, as numerous posts here must have proved beyond doubt). I have not yet starved, a blank expression over my face and flies hovering over my head in a street corner somewhere in Marzahn. And yet, curry deprivation is psychologically taxing and should not be taken lightly. Oh, the gloom.
Yet no more! I come bearing the gift of the first edible curry in Berlin. But let’s not rush things. One step at a time.
It all started with Sarah’s (who knows her curries) discovery of the Sri Lankan Sigiriya in Friedrichshain. I’ll be frank about it: I found it hard to believe her at first. Add the fact that we were talking about an Indian-style restaurant in the heart of Friedrichshain’s Südkiez, which – for the sake of all fairness – did not help dispel any fears or misconceptions in advance. But it’s hard to doubt a Bradfordian’s judgement about curry. Every possibly edible curry is worth a shot. So there I went.
The menu’s layout, the overall ambiance and the insistence on putting organic symbols all around the place reminded me of Chandra Kumari on Gneisenaustraße (which had left me lukewarm at best). I should also add that I am less keen on Sri Lankan/Southern Indian food, as I grew up feeding on Pakistani/Northern Indian deliciousness. But we are in Berlin. We shall not be picky. Or anal. Or stupid. Beggars can’t be choosers. It was time to meet my maker.
We began with the three starters on the menu: Roles (vegetarian roles with a potato-based filling, 2.50 €), vadai (chick-pea balls served with sweet-sour sauce, 2.70 €) and the elavalu roti (samosa-like coconut-bread dumplings with vegetarian filling, 2.80 €). I’ll have to admit they were not breathtakingly spectacular. Far from it, actually. The roles were nice – the filling was a nicely seasoned, stodgy samosa-like-filling and the dough was thin and light. The vadai was... well... dry. The chick-pea balls were nicely seasoned, but it felt like biting into a piece of dry cardboard. The elavalu was, however, very pleasing. It was perfectly seasoned; the dough was good with just the right touch of coconut. They were quite alright, but not much more. As such, I was still dubious about the next phase.
We then ordered five dishes: Niviti dhal hodhi (vegetarian red lentil curry with spinach, 6.30 €), chicken curry with paripoo hodhi (a dish with both a chicken based curry dish and a daal – red lentil curry – for 8.90 €), chicken curry with wamboutou hodhi (a chicken curry dish with another aubergine curry, 8.90 €), mutton saag (mutton curry in spinach served with an extra raita-bread, 8.90 €) and mutton curry with ratu ale hodhi and sini sambole (a dish of mutton curry, beetroot – coconut curry and caramelised onions, 9.50 €). The first three we ordered “originalscharf” – which is trying to say we wanted it really spicy, and the latter two were ordered “German-spicy”. Which means not spicy at all, which kinda misses the point, but oh well. In addition, we ordered two pol-rotis (delicious coconut bread, 1.50 €).
The good news is that everything was good. Unlike curries I’ve so far encountered in Berlin, Sigiriya actually uses real spices and not just pieces of “things” swimming in a tasteless, generic curry batches made of blandness and cream. It’s all nicely refined. The bad news is that it’s not Pakistani. I am not sure I am the biggest fan of coconut-based dishes, and Sri Lankan food is big on coconut. But then again, this is my problem, not Sigiriya’s.
|Chicken and daal|
|Mutton and beetroot|
I’ll start with the daals, because we all know daal really is the ultimate test. Both daals were good: rich dishes with a real palette of tastes. I found them a tad too coconutty, but then again, this is only me talking. They had enough spice to have more presence than anything else I’ve found in Berlin, but I did not think they were spicy enough. The daal with the spinach was a tiny bit better than the pure daal. The aubergine curry was perfect. Again, too coconutty for me, but otherwise rich in taste, spicy and quite wonderful. The chicken curries were good as well, with the chicken and the spices taking centre stage together (so different to any chicken-curry you’d order anywhere else in town, where you just get a bland sauce with tasteless pieces of chicken lurking around in it). If only, the sauce was not powerful enough, but it was all in the right direction. The mutton dishes were not bad either. The saag was nicely refined, but I found it lacked a bit of presence. The raita was perfect, however, and compensated for the relative blandness of the dish. The second mutton was a lot better. The beetroot curry was very pleasing and the spicy caramelised onions were quite fantastic: both had just the right presence, well balanced and well spiced. The mutton curry on the same dish was a bit more disappointing. Not spicy enough and tasted a bit more generic than the rest. But still light years away from anything else around.
Bottom line: Go to Sigiriya. Like... you know, NOW. Compared to curries in Birmingham it might still be lacking in more than one way, but it could still be a fairly good choice on a London scale. On a Berlin scale, which is what we are dealing with a the moment – it may just be the only possible choice.
Grünberger Straße 66, 10245