China Village- Chilean Chinese for two

Chinese food in Chile varies widely from downright awful to quite good. China Village is among the very best.

By Margaret Snook, December 21, 2009

Let’s face it, going out for Chinese is the most fun in a group of say 8 people, so you get to order about 6 great dishes and all get to try everything. But there are times when those other 6 people are nowhere to be found and we end up with “ganas” for Chinese and the two of us go on our own. But the thing is, he’s a vegetarian and she (that would be me) is a carnivore. So… 2 dishes, skip the apps. He shares, but snubs her meat-infested fare… she wins…

There are hundreds–perhaps thousands–of Chinese restaurants in Chile, and the more “humilde” the neighborhood, the more there are. It makes sense. Since the dishes are served family style and you don’t need to order something for everyone, a crowd can eat cheap.

China Village in La Reina  is our favorite, in large part because it’s closest to the Chinese I know from home. I was appalled the first time I went to a Chilean-Chinese restaurant in the early 1990s and every dish we ordered was the same color brown. Yuck. No crisp and colorful vegetables, no bursts of flavor, just overcooked, mushy gook. My husband couldn’t understand what I was complaining about until he went to Chinatown in New York… Ahhh! That was an eyeopener!

There are plenty of anthropological studies about the ways that Chinese food adapts to local cultures (see, for example, The Globalisation of Chinese Food, by David Wu), and although we think we know what it is, what we find is a local interpretation based on available ingredients and tastes and foodways that are acceptable in the new cultural context.

China Village has the most varied menu of any I’ve seen in Chile. Hot and sour soup is on the list (and delicious), for example, although no Kung Pao Chicken (Schezuan) or General Tso’s Chicken (that’s a North American dish anyway) or Moo Shu Pork (northern China), but there is still plenty that breaks away from the typical “Mongolian beef, chicken, pork” and Chop Suey standards found in Chile. Call ahead and you can order Peking duck with the works. (If anyone knows where to find Schezuan in Chile, please let the rest of us know!)

We got there fairly late, about 10:30, and the place was packed. Within minutes our waitress approached us (the daughter of the Chinese chef/owner Feng Shen Pan, I believe) and we were immediately impressed by her friendly, professional, and very helpful manner. Service is often an issue here in Chile, and many places could learn a thing or two from her.

We asked for a pisco sour “seco” (that’s dry, and I always add “not sweet” because many places confuse dry with strong). We got strong and sweet, made with powdered sugar, which I always find has an unpleasant bitter aftertaste (sugar in Chile is another topic altogether. For now let’s just say that not all sugar is created equal).

The vegetarian in my life ordered the spectacular “berenjena con jengibre” (eggplant with ginger) that comes  ablaze in aluminum foil. It makes quite a sight and of course, all heads turned to our table, though no one dared to ask… The dish is truly delicious, the eggplant is tender but not mushy, the ginger is subtle, and the  flavors rich and slightly smoky.

I ordered the house special  Schezuan-style beef dish. The menu suggested asking for it served spicy, which I did, but alas… it was not to be. It was rich and flavorful, though nary a pinch of ají (chili, pronounced ah-HEE) to be found, and the nearly raw onions were a bit overpowering for my taste and got pushed aside. White rice for me; “chaufan” (fried) for him. He raved  at all the bits and pieces of vegetables and egg, and “look!  the grains are nice separated, just the way I like it.”  Never been one of my favorites. Chileans love rice with “stuff” in it (carrots, peppers, etc); I prefer my rice stuffless, and I want my Chinese rice to stick together enough that I can eat it with chopsticks.

We ordered a half bottle of Casillero de Diablo Cabernet, reasonably well served by another very “canchera” (adept and professional) waitress, although even though I’m the one who ordered the wine, she automatically addressed the service show to my husband. (As a sommelier, I’m a stickler for service issues).

The place itself is agreeable enough. It certainly isn’t the gaudy bright red and dragon decor so often found in Chile’s Chinese restaurants, but don’t expect a cozy romantic setting either. It’s bright and busy, and usually packed, especially weekends, but it’s clean and pleasant.

The prices are reasonable. We chose two of the more expensive dishes on the menu and the bill was still only about $20,000 before tip.

