Karachi is a city which prides itself on its many cuisines yet we lack a really good Chinese restaurant at the moment. Sometimes all you want is the tang of broth flavoured with braised chicken and seared with red chilli and seasoned with soya sauce with crispy fish crackers for dipping. True we have our Chairman Mao which as a delivery service offers excellent Chinese delivered at home but Karachi desperately needs a fabulous authentic Chinese restaurant.
Chinese is a cuisine that brings families together, simply because Chinese cannot be ordered for only two people. To truly enjoy it, you need your full complement of soup, noodles and rice and myriad starters, mains and sauces with it. Karachi used to have several good Chinese restaurants and while some of those still exist, somehow the experience and the food is not what it was.
As a child it was a common family occurrence to have dinner at Jade Garden near Clifton or PC Taipan with large groups of assorted uncles, aunts, cousins of all shapes, sizes and ages. It was always an occasion, one dressed up for it (or what counted as dressing up at the time which mostly meant washing your face and changing your shoes from slippers to “court shoes”!) Simply entering either Jade Gardens or Taipan or Suzy Wong and inhaling those exotic seasonings which scented the air, running up to the enormous aquariums set up there, watching those fat little gold fish as they flashed into the tiny ruins carefully placed inside and the multicoloured flashing lights all added to the feel of an “experience”.
The long snowy table in which children were always relegated to one end and you tried to sit next to the cousin you were closest to, only all too often some irritating younger sibling had to be taken care of at the same time. Once the food started coming grimy little hands would eagerly reach for the prawn crackers while mothers would murmur, “wait for the elders to take it first and don’t finish the basket!” The former was generally obeyed, the latter never of course! Large platters of egg fried rice with generous bowls of Chicken Manchurian, the fried Beef Chilli with fresh green chillis which seared your tongue and made your eyes water but you still had to have at least one, the full bodied gravy of Hot and Sour chicken and the crispy batter of Fried Prawns which soaked up the sauces so perfectly. But the best moment was when the enormous sizzling platters of garlic chicken were carried out. The crackling sparking sizzling could be heard from afar and the delicious fragrance wafting from it was inhaled with the joy of knowing that this was coming to your table.
Few joys can compare with sitting in your pjs and good home delivery yet for us going “for Chinese” was an experience, an adventure because it wasn’t something u could get at home within the hour if u so wished. Added to the fun of family collecting, giggling over how annoying that one uncle was who insisted on telling you how well his child had done in school that day or the aunt who would always sweetly tell you how she loved the cheap glittery little disco purse you were carrying which was the joy of your 8 year old heart, the plump cousin who ate so rapidly and quickly that he always ate the best of the food while you were laughing helplessly, the attempt to slurp noodles up with those sleek chopsticks and while most of you made a mess there was always the one perfect child who would smugly manage it while the rest of you fumbled and guffawed your way through not managing it and had a perfectly splendid time.
Was the food really that good or has childhood nostalgia cast its golden veil over it, magnified the virtues of that time with all its perfect imperfections….all I know is, with the rise of home delivery, that feeling of giddy excitement over something as common place as eating out has become, as elusive as footprints on the sand….fleeting, faint, vanishing echoes of a simpler time…