This was the light-hearted portion of day 3 in Berlin; I just didn’t think it fit in with my bit about the visit to the concentration camp. But how much can you really talk about one of the most popular takeaway foods in Berlin, Michelle? Oh… you don’t even know.
Brief History of the Döner
For those of you who’ve never heard of the döner, you need to stop whatever you’re doing (unless what you’re doing is reading this) and go find one. Although the food itself has Turkish origins, the actual birthplace of the döner is Berlin. A Turkish immigrant some time ago was frustrated that people in Berlin never had time to have a proper, sit-down meal. Originally, the döner was eaten as a plate in a restaurant with the bread on the side. So one day, he had the idea to transform the dish into a portable version; and thus, the döner kebap was born.
At stands like Mustafa’s, there will usually be three options: the döner, the kebap, and something called a dürüm (I later found out is the name for the floppy, tortilla/pancake fusion you wrap the contents in). The meat, usually some form of lamb, veal, increasingly chicken nowadays, roasts on a spit for the whole day, making it quite juicy and tasty. Once an order is placed, the employees go and use this giant knife to slice some of the browned outside bits off and packs it into the handheld fluffy bread.
Along with it comes lettuce, cabbage, onions, cucumber, tomatoes, hot sauce, herb sauce, garlic sauce or yogurt sauce. Pick and choose and you like, but most people go for the “everything döner.” It also makes communication much easier because the workers may (said very hesitatingly because it’s Berlin) not know what “no onion” means, but they’ve heard “everything” so often that they know what to do. It also reduces English-speaking shame for the tourist. Cough.
Mind you, in countries outside of Germany, the döner (the meat one) is usually called a kebab; I’m not sure whether a vegetarian version exists outside of Berlin, but it would probably still be called a kebab. For example, in France.
Personal History with the Döner
My friends in the states who have been to Germany for study abroad/au pair trips and whatnot all swore by the döner when they returned. So once I arrived abroad, I was eager to try whatever they called. Unfortunately, I was in France and the only thing they offered here was something called a “kebab,” which still looked pretty damn good.
“Ugh, it’s not the same,” they’d say. I never knew what they were talking about because this was my go-to shame-eat food. This also meant that I looked forward to discovering the “real döner” when I arrived in Berlin—knowing that countries call it different names would’ve spared me some brief disappointment.
Since then, I’ve been eating döners so many times a month I don’t really want to put a label on our relationship. But we’re probably close to celebrating our 50th anniversary.
Mustafa’s has been known as the best doner stand in Berlin. The lines are often outrageously long, even at 3AM in the morning—although the crowd vibe would probably way… drunker.
I thought it would be an excellent idea to treat myself to a doner AND kebap after my tiring day at the concentration camp… and the line, albeit long, shouldn’t take more than 20 minutes, right? There were 4 workers in that stand for heaven’s sake.
I waited for more than an hour.
Yes, there were 4 workers, but only ONE of them was actively making the kebaps. Also, the natives that come must do this on a monthly basis because almost everyone before me ordered enough to feed an entire tribe. Which is why I didn’t feel at all guilty that I ordered a kebap and a doner.
Yes, Mustafa’s food is amazing BUT is it worth the hour+ line to get your food? No. That’s an hour+ time of hyping up the food and by the time you’re reading to chow down, you’re too cranky to enjoy it. It is good, but it’s not THAT much better than any other kebap stand out there. The other day, I popped by the stand right by the exit of the U-Bahn and it was pretty comparable. Right now, I think Mustafa’s is just so hyped up by the tourist community—most of the people standing in line were either English-speakers or just plain nutty.
Also, it will get you almost no cred with the locals/expats. Whenever I accidentally bring up Mustafa’s, they’re all like “Wait, don’t tell me you actually waited in line…” and I would scoff and said that I was a better traveler than that, come on. So maybe keep it on the DL that I was ever there.