Every day life, food & strangeness in a big city

Category: Food and Drink Experiments

Baddie and the Galette des Rois


“Be a King / Queen for a day!” – an utterly irresistible invitation if I ever heard one. And it involved some golden-looking puff pastry called “galette des rois.” So lured, I followed the seductive whisper from the homepage to the actual physical home of the Galeries Lafayette Berlin. None too soon, I stood before a small improvised counter in their gourmet section, bountifully  laden with all manners of gleaming galettes: marzipan, chocolate and hazelnut, or apple flavour, all beckoned equally. As I reached out to the tasting tray to enjoy a free sample of the latter, a trio of blushing girls asked the madame for assistance. After some confusion, it turned out that they were not looking for a French “galette” but for the rhyming German “toilette”, proving indubitably that sometimes life is sillier than fiction.

In any case, it wasn’t long before I was the pround owner of a galette au pommes, which I proceeded to scoff down with coffee and glee. Oh bless its yummy fluffy pastry nature!  Soon this much (little) was left:


Feeling generous, I decided to share the rest with Mr. B.  So he had a slice, and I had a slice… and spotted something black peeking out from mine. Now, you, gentle reader, might have recoiled at the sight, and thrown away the piece of galette in disgust. You might have thought: “Bug!” or somesuch abomination. Not I! My first (and only) thought was: hmm… maybe there’s a raisin in there… and proceeded to joyfully bite in. But hark! My teeth encountered a hard obstacle – one end quite white and ceramic and… “Oh God!” I thought rapidly. “Someone’s false teeth?” But no. It was long and thin and … “Some object they used for cake baking? And dropped in by mistake?” I was getting pretty nauseous by this point, so I quickly spit it out…

… and discovered it was a figurine of a stout little man. Dressed in yellow:


“Oooohhh” I cooed in total incomprehension. Mr. B looked at me like I had lost all my marbles. “Uhm… what do you think it is?” we stared at each other. “He’s not the king, that’s for sure” he offered decisively. “Maybe he’s… a citizen” I mused. “Maybe it’s a game, and there are others hidden in the other galettes. Like, his people. His wife …. His horse…. Maybe a castle!” Mr. B was by this time snickering and I’m pretty sure I heard “a castle” repeated in a disrespectful tone. “Or maybe I am special.  And I will get a special prize from the Galeries for finding the little man. Like a 500 Euro prize!” I was getting more and more excited about this. “I must know what it all means!” So of course, I went to check it out online.

This is what I found out: that the galettes are traditionally eaten in France around the beginning of January in honour of the three Mage Kings and the epiphany (hence the “rois” appelation). That there are different types and fillings customary in different regions of France. That master pattisiers from  places such as Ladurée and Lenôtre come up with most original and mouth-watering interpretations of this dessert. That there’s a loooooooooooong history behind the whole thing And while they were even served at the table of Louis XIV, after the revolution the whole monarchy-symbolism thing has gone a bit sour… but you can read all about it somewhere else. Well I guess the connection to royalty is still represented by the fact that the galettes come with a shiny golden paper crown. This I tried to place around the pastry and then on top but couldn’t get to retain shape so I sheepishly ended up throwing away.

But most importantly, that traditionally a figurine of baby Jesus was hidden inside – and whoever found it had mysterious responsibilities – never got to reading that far, so if anyone ever finds out exactly what those responsibilities might be, do let me know. Some time ago though, someone decided to switch baby Jesus to some other theme-based figurines… Including smurfs and geese, according to my in-depth research. Anyhow, to cut a long story short, there’s nothing unsual about finding such trinkets – called fèves – in a galette. For those of you who play Trivial Pursuit, there’s even a name for the impetus to collect them: “favophilie“. And no, sadly it does not come with a prize from Galeries Lafayette.


3 Cups of Cheer: Cosy Places in Berlin

1.  a cup of aromatic sencha with fresh ginger in a charming chipped cup at


ChénChè Teahousewell hidden and a true delight for all senses (Mitte)

2. a mocca and an Earl Grey cup accompanied by a (strong on the) chilli chocolate cheese cake at…


  Aunt Benny – über-hipsterish yet nonetheless yummy (Friedrichshain)

3. a Hawaii Kona Extra Fancy „Captain Cook“ rare coffee brought on a lovely little tray with a mini-cafetiere, a tiny jug of milk and glass of water, raw sugar cubes, and a biscuit treat at…


Berliner Kaffeerösterei – welcoming and special (Charlottenburg)

Du Bonheur Bakery and Cake Shop – the DKA returns!

