Berlin Book Fix – No.6: Goldhahn & Sampson

Where to find books in English in Berlin?

No.6 – Goldhahn & Sampson in Prenzlauer Berg. The cook book lover’s treasure chest.

Goldhahn & Sampson caters for the mind as well as the palate. They sell food, wine and delicatessen – local specialities from around Berlin and elsewhere. A contradiction? Not at all: speciality food is generally rooted in a certain locality. That’s what makes it special and different from the foods from other localities, and of course from the mass-produced products that have the same taste (or lack thereof) everywhere.

Goldhahn & Sampson offer foods from small/medium-sized manufacturers from around the world, as well as fresh produce and bread from producers in and around Berlin. They also run cooking classes. After about a decade in Prenzlauer Berg, they have opened a second shop in Charlottenburg, which I have not seen yet, but plan to visit soon.

But when you come into Goldhahn & Sampson at the Helmholtzplatz, try not to get distracted from the pretty packages and delicious pastries on the counter. Force yourself past the central table full of chocolate, and take a right at the coffee counter. You will be rewarded with a room full of food and cookery books.

Goldhahn & Sampson have most likely the best selection of food and cookery books in Berlin. They are organised by topic. English titles – of which there are quite a few – are mixed in with the German-language ones.

The very large majority are cookbooks, i.e. recipe books, spanning the whole range from product knowledge (of single foods, such as rice, vinegar, seaweed or of food groups such as meat, fish, dairy products), technical knowledge (baking, barbecuing, as far as table settings), recipe books for different food groups (desserts, soups…), lifestyles (vegan, raw…) and cuisines (of a large number of countries), to specific chefs (shout-out to Mary Berry from the Great British Bake-Off, we’ll miss you!!).

A slim shelf by the entrance holds books on more abstract topics, categorised among others as food politics, food culture (very interesting: Massimo Montanari Food is Culture) and also “literature” – which, I must say, is the most disappointing selection, including a couple of volumes on such things as “food for the broken-hearted”. What does that have to do with literature? I hasten to say that those books are all in German, and every literary tradition follows its own pace and developments. The cross-pollination between literary traditions seems to be slower than between cuisines. Literary nonfiction is decidedly not a thing yet in German.

But we are in a shop that focuses on food, and in that area, they excel. They have a beautiful bound copy of Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking – first published in 1984, the book explains the science (“and lore”) behind cooking and food. It can be extremely useful in understanding the processes in the kitchen, and thereby gaining a certain independence from recipes. Why do I appreciate that? Let me put it like this: I much prefer looking at a map to people giving me directions. That’s because everybody sets different priorities. Some people tell me to go South or North, others give a sequences of lefts and rights, and still others go by landmarks (and not always the ones I would pick). Directions are quite subjective – maps are more objective. A map lets me zoom in or out, lets me choose to go by street turns or the cardinal points (East West etc.). I personally like to get the bigger picture to get my bearings, and then focus on the nitty-gritty of street names and such.

Recipes are subjective, too; even the best-written ones are limited. They might assume knowledge, or just fail to acknowledge what it is they are teaching you, beside their specific focus of a certain dish. They may tell you to use this temperature for that long, but neglect to say why, so if your stove/chicken/pan/oil is different than the ones used in the original, you might run into trouble. Unless you do have your general bearings. You might get these through years of cooking experiences – or, if you are nerdily inclined, through reading up on them. And you can’t get more thorough than Harold McGee. On Food and Cooking is the Google Maps of cooking.

Last but not least, I would be amiss not to mention this little gem I discovered in the shelves underneath the baking section: Susie Johns’ Knitted Fast Food. Available now where good books are sold.

Goldhahn & Sampson
Dunckerstr. 9, 10437 Berlin
U Eberswalderstraße
Mon – Fri  08.00* – 20.00 h
Sat               09.00 – 20.00 h

*They make pretty good coffee, too!

Tell me: Where do you look for books on food and cooking?


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