Restaurant culture in Berlin has exploded over the last decade. With the introduction of Berlin Food Week in 2014, and the rising popularity of alternative cuisines, like vegan and farm-to-table style restaurants, what was once a humble food scene has become one of the most thriving in Europe, making food journalist, Per Meurling, its trusted authority.
“Berlin is a super inspiring city for food and food adventures,” says Meurling, who recently launched on Patreon. “When I came here ten years ago, it can be argued that it was a fairly poor restaurant city. But so much has happened in those ten years, so many people have come here and brought with them both the demand for good food, but also the knowledge of what good food is. So it’s exploded, and I’ve been really fortunate to ride this wave, and grow with the city’s food scene.”
Meurling runs Berlin Food Stories, an independent source of truth about the best places to eat in Germany’s capital. And as Berlin’s food scene has expanded, so has his stature as a pundit. His blog has been cited in Vox’s Eater, BBC, the Guardian, and Vice, among others, and his Instagram is now hovering around 80 thousand hungry followers.
His recipe for success? Honest restaurant reviews that give equal attention to food and vibe, in addition to price point, hours, and other insider information. And by writing about both highbrow and lowbrow restaurants with the same attention to detail, he’s covering Berlin with a populist voice that doesn’t answer to anyone except his readers.
“Doing it as a hobby, it became very clear that this was what I had to do,” Meurling says about his decision to take on Berlin Food Stories full time. “It was meant to be. There was nothing else I’d ever done that interested me more.”
“To be able to do this full time, and to go very deep into every restaurant rabbit hole in the city, was truly a dream come true.”
Meurling’s journey to becoming Berlin’s prominent voice on food started way back in childhood. As a kid growing up in Sweden, he loved to spend time in the kitchen, trying his hand at recipes from cookbooks — by university, he was working in restaurants.
But when he moved to Berlin in 2009 to take a job in tech, he went from working in restaurants to eating in them. And the more he ate in Berlin, the more he was blown away by the city’s diversity and quality of options, from traditional German and Austrian cuisine (if you’re in town, be sure to check out his schnitzel guides), to international options, like Vietnamese, Italian, Michelin-starred fine dining, and Indian-Mexican fusion with a Hawaiian twist.
He started Berlin Food Stories in 2012 to write about his culinary adventures, and four years later, it was going so well that he had a tough choice to make — keep his steady job in tech or follow his dream of becoming a full-time food blogger.
“To go full time on the Berlin Food Stories project was absolutely a difficult decision,” he remembers. “I left a world and a job where I was paid pretty well, and had job security and money going toward a pension, all that…for something that was very insecure. I’d saved some money, which I used, so yes, it was a very complicated step. But at the time, I had no doubt in my mind that it was the right step. And I still don’t.”
But being a thriving, independent food journalist is tricky business. To stay impartial, Meurling uses tricks that many restaurant critics will be familiar with, including booking under fake names, showing up unannounced, never accepting comped meals, and not taking money from the places he reviews.
For Meurling, and his audience, authenticity isn’t just a plus — it’s the reason his food criticism is so potent.
“Restaurants can’t buy any rankings, they can’t invite me even,” says Meurling. “I’ve really learned that that’s not how it works. You cannot do this well and take money from restaurants. It’s absolutely imperative — you’ll write differently about it, and you will not do content and push the places that are really worthwhile. Almost all places that deserve to be pushed and really make the best food and experiences are not the ones who have the money to spend on it.”
Now that Berlin Food Stories has launched on Patreon, its patrons gain access to their Discord community, exclusive content, plus they get to read blog articles and newsletters before anyone else.
But perhaps the most important benefit patrons receive is the chance to be directly involved in keeping Berlin Food Stories independent.
That way, when Friday night rolls around in the capital, and its readers are looking for authentic sichuan noodles, or the perfect french fry, they’ll know exactly where to look. It means Meurling can hire more staff — “it’s become more than a one person job.” And, since he won’t accept payments from restaurants, he can stop taking jobs outside of Berlin Food Stories to make a living.
“Many people who do what I do would also make a living as a freelance writer, which I also do once in a while…or being like a professional photographer/videographer, using their content creating abilities to sell to other clients. And I do that, but at the same time, it was never my vision. All these things, they would and they also do stop me from pursuing what I really want to do, and what I should do, which is to be out there eating and gathering information about what’s going on and creating content around food and restaurants in Berlin. ”