Everyone has their images of different foods. It doesn’t matter if you’ve tried ‘em or not. The Mexicans have their tacos, nachos, and beans; the French have croissants, escargot, and wine; the Russians have borscht and vodka. The accuracy of such conceptions isn’t really the issue as much as the dishes we automatically associate with different countries.
In my 5+ years of living in the former Soviet Union, no nation has endured such cruel culinary stereotypes as the Chinese. These poor, hardworking folks, through no fault of their own, have somehow cast this image of a daily menu consisting of the creepiest, crawliest, snakiest dishes no self-respecting Azerbaijani or Russian – who delight in boiled cow’s feet and gelatinized meat pieces – would choke down. Where on earth these associations came from is beyond me, considering Chinese food’s delightful (and portable!) reputation in the US of A. And to top it off, there’s a freakin’ sushi restaurant on every corner in this town. I’m not kidding. They’re everywhere, serving up about a thousand roll variants, several of which I wouldn’t touch with a ten foot poll, particularly the dessert ones. Think about it. Dessert sushi.
Alas, in the great city of Baku and Tatarstan’s capital, there are a couple Kitaiskiy restaurants to speak of. In fact, the “Great Wall” restaurant in Baku was one of our favorite places to sit, drink cold Efes, and indulge in sweet n’ sour pork. So, today, I was excited to head to Kazan’s “China-Town-Cafe” with a handful of friends and colleagues to experience Russia’s take on grub from The Middle Kingdom. Authenticity wasn’t as much on my mind as the simple fact that I like Chinese food, wherever it may be served, and I was interested to check out Mother Rossiya’s spin on the staple meals we non-Chinese-people-outside-of-China hold dear.
(As a side note, I wouldn’t know the first thing about real Chinese food.)
Unless you’re used to P.F. Chang’s (I don’t know anyone, besides Stan’s dad, who’s been to P.F. Chang’s.), the joint is much nicer than the Cantonese eateries one frequents stateside. Now, when I rock Chinese food, poshness isn’t on the list of priorities, but it was welcomed by the seven of us as we took our seats around a green marble Lazy Susan, next to a slew of empty tables. Yes, business was lacking today, but that’s not uncommon at a lot of restaurants here. In fact, I’ve noticed this running theme in more cities than one in this region. How these establishments stay open with such little clientele, I don’t know, and I don’t wanna know. But to be fair, a handful of random tables were filled, and for all I know, the place might be jumping in the evening.
Anyway, we opened the menus and got to check out the different items in Russian, Chinese, and English. How ’bout that?
Here’s a closer look:
We were relieved to find out that the place featured virtually every kind of snack: cold snack, meat snack, duck snack, chicken snack, and fish and sea snack. The only things missing were fruit snacks. It also sported fourteen kinds of garnish, fine aromatic chicken, and several meats on the live pan. Because I’m a coward, I didn’t order anything on the live pan.
Our mouths watering, we ordered, and when it came to my friend Paul’s turn, we found out something that took us aback somewhat. Wanting some rice-based dish, Paul learned that another member of our party had asked for a meal containing the last bit of rice in the restaurant.
Did you catch that? The Chinese restaurant was running out of rice. RICE! What kind of Chinese eatery runs out of the county’s #1 staple? That’s like McDonald’s running out of fries, or Taco Cabana running out of tortillas. It doesn’t just happen; something’s gotta be really wrong. That, or the staff just doesn’t feel like swinging by the corner store. Whatever.
Luckily, they had about the fifth thing Paul requested (Chicken on the live pan. Dude’s got balls.). We sat around, shot the breeze, and sipped on gassy water and fruit tea.
After a short wait – and two visits from some random village guy named Igor who was in town for some reason – we got our food which was, on the whole, pretty good. I got the wide rice noodles with pork and ordered them spicy. However, the dish was so mild it made me wonder what the mild variant tasted like. Regardless, I chopsticked it down in no time, and it was made easier by some material on the noodles that gave them a sort of…um…lubrication effect. Maybe that’s just the consistency of wide rice noodles. Nonetheless, not delving any further.
When all was said and consumed, everyone was satisfied, and despite any lack of edible grains, this place got the stamp of approval. I was also happy to see that a handful of Russians do, in fact, partake in Chinese fare, and no doubt they’re all the better and worldly for it. Oh, and it tastes good. Молодец.