Week 54 : Madinina (Martinique)

In December in Berlin, you certainly crave a bit of Caribbean sunshine in your life. This week’s visit to Madinina in Friedrichshain was therefore a welcome visit on a cold and grey evening. Warschauer strasse is not somewhere you would usually expect to find a Caribbean restaurant, being as it is; a fairly non-descript, ugly, thoroughfare to Berlin’s main nightlife district and I was surprised when I first noticed this place from the M10 tram on my journey back from Prenzlauerberg one night. At five thirty on a Saturday evening, it seemed that very few other people knew it was there either as it was almost empty apart from one other couple. The interior was warm and welcoming though with a wooden shack style bar and a huge, attractive mural of fishermen on the beach on one wall.
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We sat by the window (and the radiator) and waited for some service from the ghostly quiet bar and kitchen. Eventually we were greeted by a solo waiter with a small handwritten menu and a laminated drinks card which mainly involved variations on rum. We chose a ti-punch rum with sugar and lime, and a ginger punch. We were expecting long drinks as implied by the word ‘punch’ from our understanding. Instead we were given a shot of rum with sugar and lime and a shot of rum with ginger liqueur. The confusion continued into the starters as we swiftly received the meat pastries we had ordered but they came plain without any sauce or salsa. I asked if we could have something and was told ‘no, this is the authentic way to eat them.’ If they had been moist, unctuous and yummy pies then this would not be a problem, but they were dry and flavourless and to make things worse he disappeared into the kitchen before we could order beers to quench our thirst and all we had for lubrication were the rum shots!

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Next came crayfish beignets (Accras mit Flusskrebs) which were better and tastier but still would have benefited from a spicy salsa. I knew better than to bother asking this time but just managed to order the beers before he disappeared again. Richard seemed to be enjoying everything more than me which could have been because I found myself in a lack-of-sleep induced bad mood which was perhaps clouding my judgement. The accras were fairly light and tasted nice and they came with an okay side salad. Richard pointed out that as this place is creole and from a French influenced cuisine this might explain the lack of a hot sauce to pep things up. This explanation went out of the window when the main courses were served (whole grilled sea bass and a curried beef dish) and we were all of a sudden offered some sauces! A hot pepper sauce and a lighter coconut one. They would have been awesome with the starters but seemed strange to be offered hot sauce with a wet curry? This mystery was in-turn revealed on tasting the curry which was extremely bland and needed all the hot sauce you could add. The sea bass was pretty decent though, a good sized fish, moist and well grilled and served with a tasty tomato salsa and rice.
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Sleepiness took over as soon as the food was finished and we quickly asked for the bill so we could get home. At 55 euros this is one of the more expensive meals we have had for the blog and I felt pretty disappointed overall with what we had eaten. Maybe I ordered the wrong things? Maybe I was too tired to be objective? But whatever the reason we will not be returning and if we need a bit of Caribbean sunshine in our lives we will be straight over to Trinidadian Merle’s Rum & Roti in Kreuzberg instead for some delicious salsa and in my opinion much better food.

Date of visit : 12 December 2015
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Week 53 : Tadshikische Teestube (Tajikistan) 

Seeminlgly one of the more obscure findings for the blog, this traditional tea-house on Oranienburgstrasse in Mitte was donated to East Berlin by the Soviet Republic of Tajikistan in 1976. A bit of internet research told me that far from being obscure this novelty cafe is listed among the ‘hidden gems’ in the more alternative tourist guides and seemed well known and well reviewed.

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image from http://www.tadshikische-teestube.de/

I met a friend there for a late afternoon tea on a cold early December afternoon and it felt like the right time of year to cozy up in the warm, ‘Oriental’ style salon. (Using the word oriental conjures up exactly the images I want to convey here but I use inverted commas because of Edward Said and how Oriental can be seen a powerful, negative discourse)

Anyway, I digress. One can choose between sitting on cushions on the floor or on  a few proper tables, even at 4pm just after opening it was busy with several reserved signs on the tables. We left our shoes and coats by the door and sat at a small table at the back, there was a lovely booth behind us which I imagine would be nice to book if you were with a largish group. The decor was very opulent as you would hope from such a place with mahogany wood floors with huge embroidered Persian rugs, emerald green walls furnished with tapestries and paintings, and the low wooden tables had cushions for sitting and were jeweled with sweets and nuts.
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There was a lot more alcohol than I imagined on the menu with different vodkas and liqueurs featuring as part of some of the set teas. It was also a bit expensive with pots of tea averaging at 5 euros and some of the more extravagant samovar tea ceremonies costing 9 euros per person. I resent paying for tea when someone has just put hot water on a tea bag so was hoping that we would get at least something more than some PG Tips in a pot. We chose the appropriately named ‘Five O’Clock’ tea partly because it seemed one of the more authentic offerings and partly as it was early and we didn’t fancy any vodka. It came with with fresh cream, lemon-cheese marmalade (lemon curd), biscuits, toast and orange and ginger marmalade. We also took a plate of Wareneki with potato and mushroom to share as we were not so hungry to try many thing and hadn’t tried this variety of dumpling before.
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The menu as a whole was a real mishmash of Uzbek, Russian, Eastern European and Iranian cuisines which is unsurprising considering Tajikistan’s location on the silk and spice trails. You could really imagine traders from all over the near East stopping off for tea somewhere like this, their camels tied up outside expecting home comforts, vodka and hot teas to warm them on their way. I guess this place is like an ancient form of a motorway service station but with fewer blow up neck cushions and less varieties of pick-and-mix. If I went back I would like to have tried the Plov which is an Uzbek dish of lamb and rice and the pierogis with meat.

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The five o’clock tea was lovely. Tasty black tea and slices of wholemeal toast and biscuits with yummy marmalade. The wareneki were okay but nothing special, the texture was nice, the potato filling tasty enough and the mushroom topping was interesting but we had unthinkingly ordered the vegan version so we couldn’t help but think about how much better they would be with cheese or sour cream to give them some moisture. The value for money wasn’t so good either at over eight euros a plate but I guess the prices reflect the surroundings and being in a nice part of Mitte.

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I would come back here but maybe for a special occasion with a group and book a table with a full tea ceremony as this seems to be the essence of the place. It is a certainly special place to visit, evocative of another time on a distant windswept Tajik plain where moustached men on horses with their precious cargo of spice and silks would stop off to  refresh themselves and share their tales. And that is not something you get to experience every day, especially not in the centre of Berlin.