Monday, June 11, 2012

Chinese food in Helsinki

Similar to when we were in Estonia, before my sister left Helsinki she wanted to see what Chinese food in Helsinki was like. I agreed, figuring it would be nice to know if there was any familiar home food to be found, and away we went to a place I've spotted many times on my nights out but had never actually been to: Tang Dynasty.

As we approached and looked at the menu posted outside, we noticed that it actually isn't just a Chinese restaurant. Not only is a buffet, it is a Chinese-Japanese buffet. You can pay to just have the Chinese portion, or for a little bit more, get the Japanese with the Chinese. In plainspeak this means stir fries, or stir fries with a small sushi selection. My sister and I were and always have been, wary of sushi at buffets, so we chose to just have the stir fry selection.

And stir fry it was! Chinese buffets are hardly ever a letdown and this was no particular exception. It wasn't the best Chinese buffet I'd ever had in my life, but it certainly wasn't the worst. The restaurant had a surprising amount of Chinese people in it, actually, and my sister and I wondered if they were tourists or actual residents (I do see a fair amount of Asian people 'round town everyday...and by fair amount I mean like one a day or so...which usually involves awkward acknowledgement but luckily no interaction or meaningless attempts at friend-making because "we are the same"...much appreciated).

Anyway, back to the food:

Not a huge selection, but what was there was 3/4 good. :) Starting from next to the chopsticks and going clockwise: chow mein, beef with bell peppers and celery, chicken with bamboo (bamboo was very salty), garlic green beans (frozen again...must be just how they get them here), stewed vegetables (exceptionally salty and mostly boiled), curry beef, and sweet and sour chicken. Mostly what was disappointing was the saltiness of most of the veggies. Strange, since most of those veggies would have been fresh or canned, so salting should have been minimal.

One thing though, that was absolutely amazing (and that my sister went back for seconds for), was the fried chicken (with optional sweet and sour sauce):

Hilariously like a donut with chicken in the middle. Really light fluffy tempura-like batter with chicken in it. Pleasant and very light. Tasty! :)

Overall I give this place a B/B-. Convenient and relatively cheap, espeically for lunch (it was like 8euros or so for the Chinese lunch buffet, 12euros if you bought the Japanese additions). Not exactly a taste of home but getting closer.

Luckily my second taste of Chinese food in Helsinki was more successful. It was a little place a bit further from the center of town, but still not far away, called Nanking.

I had lunch on the weekend here, so it was pretty empty when we arrived. It was surprisingly cute on the inside, especially considering how small it was on the outside. They obviously spent a lot of money on the atmosphere, and I'm glad they did:

Their food is appropriately more expensive as well. They did have a sweet weekend lunch special where you could get an appetizer (eggrolls or some sort of soup I believe), a choice of one of three entrees, then a dessert (it was fried something with icecream) for 14-15euros, but I was decidedly not that hungry and decided to opt for just a normal dish, as did the person I was with:

Beef with mushrooms, ordered from the Nanking specialities section of the menu. I was not disappointed - it was like something I would make for myself at home, just a little bit better. Fantastic! I'd finally found a place that makes legit Chinese food. The waiter and host were actually Chinese as well - it was clear they only spoke Chinese and English...they didn't even speak Finnish! (This confused the person I was with because they tried to order in Finnish only to be spoken to in English, much to their chagrin).

The sauce was rich and flavorful and the perfect smooth consistency. All of the ingredients were cooked just right and the quality of them was great. I loved my dish. Pretty sure I will enjoy eating the leftovers even more.

Luckily my companion loved their dish as well - they ordered sweet and sour chicken:

Surprisingly battered and fried, but not in the bad way. I thought the chicken pieces were a little bit salty but they thought they were awesome, so power to them I suppose. :) 

Overall this place was a jewel and I'm so glad I found it. A little more expensive, but not outrageous in the scheme of Helsinki food prices - 13-15euros per dish, which is normal. Totally worth it, and a place I will definitely be coming back to. Grade: A-. The only reason it gets the minus is because the chicken was a tad bit salty and I am leaving a little wiggle room for error and the possibility of finding an even better place.

Thanks, Helsinki. You've renewed my faith in the possibility that I can find good Chinese food within your city bounds.

Food adventures, ho!

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