Chinese cuisine: An experience of health. fortune and good luck

The Star visited Kuan Zhaon Argwing's Kodhek road restaurant in Kilimani

In Summary

•Large round tables are typically Chinese, round symbolises unity and luck. In the middle there are plates or food or a hotpot.

• Although China has hundreds of cuisines his one is from Sichuan in the southwest, known for spicy food, but there are mild options. .

Kuan Zhai's ambiance is simple andstunning
LITTLE SICHUAN: Kuan Zhai's ambiance is simple andstunning

Chinese food is known all over the world, but apart from Westernised Kung Pao chicken and chopsticks, most Kenyans barely know anything about multiple cuisines from many regions.

While celebrating Asian Cuisine Week which ran from July 15 to 23, The Star visited Kuan Zhaon Argwing's Kodhek road restaurant in Kilimani for a taste of ancient and modern history.

A blend of rustic architecture and a touch of African decor welcomes you to the outdoor sitting area.

Warrior, spitting toad and good luck incense.
GOOD LUCK: Warrior, spitting toad and good luck incense.

Bamboo walls, Ankara sheds and chandeliers, plants and art brings out the model of the Kuan Zhai Alley, a tourists hub in Chengdu. Sichuan, China.

Chinese artefacts welcome diners. There are room with large round tables and many chairs, circles are symbols of unity. the restaurant can seat cge tablesat least 100 people both indoors and outdoors.

The round tables are preferred for large groups, particularly in the restaurant, to permit easy sharing of food in the centre, while the square and rectangular tables are used for small groups of people.

Round tables perfect for large groups.
Round tables perfect for large groups.

The tables have a fireplace built in the middle, where clients can cook vegetables and meet in savoury broth in a hot spot.

In ancient Chinese culture, eating around a fire was a reflection of unity of will and personal ease of mind. Round dumplings, too, are a symbol of unity. 

Li Jiaxuan , the proprietor, informs us her husband started the business because he enjoys cooking.

"Having lived in Kenya for almost 10 years, you sometimes miss authentic Chinese food, with pepper as the trademark, especially in Sichuan. That is why he started this business," she said.

Li explained that Chinese people eat and share food together in bright, lighted spaces and that the restaurant targets groups.

"In the past, people living in the same neighbourhood would eat outdoors and share food. The culture of sharing food reflects a special human connection and feeling," she said.

Kuan Zhai House restaurant owner Jiaxuan Li.
MIDDLE KINGDOM: Kuan Zhai House restaurant owner Jiaxuan Li.

Over its long history, China's food culture has been passed down through the ages. Its main beverage is tea. And there's warmed rice wine, and of cours, Bai Jiu, or powerful white liquor.

Sichuan is but one of numerous cuisines.

Li recommends firewood chicken, paired with Chinese pancakes or paste corn buns, an authentic Sichuan province cuisine.

Just like its name, firewood chicken is chicken cooked over firewood. However, to maintain clean energy, the restaurant uses gas to cook the chicken.

The cuisine is delectable. It is a stimulating delicacy that has you telling stories for days to come.

The selection consists of a seasoned kienyeji chicken, stir-fried with seasonal vegetables like French beans, garlic, onions, radish, and imported freshly harvested spices for Chinese cooking, including star anise, cassia bark, black cardamom and Xinjiang cumin.

Firewood cicken ingredients
FIREWOOD CHICKEN: Firewood cicken ingredients

 Chinese cuisine defies easy characterization.

It encompasses a wide range of regional subcuisines, each defined by local ingredients, tastes and techniques.

Li informs us that Kuan Zhai’s menu is short, to ensure they are able to control the quality of each dish served.

Kuan Zhai gives their clients two options of dining where the chef either prepares the dish on your table, which is fitted with jikos. or having the chef prepare the dish in the kitchen.

The cooking items are usually pre-prepped
The cooking items are usually pre-prepped

Kuan Zhai’s open kitchen makes the experience unforgettable; you watch as the food is cooked and eat while the food continues to cook.

The firewood chicken is fried on the spot, cooked over a gas fitted in the middle of the table where clients sit around.

The ingredients are all fresh and as common with Sichuan cuisine, it's quite spicy.

Bu contrast, in Southern Guandong province, the food is milder, more subtle, with lots of seafood.

However, because of its location in a foreign country, the restaurant gives alternatives from mild to no pepper.

Ingredients include pepper, ginger, green onion, and garlic are added and many other sauces and condiments are added.

In China, the firewood chicken is cooked in the most simple way; in an earthen pot( and an earthen stove to burn firewood.



Two or more small dishes are brought to the table, boiled unsalted peanuts, salted roasted peanuts, crispy fried noodles, or similar dishes. It can be a challenge to pick them with chopsticks.

With the spices and the pre-prepped ingredients being brought to the table, clients are served black tea, salty roasted peanuts, and spicy radish and carrots on the side.

With your chopsticks in hand, the service team is ready to give you basic classes on how to use chopsticks, from picking up peanuts to finally eating the meal. An option of fork, knives, spoons or even your hand is always available.

Chef Kelvin Lugano of Kuan Zhai restaurant
Chef Kelvin Lugano of Kuan Zhai restaurant

The chef, displayed his meticulous culinary skills a wonder to clients eyes, and a stimulant to the stomach as the aroma hit the nose.

When the lid is removed, and the chef passes the common chopsticks for you to serve your plate, the celebration begins.

In line with the Chinese table manners, Li informs us that often, Chinese serve all the food in one plate; a hot pot with partitions for different food.

“You should only eat the food that is closest to you, and never reach for a piece that is on the other end of the table,” she explained.

“Hosts will serve their guests, and they cannot start eating until the host who is to share the meal arrives,” she added.

Firewood chicken and Chinese pancake
Firewood chicken and Chinese pancake

Chinese food observes the principles of feng shui (wind and water), a sysem of harmoniously arranging elements to maximise the flow of positive energy.

It's typical in oriental home arranging and location of a house in relations to water and mountains. Entrances are strategiv.

Feng shui meals are traditionally served with pepper and water is taken later cook down the 'fire' inside.

Feng shui is a practice sworn by many people, while others consider it a pseudoscience. It originated in China thousands of years ago. It is practiced throughout east Asia and in the West.

Pieces are large for easy picking by chopsticks. skilled chopstick users can easily pick up slippers oily peanuts.
ART OF CHOPSTICKS: Pieces are large for easy picking by chopsticks. skilled chopstick users can easily pick up slippers oily peanuts.

Feng shui is said to help one generate good luck, health and fortune. Underlying the practice is the principle that life-force energy (or chi-qi) that flows through a space can influence the way you think and feel.

As for manners, never use a chopstick to point at people, as it is very rude and is said to bring bad luck

It is worse to stick your chopsticks vertically in a bowl of rice, especially in Japan where that is a death rite. 

Li says you can tell a person's character by the way they hold chopsticks, high or low, or middle, but she didn't.

Middle is the safest, neither extreme.

(Edited by V. Graham)

The restaurant is accommodating for couples and large groups
LITTLE SICHUAN: The restaurant is accommodating for couples and large groups
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