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Samakki Talad Thai: Street food cafeteria

Ah, spring, when a young Berliner's fancy turns to thoughts of laab. It won't always be sunny enough for Thai Park, though, so keep this cheap 'n' spicy West Berlin alternative in mind as a backup... or as a great meal in its own right.

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Photo by Veronica Jonsson

By now Thai Park, that Southeast Asian picnic/market hybrid in Wilmersdorf, has become one of Berlin’s worst-kept secrets. While undeniably wonderful, it has its disadvantages – the most obvious being that you can only go there during the day, and then only during summery weather. What’s a Thai-food-loving Berliner to do the other 90 percent of the time?

The answer lies on a nondescript block just off of Kantstraße’s Asian Restaurant Row. With stark lighting and zero décor save a giant flatscreen blaring Thai TV, the street food Imbiss Samakki Talad Thai has all the ambiance of a high school cafeteria. It’s also got the same food setup.

In a row against the wall, you’ll see three steam tables bearing distinctly different offerings, each manned by a different cook. They are, from left to right: Jeaw, creator of curries and desserts; Aor, mistress of delicacies from the Isan region; and Amnat, tamer of the noodle. You order directly from the vendors and pay €5 per dish (€2 for drinks, €1 for a side of rice) when you’re done eating.

If you look overwhelmed, energetic proprietor Kwang will probably steer you towards the most Westerner-friendly dish on the menu: Pad Thai. Amnat’s workman-like version is decent, not too sweet or greasy with plump, nicely cooked shrimp.

But that’s not what you’re here for. You’re here for the kuay tiau rua (”boat noodles”), sliced beef, meatballs and rice noodles in a thick, murky broth begging for a lashing of fish sauce, chilli and vinegar from the plastic spice caddy. Or the mysteriously pink yen ta fo soup with its symphony of textures: bouncy fish balls, spongy tofu, some kind of gelatinous white fungus that is definitely an acquired taste.

Above all, though, you are here for the Isan food. A large number of Thai Berliners come from that rural north-eastern province, yet its cuisine is underrepresented in Berlin – with the exception of som tum, green papaya salad. It’s one of the most common dishes at the Thai Park and you’ll find it at Samakki as well, pounded to order in a mortar and pestle. You’ll also find other, rarer specialties, like fermented sausage and laab (ground meat salad).

All of which are probably worth ordering. But not until you’ve tried the nam tok: tender, thin slices of pork with a sauce of stock, fish sauce, chilli, lime juice, sugar and toasted crushed rice, topped with slivers of mint, coriander and green and red onion. In Aor’s hands, the ingredients combine with Voltron-like efficiency to knock out all the flavours of the Thai holy foursome: spicy, sour, salty, sweet. This is a dish that punches you in the face in the best way possible, and we’ve found nothing else like it in Berlin. Eat it with sticky rice and a Thai iced tea, and pick up one of Jeaw’s packaged desserts on your way out.

It might be dark, cold or rainy outside, but it’ll be a balmy Thai Park day in your heart.