RAWALPINDI: The desi palate has always had a fascination with continental food, whether it is Italian, Mediterranean or Middle Eastern cuisine.
But the flavours of the oriental have always occupied a special place in the hearts of Pakistanis, just like special relationship the country has with the land of their origin.
The garrison city is no exception, and with the onset of winter, Chinese food is all the rage nowadays.
The most sought-after item are the golden brown chowmein noodles, which have been seamlessly adopted by desi menus.
Served with vegetables and meat, this is a complete meal if preceded by a bowl of piping hot Chicken Corn or Hot and Sour soup.
For food lovers, this light dish turns out to be a pleasant change from the routine of desi food.
Soups, rice, fish, prawns and shrimp; Chinese dishes contain something for everyone.
Quite easy to prepare, egg noodles are boiled and then cooked with a little oil and vegetables, peanuts and boiled chicken pieces. Stir frying a wok full takes hardly 10 minutes.
In Saddar, most people make a beeline for Mei Kong – the oldest Chinese restaurant in the twin cities that was established in early 70’s.
Though recently, several Chinese food outlets have opened in Bahria Town, Murree Road and The Mall, Mei Kong is considered a haven for Chinese food lovers.
“For most people, seafood such as fish, lobsters and prawns are favourite items in the winter, but Chowmein is popular all year round. We usually follow traditional Chinese recipes, but we have made a few minor alterations,” said Usman Khalil Noon, owner of Mei Kong.
He said their Chowmein contained carrots, beans, capsicum as well as chicken, prawns and fish pieces to give it a different flavour.
“Chinese Rice is also a staple dish. We cook the rice with vegetables, egg, chicken and dry fruits,” he said.
He said that most people go out to eat at restaurants at dinnertime, but weekends are busy from lunchtime onwards.
Even the rise of fast food, he added, could not dent the popularity of Chinese dishes.
He said that serving food with traditional Chinese hospitality was what attracted more people.
He said that their chefs had been trained by the Chinese chefs who ran the restaurant in the past, but had also learnt the craft from expert cooks in Dubai.
“Colour, fragrance, taste and presentation are our main features,” he said.
“Having roti or rice with meat and daal all through the week gets tiresome. Chinese dishes, especially soups and chowmein, are my family’s favourite dinner item on Sundays. It’s no less than a treat,” said Mohammad Ahsan, a customer at a restaurant in Saddar.
He said the children loved noodles and Chowmein.
“The crunchy vegetables and soft meat and noodles and sweet taste make them different from the food prepared at home,” he said.
Ahmed Malik, a customer at the Chinese restaurant, said that fish and prawns made with a Chinese recipe were marvelous as the outer batter is crispy and inner meat is soft with a taste of herbs instead of red chilies.
He said that the Chinese rice made with vegetables, eggs and meat is different from heavy traditional food of Pakistani cuisine. He said that for the weekends, Chinese food is a good option.