Behind the Great Wall!

CHOICES, choices and more choices face the casual diner—especially a singleton—when visiting any of Harare’s burgeoning number of Chinese restaurants.

Eating out with Dusty Miller

Once yearly I get round this by holding one of the monthly get-togethers of my luncheon club at Great Wall, now almost a veteran on the local Cantonese restaurant scene, on East Road and asking the ever charming, ever smiling manageress “May” (could that be Anna-May Wong?) to serve her US$15 banquet multiplied by the number of members and guests present.

Great Wall’s great graze just keeps being served in never ending tasty, spicy, sizzling tranches, with double, sometimes triple, helpings of anything especially liked that day.

I’m also leader of Soupaholics Anonymous and calling at GW on a sudden impulse last week was faced with unlucky 13 options of this starter all priced reasonably at either US$3 or US$4 for a generous helping. In fact so generous is the serving that it would feed at least two.

I decided years ago that sharks’ fin soup — at least as served in Africa — isn’t much cop and I don’t think I’ve ever tried their “thick soup of minced beef and egg”. Wonton soup is a favourite (wontons are something between a dumpling and ravioli) but is very filling. Hot and sour soup is excellent at GW; I also enjoy it at Tandoor, the first floor Indian restaurant at Sunrise Sports Club.

Chicken noodle soup is generally believed, especially among Jewish mommas, to cure everything from common colds to the Big C. Great Wall serves it, chicken and mushroom soup and the more-ish chicken and sweetcorn I often order.

They also specialise in beef noodle and seafood noodle soup, the latter which I can thoroughly recommend. Vegetable soup can’t have much wrong with it, especially in a restaurant which cooks vegetables so well.

Typically Chinese
I was torn between Thai seafood soup and the much more typically Chinese seafood and seaweed soup.

To be honest I can’t say I’m totally hooked on seaweed: especially as much of it resembled the sort of thick, slimy, green algae you find in tropical fish aquaria with too powerful a lamp switched on. But I didn’t leave any!

It comprised a clear steaming, hot, tangy broth; seafood was mainly chunks of line fish, but there was the odd tiny shrimp to be enjoyed; finely diced and sliced green vegetables of which one was definitely spring onion…and seaweed!

Seaweed has been part of the diet of Chinese, Japanese and Korean people since prehistoric times; there’s a renewed interest (mainly for health reasons) in resurrecting seaweed on the plates of folk in Ireland and Ulster, but it won’t be on my shopping list!

Probably a glutton for punishment, I ordered seafood chow mein (“chawmein” on the menu) as a main course. Thankfully no seaweed or algae lurked under a massive pile of wonderful soft noodles cooked perfectly al dente.

There was a splendid sufficiency of a white fish, still with skin on (which I don’t mind). Bearing in mind the herbs and spices used in Chinese cooking, it could have been prosaic Kariba bream (tilapia), but somehow I thought not. And the odd smallish prawn and a few tiny shrimps, mussels and a bit of squid (or was it octopus?…I write this five days after the event.) It was truly wonderful value at US$8.

Which, oddly, makes its accompanying dish: vegetable chop-suey, inexplicably relatively dear at US$6, when all it contained was vegetables; albeit a wide selection of Zimbabwe’s finest, lovely, young, fresh, tender veg… but six-bucks is an awful lot of loot for rabbit food.

Stir-fried
I wondered if they’d missed something out. I’d expected more noodles, or sometimes this Chinese-American dish comes with rice, the whole lot stir-fried in a tasty broth thickened with corn-starch
As it happened, it didn’t matter, because I certainly couldn’t have eaten much more at lunch, but other diners may be disappointed if my helping proves typical.

I could, however, manage pudding and, again, I was in for a surprise, but this time a very pleasant one. Because, over the years, I have criticised Great Wall verbally and in reviews for only offering the sort of cheap and cheerful tinned fruit salad you’d probably pack for a camping holiday or fishing weekend, I didn’t think of again ordering that dish.

So I went for the old Zimbabwean stand-by, the ubiquitous ice-cream and chocolate sauce and there was absolutely nothing wrong with it. But my waiter slipped on to the table another sweets platter, which took advantage of the really delicious fresh fruits we are lucky enough, here, to see in our supermarkets and farmers’ markets every day of the year.

It comprised simply water melon, pineapple, diced apple and a handful of sweet red seedless grapes. I felt a mixture of pride…because this is the sort of dessert I’ve been urging GW to offer for years and guilt, because I really was now not the slightest bit hungry. But I couldn’t hurt the delicious May’s feelings, so forced myself to eat at least half of the colourful helping.

My original bill was slashed by US$13, when I protested that one item for that amount didn’t seem to tally with anything I’d ordered or eaten, leaving a bottom line for soup, two mains and pudding (enough food for two covers) and two Golden Pilsener Lagers of US$25.

Following the thatched restaurant’s extensions in two or three directions, it’s now huge and seems to have lost much of the ambience I used to enjoy, but service is snappy and cheerful, food well cooked and more than plentiful, prices reasonable. Child and handicapped friendly. Pleasant background music. Fully licensed with well-stocked bar. Safe guarded parking on the premises and at the roadside opposite.

The Great Wall, 84, East Road, Avondale/Belgravia (near REPS Theatre). Tel 334149.
dustym@zimind.co.zw

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