Khao Taan is the culinary creation of Gaan Kitkoson, who after having lived in Berlin for 10 years wanted to share Thai food with the Berlin masses. Food has always been a big part of his life—his family has owned a Chinese bakery in Chachoengsao, about an hour's drive from Bangkok, for almost 100 years (his background is Chinese-Thai). Kitkoson originally worked in corporate offices, but his true calling was food, and after moving to Berlin in 2009, he began to long for authentic Thai food, since there was none there to be found. Kitkoson decided to solve the problem himself, with the goal of recreating a homelike environment not unlike the various dinners he hosted for friends—cooking the flavors he missed from home and drinking wine.
He had also begun to find a passion for natural wines, which he exclusively serves at Khao Taan. Everyone has a wine that changes their life, and for Kitkoson, it was Ferozia Arlanza Bianco—an Albillo grape white wine from Castilla y Leon, Spain. On my visit to Khao Taan on an autumn afternoon, I met with Kitkoson and tried some of the various wines he offers, along with his spicy, flavorful Thai dishes.
Khao Taan is situated in the Friedrichshain neighborhood of Berlin, a lively neighborhood known for its famous clubs. The restaurant is cozy, but feels spacious with the minimal design. When I asked what “Khao Taan” means, Kitkoson said that “‘Khao’ (ข้าว) means rice and generally refers to food, while ‘Taan’ (ตาล) is my grandmother’s name. She began my lifelong love of food and cooking. She was always in the kitchen, and my favorite childhood memories are sitting by her side and helping her with cooking. She never used recipes and the food always turned out heavenly. My grandmother is my hero and inspiration.” Indeed, the restaurant has an intimate feeling that almost feels like someone’s personal kitchen. I could already smell the strong, enticing Thai spices that are rare to find in Berlin (and maybe all of Germany) beckoning from the kitchen.
Kitkoson noted that his family back in Thailand sends regular packages of Thai ingredients that are impossible to find in Berlin for his use in the restaurant. And there is no room for substitutions for Kitkoson. He doesn’t want to use other ingredients, preferring to be as authentically Thai as possible.
The first dish meant to be eaten is the canapé, or “the bite-sized surprise of the day” as it says on the menu. It was a small bite with a medley of flavors that set the tone for the dishes to follow. This one featured betel leaves with ginger, onion, lime, dried shrimp, roasted coconut, and peanut. The concept of Khao Taan is that for 35 Euros, you get a set meal. You can of course dine alone, but if you come with a group, you’ll get to try more dishes, since the concept is small plates that are meant to be shared. The next dish I tried was a relish, the “Nahm Prik Long Ruea” relish with shrimp paste, caramelized pork, salted duck egg, chillies, lime, and Thai aubergine. It’s a very strong appetizer meant to be eaten like a dip with the accompanying vegetables. The accompanying rice is actually three types of rice, which according to Kitkoson resembles the German Vollkorn Brot, or full-grain bread.
The food was served with various wines, all of which Kitkoson chooses personally. Kitkoson works with two well-known natural wine shops in Berlin, Rocket Wine and Cantine St. Ambroeus. Kitkoson selects wines that would go harmoniously with the whole meal, he says, but is not specifically paired to each dish.
First I tried the Bergkloster Cuvée from Rheinhessen, Germany, a funky white wine that has a bit of a salty taste, reminiscent of the sea. Then there were two reds—the Alacre, was a Sicilian Nero d’Avola and Perricone, whose flavor profile reminds Kitkoson of Thai flowers. The wine is not too tannic or too spicy, so it pairs well with spicy food. The other red, Exspectatia, was a French gamay from Beaujolais, which unlike other gamays, was more full-bodied and complex, yet extremely smooth—it paired with any dish, really.
Khao Taan may be the best, or at least the most authentic Thai restaurant in Berlin—and it’s one of the only ones exclusively serving natural wines, so it’s worth the visit. For the future, Kitkoson says there may be another project coming up in the new year, so we’ll keep our ears open and taste buds ready.
Tatiana Ernst (@TatianaErnst) is a writer based in Los Angeles.