At the end of summer last year, I got a chance to sit down with Jenny, the manager of The Bowl, a plant-based restaurant in Friedrichshain, Berlin.
At the end of summer last year, I got a chance to sit down with Jenny, the manager of The Bowl, a plant-based restaurant in Friedrichshain, Berlin. Keep reading to hear more about the story and ethos behind one of my favourite restaurants in Berlin:
LFB: So could you tell me a little bit about yourself first?
Jenny: I was born in Berlin but my mother is Irish so I grew up with English and German – my father is German. I travelled a lot after school and I love to speak English as well. In Berlin you oftentimes meet a lot of English-speaking people, which is pretty cool. At the bowl we are also a big fan of being bi-lingual – everything you find is in both German and English, as English is kind of a universal language.
LFB: I am personally a pescetarian, and I would like to eventually return to an all-vegan diet, but I have a lot of problems with food allergies, so it makes being vegan very difficult at the moment. But I do try to eat vegan 80% of the time. So I would be interested in hearing your own back story about your relationship with veganism and vegetarianism and what brought you here to the Bowl.
Jenny: For me I started being vegetarian – which is probably how a lot of people start out as a step-by-step thing. The whole journey started about 4-5 years ago. I have a lot allergies myself which is one of the main reasons I wanted to change my diet and find out if I could reverse my allergies like hay fever or just eat an apple normally. At this time I was reading a lot about nutrition and avoiding certain things – like milk, and cheese, and meat, and my diet just kind of just naturally developed into a vegan diet. As far as the bowl is concerned, we are plant based and focus on clean eating, so it is more about the awareness of food.
You do not HAVE to be vegan, but it’s very necessary to us that our customers think about their food – what do you eat? is it organic? In general we are interested in promoting a plant-based lifestyle but of course it is already a big step if you just increase your plant-based meals and vegetable intake. A lot of people who are not vegan come to the bowl just to get to know this kind of lifestyle and to see that the food can be very creative and filling and that you do not miss anything. We are really about trying to get people to get into it and they can decide from there where their journey will take them – they do not have to be vegan all the time.
LFB: I think that is a really important point. A lot of people get turned off to veganism because there are a lot of militant vegans out there.
Jenny: Yes, I have met a lot as well! [laughs]
LFB: Which is why I think The Bowl is doing things the right way. Because at the end of the day if you are trying to spread awareness about kindness for both animals and the environment, it doesn’t make much sense to then turn around and be an asshole to your fellow humans.
Jenny: That’s why we do not call our restaurant vegan but plant-based because we also want to take the stress out of it. A lot of times when people hear something is vegan they automatically react in a stressed-out way and we wanted to change that. Which is why we say we are plant-based. I mean it’s the same, but it’s different in a way and more inviting and we really want to welcome people – we don’t want to tell people that we are better based on our food choices. We want to just let people know that this is what we are doing, get people to try it, and let them find out for themselves if they like it as well. This is what we are aiming for and it is actually working out really well. People come to the bowl and sometimes they don’t even notice it’s vegan and they are like, “Wow! This is amazing! Oh wait! Okay!” And that is really funny and cool to see. We are just looking to share our knowledge and connect with people. It’s the easiest way – through food; especially if it tastes really good!
LFB: Well I can definitely vouch for the Bowl. The food here is amazing! And I think that you are right – the hardest thing to do when you are cooking vegetarian or vegan is to try to figure out how to make things flavourful without animal products, but if you look at asian cuisine, for example, if you don’t try to imitate meat and animal products, and you go for the actual flavours of fruits, vegetables, and spices, then you get something that is delicious. But I think that when you try to go into that kind of fake meat territory, it can go wrong really easily.
Jenny: Exactly! We don’t use any soy products or seitan or vegan/veggie schnitzels. The core here is the vegetable and we try to get everything out of the vegetable that we can – we also look into different forms for our vegetables – raw, cooked, or fermented – and then combine it. We also focus on great sauces and dressings. We try to keep everything super fresh and seasonal as well so our dishes changes a lot as well. We also stay away from sugar and gluten. I noticed in California during my travels that gluten-free options were pretty readily available, but when I came back to Germany it was basically non-existent here, which is why we decided to make The Bowl gluten free – which is especially good for our customers with allergies.
LFB: I think that in the plant-based eating community, a lot of people are getting into plant-based diets not even for ethical or environmental reasons, but for their own health. And I think that is so important. For me, I am struggling because a lot my allergies are for soy products and fruits – I suffer from fructose malabsorption – but if you are conscious about food, when you come to a place that focuses on how the body and food work together, you feel more comfortable explaining your allergies. In the states we are pretty aware of food allergies, but in Germany it’s a bit of an unexplored topic, so it is great to know that there are places like The Bowl who are really taking these kinds of things into account.
Jenny: Definitely, and also still have the freedom to order a lot of things from a big menu, not just 2 or 3 things. You can have a starter, a main course, and dessert. You really feel like you are part of everything, especially from a social aspect so that you feel that you can go out and eat and do not always have to cook at home. We try to connect people here and The Bowl has really turned out to be one of those places where everyone can go out and just enjoy good food, good company, and have a good time.
LFB: And you guys are in the middle of Friedrichshain, so it’s perfect as well.
Jenny: Yes! We got really lucky with our location because we are are right above Goodies – a healthy cafe, and Veganz, a vegan supermarket. We work closely with them as well so some products you can actually buy and take home. So if you think think our coconut rice milk is amazing you can just buy it and take it home, which is really cool cos you can have it in your every day life! After all, it’s about knowing where you can get things, and about availability.
LFB: Was it an active choice to put The Bowl in the heart of Friedrichshain [a very vegan-friendly part of Berlin] and next to Goodies and Veganz?
Jenny: In a way it was an active choice, but it was also very serendipitous. There was a previous restaurant in our location that closed down so the space was open and the owner of the house who is also from Veganz knew us through Goodies – which we also own – so he already knew what we were about and what we wanted to do. He basically told us we needed to move into the space and just do it, so we were very lucky.
LFB: Is this the first location for The Bowl?
LFB: And are you looking to expand?
Jenny: We really want to but we are very new. We had no idea it would take off like it did. We now have a year of experience under our belts though! Now are are settled, and we know what we are doing, but we are also taking our time so that we really find the right place – we are thinking of maybe expanding in the west of of Berlin. A lot of our customers come from the west and tell us that there is nothing like The Bowl where they are living like in Ku’Damm or Schöneberg. That could be really nice!
Photography : Rae Tashman
Warschauer Straße 33