Thai in the Park

Berlin is full of surprises.  It seems like every week we hear about another cool, semi-unknown, event or place in the city that blows our minds.  Our most recent discovery was the Thaiwiese (Thai meadow) market in Wilmersdorf.   The market is an unofficial event that occurs daily but the biggest turnout is on the weekend when dozens of Thai women, men, and families set up make-shift food stands in a park to sell homemade Thai classics for low prices.  For us, this is what dreams are made of.
The market is situated near the back of Preußenpark (right at the Fehrbelliner Platz U-Bahn station) and there is also a flowmarkt (flea market) at the front of the park.  At the Thai market you can find all of your favorite dishes from pad Thai to papaya salad to delicious sticky cakes wrapped in banana leaves.  The food was by far the best Thai we have had in Berlin.  Finally some real, authentic, spicy Thai food!!

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Our meal began with these chicken skewers smothered in a chunky peanut sauce.  Sweet, nutty, a little spicy – delicious!

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Next, we went for a plate of one of our very favorite Thai staples – spicy papaya salad!  I loved watching the lady crush the ingredients with a giant mortar & pestle (the kind Alex wishes we had at home) and appreciated that she asked how many chilies we wanted in the mix.  Papaya salad always puts me in a good mood. 🙂

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As our ‘entree’ we enjoyed a large plate overflowing with four kinds of Thai noodle dishes.  I’m not entirely sure what some of the dishes were but all were tasty.  I believe that the top right quadrant was some kind of Pad See Ew; to the right were glassnoodles; bottom right is of course the always popular Pad Thai; and bottom left were a denser noodle, kind of like lo mein.  It was a huge amount of noodles for only 5 euro!

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Of course we had to pair our meal with some Thai beer!

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Sadly, after the big noodle plate we were too full to try any other entrees but we could not resist getting a Thai cake dessert.  We used to buy similar cakes from the Asian markets in Virginia and they never disappoint.  I’m not sure what these are called or made from buuuut I think these kinds of cakes are usually made from rice flour, coconut, and lots of sugar!  Which is probably why they are so incredibly delicious.  They also come wrapped in a super cute banana leaf package.

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Looking at the pictures makes me want to go back again this weekend!  Just when I thought I’d be stuck eating mediocre Asian food forever, a pop-up market in a park comes along and rocks my world.  Unique finds like the Thaiwiese are what make Berlin such a fun place to live!

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Photo Potpourri – Week 10

We are busy here in Berlin.
In between starting German classes 5 days x week, learning basic programming, household chores/feeding the Big Hog, and trying to fit in some gym time, there’s not much space left in my day for bloggin’.  So I apologize if I go a little M.I.A. for the next few weeks!
However, we did take some time off from serious pursuits last weekend to hang with old & new friends.  There was a programming conference in town last week which gave Alex the perfect opportunity to meet new people and talk about his true love (coding) at the same time!  We met some really cool nerds, found some new hangouts spots, and – in true Berlin fashion – stayed out ’til the sun came up.
Another highlight of the weekend was our first American-style German football game!  It felt like a high school or middle school game, but it was still super fun.  Between the smaller-than-average field, pre-teen cheerleaders, streakers, and the World Cup-style announcing (“FUUUUMMMBBBBLLLEEEE!!!”), nothing was quite ‘American’ but it was definitely unique.  The most authentic thing about the game was the dismal weather – it was cold & rainy, just like any Monday Night Football game in November!
Here are some very misc. photos from the past few weeks, including a couple I rescued from Alex’s phone (aka where photos go to die).

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1. Throwback to May 1st (known as May Day) which is somewhat similar to Labor Day in the States but with more rioting and Molotov cocktails.  From our apartment we watched a few thousand riot cops and protestors parade down our street.  Apparently the May Day protests used to be much more raucous and violent but are now more of a party/rally about whatever people have beef with: anti-capitalism, pro-communism, immigration rights, peace in Korea, etc.

2. It’s rare that we shell out the cash for a nice cocktail so I made sure to soak up every Don Draper moment of this Old Fashioned from Würgeengel in Kreuzberg.  Würgeengel is a really cool spot – good mood lighting, red walls, intimate table settings.

3. American football!  We headed over to the stadium at Mauerpark to watch the Berlin Adler do their best at tossing the ol’ pig skin.  Even though the gameplay was a little lackluster, we had a blast eating hot dogs, drinking beer, and cheering for the home team (who obliterated the other team).

