In the bustling heart of Berlin, Kantstrasse stands as an emblem of East Asian culinary tradition. Steeped in history, it’s the epicenter for food enthusiasts who savor the taste of Taiwan, China, Japan, and Korea, all in one stretch.
The story is perhaps best encapsulated by Lon Men’s Noodle House. Developed from a recipe passed down through generations, the restaurant’s Taiwanese beef noodle soup beckons diners from all walks of life. Tourists, celebrities, politicians – all have sampled this treat. The restaurant’s vibrant ambiance is amplified by its owner, Hsien-Kuo Ting, an effervescent 69-year-old who likens himself to “the mayor of Kantstrasse.”
Kantstrasse’s allure goes beyond Lon Men’s. The affluent Berlin street, named after philosopher Immanuel Kant, runs alongside shopping destinations and historic landmarks, creating a harmonious blend of old-world charm and contemporary culture. A fusion of restaurants serving dishes from Greece to India line the thoroughfare. However, it’s East Asian dining that truly defines Kantstrasse’s legacy.
Tracing its roots, the first Chinese restaurant, Tianjin Fandian, opened its doors a century ago, making it the pioneer of East Asian cuisine in the area. Over time, the street evolved into a hub for affluent Chinese and Japanese students, particularly during the early 20th century. These scholars, driven by their craving for home-cooked meals, spurred the growth of authentic East Asian eateries.
Berlin’s complex political landscape further shaped Kantstrasse’s demographic. While the Third Reich era witnessed the contributions of Koreans like An Pong-gun, the post-war division of Berlin brought with it new cultural influxes. Capitalist West Berlin, especially the Kantstrasse region, thrived under British rule, becoming a beacon for immigrants and entrepreneurs.
Ting’s journey is a testament to this era. Migrating from Taiwan in 1968, he watched as the area’s demographic shifted, with an increasing presence from mainland China due to economic liberalizations in the ’70s and ’80s. But through all these shifts, the culinary heart of Kantstrasse remained beating.
Today, businesses like Aroma, run by the second-generation Hong Kong immigrant K. Wong, and the Japanese bakery Kame, managed by the artistic Machiko Yamashita, have added to the street’s gastronomic repertoire. Yet, with rising rents and the challenges of finding skilled chefs, the future is uncertain for some establishments.
Still, for the optimists like Ting, the future seems promising. Preparing to hand over his business to the next generation, he envisions a continued expansion of Asian dining culture in Berlin. And as long as the streets echo with the inviting aroma of East Asian spices, the legacy of Kantstrasse will live on.