Once someone suggests going for a Chinese, the idea takes hold and won’t let go until you seek out a place where chopsticks come with dinner. Usually, in my experiences of living abroad in countries with a low Asian population, the chopsticks are about the most authentic thing about the food.
We decided to get the disappointment over straight away rather than fantasise about crispy wontons for 2 days and headed for Çin Büfe on just off Istiklal Cad, opposite MAC near Galatasary Lycee. It was recommended by someone I had regretted listening to once before on a similar, Indian craving. But, we reasoned, we could maybe dare to hope for at least a mediocre Chinese. Even this could be quite a find in Istanbul.
One potential concern was allayed by the strategically placed Asian chefs cooking in the window in the tiniest kitchen I’ve ever seen. A good sign – chefs that might actually be from the right continent and maybe, if the Food Gods were in a good mood, really Chinese.
The restaurant owners had clearly gone to some effort to decorate the place with pictures of Chinese cities and wall hangings that made it look as little like an American diner as the red, plastic, booth style seats would allow. Then, when the tea arrived in beautiful Chinese painted tea mugs, the kind with the lid and the little strainer cradling the tea leaves, we gave ourselves over to excitedly poring over the very reasonably priced menu. l.
Thinking that the true test of a Chinese had to be in its classics, we went for spring rolls, sweet and sour chicken, crispy chicken with ginger sauce and Manchurian chicken from the specials – spicy enough to come with a warning. Translated for non Turkish diners this means a spice other than salt is detectable.
The spring rolls were not bad, even if they were just sigara börek with minced meat and soya beans. Tentatively promising (we were in Istanbul, we reminded ourselves) but the mains brought reality crashing back. Even eating with chopsticks couldn’t make the sweet and sour taste less ketchupy or the Manchurian hot, or the ginger fight its way through the soy sauce on the soggy chicken. And, I hate to kick a meal when it’s down, but the rice was a bit on the dry side.
I was forced to back down on my dessert promise as even in great Chineses, I’m always a bit underwhelmed by pineapple or banana fritters and I wasn’t tempted to try the fried apple dessert or the fried walnuts in this place. Perhaps I should be less judgemental, but I wasn’t willing to squander calories on such a predictable outcome.
So, the only remaining question is how much MSG do I think went into it? I don’t want to make any allegations whatsoever, but I am writing this draft at 1.10 am….
…….. Next day. Verdict – innocent of MSG charges as I was asleep 20 minutes later. Guilty of crimes against Chinese food. What we ate was passable but, surprisingly, I’d say I ate better at an all you can eat buffet in a Chinese in Cevahir’s food court.
Turnacıbaşı Sok. No:6