Confucius say: if you drown at China Sea, you become fat.

We all ate like little big fat piggies at China Sea last week. Six people at the table, twelve dishes, bucketloads of soy sauce, and bellies that had stretched past the point where popping a button or doing a quarter-pull down on a zipper just wouldn’t have cut it. If you want to eat at China Sea, arguably one of the oldest authentic Chinese restos in Dubai, then elastic’s the only way to go.

I’m not even going to bother with my usual blog pleasantries and ramblings and unrelated stories and rants…partly because I’m lazy this week, and partly because every time I look at these photos, I get that stuffed-up happy groggy feeling. The one that makes the few oiled cogs in my brain come to a slow dragging halting pace, ch-chug…ch-chug…chhhh…UGG….until they screech to a soy-seduced grinding halt…and then my eyelids droop down to my keyboard and my fingers dangle down to my toes and all of me slumps into limp unproductivity. All that’s alive and functioning is that dang cursor on the screen, angrily blinking back at my flaccid mentally-food-drugged body, blink-blink-BLINK…until my toshiba eco-power-saver kicks in and wipes the sorry face of that angry blinking cursor off my screen and lets me lie there in happy limp sleepy dangling unproductivity.

So before THAT happens, I’m going to shove out our Chinese feast in front of you. Special thanks to the fantastic five that dozed through this line-up with me: @faridaa, shebanx@nervetoxin, Potson and Sunny D, thank you for lending me your tummies and humoring my wildly gluttonous tendencies that night.

Stack of scallion pancakes. Teenier versions than the ones I’ve eaten at other Chinese joints, and thicker too, with the same sort of crunchy flaky Indian parantha-like crust on the outside that makes scallion pancakes so irresistible. I’d have liked these with some soy sauce or maybe something like the leek chutney I had at Xiao Wei Yang, but no matter, I enjoyed mindlessly munching on them anyway. I’m sure China Sea would humor you with some sauce if you just bothered to ask them. It’s just that when there’s warm bready stuff on the table, I just instinctively transport it to my mouth. My brain may start sprouting ideas on ‘mmm, the bread would taste better with this…‘ or ‘hm, should I ask the server to heat the bread?‘ or other such somethings on how to improve the bread-munching experience. But my jaws don’t usually wait for my brain to execute the thought.

Garlicky chewy crispy fried chunks of sauced up sizzling beef with soft caramelized cloves of sauteed garlic. This is your signature Chinese dish – nothing crazy unique compared to what I’ve eaten else where, but quintessential Chinese comfort food in the absence of which my chopsticks would have felt somewhat inadequate.

So cliched, but so lickably good…sweet and sour shrimp. A pool of glistening orange shrimp half moons, crunchy in some places, mushy in others, and fat and plumpy with that deadly addictive sticky sweet and sour sauce. I don’t know why sweet and sour sauce doesn’t feature more often in my life. It really should. Maybe because it makes me super happy -> dreamy -> distracted -> lazy -> droopy -> mushy brain -> unproductive. But honestly, I think productivity is overrated. Here’s to oodles more sweet and sour sauce for all of us. And a ton of unfinished blog posts because I’m too fat and blubbery with sticky sauce to get around to doing anything useful. But at least I’d be happy. And happiness is King.

A garlicky soy heap of Mandarin chicken. This is one of those dishes that doesn’t need to make the table unless you’re really pushing for additional ways to stuff your face with the same sort of garlic-soy concoction that gets used in a bunch of other dishes. As a food blogger, it’s safe to say that I am always pushing…but for the rest of the normal dining public, this baby ain’t anything that exceptional that it’d  rock your taste buds.

The token plates of veggie fried noodles and chicken fried rice. I didn’t really give them too much importance, not because they weren’t yummy, but because the Peking Duck landed on the table right after and temporarily obliterated everything else.

See those crispy glazed chocolatey brown sheets of duck skin skirting the meat…THAT is what you’re looking for. Those caramelized bits of skin on chunks of fatty duck meat are Works of Gluttonous Art. Slop them on those thin pancakes, with a few slivers of cucumber and scallion, and some thick pastey hoisin sauce. And now you know why ugly duckling had a happy ending after all.

Now here’s a first for me, a plate of duck bones left over from the Peking Duck.

