When it comes to global cuisine options, the Pakistani palate is quite a difficult anomaly to understand. We like our food adjusted to our taste than the actual way it needs to be. Thus, it’s no surprise that for ages, the myriad of cuisine we’ve found around the country – especially that of the oriental type – has been more of our interpretation than the reality. However, it seems there’s finally some change in the air, as authentic Chinese restaurants like Long Cheng pave their way into the market.
Nestled in a relatively obscure alley in Karachi’s Defence Housing Authority’s Khayaban-e-Ittehad area, Long Cheng is an unmissable site from the main road as classic large Chinese lanterns indicate the restaurant’s existence from afar.
Inside, the same theme of classic Chinese decor takes over, as the restaurant – which is divided amongst various floors, dining areas, and private dining rooms – provide the patrons with a soothing mix of red and bamboo brown interiors, which works as the perfect amuse bouche for the experience even before the food arrives.
Settling for our own private dining room, we were escorted to the first floor, where a classic Sichuanese dining table experience awaited us; it was complete with a turntable top, long-list menus, and a bell to call in a server at our ease.
Settling in quickly and choosing to order from a menu which can give the population of China competition with the sheer number of items it has on the list, we chose to go for an authentic Chinese experience and selected West Lake Soup, Steamed Dumplings, Dry-fried String Beans, Sautéed Vermicelli with Minced Beef, and the Sliced Beef and Ox Tongue in Chili Sauce from the menu.
Starting off with the Chinese tradition of serving palate-cleansing beverages before the meal, we were offered jasmine infused green tea as our soup and dumplings arrived. While the soup – which is a mix of diced beef, fresh mushrooms and eggs – was packed with the right amount of umami-inducing broth, the dumplings were popping with savoury Sichuanese flavoured meat and spices which made for a great start to the meal. Plus, if nothing else, the fact that one could get a serving of 16 dumplings for less than PKR 1000 is a big steal.
Adding onto the pleasant experience, the Dry-fried String Beans and Sautéed Vermicelli with Minced Beef also served as two of the most unique dishes served at the restaurant. Long gone are the days of boring vegetarian choices with almost no seasoning, and Long Cheng proves it. Stir-fried with the right amount of fragrantly tingling Sichuan peppers, the string beans were a delight to devour. On the other hand, the Sautéed vermicelli provided the right amount of subdued flavouring, which made us appreciate the delicate taste of the vermicelli and minced beef more.
Infused with a pungent taste of cumin and peppers, the beef and ox tongue are surely not to everyone’s tastes. However, for anyone who appreciates the sheer intensity and intricacy of Chinese cuisine, there can be no other better option. Bringing in just the right amount of spice levels without overdoing it, the beef tongue might just be our favourite item on Long Cheng’s menu.
Ending the meal on a high note, we were left thoroughly amused by two things. First, how economical the meal here can be in comparison with going to other ‘pan-Asian’ oriental restaurants, and secondly, the fact that Karachi finally has opened up to authentic cuisine, in this case perhaps to cater to the thousands of Chinese citizens that have moved to Pakistan for development projects.