Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Market Hall on Bergmannstraße, Bio in Berlin and the Search for Molasses

My first 4 days in Berlin were spent going to grocery stores and markets to source the food that I we would need to buy for the BBQ/opening on Saturday night. One if my menu items was baked beans which required molasses, so my Holy Grail was to find, in Berlin, Molasses.

A general observation about food shopping in Berlin: organic food is a priority here.
There were two organic grocery stores near me in Kruezberg, one was LPG, a co-op type situation to which you need to pay 30 Euros a month to become a member, the benefit of membership being a deep discount on the regular price. The other was a grocery store chain called Bio Company (bio =organic) with an outlet directly across the street from the market hall on Bergmannstraße. This place is great. They have everything you need including wine (I love that in Europe you can get wine with your groceries) and I was particularly impressed with the vast selection of wines that were either organic or biodynamically grown and produced.

Indeed, "Bio" is everywhere in Berlin. Riding our bikes down the canal there was a truck that sets up every day that sold local produce. Even in the shopping malls (see video below) there are local bakeries, local vegetables, meats, preserves, fruit and pretty much anything else you can imagine (except molasses).

Molasses in Berlin is elusive, if it exists at all, in the blackstrap form I was looking for.

I figured a big store like KaDeWe would have it no problem and was very excited when I was told they had an American section and a Deli section that both carried "typically" American groceries. Apparently to most Germans that translates into junk food. The shelves were filled with Marshmallow Fluff, ketchup, Jack Daniels BBQ sauce, and so on, but no molasses.

The good new is that most junk food, stuff that would be riddled with high fructose corn syrup here, is actually made with sugar there. Some had fructose syrup in them, but I'm led to believe this isn't as nasty and, in general, is genetically modified.

I even had a Coke with my pesto pizza from Ron Telesky's Canadian Pizza company in Kreusberg after I read the label and discovered, to my joy, that it did not contain any corn products whatsoever, that it is indeed made with zucker. I just couldn't resist. Check out his site, by the way. The song is hysterical. I actually met co-owner Ole Schack. He has a canoe out front which I commented on, as I used to love to canoe as a teenager in Canada. Ole told me that his canoe was actually from the former East Germany. He also told me that he had been an exchange student in Peterborough, Ontario and had worked at the pizza place there which is where he got his inspiration. Too funny. My slice was delicious, the variety available was really good. Keith had a slice with sweet potatoes and rosemary.

However frustrating the hunt for molasses, after days of searching, I had gotten a great overview into the food culture of Berlin. What a great city for food shopping. It isn't as multi-cultural or diverse as NYC, but then very few cities are, and Berlin certainly can hold it's own. Walking through Charlottenberg, Keith and I came across a huge Thai grocery store that has a small food room tucked away where Thai moms were making the real deal for people to take away or eat in. Everything it would seem, but molasses.

In the mostly Turkish grocery store, across the street from the Turkish market, I finally found both grape and pomegranate molasses. I was tempted to try the grape, but in the end was afraid to experiment in a situation where I wanted to make a good impression. In the end I used maple syrup in my baked beans and they managed to all get eaten.

And if I may so say myself, they tasted damn good!

It was well worth the exploration, even if I did end up ultimately empty handed. It was great to be able to discover what turns out to be a very environmentally concerned city that is dedicated to organic food, not as something special and rare, but as daily staple. A place where local fruit, veggies and products are highlighted and prized.

Funny, you don't think of Berlin and decide: "Oh I want to do a market tour!" which is too bad because food culture in Berlin is every bit as interesting and extensive as it's art or club scenes.

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