Sanskriti Bist

When I started cooking, I used to cook just for myself. I was 21 years old, and my meals were basic – rice, lentils, recipes my mom had taught me. Cooking for oneself is an act of self-love, but as the years went by, I realized that sharing my food with others helped me make friends, bridge cultures, and provided a sense of community comfort that I had not experienced before. The act of eating together brings people together.

Kitchens, to me, have been a space of refuge. As someone who had a nomadic upbringing, being in these spaces gave me a great sense of finding an identity and bonding across different spectrums of cultures, interacting with people I would have never met. In Lichtenberg, the fridge was stocked with capers, mustard, beer, and cucumber pickles – a combination of ingredients I’d probably never see in my fridge back in India. I didn’t have any friends in Berlin. Yet, this unfamiliar kitchen felt familiar. The pans, onions, and garlic were all similar to what I would find at home. Berlin is vast and complex, a city with multiple layers that seemed too complicated for me to peel. I wanted to bridge the gap between me and the city through food. I wanted to understand its people, where they came from, what they did for a living, their histories, and what constituted their identity. This project for me was something deeply personal and a gateway into understanding the intricacies of the people of Berlin.

I went around different parts of the city, finding so much love and warmth in lovely Berlin homes. Peter and his lovely daughter Heidi cooked potatoes for me while discussing their summer holiday plans, keeping me in the loop and explaining to me how hot summer is in Berlin. Michael invited me to his home in Lichtenberg, which used to be a chair factory. While flipping Kartoffelpuffer, he talked about his music career and how he started cooking only after the pandemic. Suzanne and her husband, Heiko, invited me to a lovely meal with their children where they made me aubergines and told me how they met each other in university. They shifted to Berlin for a better life and now have a small hut to keep their quails and eat fresh eggs every day. Silke recounted her life story of how she spent years escaping East Germany before the wall and landed herself in West Berlin to create a successful life as an artist. She had published a cookbook where she stored all of her grandmother’s recipes to remember her and her childhood. Thomas and his wife cooked me a lovely meal with cucumbers and pork and told me how they had lived in the east their entire lives. When the wall was broken, they packed everything in their cars and went to the west to meet their relatives for a week.

These are a few of the many stories I’d gathered. I became close to the inhabitants of this beautiful city as they kept feeding me and shared a part of their lives with me. This project taught me the kindness of strangers through food and showed me an entire culture of Berlin I would have missed out on if I had eaten in public spaces. This project reinforced the idea that food knows no borders and that it can always bring people together. It is truly a universal language of commensality.

December, 2023