Korean soul food: Pu:m
Hera Hwang is a chef and researcher who’s dedicated her life to studying and perfecting her home country’s cuisine – whether at the canteen of the Korean Embassy, or at her solo venture in Charlottenburg, where her €15-20 set meals include specialties you won’t find anywhere else. Get the yangnyeom gejang, an entire blue crab hacked into pieces, marinated in a chilli-garlic-ginger blend and eaten completely raw. If you forget to order it in advance, there’s always crisp-skinned samgyeopsal, pork belly squares drizzled in a nutty soybean sauce, or any number of other mains and off-menu specials. All are served with soup and a veritable galaxy of banchan (side dishes), which vary near-daily depending on season and chef’s whim.
- Knobelsdorffstr. 27, Charlottenburg, Mon, Wed-Thu 17-22, Fri-Sun 12-22
Best kimchi (and much more): NaNum
Right across from the Jewish museum, NaNum feels like an art installation where the atmosphere – along with the food and the plates you eat it from – is crafted by Jinok Kim. The former classical singer approaches both fermentation and ceramics with a playful sense of experimentation; her fresh, effervescent cabbage kimchi, for example, contains fermented apple juice from her Brandenburg Kleingarten. Try it with bibimbap or stir-fried sweet potato noodles at lunch, or invest a few hours for a multi-course dinner made with local ingredients and Korean techniques, optionally paired with natural wine.
- Lindenstr. 90, Kreuzberg, lunch Wed-Thu 12-14:30, dinner Thu-Sat 18-23, reserve here
Most stylish: Crazy Kims
Hea-Yung Kim has overhauled the menu of her Kreuzberg restaurant a few times since opening in 2018, but a few things have remained constant: that beautifully patinated copper bar, for one, and food that’s just as gorgeous as the interior. Your €30 set meal – which must be reserved in advance – includes a main like bibimbap or kimchi stew as well as a rainbow of homemade banchan, or side dishes, from fried tofu to egg omelets to the traditional cabbage kimchi. We’re crossing our fingers for the return of Kim’s mandu, silky meat or veggie dumplings that arrive beneath a plate-sized cornstarch lattice.
- Muskauer Str. 13, Kreuzberg, Tue-Sat 18-23, reservations only
Best wine pairings: Choi
Sooyeon “Sue” Choi wields expertise (and recipes) passed down by her mother, once a professional chef back in Busan. She also has a keen instinct for wine pairing. Both are in evidence at her intimate subterranean restaurant, where just a dozen or so diners gather around a wood-and-glass bar for refined six-course meals centred around meat, veggies or fish. Who knew the beef stew galbi jim went so well with Argentinian Malbec, or that kohlrabi “water kimchi” could be chased with a sparkling Kerner from Thuringia?
- Fehrbelliner Str. 4, Mitte, Wed-Sat 18-23, Sun 18-22, reservations only
Most popular: Hodori
When it comes to “classic”, Schöneberg’s Hodori tops any list as the go-to restaurant for any Korean in town. But be aware: you don’t go there for top-quality ingredients, inventive cooking or chic ambiance; you go with 10 or so BFFs (or Korean family members) to hose down huge portions of tabletop bulgogi and ketchup-smothered fried chicken, and stagger out smelling like grilled meat, garlic and booze. The same applies to Hodori’s even more stripped-down sibling Arirang, which has migrated all over Berlin but had branches in Charlottenburg and Friedrichshain the last time we checked.
- Goebenstr. 16, Schöneberg, daily 12-23
Cosiest vibes: DaBangg
Never had Hadong green tea? There’s no better place to sip this traditional royal delicacy than in the warm wooden interior of Friedenau hidden gem DaBangg, surrounded by delicate ceramics, tchotchkes and the strains of (occasionally live) classical music. Hye-Soon Park’s food is as homey as the atmosphere and includes a very decent stone-pot bibimbap, fresh (and free) banchan, and homemade rice cakes for dessert.
- Hedwigstr. 18, Friedenau, Mon-Fri 12-15, 18-22, Sat-Sun 16-22
Best value: Ogam
Neukölln newbie Ogam doesn’t look like much – or even have a liquor license – but if Preis-Leistungs-Verhältnis is what you’re after, look no further than the humble yet delicious dishes served within its bare white walls. The chilly naengmyeon noodle soup rescued us from an August heatwave for just €8. For colder weather, there are stews served on personal hotplates. Here’s your chance to have the American GI-inspired budae jigae, a don’t-knock-it-till-you-try-it mix of instant noodles, kimchi, canned beans and Spam. Opening hours, especially post-Covid, are unpredictable, so call before your visit to be safe.
