Why the Sühring twins champion modern German food—in Bangkok

Growing up in East Berlin before the Berlin Wall came down— they were around 12 when that happened—one of the things the brothers Thomas and Mathias Sühring enjoyed most was walking to a local store and buying bars of Hanuta. Manufactured by Ferrero, Hanuta Haselnuss-Schnitte, a packaged confectionery with hazelnut and chocolate cream sandwiched between crispy wheat wafers, was, and continues to be, a popular snack.

Laced with nostalgia and childhood memories, it has now been reimagined in their menu at Sühring, their eponymous Bangkok restaurant serving modern German food, as the Enleta. With duck liver pâté and hazelnut layered between two wafers, it’s packaged like a snack and presented to diners to enjoy between courses or as an appetiser.

With duck liver pâté and hazelnut layered between two wafers, it’s packaged like a snack and presented to diners to enjoy between courses or as an appetiser.
With duck liver pâté and hazelnut layered between two wafers, it’s packaged like a snack and presented to diners to enjoy between courses or as an appetiser.

This is the kind of playful reinterpretation of old favourites that has made Sühring one of Asia’s top restaurants and earned it two Michelin stars—it is currently ranked as No.7 on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list and first entered the list in 2017, within a year of its opening. On a visit to Bengaluru to host a two-day pop-up (5-6 August), showcasing a selection from their menu at the Ritz-Carlton hotel, the Sührings spoke about how their childhood informs their food, what they mean by “modern German” cuisine, and the curious fact of starting a modern German restaurant in Bangkok.

“A large part of our childhood memories are about visiting our grandma’s house and farm just outside the city. We visited it every year during summer breaks and it was a lot about foraging, about preserving because it was a short summer season, and to us, it’s more about using these techniques than (replicating actual) dishes,” says Thomas, the more talkative of the identical twins. “That’s what we try to do with our restaurant—we like to showcase ingredients and techniques and the culinary heritage of Germany. In today’s world, with all the globalisation, where you get everything from everywhere within one or two hours, it is important to hold on to your grandparents’ recipes and your heritage, to probably pass it on to the next generation, and they can pass it on to the next generation,” adds Mathias.

On the menu for the two dinners hosted by the twins—sold out at 12,000, plus taxes, a pop—were dishes that are both classic, with the Sühring touch, or innovative interpretations like the Enleta. Starting with Zwiebelkuchen, a savoury onion cake, and Lauch Törtchen, a leek tart, the menu includes more daring dishes like Aal Sülze, a dish in which smoked eel is encased in aspic along with pike roe; Rainbow Trout Smoked with Applewood; and, of course, the famous German egg noodles spätzle—served in a new avatar with black winter truffle.

In keeping with the modernist movement in food, the brothers embrace local, seasonal ingredients, plated with a minimalist aesthetic and infused with memory and whimsy. Their food falls under the “Neue Deutsche Küche”, or New German Cuisine tradition, they say, a departure from the meat-heavy, functional dishes usually associated with German food—think breaded schnitzel and currywurst.

“We saw the ‘modern’ movement early on in France, and then in Scandinavia with modern Nordic cuisine. And we were thinking that it’s time for Central European countries like Germany and Switzerland and Austria to also, kind of, update their cuisine,” says Mathias. “And it’s not just about moving away from pork knuckles and potatoes... I guess to us it also means moving away from big, heavy portions to lighter food and—I don’t want to say, prettier?” he says, laughing.

“Actually, it’s more like going back to the roots, but showcasing the dishes in a more minimalistic way without changing the flavour profile, and with a story behind it,” chimes in Thomas.

“The question we ask ourselves all the time is this: Sühring in Bangkok is accepted, and it’s appreciated. But how would it be if we opened a restaurant in Berlin? Would it be the same? Or would it be different?” Mathias adds, a little soberly.

Sturgeon with buttermilk from the Suhring menu
Sturgeon with buttermilk from the Suhring menu

The person who inspired and encouraged them to explore this aspect of German cuisine and mine their memories to present German food in a contemporised way was Thailand-based Indian-origin chef Gaggan Anand. The brothers met Anand, then at the helm of his multiple award-winning modern India restaurant Gaggan, during their stint as chefs de cuisine at Mezzaluna, a popular restaurant on the 65th floor of the Lebua Hotel in Bangkok. The brothers had started their careers in Germany, working their way up the restaurant ladder to the Ritz-Carlton in Wolfsburg. Eventually, Mathias ended up at De Librije in the Netherlands with chef Jonnie Boer, while Thomas began working under Heinz Beck at La Pergola in Rome. In 2008, he travelled to Bangkok for a pop-up with Beck and was offered a job at Mezzaluna. This time the brothers insisted the hotel hire both of them—“they tried to make us share one salary”—and stayed on for almost seven years before venturing out on their own with Sühring.

Bangkok is home to the brothers today, and they find the city’s cosmopolitanism and enthusiasm for food invigorating and encouraging. Both have married Thai women. “In Germany, the lives of the people don’t revolve around food…but in Thailand food is very, very important. When you meet someone, the first thing you ask as a greeting is ‘kin khaw laew rue yang?’, have you eaten?’. Whether you are old or young, rich or not, people are into exploring new things, trying out new restaurants,” says Thomas.

While Thai food in Bangkok was always at a very high level, international cuisine was not up to the standard of European restaurants when they arrived in 2008, the brothers say. But that has changed in the last 10 years. “It happened after the arrival of the Michelin Guide five years ago. Also, (events announcing) World’s 50 Best, Asia’s 50 Best were held a couple of times in Bangkok. But the big change happened with top international chefs opening restaurants there—you have Blue by Alain Ducasse and Côte by Mauro Colagreco—and today the food community is growing, with so many Michelin-starred restaurants,” says Mathias.

The chef’s menu at the event was titled Sühring Erlebnis—essentially, “Suhring Adventure”, as a quick Google translation tells me. It feels like a ridiculously apt name for the food the two brothers create—an adventure in terms of geography, as well as a way to bridge diverse culinary cultures.