RAMENKULTUR: COCOLO RAMEN X-BERG

People with more experience in Berlin might disagree, but I would argue that one of the city’s best areas for food is in Kreuzberg, on Paul-Lincke-Ufer along the Landwehr Canal, just down from the Kotbusser Brücke. You’ve got terrific tacos at La Lucha, superior pizza at Zola, outstanding ramen at Cocolo—the subject of this article—and, a little further down the canal, top-notch cocktails and exemplary cuisine at Wagner Cocktail Bistro. (Not to mention other restaurants that I am unfamiliar with—including Horváth, which has two Michelin stars.) All that to say, if you are looking for a place to eat well in Berlin, head there and take your pick.

Cocolo Ramen X-Berg, at Paul-Lincke-Ufer 39-40, opened in 2013. (The other, original location is over near Rosenthaler Platz on Gipsstraße.) In the four months I’ve been here, Cocolo has been a bright light in what can be an otherwise dreary food scene. Here they serve competent, consistently delicious ramen at reasonable prices—and represent a welcome counter to the “pan-Asian” restaurants that, in pandering to the German palate, serve middling sushi alongside mediocre pho alongside modest Thai curry, and so on. Cocolo does one thing, and does it very, very well.

This is the best ramen in Berlin.

I have but one knock against Cocolo, and I’ll get that out of the way right now: They use those cheap, disposable chopsticks. (Legitimate) environmental concerns aside, these short, thin chopsticks just plain suck, and fail to fit what is otherwise a polished, purposeful decor and table setting.

Boo.

Cocolo Ramen X-berg occupies a large space consisting of several rooms packed with communal bench seating. Additional seats line the bar—again, with low benches; these can be awkward and uncomfortable to get in and out of, particularly for someone of my stature. Stool seating would be better suited, but of course, you can avoid the bar if you like. A great patio at the front offers additional seating and the opportunity to eat outside, along the canal: a beautiful setting.

At Cocolo, you’ll share table space with strangers (not uncommon here, I realize), but something to bear in mind if you prefer a more intimate setting. And you will wait: Cocolo is always busy. Always. Of the seven or eight times I have eaten there (at different times of the day), I waited every time but once. This wait is never too long, however, and the food is well worth it.

Speaking of: In addition to ramen, Cocolo serves a half-dozen or so starters that are competently prepared and, if you are very hungry, will tide you over until the ramen arrives (it can take a little while when the kitchen is slammed). The spinach is particularly good; the gyoza and kimchi as well. Starters range from €3 to €4.50 and are pretty much a safe bet.

My favourite ramen by far is the Tantan. This style is a Japanese take on Dandan, a Sichuan dish made with noodles, chili oil, Sichuan peppers and mustard greens. While the ramen version tones down the heat, it remains on the spicy side, so keep that in mind. At Cocolo, they serve the Tantan with a beautiful, reddish broth, light and yet complex, ground pork, corn (which adds a welcome textural counterpoint and sweetness), scallions and chili oil. This dish gives me exactly what I want from a bowl of spicy noodles: that nose-clearing, slight-sweat-inducing heat; the gratifying, umami-packed flavour. I would eat this any day, any time of day. Delicious. €9.

The Tantan.

The Negi Shoyu has smoked chicken and a soy-based broth; the salty, deeply flavoured broth takes on additional depth from the slightly smokey meat. Chili flakes bring a pleasing, balanced spiciness. Excellent. €9.50.

Negi Shoyu.

Tonkotsu ramen consists of a pork-based broth (“tontoktsu” means “pork bones”) that can take eight to twelve hours to prepare; the resulting stock is rich and creamy, almost milky in texture, with a mouth-coating fattiness. Cocolo serves theirs with the standard accompaniments, i.e. noodles, slices of roasted pork belly, and half a soft-boiled egg. Once you have this ramen, with the egg, you’ll miss it in other, egg-less versions; Cocolo should offer the option to add an egg to any ramen for a supplement, as other restaurants do. Their Tonkotsu makes for a solid, satisfying dish. €10.

Tonkotsu.

Other highlights include the Wantan, which has that same smoked chicken along with shrimp-dumplings (the Japanese take on Chinese wonton) for €9.50 and the Shio, which has a salt-based broth, smoked chicken, corn and bonito flakes. If you like the particular flavour of bonito, a dried fermented and smoked fish, you’ll like this. €9.

The only ramen I did not care for was the Shoyu; for whatever reason, the soy-based broth in that instance felt far too light in flavour, essentially one-note. The dish came with sliced pork, like the Tonkatsu, but on the day the pork was bland and dry. Might have been an off service, but the other options are for more interesting, anyhow. €9.

Miso ramen.

There is also a vegan and vegetarian option of the Miso ramen available (€8); it lacks the depth of flavour or complexity of the other versions, but, to their credit, the restaurant is at least catering to vegetarians and vegans, which more restaurants should do.

All in all, this is a fantastic and dependable place to eat, well deserving of its popularity, and a highlight in the city’s food scene. Highly recommend.