Ethnographic scavenger hunt on Kantstraße

by Jonas John

On June 20, 2023, I went together with the other course participants and another friend to Kantstraße to look at three different Japanese restaurants and eat at one of them. I will now briefly introduce them. Our first stop was Udagawa, one of the oldest still existing Japanese restaurants in Berlin. I had been there the week before, so I already knew one of the dishes and wanted to eat there again. Although there were several small benches outside, we decided to sit in the back of the restaurant because it was really hot and there were fans. The decor reminded me of Japanese family restaurants. The whole room is wood style, and there are ukiyo-e pictures and beer signs on the walls that look like they came from the 1950s. There are also various Japanese flags, small miniature umbrellas, lanterns, and a door that leads directly to the kitchen in the back. But there is another small kitchen  in the front where small dishes are prepared by a cook and two waitresses. Light string jazz was playing in the background, creating a relaxed atmosphere.

When we arrived there at 18:30, there were only three guests present besides us. However, that changed at 7:30 p.m. – by then there were already 12 guests. That seemed like a lot of people for a Tuesday night, after all, the room was packed. The food tastes like in Japan and also surprisingly cheap compared to other Japanese restaurants in Berlin; only between 7 and 16 euros for a whole menu! There are mostly „typical“ Japanese dishes offered. The only exception are the spring rolls. When asked what the waitress would recommend and what most diners would go for, we were recommended katsukarē with slaw, but we opted for something else. There is also a large selection of vegetarian dishes, one would also find in Japan. The visit to Udagawa was a pleasant experience that we all enjoyed!

A set meal in a Japanese restaurant in Berlin
Copyright © Jonas John 2023

Then we went to Heno Heno. Heno Heno is a small store near Udagawa. When we got there around 7:45pm, we saw four people sitting outside on small chairs eating. In front of the restaurant is a large doll that looks like a mascot. There were also two people dining inside. Behind the counter in the dining area, we could look right over the shoulder of the male chefs while the female waitresses took orders. Among the dishes offered, gyūdon and karē are most popular at Heno Heno.

Taking notes during fieldwork in a Japanese restaurant
Copyright © Jonas John 2023

We last visited the Kushinoya. This kushiage restaurant also has an outdoor dining area, but it was completely empty. Inside, however, there were many people, so I assume it is very popular. There were two signs in front of the front door. One had the menu on it, so you could see that it was a slightly more expensive restaurant. Next to it was a sign advertising a sparkling sake and informing customers that edamame go with it for free. The windows, through which it was already very difficult to see, were also covered with stickers of various certificates. This also seemed to indicate that this was more of a fine dining restaurant. We decided to come back another time with more money and ended our trip.

* Jonas John is a student in the master’s program in Japanese Studies at Freie Universität Berlin.

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