Pekin Restaurant, building a nest in Quito

29/Julio/2011 | 15:28


If there is one gastronomic tradition that permeates almost all corners of the world (aside from American fast food), it is undoubtedly Chinese cuisine.  Chinese restaurants are ubiquitous around the globe.  In all major cities (and many  smaller ones) take out menues invariably include chaulafan, wonton soup, egg rolls, and sweet and sour something.

What the Chinese have accomplished with their cuisine is due not only to the mass migrations of Chinese people, but to their ability to adapt their food to local products and ingredients.  The Chinese food that one eats outside of China often has been altered, sometimes very subtly, so as to appeal to local appetites.

What we think of as Chinese food is generally Cantonese food, from the Province of Canton – a name given by the English to the province of Guandong in southern China.

Juan Chu, founder of Pekin Restsaurant in Quito, is originally from Guandong and he explains that, "China is a huge country and the food varies a lot…the food in the south is very different [from the north].  Food from the north is very spicy.  The food in the south is very smooth and light, and [the food] from the north is heavy." He adds that  Chinese people generally  like to divide their plate evenly between proteins and vegetables.

Pekin Restaurant  is an example of the cultural adaptation the Chinese people make to present their cuisine to a new public.  When Pekin opened their doors 36 years ago few options for Asian cuisine existed in Quito.  For that reason, Juan's son, Javier Chujon, who runs the Pekin operation today, says that in the beginning about 40% of their clients were Japanese or other Asians who had limited options for traditional Asian food.

Over the years, that number has reduced considerably due to the popularity of Asian food and the expansive number of Asian restaurants now found throughout the city.  But Pekin Restaurant still values its Asian clientele, often preparing them traditional dishes not found on the menu or utilizing native products that generally do not appeal to Ecuadorian tastes.

For the Oriental Client

 Though they have a number of trained cooks, Juan Chu, who at  nearly 80 years of age  still retains a vast culinary knowledge and prepares meals for special delegations that dine at  Pekin Restaurant. 

A popular dish in China, which also has its appreciation among some Ecuadorians, is "pichon," or pigeon.  Juan finds it in the San Roque marketplace and has more than one way to prepare it.  To the uninitiated it may sound unappealing - a small bird with little meat.  But what it lacks in volume, it more than compensates with flavor.

Another dish popular with the Chinese is "buche de pescado," (fish stomach) which is prepared with shrimp in  crab sauce, or as a soup, also  utilizing shrimp and crab.  In both preparations the buche is fried and then cooked in water to give it a soft, spongy texture. 

As a main dish, shrimp and parsley are added to the buche before steaming it.  A sauce of crab, chicken consume, and egg whites give it the final flavor and  texture.

For the Ecuadorian Diner

These dishes, though popular with Asian clientele, are exceptions to what Pekin Restaurant prepares daily for Ecuadorian clients.  Javier and wife, Veronica Borja, say by far the most popular dishes  include  chaulafan, chicken with nuts, and sweet and sour fried chicken. 

Sweet and sour has been liberally adapted as a condiment to many dishes for which it was not originally intended.  "In the beginning we offered it only with wontons, but clients love to eat with other plates," says Javier.

Another very traditional Cantonese meal is duck, particularly Pekin Duck.  Famous throughout the world, it is part of the menu at Pekin Restaurant, served with small crepe-like tortillas and a special sauce.

There are no Pekin ducks in Ecuador, but there are species raised locally in Guayllabamba and the San Rafael valley.  They are not as plump as a true Pekin Duck, says Juan Chu, but can be just as delicious. 

Javier adds that Pekin duck today in Quito is much tastier than it was even a few years ago.  He displays a jar of sauce, the label sprinkled with Chinese characters, but inserted with the English letters, "Red Bean Curd."  He explains, "This is part of the preparation, but until five years ago we did not have it."

With the passage of time a wider array of Chinese products and accompaniments have become available in Ecuador, making Chinese food more authentic.

Authenticity, though, is not always necessary if you are not in China.   Javier says they can now find certain vegetables in the marketplace that are very traditional, but they utilize them only for Asian clients who make reservations in advance.  Otherwise, local ingredients are more than adequate.

One final plate deserves mention.  The "Nido Fénix" or "Phoenix Nest," is a traditional Chinese plate of noodles shaped in the form of a nest, filled with vegetables, chicken, and quail eggs.  In Quito, Pekin Restaurant prepares the nest with that most Andean of ingredients the potato, not only because of its local identity, but also because of its  practicality - it is easier to shape the next with potato than with noodle.

Pekin Restaurant is located on Whymper 300 & Av. Orellana.  For reservations or take out, call 250-4984, 223-5273, or 289-4913.  They are open Monday-Saturday, 12-3:30pm and 6-10pm and  Sundays, 12-8:30pm.  

Soups and starters average $6.00 and most main dishes are $8-10.  Pekin Duck (half duck) is $19.20, while the Phoenix Nest is $8.30, taxes and service included.

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Tags : Restaurants  Quito  dining out 

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lbrashear - en Diario HOY - Noticias de Ecuador.