Crispy crunchy, charred brown in those bone crevices, with little bits of duck meat still clinging to the edges if you nibble closely enough. You gotta love the Chinese for maxing out on every part of the duck. If I behaved like a dog at the table, that plate of duck bones was the reason why.

I feel proud that we ordered a healthy veggie dish for the table – asparagus with oyster sauce. Super fresh, very lightly cooked tender stalks of asparagus. Mommy would be so proud of me, leafy green brownie points. YAAAY TO US.

…aaaaaand back to the real macho carnivorous baddies on the table…look at this monster.

Fried fresh crab, basking under fake Hawaiinesque palm trees with carrot leaves and grape tops. [out-of-place?/ charming?/ disturbing?/ shut it and feed me the crab will ya?]. They’ll give you the option of fresh or frozen, but fresh is the only way to go. This beauty was cooked up in a salty black bean sauce, with soft gooey crab meat falling off the shell. Even the tiny black beans had sucked up the juices and become little salty juicy pellets of soy sauced flavor.

These gelatinous chunks of ridged cuttlefish were another first for me. Exceedingly fishy at first smell, the salty chunks of sauce-drenched cuttlefish with red chili flakes and crunchy peanuts quickly grew on me. I didn’t know how a cuttlefish looked in pre-hacked and cooked state…until right this very sentence when I got temporarily sidetracked and googled cuttlefish. They’re dead fugly. Thank you Google Images for massacring the cute cuddly cuttlefish fantasy for me.

Dessert time. My true fryingpan colors came flying to the fore…gotta love deep fried Chinese desserts. I got super excited when I read about fried cream buns on the menu. Images of thick thick THICK cream impossibly battered up and deep fried into crunchy balls that you’d crack open and out gushes…CREAM…yeah, that image was throbbing in my mind. Until we got…these

Tiny little cutsie shaped buns. Maybe they’d break apart and explode like a hot volcano of cream. Maybe they’d have this thick fat cream center that wouldn’t gush out, but that you’d slowly sink your teeth into, blooop blooop blooooop. Maybe there’d be teasing streaks of cream swirled inside, so that you’d have to go hunting between the layers of bun dough to discover the creamy streams of goodness within. Or maybe…

…maybe they’d just not have any cream in them at all.

These cute but anticlimactic freshly made buns had to be torn apart and dipped into a skimpy saucer of condensed milk. No cream gushing, no pumping, no streaming, no exploding. It was all very subdued.

But what was pretty over the top and will change the way I think about comforting breakfast food altogether were these deep fried bread and jam sandwiches.

As we circled the plate around the lazy Susan in the middle of the table, each of us picking off a baby sandwich, every voice just muted itself out one by one. God this was good. Bread and jam will never be the same for me again. Never. Not after I’ve tasted these sandwiches – crunchy panko fried crust on the outside, gooey jam within, crunchy peanut halves popping out every few bites in and this unmistakable aroma of cardamom [which others on the table argued about, it was cardamom, not cardamom, something else familiar. But it’s MY blog so cardamom it’ll be.] The Chinese have taught us yet another lesson: the best thing since sliced bread is deep fried sliced bread.

I was under the mistaken notion that cups of green tea could actually save me after I’d noshed through everything  that strutted out to our table. How cute of me to think so. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING, could save me. I was drowning in sticky sweet deep-fried food coma. I could barely think or walk, I had been reduced to a plumpy waddle. Just thinking about that dinner is dragging me down into that over-fooded giddiness all over again…that feeling where I’m just drifting belly-up like an overstuffed pampered whale with glazed watery sleepy eyes in a smooth saucey sea [with deep fried peanuts bobbing about too]…bliss…droopy…whale belly folds fluttering in the wind…

…[blogger passed out and snoozing on keyboard].

