The Bianco Guide To: Berlin's Little Asia aka Kantstrasse
Most of the people who first come to Berlin find themselves lost in one of our pretty damn cool (cool) electronic music clubs or party spots the town has to offer.
But nah, that’s not me (well, most of the time…).
So since I always hang with the right people (Asians), I quickly heard about this one street in the western part of Berlin that was supposed to be heaven for lovers of authentic food from all over Asia. Now, after spending almost every weekend there for over two years, I can confirm the hype is real. The Kantstrasse is a fucking beast that everybody needs to ride at least once when they are in Berlin. It’s far off the typical sites that tourists and young guns from all around the world visit when they hit the city, and that’s the good thing about it – this shit is real. The combination of traditional Asian restaurants with a new generation of lovely Berlin-Asian chefs introducing their own flair make this place amazing and one of a kind.
Please use this guide to help you take your first shy steps into the world of bold umami, juicy dumplings and steaming bowls.
Lon Mens Noodle House
Welcome to one of my favourite restaurants in the whole wide world. This Taiwanese noodle house offers only a handful of seats, always has a long but justifiable line outside, and has at least 8 people working in that tiny space to get you the best Taiwanese fast food you can imagine. There is a particular reason I put Lon men as number one of this list and it’s called Chilli Wan-Tan. Regardless of whether you go there for a dinner or choose another restaurant to eat the things you need, you should at least go there first and eat the best starters that me (or you) have ever had.
If you just come for the Wan-Tan, you can sometimes ask people to skip the line to eat your new favourite starter on this little counter opposite the kitchen. Then gtfo the restaurant asap - be a ninja.
The rest of the menu is pretty awesome too. I always go for the thin noodles with roasted duck, or the Taiwanese style noodles with minced meat, but basically everything is peng in there! One last thing I should mention is that most European customers do not understand how to behave in this style of street/fast food restaurant: please just go in there, eat your fucking food and then leave. Do not just sit there afterwards and talk for 25 minutes about your life. This is no San Fran Coffee Company, there is a line waiting for food and an army of people working around you.
I do love you, but please eat and leave, ok?
Time for some Pho, but for some real badass extra special pho. Madam NGO is part of a famous tribe of restaurants from a creative food family, sharing the same insane design, food, and forward thinking crew. So even though Madam NGO is a big player in the world of interior design themed restaurants, and even though I am a fan of more rough, street-like restaurants with sticky tables and suspicious views into questionable kitchens, this shit still looks nice. The Asian and French design principles fused together with the smell of amazing pho is totally legit.
But actually, screw the design - this Pho is so damn on point and the broth is really strong with this one; more intense and a little bit finer (and pricier) than the rest of the Berlin, but most def worth it.
Going into Asian restaurants on the regular will always lead you to one simple conclusion - “god damn those starters are so damn good.” Like seriously, there are restaurants where you could and should just stick to 5 starters and be happy forever. Also Madam NGO is an all-star when it comes to starters: there is this thingy called “Les Trois Cochons” (Three kinds of pork belly), as well as the “Carpaccio de Saigon” and those spring rolls with the minced crab - you cannot lose on this menu (so please let’s all pull off a DJ Khaled in here and win this together).
Let’s head over to Aroma, next door to Lon Men, and eat some OG Chinese cuisine. Aroma is one of these restaurants where you can totally screw up and order the same boring Pan-Asian-Euro-Chinese-something that people get everywhere. Or you can do the right thing and keep winning. This restaurant has everything you need (till almost 4am) as long as you follow my simple rules:
- Everything from the dumpling section is good (steamed chicken feet!!)
- Always order water spinach
- Get the pork ribs in mandarin sauce
- Get the pork belly in a pot
- Always ask the waiter what he prefers when he wants some real Chinese food
After ordering I’m 90% sure the waiter will congratulate you on your great choice of food with a pat on the shoulder. Thank me later.
From all the spots on my list the 893 is by far the most fancy (and expensive) one, and probably the only place you’ll find truffle and foie gras on the menu. The restaurant’s dishes are inspired by a mix of modern and traditional Japanese influences, combined with some rich clientele, Michelin guide taste, but still maintaining a Berlin vibe. All these fancy plates are still served by down to earth, good looking people instead of penguin-esque servants, and the whole restaurant could be a nice club for you and your shady friends on top. If the Yakuza operated in Berlin they would definitely hang out in the 893 (with me).
So even though Berlin is a town full low-balling youth, everybody should at least sometimes step their food game up and spend some proper money on Undon noodles in places like the Ryotei. All the other guests I saw in there were further away from being a Yakuza than I am from being a superstar violinist in South Korea. All the corporate fucks and posh mothers in there do deserve more people like us around them, if only to teach them the proper way of being shady, street-smart and baller.
Time for some Korean love! Sonkitchen is not just the ultimate mix of modern and traditional Korean influences, the very best Bibimbab I have ever had in my life, and a bunch of a young and diverse generation of Berliners doing their thing. No - Sonkitchen is my fucking family.
When I first started in Berlin I used to work for them to help boost their social media game and while doing so they showed me almost all the spots and restaurants in this list. These guys really know about good food, we basically share the same fetish, so you should not miss der Bimbimab at their newly opened place. Seriously get their Bibimbab! I have tried a lot in Berlin, but my lovely friend chef Hansi’s is above them all.
