March 04, 2011

Curry Cravings No. 1: The Sri-Lankan Option

Chandra Kumari - Kreuzberg

A couple of months ago I was reprimanded for being negative. It was a dark mid-winter Berlin afternoon, so who wouldn’t be? Yet it was not the first American (actually, the girl in question was Canadian, but please bear with my blunt generalisations for the sake of the argument) telling me off for exuding an aura of negativity. Not that I care much, but now that spring is coming and I even got to see the bottom of a crocus this morning, I decided it was about time to try a more cheerful, positive approach to life and other people around me, and there is no better place to start than right here.

At any event, gushing glee was my initial plan. And then I remembered I was going to write about curry in Berlin and realised it was not going to happen. Now you see, I am curry’s biggest fan. Nothing makes my day like a good curry, and in fact, I like it so much that I can even settle for a mediocre one. It’s just that curry in Berlin usually manages the task of falling short of mediocrity, being simply atrocious.

Let me guess, you’re sitting in front of your iBook, frowning and calling me a food snob? You may have a point there, but it still doesn’t make the local curry any better. In my first year in Berlin I sampled 61 Indian places and did not find a single one that served edible curry. The sauces were usually very heavy instead of light and nearly always sweet where they were supposed to be spicy. More than once I even ordered a naan just to receive something that looked like Camilla Parker Bowles’s grin strewn with Gouda. Have I mentioned the Vindaloos on the base of cream? Or the sweet Madras? I could go on for hours on end with examples of more and more crimes against the virtues of Indian cuisine. The bottom line remains the fact that Indian food is Berlin’s biggest black hole.

You can therefore imagine my reaction when a friend of mine told me she had just had the perfect organic Sri Lankan curry at Chandra Kumari on Gneisenaustraße. I did not believe her, but decided to try it out. A few weeks later I went there with a friend, who was as sceptical as I was. It was the middle of the week, but we found the small space full, with a single small table awaiting empty at the corner. Surprisingly enough, we were not greeted with an overdose of gold and glitter. The number of Buddhas was kept to a minimum and the wooden furniture was aesthetically pleasing, even though not entirely comfortable.

Hoppers and Curry
Rice Platter

We started by sharing a dish of four “hoppers” accompanied by a beef curry, described as the Sri-Lankan speciality (for the price of 6.90 €). We did not know what hoppers were, but discovered they were a bready dish that looked like Jewish skullcaps (or German müsli bowls, whatever you find more appetising). They are thin and crispy on the sides and thick and soft in the middle. Their overall taste was fairly unspectacular, but we both enjoyed the novelty and the texture. As they are supposed to be eaten together with curry, we turned to the brown mass that was served with it for inspiration. At first it looked interesting. The sauce was brown and did not look like the yellow mud one usually meets in Berlin. Its taste was nice, but far from convincing. It was still better than any other curry I had eaten in Berlin before, but it remained fairly bland nonetheless. One positive thing to be said is the fact it was a lot more refined the usual Berliner curry.

As we turned to explore the menu for main courses, we realised most of it was fairly generic, with “curry”, “madras” and “biryani” in most categories. At the end we ordered something called Reistafel (rice platter – four small curry dishes with basmati rice in the middle): one was the “chicken platter” (it contained a chicken curry dish, a dahl – lentil curry, aubergine curry and a sambal salad with rice and pappadums for 12.10 €) and the other one was the “lamb platter” (containing one lamb curry, bean curry, cabbage curry, sambal salad, rice and pappadums for 12.90 €). The curries were fairly different from one another. The chicken curry was absolutely bland and fairly tasteless. It had a bit of the beef curry’s taste and lacked a spicy tone along the same lines. The lamb curry, however, was quite good and had a nice twist of ginger. Both sambal salads were tasteless with a strange texture and the aubergine curry was strangely stodgy. The dahl and the bean curry were nice, but again – bland, whereas the truly positive surprise was the cabbage curry, which was rich without being too heavy and had a taste which was both spicy and refined.

At the end of the day nothing was truly abhorrent as curry in Berlin tends to be like. There were no disgustingly sweet or embarrassingly stodgy experiences. The worst thing to be said about some of the dishes would be that they were fairly bland and thus uninspiring, but the overall quality was still a lot higher and each dish a lot more refined than what I had to get accustomed to around here.

Overall mark: 

Chandra Kumari - Originalküche aus Sri Lanka & Südindische Spezialitäten
Gneisenaustraße 4, 10961 Berlin

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  1. It'd be interesting to know where you ate the curry you consider to be a good one. That would enable readers to relate to your criticism.