There are two locations:

La Reina: Salvador Izquierdo 1757  Phone: 277-7499
Mauqehue: Manquehue Sur 1022   Phone: 229-0362

13 Comments

Filed under Food, Restaurants

13 responses to “China Village- Chilean Chinese for two

  1. Jim

    Thanks for introducing us to China Village. The eggplant with ginger was excellent (as you said) and the pork with bamboo shoots and algas, and chicken with mushrooms were good, if not remarkable—more veggies would be good. There is ma po tofu on the menu, and everyone else seemed to be ordering something that came out sizzling on hot cast iron platters; fajitas Chinas estila Chilena?

    • Glad you liked it! We don’t get there often enough, so I’m not familiar with the entire menu, but so far it’s the best Chinese I’ve found. Have also heard good reports about Danubio Azul, but can’t speak first hand (yet). Hmm.. Sizzling Chinese fajitas? Sounds like further investigation is called for!

      • Jim

        A China Village update: they have a new “tasting menu” for two which includes 2 generous starters, an eggplant dish and a pate; two main dishes, a choice of a Szechuan or a Cantonese chicken dish and a steamed filet of congrio in black bean sauce, plus two bowls of rice, all for 16,500 CLP or so. Clearly the best Chinese meal I’ve hand in Chile. We met a young Chilean-Chinese woman on the way in, presumably from the owner’s family, and commented that we like the China Village because they use ginger, garlic and chili as the should be used—with a free hand. Something we had severely missed in other Chilean Chinese restaurants. She was pleased, and today’s meal was absolutely first rate, and gingery and garlicky when it should be.

      • Hi Jim- Thanks for the update! I’ll definitely check out that menu! I really miss Szechuan in Chile! And yes, the chef-owner’s daughter is always on-hand running the front of the house!

  2. Claire

    Mr. Wu is my (and many chinese/taiwanese’s)favorite restaurant here in santiago. It serves genuine chinese food, but you have to ask for the menu for chinese (instead of the menu for local chileans, with chapsui and all the stuff). The owners are from Shanghai, and the food is absolutely divine (for us asians at least). Here’s the address and phone number: Abate Molina 218, Santiago, 6896666.

    Hope this helps!:)

    • Hi Claire- Thanks for sharing this info!
      We recently discovered Mr. Wu and were very impressed! The place itself is nothing to brag about, but the menu holds an amazing array of new dishes to discover! I can’t wait to go back and try more!

      • Claire

        Btw we just discovered a new place in comuna La Florida, serving amazing dimsum as well as chinese food. They have really yummy dessert (egg tart) as well. It’s called “Shing shung”, tel: 2622601, add: av. vicuna mackenna 8835. This place is a bit far away if you live around providencia/centro, but it’s really genuine as well. Hope this helps!:D

      • Great! I’ve heard of this place, but didn’t know exactly where it was. I’ve heard that that’s where the people who work in Chinese restauants go to eat after work! Will try it soon and report back– Thanks again!!

      • Jessica

        Hi, I lived in Chile for many years, I am now in US enjoying the better Chinese food. For the many years in Chile, China Village is the only Chinese restaurant I would consider as Chinese food. Good choice for choosing the authentic Chinese restaurant!🙂

      • Hi Jessica- Glad you agree. China Village IS very good… and I’ve since discovered a few other places that do a good job as well, such as Mr. Wu, which Claire mentioned.
        I was just in the US and went out for an incredible Chinese meal–mostly Szechwan–and not a single dish I have ever seen on a menu in Chile… it was heaven!

  3. Pingback: Chile’s Culinary Front: the Best of 2010 « Tasting Chile

  4. Sofia

    Jeje, Mr. Wu and Shuen-shing are both the only places that my family goes to, and we are Chinese. Oh actually there’s another place which I dont remember the name and it’s like 5 min. drive from Mr. Wu which is also good and it’s more Cantonese. The only reason that we ever go to China village is for it’s Peking duck which… I would never ever consider a real peking duck but it’s probably the closest one could find here in Chile other than make it at home. By the way, Shuen Shin is not as good anymore cus their chef split!

  5. Hi Sofía- Thanks for the datos!
    We tried going to Mr. Wu at 10 pm one night and they were already closing up! Am I right in thinking that Chinese people eat earlier than Chileans?
    And I’ve never heard of Shuen-shing–where is that?? We’d love to try it!!

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