Well not necessarily.
Go the cheap Chinese take away route and you get plenty of them. Even if the only vaguely Chinese thing about the food is a splash of soy sauce and bean sprouts. Visit one of the hipster pan asian restaurants instead (Kuchi, Dudu or Transit, say) and you are free to help yourself to the chopsticks huddled in a pot on the table. Actual Chinese restaurant, where the titles of the dishes don’t read like a possible contender for the name of the next Kung Fu Panda, not a chopstick in sight. Nor any dinky miniature bowls which you can bring up to your mouth to snarfle up that rice with minimum droppage. You get a flat plate so that your piping hot food is arctic and congealed within a matter of minutes.
Chinese food eaten off the tines of a metal fork isn’t the same. In the same way that Arabic food eaten with cutlery is just wrong (and no you don’t stick your fingers in your mouth and then in the food, you use flat bread as a scooping device and put that into your mouth or else use the flatbread as an edible handkerchief to remove big pieces of food). Dealing with Chinese food in Berlin, the lack of chopsticks is almost besides the point. It just doesn’t taste like Chinese food. Or rather, the Westernized version of Chinese food that I’ve become accustomed to over 13 years of living in London. It mostly tastes like something that would come out of a jar, overly sweet, too much cornflour. I almost hear the thwak of the suction going as they open the jar, the bloop bloop bloop as the gloopy contents spill out into the pan. I can’t. Seriously? Just can’t. Not worth it, just hand over the sausage and the bratkartoffeln and leave me to my memories.Still, I break down because I need Chinese food even more than I need Arabic food (although someone please tell me where I can get some good humus and labneh around here? Turkish supermarkets don’t seem to carry it. Are there no Arabs in Berlin?).
Peking Ente was recommended to me by a friend from Hong Kong, the same one that took me Tian Fu. And I’ve been there about 5 times now. I even celebrated my birthday there. I wanted somewhere laid back and Chinese food is so congenial and promotive to good times and easy laughs. But also, I wanted to know what they thought. Because having been here a year, I wasn’t at all sure whether Peking Ente had become my regular weekend haunt out of desperation or because it’s good.Good news to report back: they liked it.
Disclaimers follow: you have to know your way around the menu (give you some tips in a sec); I haven’t tried the dim sum (I can’t stand another crushing defeat on that topic.); I have tried the spring rolls and found them to be poor; decoration wise it’s bland albeit neat.The people who work there are super-duper. They always give Layla mini lollipops when we go and on my birthday they gave me a small tea caddy and let us bring our own cake. They know us now so they bring us chopsticks and little bowls without our having to ask. They also know we can take the heat (burn us baby!). For my birthday dinner, the four of us were suffering bouts of sniffling, sweating and overheating – it felt great!
Favourite dishes include: Mapo Tofu (S3) €9.90, Belly of Pork (S4) €11.90, Fried Green Beans (S7) €11.90, Smoked Tofu Salad (14) €4.00, Gong Bao Chicken (21) €9.90. Wow, shouldn’t have done that, now I want Chinese food.
As for the mystery of the missing chopsticks? I think I cracked it. The fast food joints need the chopsticks to remind punters that those noodles or rice they are eating are ‘Chinese’. The hipster Asian places have to offer the chopsticks to complete their branding. Chinese restaurants in Berlin however, lacking the allure of branding and clever interiors of latter and the attractive under €5 prices and fodder quantities of the fast food joints, mostly attract an older – local clientele who probably don’t know how to use chopsticks. I gather it’s also for them that the authenticity and heat is turned way down. All wildly speculative you understand, thought I’d give it a Nancy Drew go.
P.S. Have another tip for you. Hot Spot in Charlottenburg. Recommended to me by a German multi-Michelin star chef. They have a cracking selection of wine. I’ve only been there once and didn’t order well. I plan to visit a few more times before I write to you about it. But I can say this, their Mapo Tofu was so hot, I couldn’t get through it!
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