Published On: May 15, 2013 - By - 0 Comments on A Taste of Mexico in Berlin -

When we think of the culinary history of Germany, Mexican food doesn’t exactly enter the picture. For some Berlin locals, Mexican cuisine may mean an odd concoction of cabbage filled tacos with mayonnaise, but thankfully, change is afoot. In the last couple of years, more sabor has emerged and Mexican restaurants, yes, real Mexican restaurants, are making an impression and filling a void in a city starving for more ethnic flair. 

“It has changed a lot in the last five years,” says Yaotzin Botello, a Mexican journalist who came to Berlin in 2004. “Since the fall of the wall there were some attempts at Mexican food in Berlin. Three of them lasted over a decade, but they were overpriced, kitschy, and lacked fresh ingredients. Mid-2009, there was a wave of openings. Within half a year there were seven new Mexican restaurants. The main changes were location, from West Berlin towards the East, fresh ingredients like tortillas and salsas, better prices and more Mexican variety rather than Tex-Mex.”

In 2009, the first of three “Bonita” restaurants opened showcasing a passion for authentic Mexican cuisine. Offering traditionally prepared dishes, hand-made tortillas and salsas, one of Bonita’s original owners was Mexican, which helped validate its authenticity. He has since moved on, but the food and recipes remain constant under the other owners.

“I grew up on the border of Mexico and crossed to work and eat good tacos since I was thirteen,” says El Paso native Thomas Wright who has owned and run María Bonita in the Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood for the past four years. He says the street food they serve is not “Tex-Mex.”

Botello agrees. “If you haven’t eaten a taco standing (without a fork and knife), a Mexican would say you’re not a man. And you can prove it in this small eatery in Berlin.” (If you need a seat, however, there are about 12 counter stools to use as you devour tasty street food tacos and burritos.)

[ pagebreak ]

Sister restaurant, Santa María in Kreuzberg, is more of a lively sit-down affair with a larger menu serving up the likes of chucky guac, chorizo quesadillas, tacos with fillings like nopales or carnitas, and even chilaquiles.

Owner, Julian Boyce, who spent a total of three months eating his way through Mexico, says authenticity is their focus. “Before I opened Maria Bonita in 2009, there was no authentic Mexican food – everything was Germanized. We decided to make our food as it was on the streets of Mexico. We weren’t making what we thought locals would want, but the food we missed from Mexico.”

“If you ask a Mexican why a taquería is good, there’s a big chance you’ll get the answer: they make good salsas. And that’s what Santa María does,” explains Botello. “They have the natural fresh red tomato salsa, to be eaten almost as a dip. The green salsa is to spice. And they have what [no] other taquería in Berlin has, the highly respected salsa de habañero. It simply burns and brings you to back to life.”

Full of patrons when we visited, it seems Berliners are embracing Mexican cuisine. According to Botello, eateries still have to offer “Tex-Mex” burritos to keep up with less sophisticated palates.

“I think the Berliners are really happy with this new offering. Those who knew Mexican food say, ‘finally’ and others rediscover Mexican food in a more authentic style or even try it for the first time,” says Helga Schneider of the Berlin office of Instituto Cervantes, a cultural center educating the public about Spanish-speaking countries. “Perhaps there are more Mexican people trying their luck opening a restaurant [in Berlin], perhaps it has to do with the arrival of people from other countries missing real Mexican food.”

[ pagebreak ]
Some other newly popular Mexican eateries include Chaparro, which makes its corn tortillas by hand. And there’s even a taco truck. Vato’s Tacos asks clients (via Facebook) to bring tapes or vinyl records and play them in exchange for tacos. They also have quesadillas and a notable espresso.

There’s cozy Ta’Cabrona taqueria-style joint with counter-service, opened three years ago by Joaquin Robredo of Culiacán in northwestern Mexico. Serving up tacos, burritos, enchiladas, and tostadas, Ta’Cabron is even packed on weeknights. We dug into their guacamole, ceviche and the assorted “taco mix” of three filled tacos. Botello suggests going straight for two “rare species” in the international market: the cochinita pibil, a marinated pork and the tacos de rajas con crema, slices of chilies cooked in sour cream with onion.

Does being authentic have to mean a Mexican owns it? No, says Eitan Malkin, the Israeli owner of No Hablo Espanol.  “Authentic does not always mean good,” he maintains. Eitan and his Poland-born wife Joanna have spent a lot of time in Mexico studying the food and have brought back recipes which they have recreated as fusion dishes like their Indian burrito with curry sauce, and caramelized onion and cheese quesadillas.

Last, Mercado San Cosme, sits right in the heart of the city. Consisting of a shop and mezcal tasting room, the restaurant’s concept is based on the traditional mercados of Mexico; a typical place to for both food and products that represent the folklore and essence of Mexican culture. The market/bar/restaurant is a fresh concept for Berlin, and set in a very contemporary room with clean lines highlighting a more young Mexico-city vibe, it seems to be working.

“You won’t reach the level of a Mexican market or a Mexican street-stand here, but what these entrepreneurs can do 10,000 kilometers away from home is amazing,” Botello says, as he continues searching for more and more tasty Mexican food in Berlin. 

Leave A Comment