I am not exaggerating when I say this brand-new restaurant in Mitte is a literal dream come true. Yes, there are some decent Chinese restaurants in town, if you know your way around a Chinese menu and order carefully. But there has never been a place that I fully and unconditionally love with every single one of my taste buds, that I could recommend without tacking on a qualification at the end: “Well, it’s pretty good… for Berlin.”
Until now. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you: The best damn Sichuan noodles in town. Just as good, possibly even better, than the noodles I had in Sichuan earlier this year. A moment of silence, please, because the opening of Liu 成都味道 marks a watershed for the city’s Chinese food scene.
A watershed moment because Liu 成都味道 (“Chengdu Flavour”) is pretty much the first Chinese restaurant in Berlin whose menu caters unreservedly to Chinese eaters. Because Berlin has by now reached that tipping point where there are enough Chinese people around – students, immigrants, and tourists –to sustain a restaurant that is geared first and foremost to their tastes. As the lovely Chongqing-born server told me on my first visit: “We serve food as it would we served in China. We don’t adjust anything for the German palate.” “Finally!” was my response. Then I had my first bite of their Sichuan beef noodles (pictured above), doused in enough vermilion chili oil and chopped cilantro to send the average German running fast in the opposite direction, and I swear the skies opened, tears of rapture ran down my cheeks, and the angels sang hallelujah.
Look, I know the A-word – authenticity – has become taboo in gastronomy circles. Expecting “ethnic” restaurants (another problematic term) to remain “authentic” confines chefs and restaurateurs from that culture to a rigid set of expectations – a definition whose parameters are generally set by the white, mainstream diner. Who cares whether food is “authentic,” people say, as long as it tastes good? To which I say, sure – but tastes good to whom? The average Chinese food in Berlin does not taste good to me, a Taiwanese/Chinese person who loves to eat. It was not made for me – it was made for the local, German palate. I am so ready for a place that knows its food is not geared to that local palate, and is prepared not to compromise.
Needless to say, there is no fried rice or sweet pineapple chicken or Ente Kross on the menu at Liu 成都味道. The restaurant is a noodle house by day, with 12 noodle dishes on the lunch menu, from non-spicy homey dishes like stewed chicken & shiitake noodle soup to a range of traditional Sichuan noodles that are not served anywhere else in town. I repeat: Berlin exclusives! Come and get ’em!
The Sichuan dishes are generously doused in the highly aromatic and vibrantly red chili oil that is the lifeblood of Sichuan cuisine –it’s made in-house, I might add. These noodles are obviously not suited to the totally scharf-averse, though spice levels of most dishes can be adjusted to taste. There are also luscious, silky little chao shou, Sichuan’s version of the wonton, served in deep bowls of tangy-hot or numbing-spicy broth, brimming with raw garlic, spices, and yes, maybe even some cilantro. Prices hover around €10 a portion, as they should for food this good, which requires this much care. For those that think this is too much, might I suggest your nearest China Box Imbiss?
Soon, the restaurant will open nights as well, serving the Chengdu hotpot specialty called chuan chuan xiang, “fragrant skewers,” where skewered tidbits of meat, fish, and vegetables are dipped into your own pot of roiling broth. But until further notice, the hotpot tables imported from China are blowing the fuses, and, well, there are no Berlin electricians that want to work over the holidays. On a related note, may I draw your attention to the perfection of the Chinese character for skewer, 串?
When I said earlier that the noodles here are as good, and even better than the ones I ate in Sichuan, I meant it. The quality of the ingredients, including the meat, is evident with every bite. The seasonings are ample and generous, the chili oil bursting with the aroma of a dozen spices or more. I’m sorry to say that many Chinese restaurateurs in this city half-ass their cooking because they know they can get away with it: lackluster seasonings, lazy ingredient substitutions, and the like. But not at Liu 成都味道. Not a single corner has been cut.
All I can say is: Finally. And also – hallelujah!
Kronenstr. 72 |Lunchtime noodles: open daily, 11.30-15.00. | Dinnertime hotpot (coming soon): Weds-Sun, 15.00-22.00.
(To find it on Google, the full name of the place is Liu 成都味道 Chuan Chuan Xiang and Nudelhaus.)