Four Asian umbrellas in red, yellow, green and blue as ceiling decoration in a restaurant in Munich's Werksviertel.

Little Asia

At the Far-East Railway Station

Traditional curry dishes and Indian street food at Deli Tadka, food like in Thailand at the Khanittha, Korean Bibimbap and Sushi at Asia Street by Mun – and then continue to the flavours of the Pacific region with Aloha Poke. The Werksviertel-Mitte district is the hotspot for authentic Asian street food. A gourmet tour through a special cuisine culture that is simply exceptional and snackable.

What may sound like a crazy plan, was simply a “Thai different“ adventure for Monthipha Saparp. As a newly minted entrepreneur, she didn't have time to visit her home country for years. “At some point I decided: Then I'll bring my Thailand to me,“ says Monthipha. So, she had some shipping containers filled in Bangkok and transported everything here: colourful neon signs, tuk-tuks, food trucks, pennants and lanterns, a portrait of the king, even the cutlery and sauce containers. This is the Khanittha in the Werksviertel district at Ostbahnhof (train station).

A place where you can easily get carried away to a Thai street food market, thanks to the lovingly designed setting, the soundscape of clattering woks, Thai pop music and the cheerful interactions of the exclusively Thai team. The illusion is completed once the food is served. Geang pa, for example, a red curry that smells of kaffir lime leaves, Thai basil and lemongrass. Or Sate moo, grilled pork skewers served with a small ball of sticky rice and a sweet and tangy chilli sauce.

At first glance, it may seem coincidental that Monthipha has found a home for her concept in the Werksviertel of all places. However, the former industrial area has long been synonymous with vibrant gastronomy. For three decades, it was home to Europe's largest nightlife district, the “Kunstpark Ost“ and later the “Kultfabrik“, with clubs, bars, concert halls and restaurants. Since 2017, the entire area has been undergoing fundamental redevelopment, but the declared aim is not to create an anonymous residential and office desert. This is why large areas have been reserved for catering. This urban densification in combination with the preservation of open spaces seems to play into the hands of a very specific food culture: Asian street food.

From Thai to Korean and Indian to Japanese and – further and further east – Hawaiian: in the Werksviertel, you can stroll from Asian street food restaurants to Pacific snack stands – although “stroll“ is an exaggeration. In fact, you're more likely to stumble from one eatery to the next, as the restaurants are all located on the ground floor of the same building. This offers the opportunity for a special kind of food tour: you can criss-cross the Asian continent (and beyond) in less than a hundred steps.

 

Hawaiian Poke Bowls at Aloha Poke

We decide to eat our way from east to west – and start as far east as we can: at Aloha Poke in Hawaii. A fascinating dish has developed here from Polynesian, East Asian and North American influences: Poke. The name simply means “cut into pieces“ and traditionally refers to a kind of salad made from raw fish and rice. As simple as the principle is, the dish can take on various forms, offering a wide range of possibilities. Anything is allowed; as long as it tastes good and aligns with the concept. And that's quite a lot.

According to co-founder Thomas Kruse, there are no fewer than four million possible combinations for Aloha Poke alone. The gigantic number seems even more astonishing when you stand in front of the counter, where the ingredients are neatly presented in bowls. The idea behind Aloha Poke is that everyone can put together their own personalised bowl from the four basic pillars of rice, protein, raw vegetables and numerous toppings. Kruse emphasises, “That's the best thing about it.“

We still want to try one of the classics first and opt for one of the house bowls, a mixed Poke with raw tuna, salmon and prawns, plus various salads and fresh mango, avocado cream, goji berries and a peanut and coriander dressing. The ingredients are restrained, allowing the flavour of the raw fish to take centre stage. At the same time, the dressing provides a full-bodied velvety taste, while the berries and mango add an occasional sweet accent.

From Thai to Korean and Indian to Japanese and – further and further east – Hawaiian.

We select the ingredients for our next bowl ourselves and opt for the vegan version with curried mango tofu, pea protein chicken, watermelon, fried onions and a honey and soya dressing. Although we have the feeling that we have combined the ingredients somewhat randomly, the outcome tastes excellent. This is precisely where Kruse sees the secret of the poke bowls. “Because everything is prepared right in front of the guest, we offer a ruthless transparency“, he says. “And if all the ingredients are of the best quality, there's a good chance that the result will also taste good. No matter what combination.“

 

Japanese, Korean and Filipino cuisine at Mun Kim

From Hawaii, the journey continues to Japan, Korea and the Philippines. After a few metres, we reach our destination: Asia Street by Mun. While Aloha Poke has a pastel-coloured, feel-good vibe, Asia Street by Mun has the steamy atmosphere of a typical Asian cookshop. In addition to Japanese Sushi, Ramen and Gyoza, the menu includes Korean Bibimbap and curries, as well as Adobo, a Filipino stew. It seems as if the creators didn't want to limit themselves to just one thing – and that's indeed a good description of Mun Kim's style.

