Before there were fancy Italian and French restaurants, there were Chinese restaurants. It was a family affair to take one day out of the week for a taste of the exotic. It wasn't just about the food either, there was an ambiance which made the experience more authentic - red paper lanterns, dim lights, the clink of porcelain soup spoons on porcelain bowls.
You could live anywhere in Karachi and you would have a Chinese restaurant in your locale. You could even go anywhere in the world and ask anyone about their favorite Chinese take-out and their eyes will light up with a prompt answer on their lips. There is something universal and comforting about the noodles, rice and saucy meats. The most authentic Chinese food will be whatever your earliest memory of eating Chinese food was as a child. Tastes have changed but there is something almost sanctimonious about Chinese food in Pakistan and it refuses to change its ways. For those people who like their Chinese cuisine loaded with MSG and sub-par meats cooked until it has experienced death for a second time, they can find a multitude of restaurants which are often referred to as 'Pakistani Chinese'. For the rest of us who no longer want to sabotage our palates there might be a sanctuary of Chinese food with fresh and bright flavors. China Kitchen is a new restaurant with a new philosophy towards Chinese cuisine in Karachi. The owners of China Kitchen, of which there are four, have taken chefs from various prominent establishments and made them unlearn everything they know about Chinese food. The owners consider themselves the head chefs and have researched each dish to no end so they could formulate the best menu, 'food architects' as they call themselves. Another USP of China Kitchen is their use of high quality meat, they want the meat to stand alone as an anchor to the dish rather than just be drowned in a mysterious congealed sauce. All these strict guidelines have paid off.
China Kitchen's menu consists of a few unique dishes along with the staples. Hot and Sour Soup is the prerequisite to any Chinese meal and this one boasted a nutty flavour with a touch of meatiness in the broth from the tofu and mushrooms. The list of appetizers is a fun mix of nibbles, usually we go from soup to main course but we suggest you give a few of these recommendations a try. The Wasabi Prawns are great for wasabi lovers and mild enough for those who want to try the Japanese horseradish for the first time, the prawns are crisp on the outside with a light coating of wasabi mayonnaise. For a really fresh starter, I loved the Chicken Lettuce Wraps, a do-it-yourself starter with a bowl of minced chicken, next to a heap of iceberg lettuce leaves served with a homemade hoisin sauce. Take the lettuce, fill with a spoonful or two of chicken and top with a small dollop of sauce, wrap it up and enjoy; kind of like salad but more fun to eat. The wrap is a healthier and tastier take on the deep fried spring roll which you won't find on the menu, but you will find wontons. If you love crispy deep fried appetizers than the Crab Rangoon is an upscale version of a wonton with a cream cheese and crab filling without being greasy. Another Chinese favorite to get a trendy makeover are prawn balls but without the doughyness, at China Kitchen they're Porcupine Prawns covered in crispy vermicelli for a lovely crunch and loads of flavour.
|Honey Glazed Ribs|
At China Kitchen the main courses are just as interesting as their appetizers. Our favourite dish amongst the mains was the Deep Fried Red Snapper with House Special Salsa. You don't think you would be eating salsa at a Chinese restaurant but you can let go of qualms about authentic Chinese food not including salsa when you try this fish. The Snapper is perfectly cooked and the salsa is slightly sweet and tangy but not as chunky as you would expect salsa to be, overall it's just a good fish dish.
|Sweet Chilli Chicken|
If you like red meat then order the Black Pepper Beef Steak with Ginger and Spring Onions, the pieces of juicy tenderloin beef, cooked to medium doneness, is served with an oyster pepper glaze. It's a steak dish for those that usually don't find a hearty meat dish at Chinese restaurants. As for the Crispy Shredded Beef, it would make a better starter than a main because you can easily just go through a serving of the crunchy little morsels as you wait for your main course. We suggest adding some to your soup. If beef isn't your thing, there's always chicken, a safe option when you're eating out with company and you should bring company with you to China Kitchen. The CK's Special Chicken is wok-fried in a special sauce and a better option than the nondescript Manchurian, which you won't find at China Kitchen. The Kung Pao Chicken is a winner with cashew nuts adding crunch and dried chilies. In both dishes the chicken was tender and moist and served with enough sauce to coat the meat and not be swimming in it.
We commend China Kitchen for having a decent selection of vegetarian dishes on their menu, including Szechuan Green Beans, Stir Fried Seasonal Vegetables, Stir Fried Broccoli and Tofu Chips. There is a lack of interest given to vegetables in Pakistani restaurants and people prefer to drudge through them miserably in the privacy of their own home, but seasonal vegetables are great and if more restaurants incorporate them into their menus we might discover we like vegetables more than we thought. With all that said, it should be pointed out that most of China Kitchen's food tends to veer on the sweet side, which might be off-putting to most Pakistani palates.
|Kung Pao Chicken|
China Kitchen is housed in a lush and quiet location next to the Abdullah Shah Ghazi Mazar in Karachi. Even though it has only been around for less than a year it is already making a name for itself. The full tables are testament to their culinary philosophy of fresh ingredients, high quality meat and a taste of China with a twist of London.
73/5, Swiss Cottages, Clifton, Block 5, Karachi
Photo Courtesy: Kohi Marri