A Gastronomic Voyage at Roda Al Bustan

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Zesty Orange Chicken

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Oranges taste great on their own; I hardly know anyone who doesn’t like them. They are a mind-blowing combination with chocolate, second only to mint, and are used extensively in desserts. But never in a million years had I expected to fall head-over-heals in love with oranges in an entrée. I’ve been obsessed with Orange Chicken ever since I tried it some four odd years ago at a Chinese Restaurant.

Like all recipes I’m obsessed with, I tried recreating this sweet and sour concoction with a hint (subjective) of spice last weekend. After some experimentation, I got the flavor profile I was looking for; in retrospect, I should have left out a few ingredients that gave the dish some outlandish undertones, a clashing after-taste, if you may. The recipe below doesn’t include those ingredients so you should be able to enjoy a mouth-watering Orange Chicken. I strongly recommend serving this gravy with Chinese Fried Rice (leave me a comment if you want me to post a recipe).

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Ingredients:

  • ½ kg chicken (cut into one-inch cubes)
  • ½ cup + ½ cup fresh orange juice (I used navel oranges)
  • ½ tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp fresh orange zest
  • 5 cloves of garlic (finely chopped)
  • 1” cube of ginger (finely chopped)
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp chili sauce
  • 1 tbsp white vinegar
  • I tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • ¼ tsp white pepper powder
  • ½ tsp chili flakes (optional)
  • ½ tsp black pepper powder
  • ½ tsp onion powder
  • ½ tsp garlic powder
  • ½ tsp chicken powder
  • 1 tbsp corn flour
  • 5-7 dried red chilies (optional – I used African bird’s eye chili)
  • 1 tbsp peanuts (salted and roasted)
  • 2-3 spring onion stalks (one-inch pieces)
  • ½ green bell pepper (medium sized – cut into cubes)
  • 1 onion (medium sized – cut into cubes)
  • ¼ tsp MSG (a.k.a. ajino moto)
  • 3 tbsp sesame oil
  • Pinch of salt (optional)
  • 2 tsp honey (optional)

Method:

  1. Mix chicken, black pepper and corn flour and set it aside
  2. Heat sesame oil in a pan and add in garlic and ginger
  3. After a minute or so, add chicken to the pan and cook for 3-4 minutes
  4. Mix in chili flakes, onion powder, garlic powder, MSG, and white pepper and let it sit for a minute
  5. Add in ½ cup orange juice and lemon juice and let it cook for 2 minutes
  6. Add soy sauce, chili sauce and vinegar to the chicken and cook on high flame
  7. Once the sauces have dried out a bit, add in peanuts, dried chilies and the remaining ½ cup orange juice to it
  8. When the juice evaporates again, add in Worcestershire sauce, chicken powder, green peppers, onions and the spring onion
  9. At this point, taste the chicken and see if you need salt (as the sauces used are already salty) or honey (if you feel the chicken is a bit on the sour side – mainly because of the oranges used)
  10. Give the chicken a good mix and turn off the flame
  11. Take out in a serving bowl and garnish with some fresh orange zest

Serve without waiting another second – make sure you have the Fried Rice ready beforehand. Any comments and suggestions are always welcome.

Enjoy!

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Names

sherlock-holmes

For those of us who find solace in fiction, Sherlock Holmes is a very familiar name. I was pleasantly surprised to find a restaurant named after him in the heart of London. Absolutely beautiful!

Chow Down Some Chicken Chow Mein

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We all love Chinese food and more often than not, rely on restaurants to satisfy our cravings. If I talk about myself, my Chinese experience is never complete without a serving of Chicken Chow Mein; it’s a no-brainer that this is one of the first things I order. This is also one of those things that most restaurants don’t get right.

My wife makes a mean Chow Mein which is universally loved by everyone in our family. If you talk about authenticity, this is a Pakistan-ized version similar to what’s served in restaurants across the country. I often hear people complaining why they are unable to prepare restaurant-style Chow Mein at home; well, here’s her secret. She cooks everything separately and assembles the Chow Mein towards the end; this not only keeps everything from turning into mush, but also gives a distinct flavour profile in every bite.