KA and elderflower lemonade

koing amann & elderflower lemonade

One thing leads to another and so I recently stumbled across this delicious blog called Foodie in Berlin … it’s full of great tips which made me ecstatic … for about two weeks. Because of course when I discover a great food guru living in Berlin, it is unavoidable that she will move to another country (!) within the month. Aaargh!!!

Anyway, from Foodie in Berlin I learned about this cute bakery / cake shop in Mitte, which was praised for its cannelles, among other things. For those not in the know, cannelles are yummy little treats, crispy dough on the outside, some sort of hard vanilla filling… ok may be totally wrong about the ingredients – just go try some, it’s worth it! But most importantly, through another blogger I found out that they have kouign amann – a specialty from the Bretagne, all pastry and caramelized crust… incidentally, they are the long name for my favourite thing in the world, the DKAs! (hitherto tragically only found at the Dominique Ansel Bakery in NYC)

Naturally I had to hurry and see this small miracle for myself – today. I went there for lunch, and had it outside, at a charming table surrounded by plants and bees (wasps?) and overlooking a terribly uninspiring Brunnenstrasse.  The very nice gentleman behind the counter brought me this pot of tomato / mozarella salad with a  slice of warm bread, accompanied by fresh elderflower lemonade. It was all served very prettily.


This was followed by a little koign amann. And I do mean little – the thing was tiny – about half to a third of the size of the ones from Dominique Ansel. Which meant that it was more compact, and there was less fluffy dough on the interior, which was a shame.  But while I prefer the NYC version, the KAs from Du Bonheur are lovely too, and they might just become my new indulgence…




Du Bonheur is located on Brunnenstrasse 39,, 10115 BERLIN, a few steps away from Bernauerstr. U-Bahn. It is open Wed-Fri: 8.00-19.00  and Sa & So: 9.00-19.00.

Süsskramdealer Berlin

My summer project (as if I need one) is to visit Berlin’s nicest and cutest coffee-shops and bakeries. Today I started off my hunt with the Süsskramdealer (sweetstuff shop) in Friedenau.

The Süsskramdealer is a tucked-away spot near Bundesplatz. It is actually divided in two spaces: one room (occupying what used to be a historical cigar shop) is a type of  Ye Olde Sweets Shoppe – old-fashioned stuff and lots of specialty chocolates are on sale in a dark-wood interior complete with metal scales and a wacky clock. The other part is a white-furnished shop and cafe, selling everything from cookbooks and wrapping paper to quirky items such as frog-princes, as well as all sorts of intriguing implements in addition to their small but delicious assortment of cakes. Quite friendly staff and very pleasant to sit outside with a cup of strong coffee.












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Fassbender & Rausch Chocolatiers in Berlin


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A Tale of Two Bakeries: Lady M and Dominique Ansel

I have been to the famous Lady M Confectionery a grand total of one (1) times. That should be a singular, but that would make for a weird sentence, don’t you agree? Anyhow, Lady M has a super-high score of 29/30 on Zagat, the US rating and review system for restaurants and such places, and an overblown-reputation. It’s actually this tiny place up on E 78 Street, close enough to Central Park. And the location and the hype dictate its prices, which are rather steep – think $6 for a coffee. It’s also frequented only by Asians for some reason (for those of you living in the UK: that’s Chinese / Korean Asian, not Indian). And there’s this intriguing Cynthia Rowley shop next door. Anyhow, I had the recommended original Millecrepe which I unfortunately found nauseautingly rich and creamy so had to give up half way through… and tasted from my friend’s green tea one, which was marginally better. Most people seem to love it though – you’ll have to decide by yourself.




In contrast, the Dominique Ansel Bakery on Spring Street in Soho has become one of my haunts – I’ve been three times this week already.  The reason behind this is actually because I was trying to get my paws on their elusive new concoction – the Cronut – but more on that later. This is a very nice place with all sorts of delicious pastries and cakes – something for everyone. They also do wonderful salads and sandwhiches – I’m not ashamed to admit I’ve tried most things on their menu and I did find everything exquisite. Their DKAs (a sweetly glazed type of pastry) are out of this world. Also, they have cheap(ish) coffee for around $3 and a lot of tables – I especially like the winter garden and the back yard. It’s rather low-key though – no silver cutlery or proper plates here, all is plastic or paper and disposable – but the interior is pretty and fun. Bonus: they’re a very friendly bunch.





