The quest for Mexico City's best Chinese food
By Nicholas Gilman Original Print Publication: July, 2008
Restaurant Ka Wong Seng
Image: Julio César González
Ka Won Seng
Albino Garcia 362, corner of Av. Santa Anita, Col. Viaducto Piedad, Mexico City. Open 7 days a week until 11pm. Tel. 5538-2368. Cost: $100-150 per person.
By Metro: Viaducto
By car: take Viaducto to Eje 1 Oriente, head south on Calle Andrés Molina Enriquez to Santa Anita, and turn right—Albino García is seven blocks ahead (you’ll pass “Café Paisaje Chino,” don’t confuse the two)
When asked what we miss about the US, we usually answer "Family, friends and good Chinese food." Although thousands of Chinese workers came to Mexico in the 19th century to build the railroads, leaving their heritage of cafés chinos (equivalent to American coffee shops, nowadays serving mostly Mexican fare), it's hard to find authentic Chinese food in Mexico City. Anyone who has slogged through a meal in the DF's so-called "Chinatown" (Calle Dolores in the Centro Histórico); eaten "chao mein" that tasted like mole in roma; or paid through the nose for pseudo-Szechwan in Polanco will be happy to know that there is at least one "real" Chinese restaurant in Mexico City, with Chinese people in the kitchen and dining room.
Chilango explorer and author David Lida led us to Ka Won Seng, which he learned about from a taxi driver with a Chinese sister-in-law. The hand-scrawled note by the front door raised our hopes: "No hay comida Mexicana, café, ni pan dulce," and small signs with Chinese lettering (daily specials?) confirmed them. There is little décor beyond two large television sets-the attraction here is the food.
Dry-roasted peanuts and pickled vegetables (cucumber, jicama, and carrots) were served along with Chinese tea as we sat down. The menu is extensive, containing many dishes not found elsewhere in Mexico. To start, get the dim sum (not on the menu, and not always available), steamed or fried dumplings filled with pork or shrimp. Cold beef flavored with star anise is an aromatic and refreshing appetizer, as is gallina fina (cold steamed chicken served with dipping sauces). The soup selection includes an unusual hot-and-sour seafood version. Main courses include the usual meat (lots of viscera for the adventurous) and a superb pato rostizado estilo Guangdong (duck braised in a gingery brown sauce, showered with scallions). Pollo con nuez de la India-diced chicken, celery, jicama, and baby corn-was a mild dish where individual flavors stood out. Whole steamed fish with ginger and scallions is a specialty, fresh and perfectly done. A bubbling cazuela of berenjena con jarabe de pescado sounded odd, butwas a perfect combination of sweet eggplant strips and mild seafood sauce. Salt and pepper shrimp deep-fried in their edible shells were crispy, salty, sweet, and juicy. Vegetarian choices include tofu frío bathed in chili sauce and smothered with sesame seeds and scallions. Verdura china (bok choy) appears in many guises (perfect with chorizo chino), as do mustard greens and other seasonal vegetables like estropajo (loofa)-best to ask what's fresh. Try agua de sandia (water- melon) or a refreshingly tart limonada if you don't want beer or tea with your meal.
We recommend going with a group and sharing the ample dishes-round tables accommodate 8 to 10 people.
Nicholas Gilman is author of Good Food in Mexico City: A Guide to Food Stalls, Fondas and Fine Dining. His website is www.mexicocityfood.net
Jim Johnston is author of Mexico City: An Opinionated Guide for the Curious Traveler. His blog is www.mexicocitydf.blogspot.com The authors live in Mexico City.
Their books are available at all major online booksellers.