A Berlin Döner Kebab Without the Jet Lag
By Beverly Stephen
I’ve always wanted to go to Berlin, but Europe is off-limits these days. So, I was delighted to learn that Berlin could come to me in a meal kit.
The Kotti Döner Berliner Kebab meal kit brings all the ingredients to build Berlin’s famous sandwich in your own kitchen. It’s so much fun when the box arrives. It almost feels like Christmas. The ingredients are separately packaged—some to be heated, some to be eaten cold. There’s fluffy focaccia-like Turkish pide bread meant to be toasted and sliced open to create a pocket. Then to fill the pocket there’s 15-spice marinated chicken, crispy lettuce, tomato/cucumber mix, pickled red cabbage, thinly sliced red onion, crumbled feta, a yogurt-based garlic/lemon sauce, and a harissa-based chili sauce. The $85 kit is advertised as feeding 4 to 6 but it will easily satisfy six. And it feels like a party with everyone digging in to build their own sandwich as they follow along on the instruction insert. Once you taste the döner, your desire to go to Berlin will be even stronger.
This is the best sandwich you never heard of. And it’s a sandwich with a story.
Erkan Emre grew up in the Kotti section of Berlin and the döner kebab was his favorite street food. He explains that the döner was introduced to Germany by a Turkish guest worker and soon became immensely popular. According to his website, last year over 720 million döner kebabs were sold in Germany alone.
But alas, after Emre moved to Manhattan, where he was working in real estate, the döner was nowhere to be found. Nostalgic for his childhood treat, he became obsessed with introducing it in New York. He started making it for friends and the response was so enthusiastic he began to consider turning a hobby into a business. He teamed up with industry veteran Michael Stark to turn his dream into a reality. Emre convinced Stark to hop on a flight to Berlin and taste the doner in its native habitat. Fortunately, it was love at first bite.
The partners secured a spot at the highly curated Smorgasburg street food fair in Williamsburg, Brooklyn in 2016 and soon had fans lining up 300-400 deep. Following that initial success, Kotti opened a brick and mortar location in the food hall in Industry City, the vast 35-acre development in 19 rehabilitated warehouses in the Sunset Park area on Brooklyn’s waterfront. Then they opened another location in the DeKalb Market Hall in downtown Brooklyn. A third location is slated to open in late October at the Essex Market on the lower East Side in Manhattan.
Inspiration for the meal kit struck during the limitations on dining imposed in response to the Coronavirus. Like other restaurants offering meal kits that provided interactive elements for customers, such as California Pizza Kitchen’s pizza kits and taco kits and Chef Jose Chesa’s paella kit from Ataula in Portland, Oregon, Emre believed he could offer the döner in a kit and generate much-needed revenue.
“If it was not for Covid, we might not have developed a meal-kit,” Emre says. “Although it is a very new product, we are truly humbled by the responses. We have teamed up with a community-based company, 1to1foods.com where a percentage of the proceeds go to feed local families in need. Most recently Baldor Food– the fine food company, learned of our meal-kit and they ordered one for their R&D team. We are joining an existing list of meal-kit providers that Baldor is hosting on their website, like Momofuku, Hill Country Barbecue Market, Shake Shack, Roberta’s, and other dream teams. The first döner kits will be available on the Baldor site starting October 1. We are truly humbled to be part of this stellar list of restaurants. We could not have dreamed of this. Only a few years ago we were three people operating under a $99 tent at Smorgasburg.”
Like many of the other restaurateurs, Emre plans to keep the döner meal kit post-Covid. So, whether or not we jet off to Germany, we can still eat this piece of Berlin at home.
Beverly Stephen, the former executive editor of Food Arts magazine, is a principal of the culinary travel company Flavor Forays.