On those lazy nights when you don’t feel like going out or ordering in, what more could you want than a plate of piping hot stir-fried noodles? So here’s how you can prepare some in the confines of your own kitchen.

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Prep Time: 35 mins

Serves: 3-4 people

Ingredients

  • 300 grams egg noodles (or rice noodles, depending on your preference)
  • 150 grams boneless chicken (cut into 1 cm thin strips)
  • 2 medium-sized carrots (thin 1-inch julienne cut)
  • ½ green bell pepper (julienne cut – if red and yellow bell peppers aren’t available, use 1 green bell pepper)
  • ¼ red bell pepper (julienne cut)
  • ¼ yellow bell pepper (julienne cut)
  • 125 gm cabbage (thinly sliced)
  • 2 spring onions (one inch pieces)
  • 1 medium onion (thickly sliced)
  • 6-7 garlic cloves (crushed)
  • 4 tablespoon sesame oil (use vegetable oil if sesame is not available)
  • 6 tablespoon soy sauce with honey-like consistency (if using the watery version, double the quantity)
  • 6-8 tablespoon chili sauce (to taste)
  • 2+1 teaspoon salt (2 teaspoon salt required while boiling noodles)
  • ¼ teaspoon red chili flakes
  • ¾ teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon white vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon chinese salt (Ajino Moto or MSG – optional)
  • A pinch of sesame seeds (for garnish)

Method

  1. Set aside all ingredients before starting to work on this recipe
  2. Boil noodles as per the instructions on the box; add two teaspoon salt during the process
  3. Drain the water and let the noodles cool
  4. In a wok, stir fry all the bell peppers in ½ teaspoon sesame oil for two minutes; take it out in a bowl once done
  5. Next, stir fry the cabbage in ½ teaspoon sesame oil for two minutes; set it aside once done
  6. Stir fry the thickly sliced onion in ½ teaspoon sesame oil for two minutes; set it aside once done
  7. Stir fry the carrots in ½ teaspoon sesame oil for two minutes; set it aside once done
  8. In a sauce pan, add all the remaining sesame oil along with soy sauce, chili sauce, black pepper, chinese salt, salt, chili flakes, and half of the garlic; cook for 3 minutes till the consistency is thick
  9. Once all vegetables have been separately stir-fried, add half of the remaining sesame oil and the garlic in a wok
  10. After a minute, add the chicken and cook for 4-5 mins (or till the chicken is tender) with the lid on
  11. Add in the noodles to the chicken and stir-fry for 2 minutes
  12. Add in the stir fried vegetables one by one and mix well
  13. Add the sauce to the noodles and cook for 2 minutes
  14. Finally, add in the spring onions and turn the heat off
  15. Garnish with sesame seeds and serve immediately!

Ciao (or should I say, Chow?)!

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A Sumptuous Liwan-ese Iftaar At Al Ghurair Rayhaan: Photo-blog

For someone who’s fasting during Ramadan, Iftaar is a special moment, and what makes it more special is the company of some new-found friends over a spectacular culinary experience. I was graciously invited to a bloggers’ Iftaar at Liwan, one of several restaurants at Al Ghurair Rayhaan by Rotana, and I almost didn’t go before actually deciding to; turns out, it was a good decision.

Even though this is a photo-blog, not a restaurant review, I will not hesitate to mention that the tantalizing dessert selection is by far the best around.

Let the feast for the eyes begin!

Mong Chow: Karachi Gets A Taste of Burma

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Burma is a culture-rich country nestled between India, China, Bangladesh, Laos and Thailand. Their cuisine is as rich as their culture and I have had the pleasure of enjoying some staples and delicacies during my growing years, namely because my grandmother is Burmese. The key components of Burmese cuisine have been greatly influenced by the neighboring country’s eating habits, the most notable being India, China and Thailand. That being said, Burmese cuisine is notably different from any others you might have come across, be it the sublime taste or the rich colorful presentation. A single bite of Burmese can be hot and sweet, salty and sour, crunchy and chewy, all at the same time.

