Nicole Sartirani has a uniquely tasty business that is bringing insect cuisine to the masses. Here’s her guide to Berlin, the city that is home to a melting pot of cultural influences and progressive flavours.
“What’s really special about Berlin is the history,” says Sartirani. “When the Wall fell [in 1989], no one wanted to stay in the city, and Berlin was practically empty. The government tried to get people back and Berlin became quite cheap to live in, and so young people in particular came back. In other cities where we think there is a melting pot of cultures, there is a strong native culture throughout – like London and its English heritage – but it wasn’t like that in Berlin,” explains Sartirani, highlighting why the diversity in the city has become part of its identity.
The Italian-born sustainability advocate from MikroKosmos was keen to explore the world from a young age and first arrived in Berlin as an ambitious student. “I had no expectations when I came to Berlin. It was a spontaneous decision to stay here, and I skipped my return flight home. It was like another world with energy and creativity. There was a place for everybody in the city with a need to exchange cultural values and to cooperate with one another. This need and want to share surprised me,” adds Sartirani.
The growing population from different backgrounds is reflected in many aspects of life in Berlin, including the cuisine. “When so many people come from all over the world, they also bring their kitchens. Every culture that comes brings their food and it feels authentic and real.”
One problem particular to Berlin is the difficulty in sourcing quality local ingredients. “You can’t get local fish or meat – it is all imported from outside. It is difficult to cultivate plants because of the weather. It can get very cold, and also because of the light here.”
The variety of restaurants in Berlin makes it hard for Sartirani to pin down her favourites. “It’s hard to pick because there are so many different styles. You can’t really compare an Italian restaurant to a Japanese restaurant, or a Turkish restaurant to a Peruvian one. They offer such different things, but what I like to do is restaurant hopping. You can travel the world by tasting food from different parts of Berlin. There is a multitude of places, and even districts have their specialist regional restaurants, so if you want to try Turkish dishes you can go to Neukölln or Kreuzberg where the Turkish culture has been well established.”
Some recommendations that Sartirani does mention are: Ernst, a 12-seat restaurant specialising in seasonal dishes; Restaurant einsunternull, which serves gourmet cuisine that captures the diversity of Berlin; and Nobelhart und Schmutzig, where the award-winning concept is to serve locally sourced and prepared food. “These are all quite young restaurants that are using ethical techniques. They think about where we get our food from, and reflect that in the dishes. It’s a new wave of zero waste, the movement of nose-to-tail. It’s something I find fascinating myself,” she says.
“Something else I enjoy doing is finding natural wines, which are in line with my own philosophy towards food and also don’t give you a headache in the morning! If you’re used to processed wines, natural can initially taste bitter, but you get used to it and I think we are in a big moment for natural wine. It’s the same with craft beer – you couldn’t find it here five years ago, but now it is a movement that is growing fast. There are quite a few places in Berlin that offer this, and I particularly like Naturales and Wagner.”
Now living and working full time in Berlin, Sartirani is able to offer some inside tips for anyone looking to explore the rest of the city. “The first thing you should do is the bus city tour. Do it immediately when you arrive because you get the chance to look at the diversity of Berlin.
“The change from district to district is huge and the most impressive thing about the place – you can see it from building to building. There are big differences from the east to the west of the city, and in the middle you can see remnants of the Wall that divided Berlin and the country for so many years. Some buildings still have holes in them from bullets and bombs and that tells you about the past. It is the contrast of Berlin that makes it work, and the bus tour shows you that. It takes a day, but it gives you a view of everything.”
Berlin remains a popular destination for travellers across Europe. “People come for different reasons, so those looking for something historical will go to the Dome of the Reichstag and the Museum Island [where a series of internationally significant sites are huddled on the northern half of an island along the Spree river]. Other people will come for more artistic purposes, and for them the street food and art of Kreuzberg is very appealing.”
One other place she mentions is the old airport that is still open to the public. “It is so impressive when you think about it, the aircraft that landed and took off from there. If you think about it you can get a sense of the fear and terror of what was happening there, as well as the hope.”
A lesser-known highlight for Sartirani, but one with just as much historical significance, can be found in central Berlin. “Along Friedrichstraße there is the big metro station, and there you can find the Tränenpalast [Palace of tears], which is a free museum that is part of the old station, that has been kept as it was. It captures the area and moment where you had to cross the border from east to west. It shows you how it was to get selected and admitted to cross, or not. In a few minutes there, you get a real sense of what it was like. It can be quite sad, but it is also very clear about what was going on in the city.”
Finally, Sartirani is keen to point out just how far back the heritage of the city goes. “There is the Ku’damm [Kurfürstendamm] area, which retains a lot of the history prior to the war era, as it wasn’t as heavily bombed as other parts of Berlin. You can see how far back Berlin goes; it’s not just the Cold War or the world wars. There was an era when Berlin was the home of art and cabaret in Europe.”
You won’t find bug-filled fare at this urban-jungle-themed hotel, but its spectacular rooftop restaurant NENI is worth staying for. Offering a mixture of Persian, Austrian and Mediterranean flavours – though you’ll find Korean and Russian influences on the menu too – the restaurant serves plates sharing-style alongside panoramic views of the Berlin Zoo and the city beyond. Downstairs, pick up a coffee made from beans from local roasters and relax in the hammock-strewn lobby with a fresh, buttery brioche from the hotel bakery.
Orania.Berlin began life as a glamorous cabaret café at the beginning of the 20th century. Now it’s a subtly Asian-themed hotel, and its bar has kept the building’s history alive by continuing to stage intimate concerts by some of the city’s most talented musicians. Settle into one of the lounge’s supremely comfy seats, cocktail in hand, and enjoy jazz, classical piano and everything in between. If you’re feeling peckish, order the hotel’s signature dish: traditional peking duck served with buckwheat waffles.
If you’d rather feast on currywurst over creepy-crawlies, take a gastronomical journey through Berlin’s rich history on a tasty and fascinating Secret Food Tour. Led by a dedicated guide, you’ll discover the flavourful food scene at the heart of one of Europe’s coolest cities. Enjoy delicious German dishes while wandering through beer halls, bohemian neighbourhoods and some of the city’s most important historic sites.
If you fancy washing down your dinner of bugs with a refreshing glass of wine then head along to this wine-tasting experience. Learn from a passionate expert and sample a selection tailored to your taste buds. During the session, you’ll learn how to confidently choose a bottle like a true connoisseur and discover the proper way to sip, while enjoying a selection of tipples from your host’s expansive, international wine cellar.