kreuz + kümmel is an Indian-Italian-world food mash-up that feels somehow… authentic?
In a world that feels like it’s becoming more dishonest, I’ve always thought that cooks are the last incorruptibles.
You can’t fake a taste, or that someone’s slaved away for 14 hours a day in a hot, dark room to make it. That being said, I wasn’t expecting to run into perhaps the most honest, authentic eating experience I’ve had in a long time in a Prenzlauer Berg Indian fusion restaurant.
kreuz + kümmel‘s menu reads as novelty as they come: Indian-style pasta, quesadillas and even a real Indian currywurst. But, admit it, I’ve already piqued your interest. There’s something there, right? And why Indian pasta? How did that happen?
The answer is as troublingly authentic as they come: “I’m Italian at heart”, exclaims owner and chef Chaitanya Singh. In a strange quirk of classism, Chaitanya grew up in a time when Calcutta’s middle classes shunned Indian food as old, poor, Grandma’s food, and instead ate… well, pasta. Imagine that.
The European elements in Singh’s food come naturally to him, and he’s cooked them all his life. It’s reintroducing Indian flavours into the mix that has been his challenge.
Chaitanya Singh is a one-man-band. He’s the businessman, chef (every single recipe is 100% his and everything possible is made in-house), and warm, jovial front-of-house for his bright, open and casual eatery. He’s a true chef… in that he makes a point of stating that he. isn’t. a. chef. He’s a cook, he claims, and just loves inventing and testing out new recipes. His spirit of adventure is clear and compelling, and his upstairs kitchen is full of half-way completed experiments which fuse a UN’s worth of world cuisines.
And Singh’s warm sense of humour pervades his food: “The Chicken Tikka Maultaschen. They’re dedicated to my neighbours here in Schwabylon.” And the idea of an “Echt Indisch” currywurst is as sublime as it’s absurd. Even the name ‘kreuz + kümmel’ is loaded with witty quips at Singh’s concept (do I really have to spell it out for you? Okay fine. Kreuzkümmel means cumin, a spice often used in Indian food, whereas kümmel is one of the only spices German cooking uses to any degree. And ‘kreuz’ as a stand-alone word indicates the crossing of the food cultures. Phew.).
Okay, enough gargling. On with the review.
The currywurst to end them all.
I don’t know why Chaitanya’s currywursts aren’t on sale on every street corner of Berlin. If Drei Damen vom Grill had sold his wursts instead of that shit Otto delivered, the Berlin wall would’ve come down a lot, lot sooner.
The sausage is homemade to Singh’s recipe and is heavily seasoned with Indian herbs. It’s coated in a wonderfully sweet, sour, piquant, prickelnd curry sauce and is served with crispy-fried onions and a ‘masala brioche’.
The buttery brioche is charred black, giving a bitter caramel note which cuts through the curry sauce sweetness. It’s an intelligent dish, even if ridiculous, that bursts in the mouth, righting all the wrongs of previous currywursts. And everyone must try it.
Our reinvented wurst came with an innocuously-mundane sounding Linsen Suppe. Another of Chaitanya’s jokes though, because the Linsen Suppe was, of course, Dal.
Dal, that Indian staple enjoyed by millions every day – it goes beyond country, class and language barriers and is one of those rare dishes where the skill of a chef is shown in the simplicity of the dish’s preparation.
And Chaitanya’s Dal was a rich, creamy and layered masterclass in understatement. That oily, burnt-garlic aftertaste so prevalent in most Dals was nowhere to be seen, and instead the lightly-spiced soup was the perfect winter-night starter.
You don’t have to be Italian to make good pasta.
Before Chaitanya brought us a taster portion of both his lamb Rogan Josh and spinach and feta ravioli, he told us a story.
It was about how the Italian consulate had hired kreuz + kümmel to cater an event for them. When the consul and his party of high-powered Italians tried his pasta dishes, they looked at each other, screwed up their faces and collectively declared them failed bastard attempts at Italian food. The following weekend, however, the consul returned with his wife for sneaky seconds. Then, over time, all members of the party returned for another hypocritical mouthful. That’s when the Italians started following him on Instagram.
And–whilst Chaitanya assures me his Rogan Josh is THE Rogan Josh he grew up eating–I can see where the Italians are coming from. Heavily seasoned and delicately spiced, the spinach burns a fierce clove aftertaste and the lamb is delicate with a homely and filling mouth-feel. Instead of some strange Indian/Italian fusion dish, his ravioli is like some authentic speciality from a far-off (really far-off) region of Italy. Some bizarre UNESCO-protected spice-trade artefact.
Food so good you want to stick your face in it.
Earlier in the week, I heard someone describe a croissant as being so good you want to stick your face in it. Now, I think that’d just amount to having flakey bits of pastry all over your Christmas jumper. But the intention is fine… and perfectly describes kreuz + kümmel’s quesadillas. They’re fat and heavy in a crisp wheat tortilla, spilling curry, melted cheese, sour cream and guacamole over your hands. True hangover food. Take a huge bite.
We had the jackfruit and the Keema Matar (minced beef and peas) quesadillas and, whilst both were great, the jackfruit one was real special. “Jackfruit. It’s hip but it’s always shit”, quipped Allison, my fellow reviewer, until she took her first bite. And wow, were we surprised. “I’m really proud of this jackfruit one”, added Chaitanya.
Tangy and sweet, alive with spice and texture. It was another kreuz + kümmel dish where you forgot the whats and wheres of the ingredients and just enjoyed something new, original, exciting.
“Indians come from far and wide to try my mango lassi cheesecake.”
A keen baker, Chaitanya presented us his most famous creation: the mango lassi cheesecake.
Based on a rich and buttery shortbread base, the lassi/cheesecake fusion has a jelly-like consistency that gives and takes under the fork before breaking into smooth cream cheese. It’s not too sweet, instead ramping up the sour notes of the yogurt and cheese, playing them off against the mango sweetness and shortbread crunch. It’s light, almost refreshing after eating so much.
Totally done after our meal, we remark that kreuz + kümmel’s menu also has a large selection of Indian classics, unadulterated by Western influences. It’s a remarkable menu.
The other remarkable thing is that kreuz + kümmel is relatively undiscovered. It’s still a neighbourhood bistro with a local clientele in an overlooked part of town. Strange, considering it’s only a 2-minute walk from M10 stop Winstrasse.
Chaitanya Singh’s spent over a decade cooking German food in Berlin and it’s amazing to think he only recently saw a space for his Indian food in this city. All I can say is: I’m glad he did.
kreuz + kümmel
Christburger Str. 13