This topic feels a bit like discussing how long a piece of string is. Unlike other parts of Germany, ahem, such as in the south, there are many Korean establishments in Berlin. Many nurses from Korea ended up in Berlin during the Gastarbeiter wave of the ’60s-’70s, and I know several second generation Korean Germans as a result of this immigration movement. I got to visit Berlin twice last year, so here are some of the Korean restaurants/grocery stores that I managed to try during those visits.
While attending a wedding in the Hauptstadt last October, this Korean family didn’t mess around and only went to Korean restaurants (outside of the wedding festivities of course. Oh my gosh. Could you imagine? Pulling out a dosirak [Korean lunch box] full of rice, kimchi and dried fish during Kaffee und Kuchen or at the stylish Swiss restaurant where the party was? That wouldn’t have been conspicuous at all!] We also stocked up on Korean groceries while we could. As I’ve mentioned before, our Polish Au Pair was equally as enthusiastic.
We had some restocking to do. We don’t plan it this way, but we manage to get to a Korean grocery store about once every three-four months. You can be sure that these items are on our grocery list:
- ddeok (rice cakes which are usually frozen. If we are clever, we have packed some sort of cooler in the car for transport back home.)
- white rice
- brown rice (we grab a couple of the largest bags they have which are usually 5 kg)
- fresh kongnamul (soybean sprouts, if they have it.)
- and whatever else has run low in the pantry or freezer: sesame oil, sweet rice flour, dangmyun (sweet potato noodles for jabchae), etc.
Oddly enough, googling “koreanischer Laden Berlin” or “koreanische Lebensmittel Berlin” does not give any clear guidance. Both my husband and I were none the wiser after looking through a few result pages, so he suggested that I get in touch with one of the aforementioned Korean German friends from Berlin.
Eun Young came through with a number of helpful suggestions. By the way, she lives in Frankfurt right now where she occasionally offers Korean cooking courses at Kochhaus Frankfurt Bockenheim. Her elegant menus are based on classics but tastefully and thoughtfully adjusted to the Western/German palette: vegetarian and meat mandu (dumplings), bulgogi (marinated grilled beef) with Korean-style cucumber salad and rice, and green tea muffins with exotic fruit salad. I love this sort of example of the second generation figuring it out and getting it right. Eun Young is a go to source for Korean food in Germany, not just in Berlin, so I’m planning on interviewing her here in the future!
I’m so glad that we got her advice, since she sent us to a long-standing Korean grocery store of Berlin called Seoul Laden which can be found on Bredowstr. 2, 10551 in the Moabit part of town. It’s a discreet shop on a side street from Turmstrasse, not far from the U-Bahn stop. We were able to find everything on our list, and the owner was helpful and polite. My litmus test is how someone reacts to my Korean. I recall one time in a Korean beauty salon in London when the hair dryer (I mean a person, not device) laughed when I used the wrong set of numbers (in case you don’t know, there are two: one purely Korean and one based on Chinese numbers) for whatever it was that I was describing. Yes, I felt a little bit embarrassed after that, but it was also typical. But this shop’s ajussi (defined as middle-aged man/uncle) was much kinder. I was referring to kilos of rice and said, “daseot kilo” and he gently corrected me by confirming that I needed “oh kilo.” In addition to being grateful for his kindness with my Korean, we were happy to spend our money at this shop, probably thinking of our parents and their generation of fellow immigrants, especially when we rounded the corner and found one of several Pan-Asian grocery stores that have been springing up in Berlin called Go Asia.
Go Asia was fun to shop in. (That’s the entry hall in the picture above.) It is a supermarket and has aisles of soy sauce and aisles of noodles and aisles of porcelain rice bowls and a refrigerated aisle of tofu. There’s also a small bakery baking and selling Asian pastries and cakes when you walk in. You can get Korean ingredients here, but for certain special things such as dried fernbrake (gosari) or dried pollack (bug-eo), you’d have to go to a Korean grocery store – like the one around the corner.
Enough shopping for food. We then made a B line to a Korean restaurant that had been suggested to me by Eun Young and also by the concierge at Das Stue Hotel in Berlin. Why am I taking Korean restaurant advice from a hotel concierge? Last July, my daughter Stella and I travelled to Berlin to meet up with a dear college friend of mine and were treated to a memorable weekend in the Tiergarten at this beautiful, brand new boutique hotel. The concierge, Gregor, was wonderfully nice and helpful and happened to have tried out nearly all the Korean restaurants in the city. Hanok was his favorite which is in the former West Berlin (Kurfürstendamm 134, 10711 Berlin 030 89541892). It certainly wasn’t cheap, but it was clean and had the atmosphere of a fun, happening restaurant. Everything was good, but we particularly enjoyed the bossam (boiled pork belly wrapped with lettuce and topped with shredded radish kimchi. This dish was made famous in recent years by Dave Chang’s Momofuku restaurant.) and ggan-pung-gi or kkan-pung-gi (sweet and sour fried chicken). Sorry. No pics. Alles weg in meinem Bauch! (All gone in my belly!)
This family is all about maximising our Korean food opportunities. After the wedding festivities, we had one last Korean meal in Berlin Wedding (sorry for the accidental “false friend” pun). We decided on a Korean Chinese restaurant called Jin Dal Le (Fennstr. 4, 13347 Berlin). What was most memorable about this place is the pretty rude service. Like, I felt like I had to tackle the grumpy woman running the place to take our order and bring us food. (I guess the ajuma [matron/auntie] had assimilated Berlin style.) But the food was actually pretty darn good. The jjajangmyun was tasty: We all happily slurped our white noodles covered in slick black bean sauce with tasty pork and vegetable bits. (Jjajangmyun is typical Korean “Chinese” food.)
As a bonus, I’m going to mention another Korean restaurant I tried last July. Like many details in my life since 2006, I cannot for the life of me remember how I first heard about this place, but I recall some hype around the restaurant Kimchi Princess, (Skalitzerstr. 36/Manteuffelstr., 10999 Berlin-Kreuzberg, +49 163 4580203). It has a great name, and I initially laughed thinking that my oldest child was a natural born Kimchi Princess, but I found the restaurant pretty disappointing along with pricey. Only one of the wait staff spoke Korean – not that I am any judge of language abilities. I mean, see above! – but I think most diners use this as part of the authenticity criteria. Unsurprisingly, we found the food mediocre: The meat for grilling and the corresponding dipping sauces were flavorless, the pancakes not particularly crisp, and the kimchi was lackluster. The best part of the evening though was when I peripherally noticed a pretty Korean woman walk in accompanied by two men, thinking passively that the beautiful Korean people in Berlin must come here – part of all the hype, and then I happily realised that that woman was my sister-in-law! Boy did that make my little Stella happy to see her beloved Tante Mia unexpectedly!
These restaurants remain on my hit list:
- Ixthys, Pallasstraße 21, Berlin 030 81474769
Any other recommendations that I should include on my hit list?