Pho 61 (Antwerp, Belgium): A Vietnamese Restaurant in the City Center

THE STORY

Antwerp, Belgium was never on my list of places to visit until a friend in Germany asked if I wanted to meet her there on a September Saturday. Just an hour train ride from Rotterdam, I figured it was an easy day-trip.

Easy to get to, hard to leave.

Pho 61 Vietnamese Restaurant Antwerp Belgium Bun Cha Ban Xeo The Asian Craving food and travel Europe

The only other time I had been to Belgium was my visit to Brussels a few years back, which was enjoyable, but did not make other parts of Belgium as desirable to visit. (But as I wrote in my Maru Restaurant post, I thoroughly enjoyed my time there and will absolutely visit Brussels again.)

The city, simply put, is beautiful. In just the first couple hours, I wrote down a handful of restaurants I want to visit in the future, including Super Mercado, which was closed at the time. We walked through a farmer’s market on our way to lunch, wandered through the shopping district, and spent most of the afternoon in the garden of a small beer cafe - so small that at first I thought we had walked into someone’s home.

Cafe Kulminator Antwerp Belgium beer bar The Asian Craving Westvleteren

(Side note: check out the website Beer Hunter. This guy named Michael Jackson passed away in 2007, but his blog has been saved. Take a minute to look at what this beer enthusiast started doing in the mid 90s!)

It was a perfect place to spend time catching up with my friend. We had no agendas in mind, other than to meander. There were plenty of small distractions and unexpected delights that we could have explored, but we only had so many hours (and meals) in the city. The day flew by, and I wish we could’ve spent the whole weekend together in Antwerp.

Pho 61 Vietnamese Restaurant Antwerp Belgium The Asian Craving food and travel in Europe

If you have been following my personal journey in my newsletter, I’ve been busy keeping my life together and less focused on dining at various Asian restaurants (a sad existence, I know). So when we arrived in Antwerp, I hadn’t done any research on where to eat!

Luckily, with the ever-present internet, I learned about Pho 61 through a variety of Instagram hashtags and accounts. With a name as simple as a word and a number, that was all I needed to know.

As we approached the restaurant, I grew hesitant - was a Vietnamese restaurant in the old City Center really that good? Yes, yes it was.

Pho 61 Vietnamese Noodle Soup Restaurant Antwerp Belgium The Asian Craving food and travel Europe

THE REVIEW

Our group of seven plus a baby ordered a variety from the menu at Pho 61, including Vietnamese carpaccio, fried won tons, dumplings, bun cha, and pho. If you enjoy the funky freshness of Vietnamese cuisine, as well as raw beef, the carpaccio was delightful. The won tons and dumplings were standard delicious (not many are included in a single order though).

The highlight though of the meal was, of course, the pho. The broth was hearty, with a strong cinnamon flavor. As I’ve mentioned previously, the pho here doesn’t seem as salty, and at times is too oily. This pho was indeed not as salty as in the States, but thankfully was not oily. I had the pho with beef balls, which I recommend, though others seemed quite pleased with their sliced beef. I heard the bun cha was pretty good, too.

If you’re with a large group of people who just want some good, flavorful food in Antwerp, visit Pho 61.


Pho 61, Grote Markt 42, Antwerp, Belgium 2000, +32 3 232 90 13

Mookata (Rotterdam, Netherlands): Korean BBQ and Chinese Hot Pot in One Delicious Spot

THE STORY

Sometimes I’m not a fan of the Instagram and Facebook algorithms. I get weird recommendations, like for a club I’d never go to or nude-colored heels because I searched for them once for a wedding. But every once in a while, the algorithm strikes gold.

That’s how I learned about Mookata.

Mookata Restaurant Rotterdam Nederlands Korean BBQ Chinese Hot Pot asian food asian craving flat lay

But let’s backtrack a bit - what is Chinese Hot Pot? It’s not something I had never experienced, but I saw a bunch of Hot Pot restaurants throughout the States when I visited recently.

There is a pot of broth warmed on the table, and then various ingredients are added to it: fish cakes, pork belly, noodles, napa cabbage, marinated beef, fried tofu…it’s unlimited options and bottomless servings (well, at least at Mookata it is, for 2 1/2 hours).

I, however, had overlooked the Hot Pot aspect of it and was excited enough just for Korean BBQ.

Mookata Restuarant Rotterdam Nederlands Korean BBQ Chinese Hot Pot side dishes asian craving

Mookata is long, spacious restaurant right on the Hofplein roundabout. The Ramen Marauder and I sat at a four-top table, and considering how much food we ordered, I’m glad we did!

I’d say “Asian Fondue BBQ and Grill” is a pretty good way to describe the dining experience. First, you pick your broth, toppings, and side dishes. I initially thought we only ordered once, but you can keep ordering toppings and side dishes as you eat. (The cost of the food is just the per person price, which varies depending on the day.)

They will then turn on your burner and warm up the broth. When your first round of toppings arrives, you’ll add a cube of lard onto the grill, and once it’s oiled, you can begin!

