Sure, we have Turkish food in NYC, but it’s not as ingrained in our culture as in Berlin. I wouldn't call it a top of mind cuisine. And while our love of gyros matches a German fondness for doner kebabs, our geographically generic shaved meat in a pita isn’t particularly Turkish or Greek or...whatever it's supposed to be.
Cafeteria-style Mercan, in Kreuzberg, is as good as any place to get acquainted with homey Turkish cooking. For only 6 euros, you can pick an entree (in the American sense--we're the only weirdos who use the term to mean the main dish, not a starter) from the handful of giant metal pans behind glass at the counter, choose rice or bulger, and salad or dessert. Nothing is labeled—the only written indications are in German on the chalkboards out front--but it's likely that one of the cooks will be able to speak enough English to explain the basics.
You may find a thick ground lamb and eggplant dish slicked with mildly spicy oil (perfect for dipping the fluffy focaccia-like bread), the abergin musakka. I've always wondered why countries like England and Germany use French words for so many food items, or are we the weirdos again with our eggplants and zucchinis? When a server at speakeasy, Beckett's Kopf, described a cocktail to me using the term "pamplemousse," I remarked, "oh, grapefruit," and he got all flustered like I was correcting him (I was not). I'm still trying to figure out the German temperament.
Or you can have Lamm nacken a.k.a. lamb shank stewed with potatoes. There are plenty of non-lamb options, by the way.
Rice is fortified with meaty white beans. I think they refer to this style with slivered nuts and cooked in broth as pilaf.
The chopped cucumber, tomato, and onion salad was a little bland even with the sliced chiles and a squeeze of lemon. It wasn’t until after I finished eating that I noticed other diners making a dressing with the oil and vinegar on the table. Of course. I'm not used to d.i.y. dressing, though it seems commonplace in other countries--Spain and Argentina, off the top of my head.
Mercan * Wiener Strasse 10, Berlin, Germany