There is this secret Köfte guy close to Moritzplatz - and he makes the best Köfte sandwich in Berlin. Albeit promising, my expectations around the actual credibility of this message I received mid-2019 were fairly low. A great Köfte place which had gone undetected on my food radar? On the same level as Konak Izmir and Gel Gör? Impossible! My research on Akcaabat Saray Köfte did however unearth some intriguing photos and reviews, and it was clear that this place needed to be checked out.
Akcaabat Saray is located at the odd end of Oranienstraße, meaning west of Moritzplatz, on the corner of a grey-brown apartment tower. It’s a bit of a no-man’s land, an area you only pass by and never dwell unless you live here.
“ The first thing I noticed when I came for the first time was the line. On a Tuesday lunch?
At this point, this joint had my full attention. More than 30 people were queuing for food, patiently waiting in front of a tiny hole-in-the-wall. When it was my turn to order I chatted with the extraordinarily friendly man behind the grill, noticed the meticulous mise-en-place behind the counter, how he floated around in the kitchen and the light in his eyes when he confidently told guest after guest “it’s going to take at least 15 minutes. I’ll call your name”. After what felt like an eternity, my name was finally called and this gentle man handed me a giant sandwich with a smile “Guten Appetit!”. I mumbled a “Danke” but my mind was consumed with one thought only: "Holy shit. That looks insane”.
The Turkish Köfte sandwich might be the lesser known street-food sibling to the Döner Kebap, but real connoisseurs know that a proper Köfte sandwich is for true food lovers. Packed with flavour and texture, this sandwich is mighty enticing: grilled, juicy meatballs tucked into a toasted light flatbread roll and packed with loads of fresh condiments namely salad, tomatoes, onions and sauces.
“ "Somebody once counted over 200 different varieties of Köfte in Turkey"
Somebody once counted over 200 different varieties of Köfte in Turkey and while the most common variety sold in Berlin’s Köfte shops is the Izmir style which is shaped into sausage like parcels and usually baked in the oven instead of grilled (here in Berlin they are actually usually grilled), at Akcaabat Saray you will get the _Akcaabat-_style Köfte where the meat patties are thicker and more roundly shaped.
“ "Grilled, juicy meatballs tucked into a toasted light flatbread roll and packed with loads of fresh condiments namely salad, tomatoes, onions and sauces."
The man I met at Akcaabat Saray Köfte that day is called Halil Acinör, a second generation Turkish immigrant who studied to be a mechanical engineer and then realised the dream of his own business with a Köfte shop. Despite the fact that Halil made it to manager level during his 9-5 career in the manufacturing and recycling industry (he also almost became a pro-football player and referee, but that's another story), Halil always wanted to be his own boss and the pursuit for his independence led him down the Köfte path.
He had identified a gap in the market and after nearly driving his family mad by test-grilling Köfte every day for three months, he travelled to Turkey on a mission to learn the Köfte trade. He took on an apprenticeship in a restaurant called Saray in the city of Trabzon in North-Eastern Turkey, the hometown of his parents who had emmigrated to Germany after the war. He managed to convince a famous Köfte-maker to share his recipe and after his apprenticeship he went back to launch his own Köfte shop in Berlin. Halil opened “Akcaabat Saray Köfte” in Kreuzberg in February 2016 and has perfected his technique ever since.
“ "His Köfte are 100% beef with a high fat content, shaped like perfect discs to guarantee even cooking"
He grills the Köfte to charred and juicy perfection à la minute for every order. The bread is custom-baked by a Turkish baker and is toasted lightly right before assembly. He puts great pride into his condiments and cuts his romaine salad, tomatoes and red onions paper-thin. As per the Berlin standard, Halil offers mayo-based sauces but he recommends eating it with just a bit of his homemade spicy sauce as one would do in Turkey. When assembled in meticulous layers, the result is a marvellous sandwich where every bite showcases an orchestra of joy and the fatty richness of the Köfte harmonises with the crisp vegetables and the crunchy bread.
I’ve eaten at Halil’s shop many times after that first visit and we’ve had many chats about Köfte. He’s a remarkable person who takes a lot of pride in his cooking and his family is often right there with him in the shop. Regarding the question of who now sits on the Köfte Sandwich throne in Berlin, I’ll leave that up to everyone to decide for themselves. Personally, I’m a big fan of the condiments and sauces at Konak Izmir, but Halil’s Akcaabat Köfte meatballs are truly a gift from the gods and one of a kind in Berlin. So make sure to pay Halil a visit. Chances are you won’t regret it.