'Barcomi's': How Food Shapes Who And Where We Are : NPR FM Berlin Blog Barcomi's, a deli, bakery, and coffee roastery in Berlin, offers a story of culture, owing to the mix of ethnic influences on its owner, Cynthia Barcomi. Over the past 17 years, the American baker, cookbook author and businesswoman has bridged the gap between culinary customs through her desserts.
NPR logo 'Barcomi's': How Food Shapes Who And Where We Are

'Barcomi's': How Food Shapes Who And Where We Are

Barcomi's coffee roastery is located on Bergmannstr. 21 in Kreuzberg. Courtesy of Barcomi's hide caption

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Courtesy of Barcomi's

Barcomi's coffee roastery is located on Bergmannstr. 21 in Kreuzberg.

Courtesy of Barcomi's

In choosing where to dine for Berlin's Sunday cake and coffee ritual, a sidewalk shop with an Italian name, American-style desserts, and an international crowd is an unexpected combination.

Barcomi's, a deli, bakery, and coffee roastery in the city, offers one such story of culture, owing to the mix of ethnic influences on its owner, Cynthia Barcomi.

Over the past 17 years, Barcomi has bridged the gap between numerous culinary customs through the desserts behind the glass cases in her shops.

From a North American country of mixed ethnicities to a European city of the same nature, Cynthia Barcomi has managed to weave her American roots into a German setting-all over cake.

As two gastronomy students hoping to discover, and subsequently write about Berlin's culinary melting pot, we stumbled upon Barcomi's Kreuzberg bakery and promptly sat down to a slice of chocolate cake.

It was clear that Barcomi's "expect the unexpected" approach in her food snugly fits into Berlin's cosmopolitan scene.

New York style cheesecake at Barcomi's Courtesy of Barcomi's hide caption

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Courtesy of Barcomi's

Whether it's the exotic pecan pie for the Berliner or the familiar New York cheesecake for the American visitor, patrons' surprise at Barcomi's desserts is quickly overshadowed by their emotional appetites.

They eat what resonates with them.

Considering that the association of food and culture is what led Barcomi to begin her business, it's appropriate that her customers follow suit. Her relationship with baking started in her Jewish, Italian-American home and eventually followed her when she relocated to Europe.

In 1994, Barcomi started her coffee roasting business and soon after expanded to her popularly known baked goods. Although her status as a foreign, non-professionally trained female occasionally proved challenging, she carved out her own baking niche in Berlin.

Cynthia Barcomi's story demonstrates the dynamic process of food ways; we blend our backgrounds into our environment and thereby create an equal exchange rate, one where the sensual pleasure of food transforms itself into real social value.

Cynthia Barcomi Courtesy of Barcomi's hide caption

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Courtesy of Barcomi's

From a glance, Barcomi's poses as the success story of an expat whose cheesecake may be above the norm. But if you look closely and delve further into her mixed background of Polish and Jewish New Yorker roots, her cafe and the food it serves could not be more in sync with Berlin and greater Germany's own culinary past.

After all, it was the Jews from Eastern Europe that shaped much of Germany's food culture in the late 13th century, introducing a variety of baking techniques - a majority of which are still used today. And it was Jewish German immigrants who later established New York's famous deli culture and penchant for pastrami reubens, dill pickles, challah bread, and sauerkraut. Barcomi comes from both food cultures and her shop that doubles as a cafe and deli embodies both pasts.

So the next time you saunter by Barcomi's in Mitte or Kreuzberg, treat yourself to a slice of kuchen or a hearty reuben, and think fondly of how food more and more shapes who and where we are.

Gianna Banducci, a baker and food writer in the Bay area, co-wrote this blog.

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