Tag Archives: chinese

Tao Yuan-Chinese food with a Desi touch

19 Aug

Photo courtesy: Flagstaff Restaurants

Chinese food has gained popularity in Pakistan in a relatively short span of time. Does it have anything to do with the simplicity of the cuisine or Pakistan’s diplomatic ties with China? Well… I don’t know. But one thing is for sure, you have more Chinese eateries in Lahore than in any other city of Pakistan.

In the heart of Lahore on Main Boulevard Gulberg, right opposite Hafiz Centre (famous IT retail plaza) , is the Chinese-food lover’s sanctuary –  Tao Yuan. Tao Yuan has been serving top quality Chinese food to the food-loving people of Lahore, for well over a decade now.

I think that’s Tao Yuan (written as Tai Wah) on the map. Sorry if it’s wrong… nevertheless, this is the street where it’s at

If you’re a person who’s all about fancy shmancy ambiance, then Tao Yuan is, by no means, a place for you. It does not have fancy Chinese art on the walls or anything else which might get you to think of it as an ambassador of Chinese culture. Yes, apparently that’s how Chinese restaurants in Pakistan demonstrate their “China-ness”. Quite on the contrary, at Tao Yuan, you’ll see shabbily dressed waiters who aren’t particularly welcoming, and a small television set which never has anything interesting to watch on it.

You must be thinking, this place does not sound like somewhere I would like to have my next meal, right? Well, you couldn’t be more wrong! Tao Yuan sells some mouth-watering dishes that simply kindle your senses; the entire experience being enhanced purely by the food on your plate. Just forget about the waiters, the TV set or the lack of art around you. For the price that they sell the food at, and consistent quality that they have to offer, I visit the place regularly with my colleagues after work. Not being big fans of any appetizers, we like to order the main course straight away. Tao Yuan has a vast array of dishes to select from but fearing any unpleasant culinary experience, I stick to ordering the standard menu that I have perfected over the years –  thanks to my friends Omer Ali and Kashif Mustafa.

Yes, I ain't much of a photographer, and yes, the food looks straight-up horrible. You couldn't be more right about the former, and more wrong about the latter

“Chicken noodles” are a must-have at Tao Yuan and I can say this with full confidence. Their chef seems to have rubbed shoulders with an Iron Chef China or something, because his use of spices with vegetables is unlike any other garam-masala and oil-laden Chinese food found locally (case in point: Agha’s Chinese food); and of course, there’s LOTS of chicken on the plate.

For those who would like to venture into something more exciting, “Tao Yuan Special noodles” offers an addition of two different meats including beef and shrimps. “Tao Yuan special rice” is another dish that  a lot of the Chinese-food-loving people would be delighted to have. I have had the same dish under various names in other restaurants, however, this particular dish is head and shoulders above the rest. Countless flavors are fused together to bring this rice dish on a plate but the crunch of the almonds, coupled with the sweetness of the pineapple, is something that words just can’t describe. Another must-order for me is the “Chicken with almonds,” which is the only curry on our standard menu. Whilst many people like to order Chicken Manchurian, I seriously believe that having what is nothing more than tomato ketchup and chicken thrown in together, is just a waste of your money. In protest, I order this almond slash chicken dish. Surprisingly, this dish has the shortest table life and is considerably popular for its simple flavour. The last dish to land on our table is always the “Spring Chicken”. I have never understood where the management got this name from – it is neither “spring-y” nor does it have any use of spring onions in it. To me, it is some plainly-marinated chicken bathed in a batter and deep fried. It doesn’t have any complicated flavours that challenge the taste buds, and quite honestly… it doesn’t need to.

Tao Yuan Special Rice

The food at Tao Yuan might not be the stuff of Michelin-star and the food inspectors might raise concerns about the hygiene of the place as well, but one thing is certain, adding a personal touch to the food, Tao Yuan Chinese restaurant would certainly give any contemporary Chinese eatery a run for their money, based entirely on merit. So next time you’re short on cash and are looking for a nice dining experience, drop by “Tao Yuan” and their zombie-like waiters would unwillingly serve you food worth cherishing.

