By Amanda Sandström Beijer
Photos: Sissi Chen
Sissi Chen inspires us with her love for food and cocking. We get some tips on how to think, now that we want to discover Berlin's food scene and its changes since last year.
Sissi herself never planned on moving to Berlin but believes she got here for a reason.
”I never planned to move to Berlin, but I guess the universe knew I would like this place.
I randomly applied for an internship and packed my suitcase to live in Berlin for 6
month, over ten years ago. It turned out I felt so comfortable, that I just stayed.”
Sissi is born in China but grew up in Italy - both countries known for how they communicate through food. Something Sissi believes definitely influenced her own connection and interest.
”I always felt a connection to food, because it is truly a universal language to me. When I was 7, I moved from Beijing to Vienna, and I couldn’t say or understand anything in German other than „Hallo“. It was such a struggle in elementary school with so many
language barriers to connect to other people, especially kids. But still, I have some vivid
memories exchanging lunches and snacks with the others in my class and felt some kind
”Another reason why food is so near to my heart is because of my grandparents. They
basically, raised me, but after moving to Vienna, it was very difficult to still be part of each
others lives. I had deficits in the Chinese language and could only do very superficial small
talk with them but eating together felt still like home. In Chinese culture, food is the most
valuable love language to everyone.”
On Sissi’s Instagram, it says:” Bringing people and culture together through food” as well as” Mental health advocate”. We get curious about her view on the connection and how food has affected her mental health.
”The connection is very complex for countless reasons and situations. Food has
been my safe space and so comforting, when everything around me - including myself -
fell apart. Even most people don’t see and know this, I’ve had a very unhealthy
relationship with food for the most part of my life. Food can be so rewarding, fun and
interesting, but (not) eating can also feel like a punishment.”
Eating used to be highly connected to depression, anxiety and low self-esteem for me. After years of therapy, I’m finally in a good place, even if I still fall back to unhealthy behaviors from time to time.”
Today Sissi is writing about- as well as doing vlogs on YouTube. Something that can be quite addictive to watch. They make you hungry, happy and excited about life. A great addiction during lockdown, that at least made me remember how life can be enjoyed to the fullest through food. And it all started very coincidental.
”I started sharing more food content with funny filters on Instagram in 2015 and everyone in my friends’ group was super engaged with it. So, I changed my private profile into a public one and continued sharing everything around food. The inspiration comes from my personal relationship with food, which evolves heavily around belonging, identity and cultural backgrounds.”
It’s a big bonus that most places she eats at are local Berlin restaurants - and the Berlin food scene actually introduced new food cultures that Sissi didn’t know much about before coming here.
"Before I came here, I didn’t really eat Vietnamese, Arabic, Israeli or Korean food, because
all of that was rarely available in Vienna, when I was growing up. So naturally, in Berlin it felt like entering food heaven. I stuffed my face with all kinds of foods that I’ve never seen or heard about before. I learned about all the cultural significances when it comes to food, through eating.”
Although it’s not perfect.
”Today I wish Berlin had more variety, especially for underrepresented countries and cuisines. I actually couldn’t find one Uzbek restaurant to eat Lagman or Plov at, which is strange.”
"Besides that, one of the coolest things about food in Berlin is the accessibility. It is so easy to dive into another culture and learn about somebody through the food, if you are open and interested. There are minimum barriers to let’s say, walk up to an Indonesian eatery and start chatting. Most of the time, people are super welcoming if approached through food and love to share their perspective and stories.”
During the period when restaurant’s been close Sissi has been cooking at home, and shared recipes with her audience. Although she hasn’t forgotten what she missed the most.
”I missed everything. From sitting down and eating from a plate to having some kind of interaction with the people working at the places. Especially the ease and lightness that is
connected to enjoying food together in company. And the joy of people running a place
because they are truly passionate about what they are doing. I see and appreciate the
hard work behind running a gastronomic business and I also see how rewarding it can be
to people, when guests enjoy their food.”
Although restaurants have been very missed, Sissi points out how food can bring us together in various ways.
”Just to name one out of many, I have met Nitu through Instagram (@familyfoodology), who is from India and moved to Berlin with her husband and son. She wrote me on Instagram one day and invited me to her home to enjoy some superb home cooked Indian food together.
Now that restaurants are finally open again, we are thinking about what has- and what may – change.
”I hope it will get more digital. During the pandemic, many places finally switched to non
contact payments and I’m hoping for it to stay.”
”The places I missed the most during lockdown was Korean BBQ and Hot Pot. Basically, any types of food that is difficult to deliver and wouldn’t be as enjoyable anymore after it was packed up in a container. To recommend a few I would go to have Korean BBQ at Han BBQ/ Hodori/Arirang and for Hot Pot I would go to Lucky Star.”
A ’life hack’:
A “life hack” that I do – and I don’t know if you can call this a “life hack” – is to do a bit of
research beforehand and save all the places I find interesting on my Google Maps when I
will be plenty mouth-watering pictures of delicious dishes you might want to try. The cool
thing about this hack is, that you will quickly realise the areas on Google Maps that
probably are more interesting food-wise than others and plan your way around.
I would recommend people to check out places they usually won’t go to. A lot of times
people want or even expect me to recommend the hottest shit in town and a lot of time I
do. But more interestingly, I encourage people to also visit the less popular places and try
some dishes they are hesitant to try. I guess this isn’t Berlin specific.
Top 10 Berlin restaurants by food blogger Sissi Chen:
This is very difficult, but I’ll go with a list of food, that is not only delicious, but also culturally interesting:
– Bantabaa – Gambian Food (Kreuzberg)
– Mabuhay – Indonesian Food (Kreuzberg)
– Magic John’s – NY and Detroit style pizza (Mitte)
– Asia Deli – Chinese Food (Wedding)
– Cozymazu – Taiwanese Food (Mitte)
– Big Bascha – Arabic Food (Moabit)
– Hasir – Doner Kebab (Schöneberg)
– Der blaue Fuchs – Georgian Food (Prenzlauer Berg)
– Swadesh – South Indian Food (Kreuzberg)
– Kokio – Korean Fried Chicken (Prenzlaur Berg)