Colourful, traditional, diverse – Munich’s city districts. “Out and about with ...” offers very personal insights through the eyes of the people who live here and who know their districts best. This time: coffee owner Marlen Ventker shows us around Sendling.
Untersendling and Mittersendling have been part of Munich since 1877. The area became economically significant at the beginning of the 20th century with the construction of the Grossmarkthalle (market hall), which continues to be an important part of Munich’s gastronomy scene and is the third-largest transshipment point for fresh food in Europe after Paris and Milan. Traces of the district’s working-class roots can still be seen in many places here, in the form of traditional and artisanal businesses and long-established pubs and inns. At the same time, you’ll find that the old ways here collide with modern influences in terms of art and culture, innovation, and also gastronomy. Café Om Nom Nom, which serves coffee and cake as well as a range of exclusively vegan creations – in a former butcher’s shop, no less – is a prime example of this. A conversation with owner Marlen Ventker.
Vegan cafés and restaurants are not a novelty these days, but your vegan cheese counter was the first in Munich and really is something special. What took you in that direction?
It’s something we had always been looking for: vegan cheese made from ingredients that appeal to us, and which tastes the way we hoped vegan cheese would taste. That’s why we decided to start serving vegan cheese as well as coffee and cake. We now have a huge selection of cheese in rotation – up to 50 or 60 different kinds.
Could you give us a quick explanation of how vegan cheese is made?
What I find really fascinating is that the process actually doesn’t differ hugely from conventional cheese-making. For Camembert, cashew nuts are generally used as a base because you can make a milk from them. Acidification doesn’t work as well as it does with cow’s milk, but white mould, or Edelschimmel as we call it, produces a good result, and is the same substance which is used in producing blue cheese. The cheese then ripens and you add bacteria to it, as well as salt to ensure that only the good bacteria continue to grow. Most of the cheeses we serve are made from cashews, salt and white mould.
Which cheese would you say has had the biggest wow factor so far, so you thought, “that really can’t be vegan!”
It was a cashew Camembert from France which has since become a house favourite for us. I sampled it at a trade fair and my expectations were really low, but then I tried it: whoa, this is amazing! I bought some organic bread with a friend and we polished off a whole cheese each. And that’s how it all began.
How did people react to seeing a business like yours open up here in Sendling district?
We had a range of reactions. With my friends I am in a big vegan bubble, but some of my family members were asking whether we shouldn’t offer some vegetarian dishes at least – but we wanted to fully commit. There were also a lot of sceptics in the neighbourhood who wondered if we’d only be serving salads. But I was pleasantly surprised to see a lot of people trying the dishes and I think we succeeded in convincing the neighbours, many of whom are not vegan, that the food is good.
Your décor reminds me of a Jewish-American deli. How did you settle on this look?
My fiancé Daniel and I did everything together. Because of our limited budget, we decided to just rip everything out and see what we could do with the place. The former butcher’s shop tiles were revealed from under the wallpaper and they became a focal point. I think it’s great to work with what’s already there. So we decided to leave this old floor exposed too. The next piece was the bench, which was offered to us by a neighbour. It was originally upholstered in purple and green ostrich leather (laughs). We had it recovered in pink velvet. It’s a hanging seat, which I love! Our approach created a clean look that uses a lot of different materials, which are largely sustainable. And we did all the work ourselves.
Let’s chat about the neighbourhood. Why did you decide to open a café here of all places?
Sendling wasn’t our first choice – we would have preferred to open in the city centre to be close to our target market. The property market in Munich is crazy, and for commercial properties it feels even crazier. So we extended our search radius and although we weren’t keen on the decor in here, I loved the window and immediately got a good feeling about the place. We quickly noticed that there were a lot of very open-minded families living here and then we really came to really like the district.
Now for a half-time verdict about Sendling – what sets this neighbourhood apart for you?
The relaxed atmosphere and its proximity to the Isar river. The cool, alternative things you can experience here, such as the Alte Utting (disused pleasure boat), which is within walking distance. The Bahnwärter-Thiel site, where our cheese manufactory is also located. There are a lot of start-ups and artists here because it’s so far not very expensive.
Do you think Sendling is something of a hidden gem for tourists?
Yes, I would say so. I was just talking a little about new attitudes, but Sendling also has a very rustic Bavarian side with old pubs, traditional restaurants and a genuine Munich lifestyle. If you’re looking for the real Munich, this is the right place to come.
I think the same, especially if you want to immerse yourself in everyday life after you’ve already seen the major sights.
I like doing that, too; I always try to go where the locals are, even if it sometimes just turns out to be a not-so-secret insider tip (laughs).
Go ahead, give us a not-so-secret insider tip for Sendling!
All the things I just mentioned! Otherwise, I like the Neulinger organic bakery; you can see right into it from the outside and watch how they still use traditional baking methods from years ago. Old German manual craft being put into practice. The Spezlwirtschaft is great, too! They have amazing food with vegan options, but also plenty for people who like to eat meat. There’s a laid-back atmosphere that’s great for families. I also love the Südbad swimming pool. Every district in Munich has its own little swimming pool, and I think that’s great. I like accessible options that can be used by everyone and I really enjoy going for a swim after work.
As we passed the little shops, we also saw larger spaces in the area, particularly the Grossmarkthalle (market hall), lovingly dubbed The Belly of Munich by locals. If you want to experience the hustle and bustle of the market hall and really see how many types of fresh food are sold here every day, you can even book a guided tour. Our last exciting stop is the Isarphilharmonie – the temporary home of the Münchner Philharmoniker before the orchestra returns to the renovated Gasteig cultural centre. The Stadtbibliothek city library has also moved into the building – welcome news to Marlen, as she has always loved to devour books borrowed from the Gasteig.
Let’s have a quick-fire questions round before we finish up! Beer garden or bar?
Bar! Daniel and I both used to be bartenders and I love a good cocktail – my favourite is a whiskey sour.
Vegan cheese or no cheese?
Vegan cheese, obviously! No question about it.
Would you rather be in Munich or travelling?
In Munich! I don’t really like going away; I like being at home with my boyfriend and our dog. I also love being close to the mountains. In the summer especially, there’s always something new to do here – and it’s also better for the environment.