Someone is cutting a lamb shank with two forks.

Bahnhofsviertel international food special

Once around the world: the street food special

The area around Munich’s Hauptbahnhof train station yields some culinary surprises: you can munch your way from Bavaria to Croatia, then to Sweden, half of Asia and Mexico to India. We present the city’s finest international snack bars and restaurants across all price ranges, offering authentic cuisine from all over the world.

Let me start by saying that I love train stations – especially big train stations – much more than airports. The immediacy of the departure, the rear lights of the trains as they pull away, people rushing, other people standing still to get their bearings... There’s a particular feeling in the air when you enter a train station: a background buzz or flickering that slightly quickens your pulse in vague expectation.

I love train stations – especially big train stations – much more than airports. The immediacy of the departure, the rear lights of the trains as they pull away, people rushing, other people standing still to get their bearings.

That feeling itself is enjoyable – and in Munich especially, because you can take virtually any of the side exits out of the Hauptbahnhof and suddenly find yourself in the middle of the city, and more importantly, in an area that is a world of its own. The Bahnhofsviertel district is a feast for the eyes and also the nose. The barrage of aromas and cuisines that meets you puts you in mind of what the test kitchen of Yotam Ottolenghi – the chef famed for popularising cooking built on powerful, pungent spices – must be like. It’s hard to know where to start, but I decide to give it a go.

First we head to the northern exit, which leads to the Alter Botanischer Garten (Old Botanical Gardens), through which students shuffle into Luisengymnasium high school every morning. This is where you’ll find Mexican snack bar Condesa (Bahnhofsplatz 5), serving decent tacos and burritos. The “tacos al pastor” or “con mole” are well worth a try, and a burrito picnic on Königsplatz is the obvious way to indulge in the establishment’s tasty fare – ideally on a Wednesday, when Condesa also offers guacamole as a special.

It’s certainly a good start, but as I want to explore the district further. I turn down Marsstrasse, walk westwards and past the tram station.

The barrage of aromas and cuisines that meets you puts you in mind of what the test kitchen of Yotam Ottolenghi – the chef famed for popularising cooking built on powerful, pungent spices – must be like.

You will need to walk a little further to get to legendary Uyghur restaurant Taklamakan, as it has moved from Bahnhofsviertel to the Isartor area. A new Uyghur restaurant has just opened around the corner though. Located at no. 4 Dachauer Strasse, Kashgar also serves fantastic home-made Uyghur noodle dishes.

Nonetheless I think I’ll stay in the Bahnhofsviertel a little longer. After all, Bufet Bier und Wurst is just 50 metres further down the road (at Dachauer Strasse 7a). The food served here is just as you’d expect from the name: they have beer and sausage. They also serve Handkäse sour-milk cheese and pickled eggs – the latter only familiar here from The Simpsons, so no one actually knows how to eat them properly.

The beer is tapped on the premises without any external carbon dioxide, as is the custom in the big traditional restaurants of Prague. This gives the beer a wonderful fresh taste. Indeed, it’s so good you’ll hardly notice that you’re on your third glass. The surroundings are minimalist: counter, tables, chairs, a small menu and everyday people. You can really relax in a place like this.

The food served here is just as you’d expect from the name: they have beer and sausage. They also serve Handkäse sour-milk cheese and pickled eggs – the latter only familiar here from The Simpsons, so no one actually knows how to eat them properly.

The charming Stockholm München Café occupies the corner of a hostel on Hirtenstrasse (Lämmerstrasse 6). It takes a moment to get to grips with the concept behind this eatery, as its outer appearance doesn’t clarify much: it advertises köttbullar, arepas, vinyl music and smørrebrød.

The Stockholm is described by some as a karma hangout, given that it features well-worn sentiments reminding you to remain at peace and do no harm – that could be annoying, but it unobtrusively has its place here. The meeting spot is run by a Swedish music fan and his bubbly Venezuelan wife, who confidently combine their influences and serve delicious food to boot. You just have to embrace the fact that this space is home to two nations, and at least as many identities.

On we go! There is a short stretch of Bayerstrasse that the locals call Kleinkroatien, or Little Croatia. The Bavaria inn, an official Augustiner premises serving German and Croatian cuisine, is right in the middle of it. Sometimes when I’m in the area to buy angling gear around the corner, I get a craving for the cevapcici sausage they serve here followed by some schnitzel and a beer on the side.

