The plate is heaped with deep-fried vegetables and squares of manioc, various pastes made from pulses or aubergines, salads and crispy ta’miya balls, garnished with a generous amount of peanut sauce and served with a small flat Arabian bread. There’s a lot of cumin in the ta’miya (like falafel, but made from beans), and spices we don’t recognize in a fried lentil stick they call “nile fingers”.
“The spices? I have no idea what they are and I don’t know if I would be allowed to tell you anyway …”
The guy serving fast food in the Sudanese eatery “Nil” in Berlin is clearly not from Sudan himself and doesn’t know anything about the country either. The Friedrichshain branch gets all their food from the main restaurant so our foray into Sudanese cuisine stays at that: interesting spices, yummy, starchy food and a knack for intricate arrangements on the plate.
In the run-up to our planned Sudan trip in November (we’ll still need to get the visa), we test another couple of Sudanese diners in Berlin. There are quite a few of them, but they taste rather alike, and all serve similar plates at similar prices… possibly they are all related or at least have learned their trade from one another. The guy at Tutti in Kreuzberg takes about half an hour to decorate three plates with the different vegetables and items made from pulses, but speaks so little German or English that we can’t figure out whether the delicate arrangement is typical for Sudan.
In the Khartoum eatery (less interesting spices but quite tasty) we can communicate, however, and get confirmation for our speculation that tofu – which all the eateries serve – is more typical of Berlin than of Sudan. “In fact, you will eat a lot of foul (mashed beans) in Sudan – for all meals”, the waiter advises us.
Sahara Imbiss is the best
It turns out that the Sudanese eatery closest to us is the best of the lot: We had eaten at, and appreciated the Sahara Imbiss before, and find now that they have become more popular and thus somewhat crowded. Nevertheless they are much quicker than the others in arranging all those ingredients on a plate, they are funny and also quick with the calculation of the price – and it’s all very tasty and a nice setting in the Schiller Kiez near our house, too.
Sudan at the museum
Having attended to the basic needs, we went to see Sudanese culture in Berlin – or rather: archaeological finds from Sudan. The New Museum’s Egypt collection contains quite a number of statues, stelae, pottery, and everyday items from ancient Nubia. They date from the Egyptian Old and Middle Kingdom period, when the neighbouring Nubians were little influenced by the Egyptian civilisation, to the Meroitic Kingdom prospering at the same time as the Roman Empire. In between, Nubian kings also occupied the Egyptian throne as the 25th Pharaonic dynasty (around the 7th century BC).
The Berlin museum’s greatest Nubian treasure dates from the 1st century BC and was found in the tomb pyramid of the Meroitic Queen Amanishakheto. Not much is known about her (partly because the Meroitic language is not understood today), but in the 19th century an Italian treasure hunter, Giuseppe Ferlini, discovered golden jewellery in the pyramid. He then went on destroy the whole pyramid (and a few others), finding a hoard of precious gold objects, mostly rings and bracelets with elaborate Nubian-Pharaonic decorations. This treasure is now divided between museums in Berlin and Munich.
Sudanese Eateries in Berlin
Nil: Oppelner Str. 4-5 in Friedrichshain
Tutti: Zossener Str. 17 in Kreuzberg
Khartoum: Wienser Str. 69 in Kreuzberg
Sahara: Reuterstr. 56 in Neukölln
Sudan exhibition in the New Museum: There is one room in the basement of the New Museum dedicated to Sudan.