New self-service ramen-ya Men Men was in retrospect a no-brainer for Ethan Xu, the owner of Hashi, Mitte’s trendy Japanese-fusion eatery. Many expats might still bemoan the lack of decent sushi in Berlin, but Xu’s new baby serves food that people in Japan are more likely to eat on the regular: big bowls of ramen; unfussy donburi and oil-slicked gyoza, perfect for soaking up the night’s alcohol intake.
Inside, it’s got the obligatory kitschy touches – lanterns, hanging paper panels and a crafty mechanical cat that snaps up your tip. Optimistic about the deluge of ramen eaters to come, it’s also incredibly spacious and hands out silly-looking pagers that flash red when your meal is ready.
While Hashi is known for its all-over-the-map menu, this place sticks to the aforementioned dishes and little else. There are salads and rice bowls, but Men Men literally translates to “noodles noodles”, so it’s noodles we ate. Made with flour, they’re churned out in standard and eggless vegan varieties daily by the gargantuan machine in the kitchen, a Japanese import: Men Men’s Facebook claims there are only two such machines in Europe. They come submerged in one of three kinds of chicken or vegetarian broth: shio (seasoned with salt), shoyu (soy sauce) and miso.
We tried the vegetarian shio (€7.90) and spicy miso (€6.90), the former with rather sweet, spongy fried tofu, the latter with thin-sliced pork chashu and half a soy-marinated boiled egg, both with bamboo shoots, nori seaweed and a cabbage and green onion topping (kimchi’s also available for an extra €3). The miso broth was thick and hearty with a chilli kick; the shio wholesome and lighter, more appropriate for summer. The handmade pasta, if a little starchy, was redeemed by its substantial bite. Add in a plate of pan-fried gyoza (€3.50) with a quite flavourful tofu-veggie filling and some cold Asahi (€3.50, brewed with rice – take that, Reinheitsgebot), for a more-than-satisfying combo.
Did the noodles lack the springiness of the best specimens? Was the gyoza missing the lacy, delicate crust it might have had in more deliberate, artful hands? Sure, but this is Neukölln, not Tokyo, and it’s cheaper than Kreuzberg’s Cocoro, the only other place to get this kind of food south of the U1. The crowds that packed the pavement during our visit certainly appreciated it, and they’ll undoubtedly multiply with the addition of sister dumpling-only Imbiss YuMe opening next door later this summer. Maybe those pagers were a good investment after all.
Originally Published in issue#129 July/August 2014