The diversity of Japanese Eateries in Berlin

by Cornelia Reiher

Japanese food is sold in various places in Berlin. Some are only available temporarily like pop-up stores, others can be found regularly in the form of a stall at a market, sometimes you can only order food online, while still others take a permanent form of cafes or restaurants. Certain places are only open at a certain time of year, and sometimes they are very secretive, with no information about opening hours, and it is purely by chance that you pass by when they are open. Sometimes spaces with other functions like a movie theater are rented to serve Japanese food.

Takoyaki and onigiri sold at Japanese food stalls
Copyright © Cornelia Reiher 2023

Some of the food stalls have been around for many years at flea markets or market halls and are now a regular part of the city’s culinary landscape. It is interesting to note that many of these stalls are run by women. They are often a way to earn extra money while studying or working as an artist. Once or twice a week, for example, they sell takoyaki, onigiri, taiyaki and other Japanese street food. The investment in such a food stall is comparatively small and hardly any staff is needed. However, the food stalls have also had problems with the increased food prices in the last two years and have had to raise prices. The Corona pandemic also resulted in lost revenue as markets were unable to operate for many months. A takeaway strategy was largely impossible without a fixed kitchen and distribution infrastructure. By the summer of 2023, however, Japanese food stalls at markets and festivals were more popular than ever, with customers waiting in long lines.

A Japanese restaurant in a movie theater
Copyright © Cornelia Reiher 2023

Faced with rising rents for restaurant space, Japanese food entrepreneurs often try to find temporary solutions for their businesses, including pop-up stores or co-use of spaces such as movie theaters or galleries. Food pop-ups in Berlin can take the format of bars, offering only a few dishes and an extensive drink menu, but they can also offer lunch or appear as noodle restaurants or bakeries. Reusing temporarily vacant storefronts or public spaces or sharing spaces at lunchtime that are normally only open at night, is a win-win situation for the city, the owners of the spaces and Berlin’s Japanese foodscape. After a while, some of these pop-up stores became permanent establishments if they did well. In this sense, they can be seen as a kind of experimental field where food entrepreneurs can try out their concepts and menus at relatively low cost.

The window display of a Japanese pop-up store
Copyright © Cornelia Reiher 2023

Since the start of the sushi boom in Berlin in the 1990s, the Japanese foodscape in Berlin has lost none of its dynamism, not only in terms of the type of food served but also in terms of the places where Japanese food is sold. While some long-established restaurants have disappeared, new ones are popping up, and hopefully, many of them will stay.

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