The other night I had the gluttonous pleasure of joining a bibimbap-themed Good Food Tour hosted by the gracious Per of Berlin Food Stories. The night was generously sponsored by a new food delivery startup, Foodora, which I can’t actually use because they don’t deliver to my ‘hood, but I was naturally not going to turn down the opportunity to be whisked all over the city to eat four – four! – bibimbaps in one night. Four hot, sizzling stone bowls and at least as many shots of soju later, I was not only stuffed, but also inspired to pen some poetry. So here are my bibimbap reviews – in haiku form.
Iceberg lettuce – why?
Hot embrace of gochujang
Jesus would approve
This hole-in-the-wall spot is as well known for its evangelical Christian bent as it is for its authentic Korean food. I grew up surrounded by preachy Christian evangelicals (I’ll save that story for another time) so I’m unfazed by the reams of handwritten Bible scriptures papering the walls here. Ixthys is run by a few stoic, no-nonsense, and presumably holy Korean Christian ladies, and has long been one of my favourite Korean eateries in the city.
Of the four places we tried on the tour, this was the only place that served their bibimbap pre-mixed with gochujang chili paste, and in my opinion, they added the right amount of heat. It was a tad on the greasy side, but a bit o’ grease need not be a bad thing. But still, Ixthys – what’s with the iceberg lettuce?
Pallasstr. 22, Schöneberg. No website, no reservations, no toilets.
Free banchan, I like
Yet bibimbap underwhelms
Order grill instead
Besides Ixthys, Arirang – which has expanded over the last year to total three locations across the city – has long held insider’s tip status in Korean-food-loving circles. It’s also known for having super no-frills, borderline grimy interiors, which may offend more delicate souls. It’s true that the atmosphere is rough around the edges and sometimes the food is a bit carelessly prepared, as was the case with the bibimbap we ordered.
Still, I like that Arirang doesn’t try to cater to Western tastes and has things on the menu that most Korean restaurants in Berlin don’t. The tabletop barbecue is definitely the most popular thing to order.
Uhlandstr. 194, Charlottenburg. Other locations: Warschauer Str. 22 (Friedrichshain) and Reichenberger Str. 124 (Kreuzberg). No website.
Golden yolk glistens
Symphony of seven veg
So fresh and so clean
Core was the only restaurant among the four that I hadn’t tried before. If Ixthys and Arirang are like eating at a greasy spoon diner, than Core is like eating in the café of a macrobiotic spa. Clean, calm white interior and dainty-looking meals and all that. Accordingly, the bibimbap came with a generous mosaic of vegetables on top – even the fried egg looked pretty. But the portion was also on the delicate side and had merely a scant tablespoon of kimchi on the side. I must say I found the €11 price tag to be a bit steep, though I guess this is Prenzlauer Berg after all. I would eat here again if I was in the neighbourhood, but I wouldn’t travel across the city for it.
Pappelallee 84, Prenzlauer Berg | Website
Crisp rice crust galore
Dinner with side of hipster
Mitte’s not my bag
Frankly, I didn’t want to like the bibimbap here. I’ve eaten at YamYam a few times and found their food bland and uninspired. Last time even the kimchi tasted bland, damnit. Given the location in the heart of hip fashionista-ville, my opinion is that they’re more of a keeping-up-appearances trendspot than a restaurant serious about making good eats.
But the YamYam bibimbap we got the other night was the surprise winner. All the parts came together perfectly. The gochujang sauce was runnier than, say, the chili paste at Ixthys, so thick it held a spoon upright, but nonetheless full of pizzazz. I guess their dolsot stone bowl was hotter than the rest, because the rice was chockablock with the all-important golden-crispy crust.
YamYam, I owe you an apology – I will eat my words, along with your delicious crispy rice.
Alte Schönhauser Str. 6, Mitte | Website