Banh Xeo is far from just another Vietnamese joint in Berlin serving mediocre, westernized versions of Vietnamese classics. Banh Xeo is the real deal, a rare chance to sample the culinary heritage of Berlin’s largest, Asian community and quite frankly one of the best Vietnamese restaurants in town.
From the outside Banh Xeo really looks like any other of the countless Vietnamese restaurants you’ll find in every Berlin neighbourhood. A tacky sign, bright lights, cheap interior the kind of place you walk in and think “Dear god, I hope they don’t serve sushi”. As we all know, looks can be deceiving in this business though.
“It may not be the most beautiful restaurant, but damn do they serve tasty food”
Boasting one of the world’s largest Vietnamese communities outside of Vietnam, it should theoretically be relatively easy to eat very authentic Vietnamese food in Berlin. Interestingly enough, it’s not. Most restaurants serve westernized versions of the most popular, Vietnamese dishes that really don’t resemble the original version at all and in order to experience really authentic Vietnamese you either go with District Mot’s slightly modernized (but very good) dishes in Mitte or go all the way out to Don Xuan center in Lichtenberg for the real deal. But really, the Don Xuan center is hell of a remote location and I hardly ever make it there. Enter Banh Xeo, aka the answer to my prayers and a restaurant that moved from Charlottenburg to Prenzlauer Berg. It may not be the most beautiful restaurant, but damn do they serve tasty food.
The first thing you will notice about Bhan Xeo is that there are actually Vietnamese people eating here. This will make you reflect on all your previous visits to other Vietnamese restaurants in Berlin with a “Wait a minute! Why have I never ever seen any other Vietnamese people in these places??” Well, this is because they serve westernized crap, that’s why. The second thing you will notice is how the daily menu on the wall is only in Vietnamese. Hells yes, so if you’re like me you’ll try to show off and google the names under the table, but otherwise just ask the supremely friendly staff for advice. They will be more than happy to explain. Upon entering notice a highly intense lady floating between the tables, keeping an eye on everyone and explaining to all the white people in the room how they should eat their food. She is the legendary puppet master of this place and one of the owners, let’s call her boss lady. She hails from Da Nang and she is very concerned that you eat your food the correct way, so if you mess up expect her to get in there poking your food and showing the right way. Definitely part of the experience, just go with the flow.
“Only order from the “Real Vietnamese” section in the menu or from the chalk board on the wall”
This is what you need to know about the menu: Only order from the “Real Vietnamese” section in the menu or from the chalk board on the wall. Don’t order from the mid section of main dishes, they are rather standard. In the back section you will also find the dish that gives this restaurant it’s name, the supremely delicious Bhan Xeo rice flour crepe with shrimps. When you get it, have the boss lady cut it up with her scissors, take a salad leaf and some herbs, put a piece of omelette in the middle, dip that shit in the sauce and some extra Sriracha, close your eyes and enter a Vietnamese night market in Saigon. BAM!
“It’s hands down one of the best Vietnamese restaurants in Berlin”
Now this is just your starter, get ready for some real action with your next choices. I would definitely get the glass noodle or papaya salad as a second starter, both very good, large portions though so share them. Then you should start eyeballing some of the main dishes, for example one of the ridiculously delicious soups like the Phos, Seafood Hui Tieu or Udon (my Vietnamese sources tell me these are THE city’s most authentic soups, just saying). From the chalk board menu you can often order the fantastic Bo La Lot (leaf-wrapped beef) or Chao Tom (grilled shrimppaste wrapped around sugar cane). If you really want to “splurge” with a group, you order one of the massive Vietnamese hot pots where you cook your own meat in the broth. And then, just to top all of this, Bhan Xeo might also just be the best Asian vegan restaurant in town because they are serving crazy good fake duck and fish dishes which are ridiculously similar to the real deal. My vegan friends were convinced the staff made a mistake by serving them real duck. That’s how crazy well this tofu is done, it even has a crispy skin and everything and it’s very, very good.
Banh Xeo Saigon has quickly established itself as one of my favourite Asian eateries in Berlin and I just love coming here. The boss lady is a great host and very concerned that you have a good meal, so just talk to her if you are missing something. It’s hands down one of the best Vietnamese restaurants in Berlin serving perhaps the most authentic Vietnamese food in the city centre. It’s not “cool”, “hip” or stuffed with fake, Asian memorabilia, Banh Xeo is all about the food. Best thing is, between the Vietnamese families here there are always some free tables. Go grab yours, because this place is amazing.