The New Burger Joint that Leaves the Others in the… Gully
By Andrew Cottrill . March 31, 2022
Indian spice meets the American diner experience with some authentic Indian street food thrown in – GullyBurger.
The boys have done it again. The dream-team of Sachin Obaid and Suleman Thakar (Tiffin, Khwan) – one Indian, one Pakistani – are creating bold culinary concepts that are helping to redefine the Berlin food landscape.
Their latest is GullyBurger – India-inspired burgers and fries – found inside Berlin craft beer brewery Bräugier’s Sonntagstrasse taproom.
My adventure with GullyBurger began a few weeks ago with a very late-night text message from Sachin that simply read: “We’re ready.”
A few days later, I found myself sat alongside him inside Bräugier. What had changed, I asked?
From my previous interview with him and Suleman for Tiffin, I knew that these boys live for experimentation, for refinement, for never being comfortable. What new breakthrough had they made that required my immediate attention?
“We’ve become consistent,” he said. “Consistently good. We’ve hit our stride.”
Now, a little background.
‘Gully’, which means a narrow alleyway, backstreet or Gasse (and drain in German), has a special meaning to Indians.
It’s in the gullies between the busy thoroughfares that the culture happens. The kids play cricket, the women congregate to discuss the matters of the day and, most importantly, it’s where the street food vendors are. Humble, authentic; the real, local flavour.
Sachin and Suleman took this idea and combined it with Sachin’s 18 years of experience living in America. “I miss diner culture. The burgers, the fries, the casual atmosphere.”
They set to work combining the two, infusing Indian flavours into American diner classics, and the GullyBurger menu began to form – the opportunity to house it inside a craft beer bar just seemed to make sense.
“We’re taking things that are familiar and making something new, so that when people bite into them, they say, ‘Shit, I’ve never had flavours like this before in this format'”
A small but refined menu.
They’re a small team with a big work ethic, so it makes sense to keep their offering to a minimum of absolute classics.
“We spend weeks coming up with a dish so we’re reticent about making the menu bigger… We have to just keep improving it.”
To illustrate this point, let’s look at their homemade mayonnaise.
After weeks of R&D, they landed on the idea of making curry leaf mayo. Through further experimentation, they learned that the mayo tasted the best when they used 100% curry leaf oil. They extract the oil from the curry leaves themselves.
Now, a leaf doesn’t have much oil in it… so just imagine how many kilograms (if not tons) of curry leaves these guys need to get through each week to make the 10-litre batches they’re currently producing? And that’s just the mayonnaise.
Same story for all their condiments – their madras-spiced aioli, their garlic-coconut chutney… the exceptions being their date-tamarind dip and (funnily enough) their use of Maggi curry ketchup.
Wait, wait, wait… before you cough up into your coffees, let me explain. Maggi curry ketchup is HUGE in India. It’s THE authentic flavour. It’s their Heinz. No joke.
The side quest.
With great dips come great responsibilities. That’s why sourcing the fries was also an uphill battle for GullyBurger.
In a toss-up between Belgian and Dutch fries, the Belgian fries won out. Only, the Belgian fries they’d ordered didn’t arrive in time for the restaurant’s opening event. Scrambling for a replacement, they lucked upon some of the Netherland’s finest and the results were better than expected.
It’s their shape. Curved and spoon-like, they’re perfect for digging into dips. They’re also pure surface-area, crisping in the fryer for a crunch with each bite.
A final coating of masala rub kicks in memories of childhood crisps, while the warm chilli burn they deliver goes well with the (frankly excellent) Bräugier biers.
GullyBurger’s onion bhajis are flat, patty-like, greasy and good. Not like the stringy nothing you get in Indian restaurants here. All rich spices and flashbacks to visits to my Indian friends’ mums’ houses in England.
The labour-intensive dips often seem superfluous.
Kerela Fried Chicken.
Fried Keralan chicken > Indian brioche > Curry leaf mayonnaise > Coleslaw > Masala ketchup
Southern Indian meets southern American. Buttermilk-marinated, spice-infused.
My first full bite and I didn’t even hit chicken. A mouthful of crunch. Warming, spiced crunch. A force field of batter. Second bite: chicken. Tender. Coleslaw texture and the soft mouth-feel of the bread.
These guys put food together right. They ensure that textures and flavours are layered. It’s as intelligent as it is obvious – and a point that’s sorely missed with most burgers around the city.
Complicated, uncomplicated food that changes with every bite. A journey from start to end, and one you’d happily make every day.
The brioche is gorgeous (as are all GullyBurger buns). Why? Bekarei. Always Bekarei. Remember kids: If it’s not Bekarei, send it back!
“According to our Google reviews, it’s the best fried chicken burger in Berlin. Hopefully, that’s true”
An authentic Vada Pav.
Spiced, fried mashed potato patty > Indian brioche > Tamarind chutney > Green chutney > Garlic-coconut chutney > Birdseye chilli
This is a Mumbai street food classic. Yet, as Sachin tells me, Indian street food is also moving with the times and this style of Vada Pav is becoming ever-more difficult to find in the gullies of Mumbai.
“Berlin’s Indian community are like ‘what the fuck’, ‘this reminds me of how it used to be,’ ‘we can’t get it like this where I’m from any more’ …that’s when we figured we might be onto something.”
The authentic Vada Pav. A potato patty fried golden in chickpea flour. Layered with chutneys. Naturally vegan. A meal in your hand. Now, go to work.
The mashed potato is lightly spiced and gives a homely feeling. Yet, surrounded by so many other exciting flavours, it never feels mundane.
One particularly intelligent thing about this dish is the addition of the whole Birdseye chilli. It’s hot as fuck, yes, but it’s your choice if and how much you eat of it. Want to add some heat? Take a small bite along with your Vada Pav. Need a break? Leave it on the side of your plate.
In photos, this burger looks somehow top-heavy, overloaded. But, in reality, the amazingly-soft Bekarei bread works as a pocket, enclosing itself around the patty. It’s hand-held. No mess.
Sachin told me of negative reviews he’s received, stating that the food portions are too small for the price. I would not agree with this.
Firstly, because it’s quality stuff, the portions aren’t small and the prices aren’t mad (for Berlin 2022).
Secondly, because I challenge any of you to try to eat a Vada Pav AND a portion of fries and tell me you’re not full. That kind of carb-on-carb-on-carb action is the thing of Palaeolithic nightmares.
I was lucky enough to also sample some of GullyBurger’s work-in-progress experiments, including a lamb-chickpea burger which was basically my idea of food heaven.
I like their style (I’ve always liked their style), and their contributions to the Berlin food scene are already large and far-reaching.
As a mid-priced sister to Tiffin, GullyBurger is an excellent entry-point to authentic Indian for the not-yet-converted. Get a craft beer and a burger… It’s simple.
But yeah, price point is still a stickler in Berlin (not that I think that’s a bad thing) and I worry that most of GullyBurger’s exposure is through delivery services instead of people actually going in-store.
To the people sat at home on UberEats: this place is a step-up. There’s a lot of work and creativity behind it. So put some jeans on, wander over to Bräugier, look at how nice the bar is, order an expensive American IPA, sit down, try a GullyBurger meal and don’t be surprised when that experience costs more than 15EUR.
GullyBurger @ Bräugier