Oh, how I have despaired over the state of Asian food in Berlin. There are a few gems here and there, but for the most part it's a sad state of affairs - sticky-sweet sauces, deep-fried foods, "Thai" sushi (heaven preserve us) and other abominations. Where were the loud dim sum halls I knew from New York, filled with stone-faced ladies pushing carts filled with myriad kinds of delicate dim sum? Where were my beloved pea shoots? Cambodian sandwiches? Malaysian laksas?
Gone, baby, gone - that's what happens when you leave New York for Berlin. You leave behind cockroaches, expensive apartments, leaky subways and transcendant Asian food. But I decided I could live with that. After all, I moved to Berlin for far better reasons than the food. Right? Right.
When Max went out to dinner with a friend last year and came home raving about the restaurant, Transit on Rosenthaler Strasse, I was interested but on my guard. Max was known to order "Thai" curry, after all, from a dodgy "Chinese" storefront on Lietzenburger Strasse run by Vietnamese cooks. But he also fell in love with the underground food courts in Flushing, gobbling up incendiary dan dan noodles and cumin-dusted Xinjiang meat skewers. So I knew he knew from good Asian food.
The restaurant had a small plates menu and Max couldn't stop talking about all the crazy flavors, textures and tastes he had sampled in each plate. Asian tapas? It sounded gimmicky and weird to me. But he was so enthusiastic and so excited that I had try it for myself.
It turns out he was right - Transit is delicious.
The menu is made up of a bunch of small plates with goofy names. Chicken Little, Bathing Beauty, Little Swimmer - you get the picture. The food ranges from spicy (really) Thai salads (green papaya, grilled beef, chunks of fruit with chile and peanuts) to velvety curries to a luscious assortment of dough-wrapped delights like duck with plum sauce in Chinese pancakes with slivers of cucumber or minced chicken and mushrooms in steamed rice dough. It's a mish-mash of Thai and Vietnamese dishes with some Chinese and Indonesian influences.
From the meat to the vegetables, everything is very fresh and nothing tastes canned, not even the crazy sweet-sour sauce enveloping deep-fried chicken skin, pineapples and peanuts. This is definitely the menu's trashiest offering (and Max's guilty pleasure). To balance it out, though, you can order a plate of stir-fried vegetables, which, on our last visit, included gai lan as well as regular broccoli, and that made me almost as happy as a plate of pea shoots would.
For two people, we usually order somewhere between 6 and 8 dishes. The room is bustling and busy (make sure you have a reservation if you go) and in the summer, there's a lovely garden out back as well. Who knew that of all places, this one would turn into the place we go when we have something to celebrate? Berlin is full of surprises.
Rosenthaler Strasse 68
(030) 247 816 45