I think it is safe to say that every traveler has that, “Oh my god, I’m in a foreign country,” moment. Like the heroine in some kind of trashy beach novel (I should know because these books are the only forms of literature that I voluntarily read), my “finding yourself” moment came as I bit into a heavenly vanilla-lemon cream puff at the most recent of Markthalle Neun’s “Street Food Thursdays”. While the athlete in me screamed in protest at the thought of indulging in my second dessert of the day – Berlin’s midday downpour had me stopping for shelter at a cozy café near my Airbnb, where I just had to put an end to my stomach’s rumblings with a slice of chocolate cake and a cup of black coffee – my taste buds sang with joy and my heart surged with love.
So how did we get to this point, you ask? It all started when I stepped out of the brisk evening air and into the marketplace. There, I was instantly greeted with a rich aroma that can only come from the mixing of dishes from dozens of different cultures. The tantalizing smell, which was layered with the delicate sweetness of desserts like ice-cream smothered waffles and toasted coconut-glazed pastries, told me that the evening would be worth my trek.
I took my first lap around the market at a lively pace – that is, until I rounded a corner and saw a couple lazily strolling past the mac and cheese car before stopping to watch Himalayan soup bubble in a pot at the Nepalese stand, mugs of beer in hand. It was then that I realized that I was doing it all wrong! I was racing around the market at breakneck speed like the overworked, food-centric American girl that I am – and as someone who likes to do things right, I retraced my steps to one of the wine bars near the entrance to grab a small glass of rosé so that I could start the experience over like a true Berliner. This time, I carefully surveyed my options, struggling to decide between a burrata grilled cheese sandwich, “beef balls”, a charcuterie board, or a pastrami burger that was garnished with a pickle in a way that was reminiscent of olives in a dry martini. Oh, how I wished that I was an NFL linebacker who had saved their entire 10,000 calorie daily quota for Street Food Thursday!
In the end, this Florida girl could not pass up the simple ham and cheese empanada from a stand in the back corner of the market. I marched myself and my empanada over to an open spot near the fresh pasta stand, so that I could watch the chef masterfully toss and prepare vegetables, before adding sauce and leaving it all to simmer. I had landed myself dinner and a show, how about that? With each bite of my piping-hot empanada, the gooey cheese pulled away perfectly; at one point, I had to refrain myself from verbally agreeing with a nearby traveler who turned in admiration to their partner as they asked, “Is this legit?”
After finishing my meal, I couldn’t quite bring myself to leave, so I decided to take one last lap around the market. It was then that I remembered the dessert stand where I had received a free cream puff sample earlier in the evening. So goes the story of how I came to sit cross-legged on a wooden lookout stand at Markthalle Neun with powdered sugar on my pants and vanilla cream on my face. Maybe it was the jetlag, maybe it was the wine, but it was then and there that I realized life was sweet – and I was just getting started.
Healthy base tan, courtesy of the unyielding sun in Megan’s hometown in southwest Florida? Check. An insistence that gallivanting through Germany and Austria all summer does, in fact, count as exercise – after all, those cathedral steps aren’t going to climb themselves! Definitely. A command of the native languages and the confidence that one mere backpack will get her through two months abroad? Now slow down there, she didn’t say she was Wonder Woman. While neuroscience and chemistry may be this coffee-loving, beach-bumming, fashion-adoring springboard diver’s forte, Megan is hoping to expand her appreciation for the finer things in life (beer, currywurst, schnitzel, melange…) before returning to the reality that all good things must come to an end, as evidenced by her impending senior year.