February 17, 2011

The Berlin Blues: Does it Really Have to Be That Bland?

Good Morning Vietnam - Bergmannstraße

Bergmannstraße was one of the places I was introduced to through Nicole, who later got disqualified as a friend for sending out an e-mail in the first-person-baby to announce the newest addition to her family. I am not sure why I am even mentioning this, other than the fact it might be a shrewd analogy to the fact Bergmannstraße is the perfect street for parental visits.

Yes, whenever your parents come to Berlin for a any amount of time, be sure to take them to Bergmannstraße. It is a generically lightweight version of all that can be appealing about Berlin: It’s young, lively and accessible at the same time. It can be pretty, but not in-your-face-drop-dead-gorgeous. And most importantly, it appeals to a broader segment of the population, exuding a bit of Kreuzberg’s aloof coolness of the wannabe-multicultural and alternative kind without being filthy and run down. I doubt it you could find better examples for Berlin’s commitment to a healthy and relaxed lifestyle than a street composed of mainly cafés, healthy looking ethnic restaurants and organic shops.

Yet unfortunately, therein lies the root of the street’s inherent lack of appeal to yours truly without parental escort in tow. Yes, the Markthalle is really endearing and it’s always nice to have a street with so many things to choose from, but wait a minute: thinking hard, I really can’t name a café or a bar I truly like on Bergmannstraße: most seem to be ubiquitously unspectacular and inconspicuous. Moreover, most ethnic restaurants seem to embody what I often rant about in Berlin: bland dishes, toning down any trace of taste inherent to their respective cuisines to appeal to the broader Central-European sense of averageness. But then again, never say never and never let prejudice dictate your choices. Guided by these two principles, it was time to announce a new mission: let’s find redeeming elements on Bergmannstraße!

Following a friend’s suggestion, I realised nothing was more redeeming than finding a semi-secret restaurant in an inner courtyard, which is exactly what Good Morning Vietnam - an import from Mitte newly established in Kreuzberg - is all about. The estaurant shares its courtyard space together with a supermarket and an impressive number of bike-stands. In February’s bitter cold, the Japanese-looking exterior decoration with its various hanging lanterns and a wooden extension does not seem as welcoming as it must do in summer, when you could just sit outside in that sheltered inner-space and feel protected from the outside world. The restaurant also has a terrace – another summer element. I am sure you could all relate to my assumption, that I would already be a wealthy man if I had a penny for every time I said something in Berlin was “so much more beautiful/amazing/awesome/splendid in summer”? I am sure you feel the same way.

Yet at the moment we are unmistakeably still suffering under the yoke of the local winter, which will have to take us back to the warmth of the interior, which was promising, albeit not as inspiring as the lanterns and the wooden-vibe of the exterior space. The restaurant is divided into a few spaces, all very brightly lit and strewn with low tables. There are benches set alongside the glass walls, whereas those unfortunate enough to sit on the other side of the tables will need to come to terms with sitting on very low and not very comfortable stools. The general atmosphere is of a modern, inexpensive and yes – generic – Asian restaurant. The menu seemed to be quite promising though, serving a relatively limited offer of inexpensive Vietnamese dishes.

We started by ordering the vegetarian Nem Hanoi Deu Phu (cold summer rolls with tofu, rice noodles, eggs, herbs and a sauce for 2.80 €) and Nem Saigon (fried spring rolls filled with minced meat, served lukewarm for mere 2.80 €). The cold summer rolls tasteed of absolutely nothing. It felt like eating the fuzzy thing blandness is made of. Despite a general touch blandness, the fried spring rolls had a clear taste, and it was quite pleasant. However, they tasted of German meatballs rather than refined Vietnamese food.


We then shrugged and hoped the main courses will improve our first impression. We ordered the Pho Bo (the clear soup you have to order at just about any Vietnamese restaurant, the bouillon can be either vegetarian, or as in most cases – based on chicken. This time it was beef for 6.90 €), Dau Phu Sate (a vegetarian dish with tofu and vegetables in sate sauce, 6.90 €) and the Ga Xoai (chicken skewers with sweet potatoes, vegetables and chunks of mango in mango sauce, 7.40 €). They came rather quickly and looked quite beautiful. The sauces all looked very appealing and the portions were not the smallest. Which was why we felt the bitter sting of betrayal when we had realised they all were all blessed with the same identical taste: blandness. Despite the different shapes and colours, these dishes had no taste whatsoever. The Pho’s broth tasted of the liquidy thing you get if you put Knorr’s mixture in a litre of water and stir. Even the 89 Cent ready-made glutamate-based Pho noodle soup from the Asian supermarket down the road is more inspiring than this soup (and I should know, this is exactly what I had to eat when I got back home.

Skewers in Mango

At the end of the day, Good Morning Vietnam is not BAD. It is just boring. I reckon bland food is better than bad food, but it doesn’t make it any more deserving of your hard-earned Euros. Go there in the summer for a cocktail in the inner courtyard if you want to appreciate its good sides. Otherwise, Berlin and Kreuzberg have more than enough Vietnamese options to choose from.

Overall mark:

Good Morning Vietnam
Bergmannstraße 102, 10961 Berlin
Tel: +49 (0)30 62 90 13 77

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  1. I totally agree! It's booooooooriing! Alex

  2. your blog destroys "secret tips". don´t you guys see ever the irony? thousands of cool places have turned into soulless tourist spots because of people like you who feel the urge to write their meaningless bullshit on every fucking thing, instead of just enjoying the moment and the memory.