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Top Chef: Kim Nguyen

The chef and owner behind Kollwitzplatz restaurant Mr. Long and Friends talks about her most popular dishes and the Vietnamese herb most likely to cure a runny nose.

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Photo by Karolina Spolniewski

Long (no pun intended) before the current wave of trendy Vietnamese restaurants, there was Mr. Long and Friends. Kim Nguyen opened this Kollwitzplatz mainstay in 1998, two years after moving to Berlin with her mother, and started serving dishes from her native Hanoi: noodle soup, summer rolls, hot pot and more. She runs the restaurant together with her husband and cousin.

What type of food do you cook?

At Mr. Long, we continue the dining culture of our ancestors from Vietnam. Our cuisine is very special in that we don’t use any chemicals or flavour enhancers – everything is fresh and natural, not too fatty, with lots of Vietnamese herbs. So on our menu you can find traditional pho, fresh rice paper rolls filled with herbs and seafood or tofu, salads and a variety of sauces, some spicy, others fresh and fruity. We also have a lot of homemade drinks made from Asian fruit, such as guava or lychee, or iced tea with fresh lemongrass and ginger.

What is your most popular item?

Feuertopf (hot pot) is the most popular dish – we prepare it 100 percent true to its traditional Vietnamese origins. We have two versions, with homemade meatballs and with seafood. The lotus salad is also very popular, as well as the Honey Duck and our salmon, which we serve with chili-garlic, hoisin or fruity tamarind sauce.

The food trend you hate the most?

There is no food trend or cuisine in particular that I dislike; I don’t even mind fusion food, as long as it is of good quality. However, I’m frustrated when people pick restaurants based on modern interiors or a certain ambiance rather than paying attention to the quality of the food.

A cooking tip?

When you’re cooking Asian food, use a lot of Asian herbs as they carry life in them. Cilantro roots, for example, don’t only taste good but are also very healthy. Tia to (perilla) is a very healthy Vietnamese herb that is helpful against a headache, and if prepared as a tea can help ease a runny nose when you have a cold. You can get these herbs at any Asian market, like the one at Alexanderplatz.

A dining tip (other than your own restaurant)?

I don’t eat out very often – nothing beats home-cooked. If I do go out to eat, I like to eat German cuisine. Calypso in Biesdorf, near where I live, serves very good German and international food. If I’m in the city, I love to go to a steakhouse every once in a while.

The best thing about owning a restaurant in Berlin?

What I like best about this job is that I meet new people all the time. I love our guests, especially the ones that come again and again, the ones that stick around. I have the opportunity to get to know them and that is a lot of fun.

The worst?

It is exhausting to work such long hours. Almost every day we fight to ensure good and consistent quality – not only of the food, but also the service in our restaurant. As the one who carries all the responsibility, I have to monitor the drinks and the kitchen, and I also help out everywhere: from preparing sauces to cooking, making drinks and even serving.