Mookata Restaurant Rotterdam Nederlands Korean BBQ Chinese Hot Pot noodle bowl pork belly fish cakes marinated beef asian craving

THE REVIEW

Our soup base was chicken broth and our sauces were teriyaki, crispy chili oil, and sweet chili sauce. Of all the “Fondue and BBQ” options available, we tried Thai fish cakes, pork belly, Korean BBQ chicken, beef sweet BBQ sauce, usuyaki (a thinly sliced beef), bamboo shoots, baby corn, don don noodles, udon, and Chinese cabbage. We also ordered the Vietnamese loempia, curry triangles, spicy soya cucumbers, and spicy potatoes (they did not have the sichuan beans when we went).

When the food comes out, it’s all in tiny bowls (which I love). It doesn’t seem like much, but the grill and the broth fill up fast with all your items. And while it starts as a slow process, you eventually won’t be able to keep up with how much you need to cook versus how much you’re eating.

But that’s part of the fun: trying all the different options and cooking with friends. We ordered three rounds of food before we were comfortably stuffed.

Mookata Restaurant Rotterdam Nederlands Korean BBQ Chinese Hot Pot asian craving chili noodle pull

Considering we cooked the food ourselves, I was happy with how it was prepared. At first, I wasn’t sure we’d be able to relax and converse during dinner because we had to cook the food.

I realized, however, that I was overthinking it. You just put the “fondue” items in the broth, and then tend to your grilling meats while you talk. Once everything is cooked to your liking, you compose the perfect bowl of bites.

We cooked and ate and talked and ate and cooked and ate and talked some more, and before we realized it, nearly 2 1/2 hours had passed.

Mookata is a great spot for people who want Asian food, but aren’t sure everyone in the group will want Asian food. Plus, for those who aren’t good at splitting bills, the math here is simple: the per person cost (26,50-28,50€ depending on the day) plus your beverages. And keep in mind: this is an all-you-can-eat price for 2 1/2 hours.


Mookata Asian Fondue BBQ and Grill, Pompenburg 652, 3011 AX Rotterdam, Nederlands, +31 (0)10 210 80 26

Maru Restaurant (Brussels, Belgium): A Small Korean Restaurant That Might Be Your New Favorite

THE STORY

I spent a weekend in Brussels because I wanted to see Janelle Monae. It was self-indulgent, but also a birthday gift to myself.

I also knew this would be a great opportunity to try a few Asian restaurants, since lately The Asian Craving has been mostly about restaurants in the Netherlands.

Naturally, I looked up ramen spots. It’s an easy Asian cuisine to research in a city, and the ramen spots that pop up in a search are dependably good. But ramen is a streak I’m trying to break.

And so somehow, due to the incredible Instagram algorithms, I learned about Maru.

Maru Restaurant Korean Food Sea Bream Brussels seafood kimchi pickles spinach daikon steaks

The first picture that was on their feed when I looked at their account was of a green tomato kimchi. The following pictures were all just as intriguing, and so I added it to my list.

The restaurant had maybe 12 tables, including the tables outside, and seated maybe 30 people at once. When I arrived, there seemed to be one table left, and so I sat down. A waiter came over and asked if I had a reservation. I didn’t, but they were kind enough to let me stay.

Maru Restaurant Korean Food Brussels Asian Craving

The menu itself is simply yet chaotically designed. Its section titles seemed to be illustrated by hand (entrees, beverages, sides), but the menu items appear in a typewriter font with possibly hand-stamped elements.

Upon first glance, the menu didn’t seem to offer what I expected, but then again, what did I expect? I went into this restaurant without looking at their menu online, or with any idea of what I wanted to eat. As a person eating alone, any BBQ seemed out of the question. But as a person eating alone, I could also order whatever the fuck I wanted and not worry about whether another person would be willing to share it.

Maru Restaurant Brussels Bruxelles Belgium Korean Sea Bream seafood fish

THE REVIEW

I ordered the sea bream. Not what I would consider standard Korean fare, but most Asian cuisines prepare fish in a way that European cultures don’t – whole and with clean, intense flavors. Unless the fish is small enough to be fried and eaten whole, many Westerners tend to eat fish filets, rather than the entire fish. (I know, not all Westerners.)

The sea bream came out, cut in half, served with thin daikon steaks on a bed of chopped leaks and soy sauce (or were they green onions?). It was also accompanied by kimchi, spinach, pickles, and rice.

Maru Restaurant Korean Food Brussels Sea Bream pickles kimchi spinach daikon steaks Asian Craving travel

Every bite was such a delight. The light saltiness of the daikon melted with every bite. I’d pinch a healthy piece of fish onto the rice and savored the combination of flavors and textures. I’d cleanse my palette with a bite of kimchi, pickles, or spinach, just to enjoy the fish again. It had been a minute since I had eaten a whole fish with bones, but it’s not a skill easily forgotten.


Maru Restaurant (make reservations!), Chaussée de Waterloo 510, Brussels, Belgium 1050, +32 2 346 11 11