It’s a cloudy Saturday in Berlin’s Prussian Park. Crowds of people weave in and out of rows of colourful beach umbrellas, and the smell of chili and hot oil is thick in the air. Friday through Sunday you can find this lively market, known as Thai Park (or Thaiwiese), in full effect, and it is one of the most unique and special events in the city.
When the gathering first began decades ago, it was a family affair: people in the Thai-German community would meet at the park to gamble and cook for each other. Bringing small stoves and chopping boards, they went about creating their version of a barbecue, sharing traditional recipes with friends. Eventually passerby began to take notice, asking if they could partake. Public interest sparked the idea of turning this cultural activity into a full-blown marketplace. The friendly picnic aspect is still preserved, as vendors sit cross-legged over one-element burners and pots of spices, carefully concocting food to share; they chat with each other, yelling over the rows, laughing with and sometimes at customers. At some stations, makeshift communal tables are formed when strangers kneel in the grass over low-standing benches and slurp soup together. As the event has expanded, other vendors have joined in, and though the food is predominantly Thai, also present are Brazilian, Laotion, Japanese, and Vietnamese delicacies.
The choices at Thai Park can be overwhelming, so the best way to organize your little feast is smorgasbord-style, picking and choosing small amounts of many dishes and sharing among friends. Authentic versions of Thai classics like guay tiew moo, pad Thai, papaya salad, and Thai iced tea are always recommended. Every stand does things its own way, with some versions better than others, so watch out for the elegance with which things are made. Pad Thai, for example, when done right, can be a mesmerizing process to watch. Each ingredient is cooked tenderly, with emphasis on making sure the flavour of all components is distributed equally, the eggs scrambled perfectly at the very end, with no noodle left dry. Some other dishes to add to your feast include colorful kanom jeeb dumplings, chicken satays with peanut sauce, a whole fried fish (if you’re brandishing the right utensils), and a decadent dessert of fried bananas with honey. If you’re low on electrolytes or longing for the beachy vibes of a tropical vacation, buy yourself a young coconut and sip the water out with a straw.
For most, food is the ultimate expression of one’s culture. In a family recipe lives nostalgia, memories, tastes, and smells from experiences past. It can make you feel closer to those you’ve lost, bridge barriers with those you have nothing in common with, and comfort you when you’re far from home. Thai Park is a great example of the family recipe’s power. It started as a way for a community to connect, and through rice noodles, crushed peanuts, and fried shrimp, it drew a whole other one to join in. When you see something cooked with love and authenticity and years of experience, it’s hard not to want a taste—which is how a small unassuming park, in a country famous for boiled potatoes and salted sausages, has managed to play host to hordes of people with their cheeks full of vibrant scallion pancakes and another memory to stow away.