Photo by Anna Gliardi
Sixteen years after Monsieur Vuong paved the way for Berlin´s Vietnamese chefs to throw away their China-Pfanne, the city's overflowing with Vietnamese food. Beyond your average soups and summer rolls and hyped newcomer District Mot, here are five spots worth noting.
Photos by Anna Agliardi, Erica Löfman, Jane Silver, Anna Agliardi, Jane Silver
1Max-Beer-Straße 37, 10119 Berlin
This is a simple yet novel concept for Berlin: Vietnamese-style snacks and coffee served by a enthusiastic young team led by the super-friendly Hong Dao. The Berlinerin (who hails from the northern city of Ninh Binh, two hours from Hanoi) cleverly modelled a spacious, light-filled corner shop with ceiling-to-floor windows to mimic Vietnamese street life. Snacks range from the traditional steamed bánh bao buns (€3-€3.60, filled with veggies, tofu, braised pork or sausage), and a variety of xoi, blobs of sticky rice filled with a mush of pork and mung beans (€4.50, also with tofu) – or the standout pho cuon, silky-gluey rice crepes filled with meat or tofu. Their sweet treats are perfect for afternoon coffee: a tasty sticky rice cake stuffed with coconut cream and served lukewarm or, for more discerning palates, their house che, a typical Vietnamese pudding-like dessert of glutinous rice, mung and kidney beans, tapioca and coconut milk mixed into a jelly-like soup. And the house coffee is a real attraction in itself, served with a metal filter mounted on your glass, the brew dripping into a bottom layer of sweet condensed milk. Their chao ga, the famous chicken and rice soup that’s supposed to heal soul and body, is a definite must for the Berlin winter.
The Dong Xuan Center’s biggest and most consistently crowded restaurant, northern Vietnamese joint Duc Anh’s got a War and Peace-length menu sporting some gnarly dishes – but forget about the sautéed frogs or goat hotpot unless you’re rolling up with an entire banquet’s worth of guests, as they’re only available in huge (and expensive) portions. Instead, go with the bun cha (€7), smoky pork belly char-grilled in a little hut outside and served with rice noodles, a big plate of fresh herbs and a bowl of nuoc mam sauce. If you get soup, order a couple of fried dough sticks (quay, €0.75) for dipping – they’re not that crispy and more than a little greasy, but real Hanoi residents wouldn’t be caught dead eating pho without them. On a weekend night you’re likely to be crashing someone’s wedding party; brush upon your Vietnamese karaoke standards just in case.
3Eisenacher Straße 40, 10781 Berlin
For those of you who see “tofu” on an Asian restaurant menu and think “pathetic joyless meat wannabe”, think again: Chay Village’s multiple permutations of the stuff will have even the most sceptical omnivores extolling the virtues of the soybean. There’s a silken variation,deep-fried until crispy and served with a peanut dipping sauce, a firmer, spongier kind that gets submerged in a chi-replenishing pho soup with fresh vegetables or, our favourite, an earthy, toothsome version, wrapped in betel leaves and served over noodles and herbs as bun la lot (€7 and ultra-filling). While the all-vegetarian, mostly vegan dishes are inspired by Buddhist cuisine, you don’t have to be one with everything to enjoy them – you do, however, have to eat a snack to prepare for the wait, because this place is packed. A second location, opened in Friedrichshain earlier this year, has only stoked the hunger of the meatless masses.
This six-month-old self-described ‘Indochina restaurant’ indulges in creative fusion in a 1950s colonial themed space. Cocktails and lemonades are served in retro glass milk bottles, while tea arrives in deliberately chipped ‘vintage’ bowls with tons of grass-like stuff floating in it (more like soup, really) – usually a bad sign. But Umami’s creative efforts aren’t all in vain: the meat here is a notch above average, and we had a surprisingly palatable Lemonised Beef (€11.90) – a nice chunk of grilled Angus steak flavoured with lemongrass and served with delicious steamed sweet potatoes (a recurring theme here, whether steamed, served as fries, or in latke-like “Saigon Pancakes”) and a commendable stuffed zucchini, both on their weekly menu. Regulars span from well-executed pho (tofu or beef, €7.40) to well-cooked fish (like the Tuna Star, €15.90) to a decent Surf & Turf (€14.90) with king prawn and grilled beef tenderloin. There’s also plently of seitan, in burger form for a veggie bahn bao or wok-fried on rice or rice noodles. Overdone with stuff and overstuffed with customers (avoid peak hours and weekends!), Umami deserves a chance– maybe on a calm Monday afternoon?
5Kantstraße 67, 10627 Berlin
If you’re an expat from a city with a substantial southern Vietnamese population, you might have been wondering where all the ‘real’ pho is in Berlin: the kind that comes with a plate of bean sprouts, herbs, chillies and lime on the side, plus a bottle of hoisin sauce on the table. It’s not for lack of authenticity; it’s because all those bells ‘n’ whistles are only associated with Saigon-style pho, while most Berlin Vietnamese joints are owned by ex-northerners who serve the more austere Hanoi-style version. But the soup you seek can in fact be found at Kantstraße’s Minh Trang, a southern Vietnamese resto that would have you believe it’s a sushi bar. Skip the rolls in favour of the pho bo tai nam gan (€6.50), a giant bowl of noodles and tender, gelatinous beef brisket slices in a sweet, warmly spiced broth, and garnish to your heart’s content.