One thing I particularly like about Croatian cuisine is the raw Spanish onion that accompanies it. And there’s no need to worry about the onion breath after, as a shot of slivovitz will soon take care of that – and you could also say it’s good for your health, as the onion also has the advantage of being an immune booster.

Meanwhile, at 12 Hermann-Lingg-Strasse is Marmaris, a classic Turkish grill serving kofta and a host of skewered kebabs. The staff here are both friendly and fast. You can forgo the side order of rice without a second thought, as the portions here are more than sufficient for a man of my stature.

Because I like the grilled green peppers here so much, the chef sent his co-worker specially to buy some more, and then served me a whole plate of these deliciously spicy treats on the side – shaking his head as he did so, because he doesn’t like his food even nearly as spicy.

A shot of slivovitz will soon take care of that – and you could also say it’s good for your health.

Sequestered at no. 8 Schwanthaler Strasse is a true hidden gem: Ratchada Thai Restaurant & Bar. The food served here is obviously excellent all day, but it is particularly enjoyable after 11 pm: the kitchen at Ratchada stays open until 3 am and they also have karaoke – what more do you need to know?

My tip: do a bit of a pub crawl with your best mates, then head here when you get hungry to order four or five dishes, keep drinking and sing a bit of karaoke too. An unforgettable evening is guaranteed. The food here is really good – and the varying quality of venues which advertise more than one key offering is generally notorious.

Falafel is available on every corner in this part of the city, but Servus Habibi (20 Schillerstrasse) has created a contemporary and cool twist on the popular dish to make it a guaranteed hit on Instagram – and one which also tastes great. Ottolenghi called and he wants his hummus back – okay, that’s not true, but the guys at Habibi are great at marketing, so you can also buy shirts there as well as various types of top-notch hummus and a little bit of hipster cool. To achieve the last of those, sip an aperol or lillet spritz on the kerb and let this legendary street work its magic while leaning casually on your vintage racing bike. This is the life.

The guys at Habibi are great at marketing, so you can also buy shirts there as well as various types of top-notch hummus and a little bit of hipster cool.

Off to the side, the Al Quaswaa Café at 26 Schwanthaler Strasse offers various types of tagine. I love the lamb with plums, but everything here is good, and some of it is great. Diners sit side-by-side inthe driveway, which has been converted into an open-air restaurant where they serve authentic tagines just as you would experience in north Africa – and also like an Arabian souk, it is cramped and loud.

If you want more Levantine cuisine but find the unrefined charm of the district a little overwhelming, you can always head to the chic, somewhat pricier Neni restaurant, which is attached to the 25hours hotel. You’ll find hummus and pomegranate in abundance here too, alongside crispy chicken and sharing plates, not to mention a reliable cocktail bar on the first floor.

“Unrefined charm”, “international flair” – those are the buzzwords you’d expect to hear uttered about the Hauptbahnhof neighbourhood. After all, we are now long past the days when the area was dominated by adult cinemas, topless bars, and their associated clientele.

I sort of miss the old Mathäserkeller bar that used to be between Stachus and the train station. It was open 24 hours a day, and going there around four in the morning was always a recipe for adventure, as you watched the alcohol-fuelled dramas unfold. If you miss that experience, you can always head to the Wirtshaus am Sendlinger Tor, which is also open around the clock.

Sometimes I come to Bahnhofsviertel to just do some shopping, and even that is always a bit of an adventure. I get to shout through a hole in the wall at a bakery on Landwehrstrasse to order a flatbread for 40 cents; wait while the Maghreb butchers at Oasis (also on Landwehrstrasse) finally finish making their merguez; treat myself to a cardamom mocha with a baklava on the side – incidentally, the Bahnhofsviertel is undoubtedly the area with the highest pistachio consumption in all of Munich.

I could in fact get my beard trimmed while I’m here – then, as I move away from the Bahnhofsviertel galaxy of international delights, and a more-familiar Munich envelops me from Sonnenstrasse onwards, I would at least carry the scent of rosewater home with me. What I am already happy to be carrying in my bag, however, is some hummus, merguez and a new favourite that I didn’t even know I liked.

 

 

Text: Sven Christ; Photos: Frank Stolle, Peter Kiser

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