When Shang Liqiang first came to Kenya in 2015 he had no plan to become a restauranteur. “His thing is real estate,” explained Shang’s friend, Lin Qi.
But once he was offered the opportunity to become a major shareholder in The Macau restaurant, Shang gave it a second thought. “Seeing as most [Chinese] businessmen like doing deals over a hearty meal and a good glass of something, Shang decided to buy in,” Charlie Yang Chi, another one of Shang’s friends, tells the BDLife.
So while his main business deals are related to real estate, most of them are arranged over dinner and drinks at The Macau. Named after the port city on the southern side of China, the restaurant mainly serves southern Chinese cuisine, especially fish, be it shrimp, lobster, grouper, or crab.
In our case, we started by being served Green Tea, followed by a big bowl of baby lotus roots. The bowl was placed on a large circular plate that whirled around clockwise and centred atop a larger round table.
“We like to come out to eat in groups so we can share our orders,” Charlie says.
The lotus roots are considered a delicacy and a ‘cold dish,’ made by one specific chef who specialises in cold serving. That included the next platter which arrives. It is filled with black mushrooms (they are called fungus) and served with asparagus leaf lettuce; all heavenly food for vegans and vegetarians.
But as our friends Lin and Charlie are meat eaters, they are pleased to see the deep fried Shrimps arrive, followed by a ‘dim sum’ serving of Spring Rolls made with pastry that is so light and delicate, I am tempted to eat two or three.
That would have been a mistake, however. The main courses are just about to arrive on the glass tray that revolved atop our round table. First, the servers come as two big platters of fried crab meat and fried crab bones!
“We never want to waste any part of the animal that we’re eating,” Charlie explains. “So once the bones and shells are removed from the fish, we also boil and fry them separately in seasoned breadcrumbs. That way we still can savour the flavour of the fish,” he adds.
After that comes an even bigger platter filled with Grouper, a white fish very much like tilapia only slightly chewier but just as sweet. The fish has been grounded atop a heap of silky-thin glass noodles and seasoned with spring onions, coriander (dhania) and black mushrooms.
What I discovered is you need to make clear to the chefs at the outset whether you like spice, and whether it’s a little or a lot, or none at all. Real Chinese food as we are being served is made with wonderful spices that are not necessarily hot (as in hot pepper). But if you want hot, you can easily get it.
The four chefs at The Macau are one of the reasons the restaurant is so special. “They all had to audition and be vetted before they were invited to come directly from China to work at The Macau,” Charlie says as he translates for Shang who doesn’t speak either English or Kiswahili. He explains that even at his school, authentic Chinese food is prepared, but it is by Kenyans who have been taught. “They may be excellent, but there is still a difference if you have grown up with the spices and other ingredients that are essential to Chinese cooking,” he says.
Lin adds that there is a cold dish chef, a hot dish one, a pastry chef and a man who specialises in grilling everything from duck and goat to chicken and beef. I forget to ask which one of them makes the fresh tofu that Shang serves every day. It melts in your mouth. It’s also the perfect mouth cleanser if, as I did, you accidentally bite into a hot red pepper or take too much wasabi in the soy sauce.
Finally, just as we imagine we cannot take another bite because our tummies are full, Shang sends us Lobster Sashimi which we haven’t anticipated. Lin reminds us that sashimi is a Japanese term, not indigenous to the Chinese. But since all cuisine (cooking) is global, we have to take this chance to taste since we may never get to taste Lobster sashimi dipped in wasabi and soy sauce again.
Beware the wasabi!