The Korean from Honolulu was initially a banker on Wall Street before training as a sushi chef in Los Angeles, then opening two restaurants in Argentina and finally coming to Munich in 2015 to open the multi-award-winning Mun restaurant in the Haidhausen district. Asia Street by Mun is a low-threshold addition to his gourmet restaurant and offers him the opportunity to try out new things. “We do 25 percent experimental cuisine here”, Mun explains. But it is no less authentic, at least not according to Mun's definition of authenticity: “All the dishes on the menu are rooted in my personal experiences. In this sense, they are an authentic reflection of my life so far,“ says Mun.

It is interesting to note that Mun has mainly worked in fine dining up to now. Today, he incorporates this knowledge into his interpretation of Asian street food, which is immediately apparent when he serves us his sushi. The rice is perfectly seasoned, the salmon is tender and delicately flavoured and the soy sauce is not merely salty, as is often the case, but exhibits a balanced flavour.

“Four additional ingredients have been added to our soy sauce,“ Mun shares with a smile, pointing to large glass containers where he allows vinegar blended with seaweed to mature. Then we try the Korean Bibimbap with grilled beef, a colourful rice bowl with various vegetables that reminds Mun of his childhood. It tastes fantastic. The bean sprouts, spinach and shiitake mushrooms are cooked to perfection, the beef is tender and intense, but the real star is the Gochujang, a fermented chilli paste that Mun makes himself and which gives the dish a rare depth of flavour.

“In Thailand, it is a tradition to order up and down the menu together and eat all the dishes at the same time.“
Monthipha Saparp

After tasting our way through the East Asian specialities, we later find ourselves in the aforementioned Khanittha, dreaming ourselves away to a Thai street-food market. Indulging in our daydream, we treat ourselves to a glass of Nom Yen, also known in the West as “Thai Pink Milk“, which consists of red syrup with milk and is served over ice. What really transports us to our Thai dream, however, is the food, which is prepared exclusively according to old family recipes handed down by Monthipha's mother. In addition to the curry and grilled skewers, we try homemade spring rolls and deep-fried wan tan with chicken, prawns and vegetables, as well as the sweet and sour noodle dish called Pad Thai.

Rather by chance, we end up eating exactly as Monthipha prefers: a complete mix-up. “In Thailand, it is a tradition to order up and down the menu together and eat all the dishes at the same time,“ she tells us later. “We don't think of the soup as a starter, but as a rinse.“ The freshness of the dishes straight from the wok is unmistakable. Also the sauces taste fresh and homemade.

However, Monthipha ends with a piece of advice: “I only give my chefs one guideline,“ she says. “They should cook the way we eat in Thailand.” So it's quite possible that the Pad Thai might have a slightly different taste on our next visit. At this point, we feel as if we've already eaten our way through the whole of Asia. However, we've only scratched the surface, sampling a few dishes from each region, and we have missed the entire South Asian subcontinent.

 

Buddha Bowls at the Indian snack bar

Fortunately, we have the opportunity to explore the latter region at Deli Tadka. The Indian snack bar primarily offers so-called Buddha bowls – colourful bowl dishes that contain a classic curry as well as various toppings such as chutneys and salads and pickled vegetables. Aman, our waiter of the day, tells us that it would be a challenge to find such an offer in his home country of India, where curries are typically consumed without raw vegetables. However, you'd find Samosas, Tikkis, and Pav, served in exactly the same manner. We choose a tikka Taka Tak Bowl with Masala, grilled chicken from the tandoori oven, baby spinach, pickled mung beans and a tomato and ginger chutney.

Even though the bowl is clearly a Western adaptation, it doesn't diminish the appeal of the dish in the slightest. On the contrary: The fresh salad harmonises wonderfully with the creamy curry, the mung beans give it a bite and the chutney provides a real spicy kick. We would also like to try the various dumplings and cakes, but our stomachs are too full for another bite. At the end of our gourmet tour, three things are clear: The Werksviertel is an excellent destination for sampling the wide variety of Asian street food cuisine. Secondly: It's hard to cover everything in one visit. And thirdly: We will be back.

 

 

Text: Nansen & Piccard, Photos: Frank Stolle
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