If you have been to Arirang or Asia Deli in Berlin, than I think you know exactly what the headline wants to say. There is something particular that distinguishes Asian restaurants from a lot of others, what I would call “Ghetto but delicious”. Have you been wondering why the interior is so shabby and the chairs, tables and everything in one particular place seems just randomly put together? And another common thing you’ve probably realised is, that the cook, waiter, just everyone working in that place doesn’t speak your language that well? Guess what, you probably just hit the jackpot for authentic delicious food!
There is an actual explanation why everything seems to tacky, not because the owner wants you feel uncomfortable. Traditional (older generation) Chinese gourmands tend to be suspicious of such places that look neat, proper or even fancy. The attitude is, “If your food was really that good, you wouldn’t need to bother with these frivolities – people would still come to eat.” So Chinese people therefore believe that a restaurant that offers really nice decor and high-level service is trying to compensate for some hidden food deficiency. That being said, I don’t want to generalise it for every Chinese (or Asian) restaurant you’ll find, because first Berlin is not China and secondly this kind of believe does change, especially in the course of time of many new generations growing up with different values and believes than the traditional immigrant family members. And also, of course this doesn’t apply to high-end restaurants.
There is also another thing, that might happen when you enter a Chinese restaurant: there are two menus, one only in Chinese and one only in English. The English menu offered dishes had been adjusted for Western tastes, e.g. bones removed from the dishes rather than shattered and left in, and a slight variance in the spices and flavourings used. It is true, that authentic Chinese dishes may seem strange or “too much” when you eat it for the first time. Be aware to not only get the filet parts of meat or fish and that you’ll probably be overwhelmed by the tastes and spices, since they could come across too complex or too strong. The signature tastes in Asian cuisine are most of the time a combination of different flavours like salty, sweet, spicy and bitter all in one. Chinese kitchen believes that meals only fully unfold when different taste buds are stimulated at the same time.
Keeping my stories in mind, I hope that you got more curious to try something new next time than the typical fried rice or Kung Pao chicken. If you’re overwhelmed by the menu, ask the waiter or cook to order for you. That’s very Chinese to ask others to take care of the meal, since there is the deep believe, that everyone wants the best for another human being and would only order dishes that will make you feel even more comfortable and happy.
Keep on eating.
Recommendations for Berlin: Asia Deli