The fact that my grandmother is Burmese doesn’t make me an authority on Burmese cuisine; it does, however, give me a fair idea as to what authentic Burmese cuisine tastes like. I was recently invited to sample some food at Mong Chow, a fairly recent entrant, featuring a relatively obscure (albeit delicious) cuisine, on the Karachi food scene.

The Food

Since Mong Chow is set to open at Ocean Towers, Karachi later this year, the owner, Mrs. Fauzia Maung Khuhro, decided to open the restaurant as a ‘delivery/takeaway’ out of her own kitchen. Her daughter, Ayela Khuhro, is helping her set everything up. The mother-daughter duo invited me to their home last week for some Mong Chow and I was over the moon, as I hadn’t had good Burmese in a long time. As I stepped into the house, I was greeted by Ayela and her dog, which left me a little apprehensive, for obvious reasons. After a brief round of introductions, Ayela led me to a bright reading room of sorts with bookshelves containing priceless tomes by literary giants including Dumas, Wordsworth and Burton. The room greatly lifted my spirits and I was hoping the food would too.

We started off with a Burmese Green Papaya Salad featuring shredded raw papaya garnished with some deep fried onions and garlic, and a dash of finely chopped coriander. I was a bit hesitant to taste this salad mainly because I hate papayas, but I’m glad I tried some. Even though it was a little on the sour/tangy side, I liked it for the crunch and the freshness it had to offer. On the whole, it tasted phenomenal. I’d kill for a bottle of that dressing. I’d rate it a solid 9 on 10.

Burmese Green Papaya Salad

Burmese Green Papaya Salad

Next came the Tofu Salad featuring thin slices of garbanzo bean (besan) tofu with a light peanut-chili dressing topped off with a generous amount of sesame seeds, some fried garlic and chopped cilantro. My mom actually makes a variant of this tofu at home so I had a (tough) benchmark to compare the tofu against. The tofu on its own could have used some seasoning and still had a little bit of the floury smell typical of besan (that you need to burn off), but on the whole, it was a refreshing and filling cold salad. I’d rate it a 7 out of 10.

Tofu Salad

Tofu Salad

After what I had already been served, I was really looking forward to trying the main course, i.e. the Ohn No Khauk Suey. A variation of this dish has been passed on in my family from generation to generation and is, hands down, one of my all-time favorite dishes. Needless to say, I consider myself a bit of a Khauk Suey connoisseur and this was the perfect dish to pass my judgement on.

Ohn No Khauk Suey

Ohn No Khauk Suey

As seen in the image above, Khauk Suey can be a bit intimidating for someone trying it out for the first time, as there are a lot of ingredients that you need to combine to get a platter ideal for YOUR taste-buds. I started off with a generous amount of egg noodles and coconut-chicken curry, and garnished it with some coriander, some boiled egg, some wheat crisps, chili flakes, chili sauce, fish sauce and soy sauce. It took me a good two minutes to prepare the plate and after carefully re-evaluating my decisions, I dug in; the image below shows the final result.

The Final Khauk Suey Platter

The Final Khauk Suey Platter

The first bite transported me back to my grandmother’s kitchen. Everything sung in perfect unison and the effect it had on me cannot be put into words. Needless to say, I enjoyed every single crunchy bite of the dish and even though my stomach was full, my heart yearned for more. I couldn’t help but give this dish a 10 on 10.

The Pricing

A typical Khauk Suey serving with a Papaya salad on the side costs around 570 PKR, which is comparatively lower than what you’d be spending at a restaurant for lunch. The generous portion sizes ensure good value for money and the price is worth every single noodle, no pun intended. Below is a copy of their latest menu.

The Menu

The Menu

The Verdict

In recent years, Karachiites have developed a palette that is more tolerant to other-worldly (there; I said it!) cuisines. If you’ve never had Burmese food in your life, you’re in for a real treat. The dishes perfectly complement the Pakistani flavor profile and are ideal for lunch or dinner. If you feel like trying something different, do give Mong Chow a call and get some piping hot food delivered at your doorstep. This is one restaurant to watch out for and I know it will go places; this is just the beginning of a long and fruitful journey.

