The night we moved to Berlin we drove around in a snowstorm desperately trying to find a restaurant with a kitchen still open at 10pm on a Tuesday evening. Not knowing the neighbourhood, we dashed into the first warmly lit place we saw, hoping not to slip on the thick crusts of ice covering the pavement. What luck – it was a vegetarian restaurant, and they were still serving! My memory may be skewed by the simple relief of satiating my hunger on that bleak night, but the meal has stayed with me as some of the most delicious I have ever eaten. With both of us vegetarian, that the whole menu was meatless certainly helped. In due course, it became our favourite local restaurant; the surefire go to place when we had friends to stay. Such was the quality of the food and the subtlety of the flavours that we knew even the most committed meat-eaters would enjoy it.
Folklore would have it that German cuisine is predominantly meat-based, and 2013 reality holds true to this. In the country of Currywurst, Weisswurst, Schnitzel, Kassler, and Schweinshaxe, the vast majority of celebrated restaurants are renowned for their use of dead animal and offer only limited options for vegetarians – usually stodgy and cheesy. Having been spoilt for choice in London, with its food culture diversity and world-famous vegetarian dining establishments, we hadn’t expected to eat as well and as conveniently in Germany. But our first evening set a different, more optimistic tone, and we have been almost only pleasantly surprised since.
Meat may be the standard order of the day, but in Berlin, at any rate, there is a very active and for the most part delicious vegetarian / vegan scene. From the annual vegetarian food fair at Alexanderplatz to fine dining on Kollwitzplatz, there is plenty classy (and non-cheese based) vegetarian food to be eaten. You can find something to suit every budget and palate – our current restaurant favourites are the Lucky Leek and Kopps. And as in London, you can find some of the best vegetarian food at restaurants specialising in more international cuisine – Lebanese, Turkish, Thai, Indian and Italian for example. In such restaurants, the range is marvellous and the flavours are more adventurous.
If restaurants aren’t your thing, every Wochenmarkt worth its salt has at least one vegetarian food stall alongside the Currywurst stand. Shopping for vegetarian / vegan food is also easy. Germany has an excellent provision of organic supermarkets which contain shelves and shelves of suitable products – stocked with almost every type of tofu, seitan, nut butters and pastes. Though not cheap, we couldn’t live without our local branch of Bio Company – a natural supermarket which started out in Berlin / Brandenburg but is now expanding nationwide.
Berlin’s range of choice is not representative of the rest of Germany, but you can find international restaurants just about everywhere. Falafel in pitta nearly always hits the spot. And if not, a good mixed salad and some Salzkartoffeln from your local German restaurant will keep you going until you find the tofu sausages in your closest supermarket.