China Sea
Al Maktoum Street (right after clock tower, and before the petrol station. For parking, drive past the petrol station and take the first right. You should find parking right behind the petrol station.)
Deira, Dubai
Phone: +971 (4) 295 9816

Author: InaFryingPan

With a family legacy of ingenious cooks, a nutritionist and chef-extraordinaire mother, and a father who introduced me to steak and caviar when I could barely reach the table, I had no choice but to acquire a keen awareness of food during my childhood years in Dubai. But it was only after I found myself on a college campus in Philadelphia – far away from home, too cheap as a student to spend on anything other than pizza, and with dorm rooms that had little rat-holes of kitchens if they even had them at all – when I developed a heightened appreciation of food. An appreciation of food that I once ate every night at the dinner table in Dubai, but that was now an entire ocean away. I lusted for the culinary treasures that lay outside the stale walls of my college dining hall, hijacked friends’ kitchens to try my hand at something, anything , remotely edible, and greedily raided different websites in search of highly-rated restaurants. With my move to New York to work for a consulting firm that secretly harbored self-professed foodies, my appreciation transformed into a passion, an addicition. I felt like everyone around me in New York was talking about food: where to get the best cupcakes, pizza slices, banh mi, kati rolls, pho, fried chicken, and every other food item out there that is just a plain old dish in some part of the world, but that’s become hyped to unforeseen proportions in New York. What fuelled my addiction over time was travel to different cities, both for work and play, which gave me unfettered access to the culinary havens of not only New York, but also of DC, Virginia, Chicago, Houston, Vegas, Austin, Seattle and even a little city called Bentonville (Arkansas!). After 9 years away from home, I’ve finally taken the leap to come back to Dubai – with not just an awareness, but genuine appreciation and passionate addiction for what I’d taken for granted as a child. Mom, I’m back to reclaim my seat at your dinner table, and to rediscover this city with its ever-expanding menu of international flavors.

26 thoughts on “Confucius say: if you drown at China Sea, you become fat.

  1. fabez says:

    K.I.L.L.I.N.G meeeeeeeeeeee.. I think I will go drown my sorrows in an Indo mie cup ..:) brilliant post :)

  2. Mines Davis says:

    I am shocked that you still remember how all of them tasted! Pretty darn accurate! Cheers to ur frickin’ memory! :) I actually wanted to order the sweet n sour chicken but wasn’t sure if anyone else would’ve liked it. Had I would known! *Sigh* sniff sniff………. Maybe next time…………….

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @fabez – thank goodness virtual foodie homicide is not a crime, else I would be behind bars by now! ;) no good chinese resto close by?

      @Mines Davis (who’s real name I DO know) – hahaha…if I could only remember real work and chores the same way…strategically selective memory ;)
      …and yeah, sweet and sour chicken, shrimp, beef, veggies – EVERYTHING – next time.

      @saleem – thanks as always dad! :)

  3. Sliceofmylyfe says:

    Such gorgeous photographs. I might seriously consider turning a non-veggie. How do you have the patience to click shots when everybody else must be already reaching out to grab all the food/? I have this trouble every time I go out to a restaurant and want to take pictures of the food. It is such a rushed affair and I end up clicking with my BB and the pictures come out terrible.

  4. FooDiva says:

    Oh my Arva, China Sea has now moved to the top of my wish list. Gosh I feel as if am dining with you :) The scallion pancakes, duck and the crab will be my orders for sure. Oh and maybe some asparagus. Thanks for sharing. x

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @Sliceofmylyfe – Thank you :) To be honest, I sorta do quick snapshots initially too because I would much rather dive into the food. Once everyone has a few bites in their system, then I go on to take additional shots as back ups in case the first few don’t work out. Eat shoot eat shoot eateateat. That’s the routine. ;)

      @elainegan – you’re the Asian resto queen, so I have to go with you here sometime!

      @FooDiva – oh I wish you could have come that day, really truly :( Tell me if you ever wanna go, it’s just a few steps from home for me :D

  5. abigail says:

    the pecking duck and crispy fried sandwich are just so yummy looking! and as always your description of how they taste makes me want to reach out my monitor hoping to get just one tiny bite.

  6. The Potson says:

    I am soooo glad I was there to witness history (or atleast the review) in the making.

    Also maybe I missed this, but the service deserves a special mention.

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @abigail – yeeah the duck and those deep fried sammies are a chinese ode to crisped up goodness. don’t bite the monitor, china sea is probably no more than a 20 minute drive for you lady! :)

      @The Potson – indeed, and thanks for being there o might Potson! True that, Lucy and Panda were super sweet to us, taking the time to explain the dishes and letting you buy green tea leaves. Hugs to the lovely servers.