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Agha’s Chicken Chili Dry and Egg Fried Rice

23 Jul

I am always hungry. That’s a fact that pretty much everyone I know has learnt to live with. I am, unfortunately, one of those who  (pardon the cliche but) live to eat.  So there I was at work, hungry as always, trying to resist giving into my carnal cravings. Of course, as obvious from the picture above, I failed. And I failed bad. Because anyone who knows a thing or two about dieting ( I have been on a perpetual diet since I was 10 years old), would tell you that rice is a big no-no!

Anyway, with all concerns about any diet or an impending wedding out of the window, I ordered Chinese food from a nearby lunch place – Agha’s.  This little fast food corner, at the heart of Karachi (junction between I.I. Chundigarh Roah and Ziauddin Ahmed Road), is a favourite at my workplace… not because their food tastes fantastic or anything but because they are just so damn fast at delivering the food, that it seems like the only reliable place to turn to in case of emergency. Which reminds me, Agha’s is also our permanent Plan B place for lunch. Whenever we find it difficult to agree on one place for lunch, we always decide on Agha’s… even though a lot of us have fallen prey to its not-so-impressive hygiene.

Moving on, I must tell you that, in all honesty, I am not a big fan of Chinese food. Its not so much that I don’t like it… it’s just that my taste buds are more attuned to spicy food. Also, I like intense flavours. I know some Chinese dishes are supposed to be really intense, but I think it’s a thing with us Pakistanis… we don’t feel done with food until we feel full. Any Chinese food always makes me feel light. I know it sounds crazy, because technically, it’s healthier to feel light after a meal. But to me personally, it’s more important to feel fed *shameless*.  I have never tasted real Chinese food, but I am pretty sure that it would be more unapproachable for me than the desi version of Chinese food that is so freely (and as many renown food critics would say, sacrilegiously) sold in Pakistan. In spite of my reservations for Chinese food being so explicitly etched in my mind, I still ordered the Chicken Chili Dry with Egg Fried Rice, which looked like the picture  above. The fluorescent green stuff did not come with the food; those are my chopsticks… which, by the way, are kiddy-size. Either that or my hands are really big.

Upon delivery, the  Chicken Chili Dry with Egg Fried Rice comes in a paper box, containing two plastic bags – one of the chicken, and the other for the rice. Most interestingly, also included in the package is coleslaw, ketchup and mint chutney. Now I don’t claim to be any expert on food, but I don’t think any of those four things (coleslaw, Chinese food, mint chutney or ketchup) go together. That’s just really wrong. No wonder we fall sick so frequently after eating from Agha’s. Anyway, I decided to completely stay away from all the three…um…things that were completely uncoordinated with the main dish.

Those who’ve had Chinese food in Pakistan would agree that it is loaded with oil and garam masala (which is a spice made up on five spices: cardamon, cinnamon, clove, star anise and some other things that I will have to confirm with my mother. I think it also contains something called barhi eliachi, which directly translates to big cardamon, but I’m not so sure of its English name). But you see, Agha’s is not your typical Pakistani fast-food eatery, where you find very spicy, oily and unhygienic food. It is all that and more. Apparently, it claims to specialise in Iranian, Pakistani and junk food as well. I could, upon request, indulge in the latter two. Iranian food from Agha’s is something I have officially sworn off after falling really sick.

Chicken Chili Dry with Egg Fried Rice at Agha’s is oily, tasteless (unless salt-pockets qualify as taste-makers) and very heavy. The rice, served separately had the right texture. So, not surprisingly, it was made of left-over rice. This, many chefs say, is a good thing, since leftover rice is slightly hardened on the surface and can withstand the heat of a wok. The chicken was unfortunately, not as I expected it to be. Considering it was my first time ordering this particular place, I am entitled to have expectations, am I not? Anyway, I was expecting the chicken to be cut in strips, cooked with some soya sauce, salt and pepper till crisp, and then lightly sauteed with chili strips. What I got was chicken cubes cooked with lots of onion, spring onion, garlic and chili. Still, compared to yesterday’s lunch, I would say today was an improvement… which is quite insulting for Pizza Hut. Sad, but true. I am making a note to myself to avoid ordering Chinese food from Agha’s unless it’s an absolute emergency. I think their BBQ and Pakistani food is their forte. Perhaps next time, I’ll order my favourite item from their menu – Chicken Boti (BBQ Chicken cubes). Hmm… let’s see.

You will wonder, after reading most of my blogs, why I continue to eat from places that make me sick. The answer to that is simple… what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.

UPDATE: Directions to Agha’s (A on the map)