It was in the middle of a Rewe, of all places, where I first experienced a wave of culture shock.
Since moving to Berlin I thought I had adapted well. I’d mastered the, at first, confusing public transport. I’d adjusted to the “Berliner Schnauze”. I’d even managed to fumble my way into a Meldebescheinigung (obligatory registration of residence).
And yet, standing here in the tea section of a German supermarket, scanning the shelves desperately for anything resembling breakfast tea, a wave of panic hit me.
I couldn’t have felt more un-German.
For most of us, what we eat and drink is a huge part of our identity. A quick Google search shows that food is one of the most frequently named topics in conversations about homesickness and expat adjustment.
Many expat sites suggest cooking home meals every now and again as a way to combat this feeling. But in German grocery shops, where spices are often limited to “Currypulver” and paprika, that’s often easier said than done.
Even if you’re a more well-adjusted Berliner than me, you may want to know where you can get some more interesting ingredients from. While Covid-19 is still suspending a lot of travel, you can still get your culture fix with a cookbook – if you know where to get the ingredients.
With this in mind, I’ve narrowed down a (non-exhaustive) list of the best international supermarkets in Berlin.
Hao Cai Lei Asia Supermarket
There are loads of great “Asia-Supermärkte” (which can mean any combination of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Indian and more) in Berlin. My personal favourite is Hao Cai Lei.
This small shop just down the road from the Hermannplatz U-Bahn station boasts an impressive collection of fresh and preserved ingredients.
There’s a comprehensive selection of Asian cooking basics, which aren’t limited to food either. They also sell steamers and other cooking utensils.
But what sets Hao Cei Lei apart from other shops is their unrivalled choice of tofu (for fellow veggies) and a well-curated selection of traditional and contemporary East-Asian spirits and wines.
They also sell 100-year old duck eggs and other quick (and quirky) snacks.
Note: On Google Maps, the shop comes up as “Hao-You-duo Asia Supermarket”
Karl-Marx-Strasse 15, 12043, Berlin
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There are now three of these Supermercatos in Berlin. I’ve only been to Greifswalderstraße. The other two are in Mariendorf and Charlottenburg.
It was a good sign that everyone in it, whether staff or customer, was speaking Italian.
The Centro Italia has a huge selection of dried pastas, and a fridge with freshly made ravioli, tortellini and gnocchi.
While they don’t have fresh fruit and veggies or meats, they have more or less everything that can be tinned, dried or put in a jar.
The best part of the shop, however, is their deli counter with a mouth-watering display of cheeses, hams and antipasti, as well as a little bakery section with fantastic rustic loafs.
Another bonus is that every branch has a big car park (not a given in Berlin).
Greifswalder Str. 80C, 10405 Berlin
Großbeerenstraße 169-171, 12277 Berlin
Sophie-Charlotten-Straße 9-10, 14059 Berlin
Zora is another smaller grocery shop in Kottbusser Tor. It’s therefore a place for African and Indian cooking basics, rather than a specialist store.
However, the reason it’s on this list is their small but excellent fresh fruit and veg section.
READ ALSO: Your complete guide to German supermarkets
On my visits, Zora has so far won out everytime on freshness, quality and choice. From bright green, unwrinkled okra, karela and green plantains, to ingredients that are harder to get elsewhere like cassava and green mango, Zora has you covered.
While I haven’t tried them, their fresh sweets look promising, with a choice of Jalebi, cham, gulab or laddu.
Zora is also irresistibly affordable.
Kottbusser Damm 93, 10967 Berlin
Broken English has faced some challenges since Brexit came into force. However, in keeping with the British character, they deal with it through light grumbling and sarcasm on an entertaining Facebook page.
British products are displayed at Broken English in this archive photo from 2019. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Gregor Fischer
While it’s not the cheapest (Brexit probably plays a role in this), they have a great selection of UK products – from scone batter to Scottish shortbread and, significantly, English breakfast tea.
They even sell some fresh and frozen produce, like cheeses, hams and Linda McCartney’s veggie sausages (praise the Lord).
And for the Scots, there’s even Irn Bru (if you know, you know).
Arndtstraße 29, 10965 Berlin
It’s basically impossible to pick a favourite Turkish grocery shop in Berlin. I live in Neukölln and tend to just go for my local (a whole thirty seconds away from my front door).
That said, the Turkish Market on Maybachufer does have a special place in my heart. It’s relatively large, and so has a big selection of more specialised ingredients.
It also has one of the biggest bakery sections I have seen so far.
Even better: there’s an entire aisle for herbs and spices, so it’s my go-to shop whenever I’m looking for lesser-known components in recipes.
Another advantage is that they’re right next to the Neuköllner Wochenmarkt, an open-air food market along the canal where you can buy fresh veg, or delicious food-to-go.
Maybachufer 1 13, 10999 Berlin
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Other great shops:
Chili & Paprika – a Mexican supermarket in Danziger Straße: one of the more affordable and comprehensive South American supermarkets in Berlin
L’epicerie – a gourmet French shop near Mauerpark: it’s definitely on the pricey side but offers some fantastic looking luxury patês and wines
Mitte Meer – a relatively affordable supermarket for all things Mediterranean, with three locations in Berlin
Dong Xuan Center – Germany’s biggest and most famous Vietnamese supermarket. As well as a grocery store, it boasts a big general goods market and a wonderful Vietnamese restaurant and bar.
US-Shop Berlin – Any Americans missing mac and cheese or pop tarts will be relieved to stumble upon this one-stop shop, conveniently centrally situated near Tempelhof.