- Emser Str. 40, Neukölln, Tue-Sat 12:30-20:30, Mon 17:30-20:30, tel 0176 40446945
Juiciest KFC: Kokio
Craving fried chicken, Korean-style? At the vibe-y gastropub by Prenzlauer Berg’s Kulturbrauerei, you’ll be promptly served huge platters to share (XXL portions are for two minimum, including fries, pickled radish and shredded cabbage). Unlike at Angry Chicken and its ilk, it’s not just wings or drumsticks you get here. Instead, just like in Seoul, it’s either a whole chicken or its deconstructed parts, with or without bones, by its crispy self or smothered in finger-lickin’-good sauces like soy-wasabi or the wicked ‘Super Hot’. For anti-pollotarians, there’s fried tofu or the more exotic golbaengi (sea snail) salad. The latter is appreciated by Kokio’s many Korean hipster patrons, who wash it down with Hite bier or a shot of the many soju and other rice alcohols on offer.
- Hagenauer Str. 9, Prenzlauer Berg, daily 16-22:30
Best MSG-free BBQ: Gokan
Want “authentic” without the ubiquitous flavour booster? The mother-daughter restaurant Gokan in Schöneberg serves superior BBQ made from quality ingredients. Be it Iberico pork, traditional bulgogi (cooked yuksu-style with broth, scallions, and glass noodles), or the German entrecôte, here it’s the meat, not the seasoning, that’s given the spotlight – though you might need some home-mixed gochujang-garlic dip to punch up the glutamate-free feast. This is also the place to try makchang, a pungent dish of pig intestines that are marinated for five days, then chopped and sautéed with scallions and rice alcohol… at the table. Don’t be shy about asking for free refills of seasonal sides like kimchi, aubergines and soybean sprouts, and order the matcha bingsu for a dessert (condensed milk shaved ice, topped with nut brittle with or without green tea powder) that tastes as wonderful as it looks.
- Leberstr. 9, Schöneberg, Sun-Tue, Thu 18-22, Fri-Sat 18-22:30
Best fusion restaurant: Kochu Karu
A decade after its opening, Prenzlauer Berg restaurant Kochu Karu – brought to us by a Korean soprano-turned-sommelier and a Spanish chef with a yen for Brandenburg produce – is still going strong. You compose your own four-to-seven-course meal from a selection of “small” and “not so small” plates, which might include Iberico sausage with tteok rice cakes, grilled mackerel with marinated apricot or dumplings with mountain herbs and wild Brussels sprouts.
- Eberswalder Str. 35, Prenzlauer Berg, Tue-Sat from 18, reservations here
Best fusion street stand: Fraulein Kimchi
Remember Korean tacos? Lauren Lee of Fraulein Kimchi still does. Though her Prenzlauer Berg restaurant was short-lived, you can still find the dirndl-clad Korean-American fermented cabbage enthusiast serving corn tortillas full of gochujang-marinated pulled pork and braised bulgogi-style beef at street food fairs and special events. Other specials include burgers, rice bowls and kimchi Käsespätzle.
Best pastries: Lia Ppang
Owner Lia Hong used to supply homesick Koreans with traditional walnut cookies, or hodugwaja, at the Kulturbrauerei food market; now sweet-toothed locals of all ages swing by her café for a soybean dacquoise, her take on the classic macaroon, or a large slice of the cakes du jour. Our favourite: the matcha roll cake, a fluffy, swirled affair filled with whole red beans and matcha cream. As the sign on her door cheekily explains, it’s not vegan, gluten-free or lactose free, but it’s certainly very good.
- Choriner Str. 45, Prenzlauer Berg, Wed-Sat 12-18, Sun 12-16
The classic: YamYam
The oldest Korean restaurant in Berlin is Seoul Kwan in Friedenau, but the oldest one anyone cares about is Ixthys, that Schöneberg nook where the owners really want you to find Jesus. They’re still there and still proselytizing after 18 years, although the wait times are long and the bibimbap isn’t quite as good as you remember. And then there’s Mitte lunch stalwart Yam Yam. Opened in 2009 (two weeks before the inferior Kimchi Princess), Sumi Ha’s bright little nook turned bibimbap into a household name among the artsy-yuppie crowd. Its signature mung bean kimchi pancakes and the jukgaejang beef soup are still among our favourites.
- Alte Schönhauser Str. 6, Mitte, Tue-Sat 12-22