4. This is just a random picture of the sign in Alexanderplatz that, appropriately, was taken by Alex.  No story here, I just liked it. 🙂

5. Our awesome friend and former Maid of Honor mailed us a care package full of American goodies!  And a hilarious note explaining each pick.

6. Included in the care package was this super cool necklace featuring a map of the Washington DC area where we used to live!  I love it.

7. Another throwback from a few weeks ago when we were chillin’ at a Starbucks, searching Ebay for bikes*, and realized we were across from Checkpoint Charlie (white building on the right).  The surrounding area is always bustling with tourists visiting the museum and spending all of their Euros at the souvenir shops.

*Note: Yes, this means that we now own bikes.  Which also means that I now ride said bike almost every day.  Me.  I am still a little scared of bikes but the convenience is winning me over.

 

The Joy of Cooking & the Internet

My appreciation for both cooking & the internet have increased dramatically since we moved overseas.
Up until ~2.5 years ago I did not know how to cook at all – sorry, Mom.  I had a very busy extracurricular schedule growing up which didn’t leave much time for cooking lessons.  I also had little to no interest in learning.  This feeling continued through my college years (why cook when there is a cafeteria full of mostly edible food?) until I met Alex.  Alex loves to cook and to explore new cuisines – he will eat anything once, probably twice, even if he didn’t like it.  Turns out I was marrying into a whole family of amateur chefs.  My then future brothers-in-law used to make fun of me for having zero culinary skills.  Alex did most of the cooking for us until last summer when we got married and I quit my job for a few months.  Suddenly, I found myself in charge of finding recipes, shopping for ingredients, and doing most of the dinner preparation.
Faced with this new challenge I quickly became addicted to recipe apps (Yummly & Epicurious in particular) and food blogs, especially my favorite dailies from Saveur.com.  I have always loved eating food but now I have a new love for preparing food.

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I now spend a considerably amount of time every week browsing online for new recipes, ingredients, and techniques to try.  Naturally, these endeavors result in many successes and the inevitable failures.  There are some challenges with trying to explore cuisines and ingredients when living in Germany.  This is probably more so for me because of the cuisines that I prefer (Asian and Mexican, most notably); if I were trying to master French or Italian cooking things might be easier.  Unfortunately, I seem to always make things difficult for myself and choose recipes that involve ingredients not often found in German markets.  Thank goodness we live in Berlin.  There are a surprising number of large, well stocked Asian markets here (we just discovered one down our block!!) which have really made my life in Berlin wonderful.  They not only provide me with my weekly jar of peanut butter but also have enough sauces & ramen varieties to keep us satisfied for years!  However, Mexican ingredients are much more challenging.  I previously mentioned my failed attempt to make mole verde without tomatillos…  The other day I wanted to make black bean burritos but discovered that a can of frijoles negros cost 3.50 euro.  So obviously that was out of the question.  These difficulties force me to be a little more creative and usually involve me searching online for ingredient substitutions.

Other than enabling my new culinary adventures, I have started appreciating the internet in other new ways, mostly relating to communication.
For example, the other day I was able to watch some of my dearest friends graduate from our alma mater live online.  After we finished watching the ceremony, Alex mentioned that he felt like we had “been somewhere else” for a few hours.  I agreed – it really had seemed like we were back in Ohio watching the ceremony in the student center.  It is pretty incredible that we can get some of what we are missing even when we are far away.
I have the same feeling every time I text people back in the States.  I still “talk” to them just as much as I did when we were living in the same country.  Thirty minutes, two hours, 4,170 miles – it doesn’t matter the distance now that our cell phones are hooked up to the internet!

Alex and I often talk about how crazy it is that our parents lived abroad in the Stone Age before any of these technologies were available to average folks.  I would feel so much more cut off from my family & friends if I couldn’t shoot them a text or send a funny Snapchat.  I haven’t even mentioned video chatting, which really puts you in the action no matter where you’re calling from.  Last summer we were able to video chat with our parents from a tiny island in Croatia!  Which, by the way, had amazing internet speeds.  It is a huge advantage for us to be able to communicate with everyone so quickly and easily.  Especially for me, being unemployed and spending most of my days alone, it is really great to be able to chat with my friends easy-peasy.  Sometimes I think maybe we are spoiled by such wonderful technology…  Maybe we are missing some of the grand adventure that our parents had when they moved abroad because we are still so connected to the States.  But, as they say, if you got it, flaunt it.

