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Berlin_Kantonstraße_Asian_Community_Food-006

No matter how “multicultural” or “mixed” the German capital may often be described as in the media, Berlin’s ethnic reality for the average pedestrian does not inevitably evoke the idea of a big melting pot like New York, London or Paris. But if one listens closely, the colloquial nickname for the street Kantstraße, “Kantonstraße”, is the first indication of a deeper story.

Beyond the Turkish neighbourhoods (Kreuzberg, Neukölln, Moabit, Wedding) that are now part of Berlin’s main attractions, few people know that Berlin has one of Europe’s largest Asian communities. Even more interesting is that this settlement began when the city was still divided, on both sides of the Wall.

The first Chinese visitors in Berlin arrived in the 1820s and the first Chinese settlements began in the 1920s, but it is in Berlin’s post-war history that the actual development of the Asian community  began. A large number of Vietnamese workers – and a few Chinese – came to work in East Berlin’s factories (known as contract workers or Vertragsarbeiter), whereas Chinese, Thai and South Vietnamese migrants came to West Berlin. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, some Vietnamese from East Berlin came to the western part of the city in the hopes of improving their situation, and the community steadily grew in the area.  (more…)

With a hurricane behind us and the prospect of a frozen New York winter looking mighty good, I have finally decided to return to my beloved Chinatown. The confusing smells of summer on Canal street are long past, and one of Chinatown’s best cold weather dishes has been lodged in my mind for weeks. I’m talking, of course, about wonton soup.

Wonton soup is the stuff of legend. It works much like the best winter jacket you can think of, except on the inside of you. In short, you’ve waited far too long to try it out (or in, I suppose). When you’re ready, head to  New H.K. Wonton Garden.

New H.K. Wonton Garden can be found on Mulberry Street, just a stone’s throw from the impassable crowds of Mott and Canal Streets. The restaurant, like most here, is extremely small, meaning you’ll almost certainly be waiting on a Saturday or Sunday. This is fine. It’s New York, and if you haven’t learned patience by now, you’re probably not living here anymore.

If it’s midday Saturday or Sunday, or anytime for that matter, start by exploring the restaurant’s Dim Sum menu. Wonton Garden is known for having the best vegetarian dumplings in town, and though I don’t typically associate with our green friends from the ground, I couldn’t miss the opportunity. And they were absolutely delicious. Stuffed with an array of finely diced vegetables that I couldn’t begin to identify, the dumplings (6 for $5.00) manage to hold everything in with an impossibly thin dumpling wrapper.

Vegetarian Dumplings ($5.00)

Do yourself another favor and order a plate of boiled pork and chive dumplings (6 for $5.00) along with a pair of fresh, steamed pork buns (2 for $2.50) They were the first I’ve had in Chinatown to recall the flavors found in the underground food stalls in Flushing, my absolute favorite place in New York, and in fact the earth so far.

Boiled Pork Dumplings ($5.00)

Once you’ve had your fill of dim sum, it’s time to turn your eyes (and the remaining space in your stomach) toward Wonton Garden’s namesake dish. Wonton soup is deceptively simple – boiled wontons, microscopically thin noodles and your protein of choice bathe together in a hearty soup broth. However, each bowl you’ll find at Wonton Garden offers a completely different experience.

The standard, and probably the most highly recommended option based on the research we did prior to Sunday is the beef stew and wonton noodles ($6.25). Massive, tender chunks of beef will greet you in a dark, savory broth hiding a bed of noodles beneath. It was everything we expected it to be.

Beef Stew and Wonton Soup ($6.25)

If you’re looking for grossly disproportionate amounts of flavor, order the sweet and sour sliced pork wonton soup ($6.25). Stringy bits of pork are doused in a thick, highly flavorful sweet and sour sauce. With a few added drops of hot chili oil, it’s one of the most complex soups you’ll find in Chinatown.

Sweet and Sour Sliced Pork and Wonton Soup ($6.25)

Finally, if you’re looking to try what many non-regulars would consider “weird,” ask for the beef tripe and wonton soup ($6.25). As is standard with stomach, the honeycomb tripe was almost alarmingly fatty. However, for those who have never tried the stuff (cow stomach, as it were), you’re in for a fantastic experience. Dense, chewy and subtly flavored, tripe is the perfect addition to Wonton Garden’s hot, soupy broth.

Beef Tripe and Wonton Noodles ($6.25)

As is typical with our favorite dishes in Chinatown, there are few words to describe H.K. Wonton Garden’s soups. They are instead something that needs to be experienced. Lucky for you, Wonton Garden offers the perfect venue to hide away for an hour or two with friends, order as much as you can, and share what can only be shared in Chinatown. Be wary of gruff  and reticent waiters with uniforms of oddly enough, hawaiian shirts. Not unkind however, they will speak when necessary, such as to check that the non-Chinese visitor is aware what tripe is. Good luck!

Sure, this looks about right

New H.K. Wonton Garden   [Map]
79 Mulberry Street
New York, NY  10013
212.349.1495

Read more of Luke Kingma’s Sunday in Chinatown column.