Germans know Berlin for its ethnic food, from the famous Turkish market to the Vietnamese and Indian restaurants all over town. But I found one thing missing -- heat. I've been asking for my food scharf (German for spicy), but the Scoville scale here ranges from about zero to paprika.

I was about to give up hope when I got a hot tip on some secret scharfiness: an illegal Asian street food market called Thai Park. Thai Park is in a park on the outskirts of town.

Ryan Kailath
Ryan Kailath

I arrived on a Saturday afternoon. Dozens of vendors were set up with mats, umbrellas and portable gas stoves. There were summer rolls, spring rolls, panang curry, papaya salad, sticky rice, chicken satay and Singha beer. But best of all, there were chiles -- piles and piles of Thai chiles.

Andrea Robertson is an expat who regularly organizes get-togethers with friends at Thai Park. "When we came here 7 years ago, there was no Thai food anywhere that was good or authentic."

Berlin doesn't lack Asian restaurants, but Robertson is not a fan. "Food-wise, I think [Thai Park] is a lot more authentic and better than a restaurant," she says. "A lot of the Thai restaurants feature a lot of Germanesque food, so it's not very spicy and not very flavorful. They put the three chile peppers next to their dishes, and you know it's not spicy at all."

Thai Park has been around since the '90s, according to Robertson. It was mostly Asian immigrants at first, but word spread, fetching the ire of the local government, who threatened to shut it down.

Because of the legal issues, most vendors won't let me record them or take pictures, but Tip Satri will. She confirms that the local government is on her back, but she's never been kicked out.

The vendors have a loophole. When the authorities show up, the entire park pretends to be having one big picnic. Just a couple hundred best friends hanging out with their bikes, dogs, kids and food.

"We have to be like, 'Oh no, we are doing a picnic. We are not selling anything,'" Satri says. "If someone comes to give you money, you have to say, 'No, no, no, later, later.' Yeah, it's very strange."

The authorities must know.

"They know, but they have to see you when you get money," she says. "It's very strange because they know what you are doing. This is not a picnic. Also, police come here to buy."

Thai Park
Thai Park (Photo: Ryan Kailath)

Thai Park
Thai Park (Photo: Ryan Kailath)

Thai Park
Thai Park (Photo: Ryan Kailath)

Thai Park
Thai Park (Photo: Ryan Kailath)

Thai Park
Thai Park (Photo: Ryan Kailath)

Thai Park
Thai Park (Photo: Ryan Kailath)

Thai Park
Thai Park (Photo: Ryan Kailath)

Thai Park
Thai Park (Photo: Ryan Kailath)

Ryan Kailath

Ryan Kailath is a radio producer whose work has appeared on NPR, PRI and APM.