Max Brenner’s Chocolate Factory

Last Saturday, my Korean friend and I went to Max Brenner‘s chocolate cafe on 841 Broadway. This place has been termed by some (quite rightly, if I might add) the real-life Willy Wonka’s. There’s certainly enthusiasm about chocolate and sweets, and plenty of panache. My eyes turned the size of saucers when I spotted the treats brought to tables around us: chocolate fondues with strawberries and what looked like cute little brownies to dip in – a death by chocolate type of cake gleaming invitingly, surrounded by berries and dollops of cream – or golden pancakes with an array of toppings bursting with colour.

My friend and I arrived on time for our reservation, which was a bit before noon, and contrary to other reports, there was no hour-wait or anything of the sort. The service was extremely friendly and cheerful  – but we did wait for our food for more than 50 minutes, which was a bit extreme considering it basically amounted to a sandwich and an omelette. We ignored reviews online who advised against savoury dishes and recommended sweet ones only – and in this we were wrong. Our sandwich and omlette sounded good on paper, but were mediocre at best taste-wise. The milkshakes, though, were a different kettle of fish altogether.

(Paranthetically, if you ever wondered the provenance of the phrase “kettle of fish” here’s your chance to find out:

According to The Phrase Finder, the earliest actual citation of the term in print appears to be in Thomas Newte’s A Tour in England and Scotland in 1785:

“It is customary for the gentlemen who live near the Tweed to entertain their neighbours and friends with a Fete Champetre, which they call giving ‘a kettle of fish’. Tents or marquees are pitched near the flowery banks of the river… a fire is kindled, and live salmon thrown into boiling kettles.”

Charming, no?)

But to return: no fish was harmed or in anyway involved in the making of our shakes. My friend ordered a strawberry white chocolate one which was quite yummy but its consistency resembled more a purée or smoothie than a shake. Mine, however, was a hazelnut chocolate shake, and it tasted, without any exageration, like liquid bliss. So yes, I would return, if only to try some more sweets and feel like Alice in Wonderland having a drink.

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Chinatown: curious, colourful, kitsch

During a two-hour walk through my neighbourhood, I have spotted:

pretty lanterns – yep, hard to believe, but Chinatown has some of these…

the Statue of Liberty taking a break

a very scary dragon…

unidentified yummy objects in an Asian bakery on Canal Street


cute-looking cupcakes (?) in a bakery on Canal Street… also in stock: green tea custards – must try!


the biggest and ugliest snow-man I’ve ever seen (1 Essex Street)

jewellery-store window decorations

Cafe Grumpy’s delightful flat white (13 Essex Street); also, their chocolate brownie is to die for!

street vendors offering delicious-looking fruit

Chinatown looking its best at night, arrayed in glittering lights

At the end of my walk I wanted dinner – and this comes with a story. After a bit of walking around, I was starting to get hungry so I stopped in front of an unassuming… well “restaurant” is too grand a term for it – a neon-signed, formica-tabled place to eat where some Chinese-looking people were happily chomping on some food that didn’t look half bad. The menu was mostly in Chinese, with some brief description in English, but by looking around I had already decided I wanted some of those mouth-watering dumplings and some green tea. I point to the menu, and clearly say the words “dumplings with pork and chives”, receive the news that no tea is available, and quickly opt for some noodle soup to warm me up instead. “You want both?” the diminutive Chinese lady asks incredulously. “Dumpling AND noodle soup?” I nod affirmatively, a bit annoyed. That’s surely not disproportionate, I think with a frown. One big dumpling and a bowl of soup… would hardly qualify me as a glutton…

I sit down, and watch as they freshly prepare the noodles in the open-plan kitchen. Five minutes later, the bowl pictured is placed in front of me:

Noodle soup in a restaurant on Catherine Street

The clear broth was light yet tasty, and I added soya sauce and vinegar for that extra umami and sour taste. The noodles were great – and the green leaves – I presume they were bok choy – coupled with the pork made me think of a Romanian specialty I love called “ciorba de salata verde” (salad soup). This soup also had seaweed in it, which I happen to adore, and so I started eating happily.

