Dong Xuan Quan (Berlin): A Vietnamese Pho Fix

It only took about a week into my visit to Germany but suddenly, there it was: My massive craving for a bowl of hot noodle soup.

Good thing I was in Berlin — I’d been told before getting here that there’s good Vietnamese food to be had in this city. Vietnamese immigrants, after all, have been a fixture in Berlin since as early as the 1950s, when East Germany began extending invitations to North Vietnamese to come over for training programs.

Where to go? All signs pointed to a spot in East Berlin’s Lichtenberg neighborhood named Dong Xuan Center …

From all I’d heard of this place, it’s basically a giant parking lot filled with warehouses that are packed with Vietnamese eateries and stalls.

This certainly was true. Although, early on a weekday morning, I wondered, where are all the cars?

A little bit of sleuthing — and attempts to open various doors into the four warehouses — revealed that I had simply chosen to go to Dong Xuan Center on the one day of the week that it is closed: Tuesday.

Just when I was about to give up on my noodle quest, I spied a man entering a door …

… and followed him in. The place was cavernous and largely empty, filled with the dank air of last night’s cigarette smoke — but, it was open.

Nodding a little hello to a quartet of older gents sitting in a corner sipping coffee and smoking, I sat down and ordered right away.

First up, iced Vietnamese coffee. At 4 Euros, I have to confess I expected some mind-blowing iced coffee. This was pretty good (if you like super thick coffee that’s almost the consistency of heavy cream) — but not the best I’ve had.

The menu is a hefty one here — the pho section alone has almost 10 selections. Since I read very little German and even less Vietnamese, I went with the most basic beef pho (6 Euros).

These appeared right away — super spicy red chilies, which I much prefer to the usual sliced jalapenos served in U.S. pho joints.

And then, a gigantic bowl of pho (above) that came so filled with flat rice noodles and slivers of beef that there actually wasn’t that much broth. The meat was nicely done — flavorful and tender, laced with buttery chunks of fat — and each spoonful of broth, packed with chopped cilantro and spring onions, was spicy and intense, even before I added any chilis.

As I pondered the suddenly empty bowl before me, I thought about what other treats all those closed stalls and restaurants in Dong Xuan Center’s warehouses must hold.

Tomorrow, then — I’ll be back.

Dong Xuan Quan, Herzbergstrasse 128 – 139, Halle 1, 10365 Berlin, Germany; 030.680.77.845; mactam05@yahoo.de

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