"We got to where we are by spending $30 on Facebook. The reception has been bigger than our wildest imagination," says Salman Naqi.
Naqi is the proud owner of Karachi's relatively new eatery on the block, Chop Chop Wok. Squeezed between a dhaba and Indus Foods in Phase V Khadda Market, it looks almost out of place. More so because there is a perpetual crowd outside the yellow painted wall, waiting to get a table, sometimes giving up and settling for take-away.
Say bye bye to the burger fad?
When I heard that a rice/noodle bar was going to open its doors in Karachi, a voice in my head screamed "Hallelujah!". We all know that stir-fried rice is the ultimate comfort food (sorry chicken soup!) and I was just itching to try it out. Needless to say, I showed up on the very first day. A few months later, I can safely say I've tried almost everything on the menu.
Here's how it works: they have a 'make your own wok' option in which you choose a base for your bowl, a sauce and then a protein.
They also have a few starters that include Thai Beef Salad and Crispy BBQ wings (my favourite!) and special dishes like Thai Red Curry, Nasi Goreng, Chilli Prawn and Calamari. A reasonably priced, concise menu, with the most expensive priced at a little over Rs600, Chop Chop Wok is Noodle House's yummier, more affordable cousin.
"When I was in college, this is the kind of no frills take-out food I lived on. That's why we wanted keep the price easy on the pocket, the whole point is to make it accessible," explains Salman.
"We tested the menu for weeks with friends and family. The idea was never to have a dine-in option. We set up a few benches, in case people want to have a few bites while waiting, but we've come to understand that delivery and take-away alone don't have the same appeal in Pakistan."
We've recently seen a mushrooming of burger places around town, with some failing to maintain quality (I'm looking at you, Burger Shack!) and others thriving. Could Chop Chop Wok be a trend setter and become the inspiration for a plethora of such Pan Asian cuisine ventures?
A welcome addition to Karachi's gastronomy?
Pleasing every customer that walks in is next to impossible. Amidst mostly positive reviews, Chop Chop Wok did receive some criticism on popular food forums such as Karachi Food Diary and SWOT's Guide for Karachi's Restaurants & Cafes regarding portion sizes and the prices.
The restaurateur shrugs it off: "All our sauces are made from scratch; nothing is store bought. If people were to compare, they would realise the difference in taste that comes from fresh ingredients. That said, all the negative feedback has either made us work on things that needed fine tuning or helped us accept that you can't entice everyone's palate and that's okay!"
He adds: "Our bowls are actually healthier than most fast food places — 400 calories per bowl is the maximum."
They have their teething issues but with authentic, piquant flavours, courtesy of their state of the art woks, and a laid-back ambiance, I predict this joint is going to be around for a long time.
Ambience: 3.5/5 (The wooden benches are a little uncomfortable but hey, you're not meant to sit there for too long!)
Value for money: 4/5