What I neglected to say was that the size of this bowl was huge. It was the size of a small watermelon – and probably held more than a kilo of soup. Half an hour later, I had managed to eat about 25% of the soup, and was thinking about my lovely dumpling, when what is plonked down in front of me? Why, my dear peckish reader, it was a second bowl of soup. With a rather large dumpling in it. In about one second I realized my mistake – this is why the lady had asked if I wanted both. Not because she was mean, but simply because I had ordered two enormous bowls of food!

I look at my second bowl in dismay and slight despair. A Chinese couple nearby notice, and call out to the waitress. I smile at them. I smile at her. And to cover up for my mistake, and because I am sometimes too ashamed to complain (but not do the passive-agressive bitching-on-my-blog routine) I exclaim: “Oh, I do apologize, I forgot to say I wanted my second soup to go!”

I am delighted to report that my dumpling soup is obediently waiting for my pleasure in my fridge. All’s well that ends well.

“The Lunch Hour” at the New York Public Library

While ambling along the streets of Manhattan, I ended up in front of the New York Public Library and couldn’t resist going inside.



Once there, I stumbled across a quaint little exhibition entitled Lunch Hour NYC.


This is how the good people at NYPL describe their curatorial focus:

“The clamor and chaos of lunch hour in New York has been a defining feature of the city for some 150 years. Visitors, newly arrived immigrants, and even longtime New Yorkers are struck by the crowds, the rush, and the dizzying range of foods on offer. Of the three meals that mark the American day, lunch is the one that acquired its modern identity here on the streets of New York. […]

Lunch Hour NYC looks back at more than a century of New York lunches, when the city’s early power brokers invented what was yet to be called power lunch, local charities established a 3-cent school lunch, and visitors with guidebooks thronged Times Square to eat lunch at the Automat. Drawing on materials from throughout the Library, the exhibition explores the ways in which New York City—work-obsessed, time-obsessed, and in love with ingenious new ways to make money—reinvented lunch in its own image.” 

There’s really everything you could want in there, from little manuscripts documenting street-vendor cries, to real-life original seafood vendor carts. There is a wall  dedicated to the history of the peanut butter sandwhich, too, but my favourite was definitely the automat. 


In addition to the real thing, this section also includes projections of some snippets of 30s and 40s Hollywood movies which featured these contraptions – such as the glamorous Thirty Day Princess and That Touch of Mink. Also present was an automat coffee-spout which burst into a little jingly tune (“let’s have a cup of coffee… tra la la” or something of the sort) as soon as you pressed the button. Simply marvellous!



Also noteworthy are charming artifacts such as this letter from an automat-fan par excellence:


The exhibition is on until 17 February 2013, in the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, and it is free of charge.

NYC Weirdos: First Encounter

I’ve been in New York City for three days now – which in some cultures I’m sure equals an eternity – so an encounter with a normality-challenged person is long overdue, according to my previous record. I was starting to get a bit worried, to tell you the truth, but to my relief it turned out that my weirdness magnet functions perfectly well not only inside, but also outside of Europe.

Exhibit #1 presented to the jury:

The place where I do my grocery shopping (same one I saw the myriad bags and wrapping paper types in), also has a hot food counter. I noticed it today – several deep trays, with a variety of pasta, potato wedges, and some unidentified foods of a similar yellow nature. As I slowed down, a few steps away, enticed by the steam and fragrance, I noticed another shopper approaching the (largely unsupervised) counter, grab the big serving spoon, and… scoop up some pasta.

And drop it back down. Actually, not drop, more like stir. Gently. But persistently. And again. Raise food in spoon, examine it, sniff at it, place it back down, stir. Not, at any point, display any intention to get a plastic containter and transfer the food therein with a view to purchase it. Nope, just leisurely sifting through one tray for a good while seemed the activity of choice.

Naturally, I stopped to look. From a distance, mind you. Not that it would have disturbed the individual in question, who proceeded to offer the same treatment to the food in the two remaining trays. I watched transfixed, but the motions were repeated exactly. A few moments later, he moved on to the check-out without anything in his basket but with a spring in his step.