Below are some of my recent culinary experiments and links to the recipes!

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Above: Pork vermicelli is one of our go-to dinners.  We use a recipe from Helen’s Kitchen on YouTube (she has tons of  Vietnamese recipes).  Alex made this meal – vermicelli has kind of  become “his thing”.

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Above: Chicken with a lime & coconut milk sauce.  The recipe can be found here.

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Above: Carnitas tacos w/ pseudo-guac (aka what you make when you only have avocado and tomatoes).  Homemade corn tortillas are the bomb and are much more affordable here in Germany than buying tortillas at the market.

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Above: The “before” of the previous photo.  I used this recipe I found on Pinterest.

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Above: Mango pico de gallo – soooooo gooood!  No recipe, I just throw things in until it tastes awesome.

 

Getting Touristy in Western Mitte

At some point, every new resident needs to bite the bullet and become a tourist in their city.
For us, this meant venturing out to the western edge of Mitte to see some of Berlin’s most iconic landmarks.  After nearly two months of living in Berlin we were becoming a little embarrassed by our lack of sightseeing within the city.  I am guilty of always thinking that we should save some of the sights to see when we have friends in town, but it probably makes more sense to see them first ourselves and decide which ones are really worth sharing.
Another reason why we haven’t done much sightseeing is due to Berlin’s size and lack of a real ‘tourist center’.  Most of the famous sights are scattered throughout the city, making sightseeing in Berlin quite the excursion.  However, the area in the west of Mitte between Potsdamer Platz  and Moabit has quite a few attractions in close quarters, which makes it a good jumping off point for tourists, tour buses, tour boats, tour bikes…you get the idea.

We started our tour at the Hauptbahnhof to gawk at the immense building and crowds before walking south toward the Tiergarten area.  Berlin continues to amaze me with its neighborhood diversity.  Western Mitte is very city-like – it has large modern buildings and government offices but also has many historical monuments and parks scattered throughout.  It really makes the more Eastern/Southern neighborhoods that I usually explore feel like the ‘burbs.

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A short walk away from the train station you can find the impressive Reichstag building (where the German parliament meets) which presents a really cool blend of old & new architecture.  The original structure opened in 1894 but underwent significant reconstruction after a fire in 1933, and the large glass dome finished construction in 1999.  You can actually walk in a spiral around the dome but it requires prior registration, so we’ll have to save that for another trip.
The Brandenburg Gate is also nearby, just outside the entrance to the immense Tiergarten park.  The gate is one of the most recognizable sights in Berlin.  It is featured prominently on most tourism ads/guides and the outline is emblazoned on every U-Bahn train window.  It stands in a big plaza flanked by foreign embassies and fancy-shmancy hotels, and even on a cold and windy day there were hundreds of tourists snapping pictures.

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After taking obligatory tourist pictures at the gate, and getting a pressed penny for our collection, we strolled through the wooded grounds of the Tiergarten.  The park is the second largest in Germany (520 acres) and is home to monuments, statues, a rose garden, an English garden, and the palace that houses the German president.  As the name suggests (literal translation = animal + garden) there are also lots of squirrels, birds, and fish to see!  I think Berlin’s parks are one of my favorite features of the city.  It it nice to be able to get lost in the woods and escape the concrete jungle for a while.

Big city life has been pretty interesting thus far – I’ve never lived somewhere that was so new to me.  To be fair, I have only lived in 3 cities and two of them were quite small, but still, the amount of stuff in Berlin is incredible.  Living outside of Washington DC was occasionally cool but it didn’t offer me the same opportunity for discovery because I had already been there so many times growing up.  I had already exhausted the Smithsonian and the other aspects of the city I pretty much despised (how many bland government buildings and $8 beers can a person tolerate?).
Needless to say, I am very happy that Berlin has so much character and even lifelong residents say they discover something new in the city every day.  I’m sure that if we live here long enough the newness will wear away and Berlin will lose some of its lustre, but a city of 3.5 million people will never be boring.
So, even though it takes a little effort to haul ourselves across the city looking for tourist attractions, it is always worth our while.

Click the link below to see more photos!

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