Manam Thai Food & Sweet on Rosenheimer Strasse in Munich serves the best Thai food in Europe. Though I have not been to every Thai restaurant in Europe, I am sure of this.
Manam is a poorly marked hole in the wall with about five cramped tables and a tiny open kitchen, hidden behind the signage of the Magic Casino and the Roulette (or one establishment that calls itself both?). We arrived to steamed-up windows and a line out the door. As we moved forward in the line I saw that the interior had a utilitarian-meets-primary-color-80s-preschool look I remember well from Thailand, a promising sign.
Then I saw the King, an even more promising sign.
In lieu of the typical Asian-restaurant-in-Europe decor (i.e. black Ikea furniture with Ikea orchids and gold Buddha statues that I imagine to hail from some Buddha image foundry somewhere in Germany which is busy churning out Buddhabilia for the country’s Asian-in-general restaurants and esoteric private homes), Manam displays a portrait of His Majesty King Bhumibol, like a restaurant in Thailand would. Said portrait is about half the size of the whole restaurant and hangs high enough to keep His Majesty’s head safely above even the tallest German’s.
The five of us squeezed around a table that might semi-comfortably seat two, and ordered laab, green papaya salad, pad thai and a slew of curries. The dishes cost €7-8 each, depending on the type of meat requested, and came in small portions like in Thailand. Every dish was fresh and delicious, with the cilantro and lemongrass and lime and chili pitched just right. The papaya salad and laab verged on too spicy for us, a course of events I would never have thought possible in Germany (we didn’t even ask for anything extra spicy!). I had a flashback to a mortifying scene at a restaurant in Sangkhlaburi where the entire kitchen staff had lined up across from my table to laugh at me as I battled a curry too spicy for me (if there isn’t already a TV show in Thailand called Watch a Farang Eat Something Spicy, I’m sure it would be a big hit) until someone finally took mercy and brought me a banana.
Most Asian restaurants in Germany go way too far in catering to the spice-averse German palate, or to the German wish to have sushi, pho, tom ka gai, and dim sum all available at the same restaurant, or to the German belief that every curry needs some pineapple. Manam is having none of this shit, and their uncompromising attitude has garnered them much foodie love (hence the line out the door), but also some complaints. Even Manam’s negative online reviews speak to its awesomeness: “It made my clothes smell like Thai food”. “Alles war sehr scharf”. “The rude waitress told me the dish I ordered was only for Thai people, but then I ordered it anyway and it had chicken necks in it”. “Zu scharf!!!!!!” “You can hear the cooks frantically chopping”. “Unglaublich scharf”.
This place is uncanny. It’s like a portal to Thailand. While we were there I caught myself making sure I wasn’t pointing my feet at anyone or stepping over anyone’s possessions, and thinking things like “there are a lot of farang in this restaurant”. By the time we left, I stepped outside in watch-out-for-gaping-holes-in-the-sidewalk-and-dangling-electrical-wiring mode. But then what I encountered outside was miserable gray weather rather than dangerous faulty infrastructure, and the portal to Thailand dissipated into the cold rain.
The next time I crave green papaya or laab I will be tempted to take the train down to Munich.