No other district in Berlin showcases a broader spectrum of Arab culture than the area around Sonnenallee in Neukölln. A myriad of restaurants, casinos and shops line the busy street on both sides, offering anything imaginable to the mix of locals. The food offering of Sonnenallee is unique, and whilst the unstoppable wave of gentrification of Neukölln in recent years has produced several, contemporary restaurants, such as Industry Standard, JaJa, Beuster etc., it’s fair to say that, in terms of food, Sonnenallee is still in firm hands of Turkish, Lebanese, Palestine and, most recently, Syrian restaurateurs.
“…but it was the rumor of a proper, never-before-in-Berlin-seen Shawarma place called “Aldimashqi” that caught my attention.”
The most recent arrival of Syrian refugees to Berlin has had the side effect of a couple of highly interesting restaurants opening around Sonnenalle, like the baklava shop Konditorei Damaskus, a bakery that quickly reached legendary status with its sensational produce. There were several other places opened by Syrians on the street (Rachel wrote a great piece about it on Exberliner), but it was the rumor of a proper, never-before-in-Berlin-seen Shawarma place called “Aldimashqi” that caught my attention. Just as I started planning my encounter with this shawarma in the end of 2016, I learned the devastating news that Aldimahqi had to close its doors. I was left with a hefty dose of unfulfilled shawarma cravings. Luckily, less than a year later, Aldimashqi opened up in much larger capacity on Reuterstraße, just off Sonnenallee, in the venue of former Turkish Ocakbasi Adanus. This time I didn’t hesitate. The rest is history, drenched in Shawarma bliss.
“This time I didn’t hesitate. The rest is history, drenched in Shawarma bliss”
True Shawarma greatness, I now know, is fundamentally simple in its composition: Chicken, garlic sauce and flatbread. But it’s the details, seasoning and preparation that make the difference and the crew at Aldmimnashqi are mastering this trade. In the storefront of Aldimashqi you’ll find the pulsating heart of the operation; the giant, rotating chicken kebab. It’s from this skewer the meat for the shawarma is hand cut: fatty, grilled chicken thigh that’s been marinated in an eclectic and highly secret spice mix, only to be grilled to juicy perfection and then rolled into a flatbread with nothing else but a healthy smear of a highly addictive garlic yoghurt sauce. The roll is then dipped into chicken drippings before its seared with a weight on the griddle and served with another dollop of that garlic sauce for dipping purposes. A simple dish, but after one bite you will understand why Aldimashqi is packed day and night. This Shawarma is a gift to mankind, an explosion of chicken and garlic on your palate, a sweet song from a land far away, tucked in between the sheets of a perfectly crunchy flatbread.
“This Shawarma is a gift to mankind, an explosion of chicken and garlic on your palate, a sweet song from a land far away, tucked in between the sheets of a perfectly crunchy flatbread.”
While the Shawarma surely is the signature dish of Aldimashqi, the inherited, massive charcoal grill from the former tenants allows for other, delicious explorations. Exampled include the Grilled Chicken or the Eggplant Baba Ganoush, the grilled chicken crunchy and juicy and ready to be plucked by eager hands, the eggplant in the baba ganoush smoky and beautifully accentuated by fruity peppers. Items like the hummus, the kebab lamb or chicken chicken don’t reach the same level and can be neglected, but you should be adviced to not miss the formidable dessert station in the back where cheese kunafa and ellaborate fruit cups are made from scratch.
It doesn’t take an expert in Syrian food to realize the greatness of Aldimashqi, the Shawarma is a stunning creation that’s merely begun its journey to fame. Having a meal at Aldimashqi amidst the local community is an extraordinary experience full of love for food traditions and this project is for a fantastic example how food is the ultimate language of culture.