My advice to the restaurant owners is to stay consistent and keep serving mouth-watering delicacies; you’ll be living in people’s hearts (and stomachs) for years to come.

Nando’s On A Peri-licious Road To Self-Discovery

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Nando’s needs no introduction. This chain of casual dining restaurants takes Portuguese cuisine to a whole new level and proudly serves the meanest flame-grilled chicken money can buy. Starting in 1987, Nando’s now operates in around 24 countries worldwide and there’s no stopping it. The secret of its success is the uniqueness of its Peri-Peri sauce which is the base for almost everything you eat at Nando’s. What is even more interesting is the fact that Nando’s is a cuisine in its own right. “So what do you want to have today? Chinese, Pakistani, Italian, or Nando’s?”. In other words, Nando’s doesn’t have any direct competitors, at least not in Pakistan, which is a huge advantage for the chain.

I have always been a fan of Nando’s and I commend them on their consistency to provide delicious food, their tastefully decorates restaurants and their witty advertising campaigns. I associate this restaurant with a lot of fond memories and a visit there is always nostalgic. Whether it is getting together with friends after ages or celebrating my wedding anniversary, Nando’s is the best place to be. The fact that I can eat with my hands without being judged doesn’t hurt either.

In an attempt to redefine itself, Nando’s has come up with a revamped menu that incorporates most of the regular favorites while adding a bunch of new items that are sure to take your heart away. I was recently invited at a Blogger’s meetup for the launch of their new menu by my friends at Food Connection Pakistan; the evening was spectacular to say the least.

The Ambiance

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I generally visit the Nando’s that is closest to my place but in this particular instance, I was invited to the Boat Basin restaurant. As I stepped in, I couldn’t help but admire the burst of colors that surrounded me. Everything from the brightly painted wall mural to the art pieces placed all over the restaurant were mesmerizing. I was greeted by a hostess who graciously took me to my table on the first floor. On my way there, I saw some more art pieces that adorned the walls and I felt like I was walking through an art gallery. What made the experience more realistic was the fact that the artists were properly credited; impressive and something worth appreciating.

The Reception

When I approached my table, I could see that my friends were already there and I was the last one in. Ali from the Nando’s team was our host on this culinary journey we were about to embark on. As I shook hands with everyone, a waiter approached me and asked me if I wanted anything to drink. I requested a Portuguese Lemonade without missing a beat.

After we were all seated, Ali revealed the gorgeous new menus that Nando’s had designed. Featuring original artworks from South African artists, these menus are a sight for sore eyes. They are everything that Nando’s is (bright, bold and authentic) and brilliantly capture the essence of the restaurant.

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I told Ali how much I loved the look and feel of this restaurant to which he responded, “Yousuf. We at Nando’s think of our restaurants as museums, where people come to appreciate the creations of up and coming artists. This is our way of celebrating the local culture and the art that originates from here. We curate these pieces from diverse sources including students and community farms. This is what our identity is and this is what we have tried to portray in the new menu design too.”

Next, Ali took us through all the changes and upgrades that had gone into the menu.

“As you can see, we’ve added quite a few things to the menu. There are new entries in the Appeteasers section, namely the Roasted Veg Dip and Altogether Now. We’ve also tried catering to the Chicken Wing lovers by introducing wings as part of our main course. Since people love sharing Nando’s, we’ve added some platters ideal for a group of 2 to 6 people. We’ve incorporated some vegetarian options too, like the Veggie burger/pita sandwich and Caesar salad. To tie it all up, we’ve introduced Corn on The Cob, Fino sides, and Garlic Bread to make your meals even more memorable.”

All this food-talk was making me really hungry and I was sure it was having the same effect on the rest of the diners. What Ali said next was music to my ears.

“To give you a taste of our new offerings, I have taken the liberty of ordering everything for you.”

