Sonnenallee is lined with many Arabic restaurants and snack-bars that have declined any effort to look good. You shouldn’t be deterred by that, though: usually, the food is worth sitting in a non-decorated, tiled room in fluorescent lightning. This food doesn’t need a “Slow Food” stamp to be recognized as home made, usually by middle-aged Arabic men. They’re lovely, and greet you with a hearty welcome as soon as you smile.
I don’t have only one place to recommend. I used to go to Al-Pascha, but Akroum Snack and Azzam, on the other side of Sonnenallee, are all great. Azzam is the only one open throughout the night too, but can get quite greasy if you’re too late. As always, explore for yourself!
Hommus, Msabaha & Fatteh
Most of the dishes served are based on chickpeas and resemble some kind of Hommus. Msabaha, for instance, is the long-lost sister of the Arabic staple dish Hommus. There’s no standard recipe – everybody tweaks it to their own liking. But what is Msabaha? It’s made from basically the same ingredients as Hommus – chickpeas, lemon, garlic, tahini. But the chickpeas are not mashed and the texture of the dish is more like a rough guacamole with extra-olive oil, rather than a creamy yogurt. It’s gentle and soft and you can eat it with the flat white Arabic bread or with a spoon or even with your hands.
The Levantine specialities – usually from Syria or Lebanon – are what remind me personally of my childhood. My mother used to make these hearty dishes on Sundays, when we would lazily dip bread into a deep dish for the whole family.
My personal favorite will forever be Fatteh. I call it lovingly my Syrian Lasagna. We used to make it in a casserolle. The bottom part is fried or dried old Syrian pita bread; the second layer are hot chickpeas in their broth. The bread has to soak a little bit in the juices to become soft, but not mushy. Then comes the topping: a tangy concoction of creamy yogurt, lemon, tahini and a lot of pressed garlic. To round it off, the very last layer are various nuts (usually pine), fried in butter lard. It is a marvelous combination of intense flavors. To me, obviously my own recipe (stronger on the lemon, less garlic and less lard, crispier bread on the bottom) is the best; my mom taught me that. But that doesn’t mean I can’t thoroughly enjoy a quickly served, hot Fatteh from Sonnenallee.
Foul & Manakish
My second favorite is the Manakish with Za’atar. It’s the classic snack of my childhood memories: a sort of pizza with special herbs, mostly Oregano and Thyme. We used to grab them for school in the mornings. They can be a bit dry, so always make use of the pickles, mint and snacks that are served along all of the dishes.
There’s also Foul: this dish is much like Msabaha, except it is based on broad beans (they look a little bit like Kidney beans). The recipe I know from Damascus calls for onions, tomatoes, a lot of parsley, lemon and olive oil (with a bit of Sumak on top); the beans are not smushed. Here in Neukölln, I’ve yet to encounter “my” foul. Here, the beans are usually a smushed, and everything is drowning in oil. It’s still heavenly delicious, but not for the light-hearted eater.