Now let’s switch to something way more casual and cheap but still amazing. The Udagawa is the perfect place to eat a Don Katsu; aka a German Schnitzel. And although I have to admit that this is not a 100% authentic Japanese Don Katsu, the taste, price, and set-up are just perfect. So sometimes pass all these fine, slick and smart Asian restaurants, and just be damn happy with this one.
Go there straight for the Don Katsu and always order the sauce extra in a bowl. Add all extra sauces available for a fierce mix on your plate. This is no Instagram food, but one of the best deals out there! It’s a real ting, you cannot lose here.
I love this place ‘cause I fucking love spicey food. So basically, a lot of the things you order here are a little bit spicy and sometimes supa hot fire (disclaimer: I’m not a rapper), and even though this place looks slightly more fancy that the other Chinese places around that area you will get straight original Chinese food from South-West China; aka Hunan!
I actually have not found my signature dish in this place which is a fucking blessing because once I find it I stick to it 24/7 and stop exploring the menu! So far I have loved everything I’ve eaten here and you will too (if you find some Godzillas on the menu, please let me know!).
There are some real heavy Sichuan pepper dishes on the menu and there is actually one, only one, thing you should consider here - if this is your first encounter with real Sichuan Pepper, do not overdo it. Some people really, really hate the taste, some say It makes your mouth numb like eating fresh cocaine off a big spoon, and some love it. I personally do not rate it that much and always try to skip everything on the menu that is bathing in it.
Let’s stick with Supa Fire and visit Papaya across the street. The last time I went to this place the waitress asked me if I wanted it authentic hot, like every Thai person was eating their food, and I said yes... Five minutes later I asked them to bring me something to help get the hellfire out of my throat – they brought a mango lassi, it was very tasty btw.
I already told you that I love spicy things but this is another universe, so be brave (or smart) when she asks what you can handle.
What I really love about this place is that you can order grilled duck with curry and feel not bad. You know that little guilt you feel because you actually keep on ordering this dish at every fucking “Asian” restaurant everywhere? (I do). So this place totally nails this dish and a couple of other classic dishes, taking them to the next level. Plus, they have an armada of authentic starters, a banging selection of papaya salads (beware again of the spiciness), and a lot of awesome authentic main dishes (probably… I always take the roasted duck, I am sorry).
Remember when I talked about those sticky tables and suspicious views into small kitchen windows? That's Arirang. Probably the most ratchet, nasty looking place you will ever eat in...
… and you will still want to marry your girlfriend/boyfriend next to that Ketchup Chicken because it’s so damn good (order it or I will kill you).
Arirang is a boss and to make the most out of it please come with a big group of people to enjoy the ride. The food is very good and worryingly cheap, they have a variety of BBQ dishes you can actually grill on your table, and these god damn fried pancakes served to you by those never-friendly waiters. This place has a last supper style set-up with your close ones! Also, please do not leave this restaurant without trying the Melona Ice and the feeling like you have eaten 5 Bic Macs washed down with 3 litres of cola straight. Because while you might love me for this one while you are still eating, you might kinda hate me after leaving this place.
So next to the Kantstrasse there is another lovely spot called Momij, and they happen to serve one of Osaka's very own streetfood champions – Takoyaki; aka the most sexy balls ever. Super tasty and hot dough (watch your tongue) filled with Octopus and topped with Japanese Mayo, Worchester, or Ponzu Sauce.
On top of that you should try their vegan matcha pudding with red bean paste. This thing is lovely and crazy good. Momij is heaven; authentic and lovely. Because Japanese people will always care about your belly the guys who run the place will also be kind enough to guide you in the direction of some other good Japanese spots all around Berlin. God damn how much I love Japan! EAT THOSE Takoyaki!
There are a so many other restaurants around Kantstrasse that it’s easy to lose track of everything and one of the deepest hidden gems is Minthran. It actually looks 100% like one of these restaurants you just pass by and do not give a flying fuck, but actually you really should. Their Pho Game is lovely, and if you order the ginger broth with raw beef in it trust me - you will know why.
There is a park in Berlin, The Thai park, and every summer a lot of OG Thai grandmas gather around and cook 100% authentic and unbelievably good Thai streetfood. It’s an insane place and one day I will tell you more about it. So let’s just say, there is one grandma who cooks up one of the best soup I have ever tasted. A wild mix of all kinds of flavours fused into one bowl of happiness. So every winter I almost start crying that I have to wait till next Summer to meet my favourite Grandma I Like To Buy Soup from - A GIL(TBS)F.
One day I discovered that someone (perhaps even her) is running a shop at Kantstrasse that sells this particular soup, too. That day was a good day. Go there. Just go there.
Kushiage consists of all kinds of lovely things grilled on a bamboo stick. Anything from beef to fish, eel, or octopus to asparagus, egg, vegetables, mushrooms and more - everything is fried but in the most delicious way. Only the Japanese are able to produce this fluffy crust that still tastes fly even tho it’s a fry (hehe). Originally from Osaka (Japan’s foodie town No.1) both the dish and the restaurant had their success story to Berlin.
The family behind this spot run two joints in Japan as well, so you can trust that they will do it right. It’s a little bit pricey, but last time I went there I ate their 30 course menu and drank a bottle of red wine on my own… I felt very happy and empowered afterwards.
You cannot stand Asian food? Then go to the Paris Bar and order some very expensive steak. Enjoy the atmosphere and see some rich fucks having this life on a daily basis. It’s lovely. Just do it. I love you