One of Berlin’s greatest street food institutions is the “Thai Park”, the iconic and much loved, yet technically illegal open air market in West Berlin’s Preussenpark. Since the 1990s, the Berlin Thai community have been congregating at the park on weekends to hang out, cook, eat and celebrate Thai food culture, selling their dishes from underneath colourful umbrellas for all to enjoy.
“…from the iconic and much loved, yet technically illegal open air market in West Berlin”
The sea of women in floppy brimmed hats, preparing street food, such as noodle soups, spicy papaya salads or Pad Thai noodles, looks and smells like something just out of Bangkok. The food quality at the market varies from which vendor you choose to pay a visit, but for the last decade, there’s been no question on who the most famous vendor of the market is: Just look for the vendor with the longest line and you’ll find Siliya Rothert, or “Soup Lady” as most fondly call her.
Rothert has in the course of the last decade emerged as a lighthouse figure of the Thai park, where during weekends you’ll find her assembling her famous Tom Yum Noodle Soup with pork or her Yen ta Foh soup with squid out of her myriad of containers that encircle her open air operation.
“Rothert has in the course of the last decade emerged as a lighthouse figure of the Thai park”
When Rothert moved to Berlin from the Northern region of Sukhothai in 2000, it was to help out her brother with his struggling restaurant. Before that she was working with her mother selling curries at the family street food stand in Sukothai. Rothert started serving her Northern style version of the traditional dish Tom Yam at the Thai Park in 2008. When she wasn’t in the park, she was cooking out of her apartment, mainly for insiders from the Thai community and other people who had her number. After a decade of cooking around the clock, she finally managed to fulfil her dream in 2019: her very own restaurant.
“Thai Art” is located in Wilmersdorf, just two blocks down from Thai Park, a bare-bones shop with 12 seats stretching around Rothert’s open kitchen. It’s tight, the interior very basic and its hot and steamy – so exactly what you expect and want from such an operation. Eat your food and be on your way, with a smile by Rothert of course. With the opening of Thai Art, Rothert extended her menu to around a dozen dishes. Her Tom Yum noodle soup is still the number one reason to go here, a sweet, sour and salty flavour bomb that features a staggering amount of ingredients, but where the glorious pork trifecta of mince, skin crackling and thin slices of Chinese style roast makes the difference (Rothert’s Chinese father taught her that Char Siu technique of roasting pork).
“…a sweet, sour and salty flavour bomb that features a staggering amount of ingredients.”
Rothert’s Pad Thai noodles at Thai Art also count among the best in the city (silky, moist & delicious) and her Lad Na stir fry with fried noodles, pork and white pepper is one of the most honest Thai dishes you can eat. I could go on about the glory of her whole menu, but what really should make you come to this shop is one particular dish: The Guay Tiaw, or “Boat Noodles”, a legendary dish of Thai cuisine, which has been notoriously hard to find in Berlin. Rothert’s version is magnificent, a dark and tantalising bowl of beef and pork broth with strips of beef and beef meatballs that draws strength from dark soy, pickled bean curd and pork blood – a must try (don’t be put off by the blood, it’s added only for further umami).
“Rothert’s version is magnificent, a dark and tantalising bowl of beef and pork broth”
You will still find Rothert at the Thai Park every summer weekend, but as the park’s future hangs in the balance (local authorities are divided, on one hand the park is an institution, on the other there’s a need to comply with basic health and safety requirements), Rothert’s move to her own space, independent of the park, may just be her lifeline to a secure food future. It’s also our secure access to her sublime cooking on a cold Berlin winter day, and that’s really the news of the year. Go and support this formidable cook, next time I go and see her I want to see a long line stretch out form her shop.