The Food

The buttery Corn on the cob was the very first treat of the night. As I bit into my ‘mild’ corn, I could sense a conflict between the corn’s natural sweetness (highlighted by the butter) and the spice from the peri-peri sauce, the sweet overpowering the spice by miles. Sensing the lack of heat and the fact that I always use the ‘hot’ peri-peri, I drizzled a few drops onto the corn and took another bite. What resulted was an explosion of taste that is hard to define in words and the combination couldn’t have been more intense. I enjoyed the rest of the corn and regretfully moved on to the next dish; a solid 9 out of 10 for me.

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Next came the Altogether Now platter, featuring a bowl of Olives, Hummus, and Roasted Vegetable Dip served with Pita Bread. The hummus, as always, was very tasty but the roasted veg dip failed to impress me much as it was a bit under-seasoned. A 7 out of 10 for me on this one.

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The Caesar Salad was a revelation. Featuring fresh lettuce leaves with a surprisingly refreshing Caesar dressing, croutons and Parmesan cheese, this dish managed to steal my heart. I would have liked a little more cheese but maybe that’s just me. I’d have it any day of the week and I’d rate this a solid 10 on 10.

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Then came the warm aromatic Garlic Bread with grill marks. I couldn’t help myself comparing this with my favorite garlic bread. Even though this bread was fresh and tasted great, I really missed that strong garlicky flavor that it is supposed to have. A reasonable 7 out of 10 for the Garlic Bread.

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Fino is Portuguese for ‘posh’ and this is the feeling these sides are supposed to evoke. While the Grilled Veg featured on the right side fail to deliver this feeling, the Sweet Potato Mash on the left hit the ‘posh’ out of the park. Nando’s redefines the concept of ‘mash’ by presenting these cinnamon-flavored chunks of sweet potato with a drizzle of your desired peri-peri heat. The sweetness hits you first when you pop a chunk into your mouth. As it progresses down the tongue, the sour, salty and spicy profiles of the potato hit you and it is suddenly transformed from ‘just a potato’ to a tantalizing delicacy. Just sitting here writing about it makes me want to rush to Nando’s and get a fix. Whereas the Grilled Veg was a disappointing 5, the Mash gets a 10 out of 10 from me.

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For the main course, we were offered a selection of one of their breaded options. We could either go for a wrap, a burger or a pita sandwich. As the other two options were Veg and Aubergine-Chicken (I hate Aubergines), I went for a basic grilled chicken breast fillet in a pita. My other friends ordered the same in burger or wrap form. The only exception was Ali, who went for the Aubergine version in a burger. I had ordered my main course with a side of wedges and I dove into them as soon as the platter was placed in front of me. The wedges, as always, were crisp on the outside, tantalizingly soft on the inside. The Pita, however, was a different story. For some reason, I have never found good Pita in Pakistan and the one being served at Nando’s is no exception. While the filling in the pita was outstanding, the Pita itself was thick, damp, and soggy, owing to the absorption of all the tasty juices from the filling; I wish I would have tried the wrap or the burger variant but it was too late and I was too full. I gave the pita sandwich an 8 on 10; had the pita been thin and dry, I would have gladly bumped it up to a 10.

When Ali offered dessert, we politely declined; if I say ‘No’ to the Nando’s chocolate cake, I have to be really REALLY full.

The Verdict

Restaurants willing to re-discover themselves and open to incorporate customer feedback are truly appreciated. Nando’s has done just that and I must say it is a bold and exciting initiative. Even though I miss the old hard-bound menu that had these ‘one-liners’ Nando’s is famous for, I’m impressed by what they have done to the menu. As with any change, there are a few hits and a few misses, but in this particular case, Nando’s delivers most of these with a bang.

As for the pricing, there are some items on the menu that fail to deliver value for money, for instance the Caesar Salad and the Grilled Veg, but overall, Nando’s pricing is consistent with a lot of other fine dining restaurants across Pakistan. A per-head cost comes up to around 600 to 800 PKR per person which is slightly expensive, but worth what you get in terms of taste. Everything tastes good with Peri-Peri and the sauce is a permanent entry on my grocery list. If  you want to get a taste of what Nando’s has to offer, I recommend you get some of their sauce and try making something around it. 

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Finally, I’d like to thank the entire Nando’s team for having us over and sharing this evening with us. The team was exceptional, professional and made sure we all had a great time!

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