      @ginger and scotch – true true, but still worth a try when you’re in the mood to trek over! I think you’ve tried this place haven’t you….you’re the one who told me about it?!

  7. Tomas says:

    I do go there for the traditional chinese fare. Your pictures make the food even better then it is.

  8. Brenda says:

    Arva – you are so incredibly talented at describing how food tastes. You are like a walking taste thesaurus :) I feel like a sponge when I read your posts because i want to LEARN your awesome natural skill….kudos to you. And, now I want Chinese food….

  9. meris says:

    Killing me softly! My fingers are numb with a lot of typing, but I don’t really care ’cos I wanted to tell you this. Loved the way you brought alive the whole experience so well! Man, that peking duck brings back memories of a really bad peking duck tasting at the taste of dubai. haha! but this sounds yum-yum-yum. love the captureS too!

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @Tomas – And we hear it from The Chef! Thank you for the words *ego inflating into an oversized water balloon*

      @Brenda – awww no way, thank you! I’m overwhelmed that my inane food ramblings and made-up gibberishy words actually had that effect…thank you Brenda, coming from a star blogger like you, that makes me want to swell up with deep fried pride.

      @meris – NOOOO more foodicide victims! don’t die – *sends prince charming to try and revive meris the cheesecake queen with a slice of peking duck. who needs the kiss when you have charred sauced up duck.*

  10. accordingtodina says:

    Super post.. i dreamt about ur post and each an every picture yesterday..woke up famished!!! Girl..ur love for food and photography is amazing!!I want peking duck now!!!!!! :(

  11. Kulsum says:

    dude I love reading reviews on your blog. I mean I’m not even going to eat in this places anytime soon. But I love the new ideas and flavors you talk about. Like from this review I’m totally taking away that fried slice of bread idea and going to try something similar.

  12. Yin says:

    that looks quite legit. I approve.

    That’s also one of my favorite desserts…usually they are called golden and silver buns (golden deep fried after steaming, silver just steamed)…can’t go wrong with condensed milk! Coincidentally, I also discovered a great scallion pancake place in the Bay area this weekend thanks to a friend’s recommendation.

    Peking duck…in BEIJING, go to Da Dong. It has 4 locations in Beijing by now and also serves an amazing silk tofu in saffron sauce with chestnuts dish I dream and drool about when away from my birthplace.

    As for monster crab…if you like that, check out Under The Bridge chilli crab if you’re ever in Hong Kong (also similar to above, with mounds of fried garlic/scallion flakes on top) and black pepper crab (slightly sweet…never had anywhere else)/ chilli crab (gooey chilly sauces mixed with cooked eggwhite) at First Grade Seafood in Singapore.

  13. arwalootah says:

    You made me drool! and I mean droooool!
    Those pancakes and craaaaaabs!! aaaaaah I really want to go to that place NOW!

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @accordingtodina – hehehe…sweet and sour dreams hun ;)

      @kulsum – that’s awesome, can’t wait to see your deep-fried bread recipe, can’t never have too many deep-fried sammy concoctions out there!

      @Yin – all hail the Chinese food guru! Woman, why haven’t mounds of fried garlic and scallion over crab entered my life yet?! For the one millionth and fifty sixth time, TAKE ME TO CHINA & HONG KONG. I beg you from the bottom of my tummy.

      @arwalootah – save the keyboard and drive over to the place lady :)

  14. anamika says:

    Why didn’t I meet u babes before…would have discovered and devoured these yummy stuff so long ago..ironically in m few trials at Chinese stuff in Dubai, they were all errors only..but there’s always a next time!!

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @anamika – True dat. Confucius say, there is ALWAYS a next time.

  15. vindaloo queen says:

    this looks my kinda place! I’m so excited to see scallion pancakes as I have not had these since I left Liverpool and couldn’t find em anywhere else in the UK; Dubai has them- has to be a sign from above! Did you investigate the karaoke booths upstairs?
    Those sandwiches are amazing… what a foodie discovery!

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      vindaloo queen – loove em scallion pancakes, though I must say I have had better ones at Xiao Wei Yang on Baniyas road. Still have to check out the karaoke booth…searching for partners (victims)…I’m guessing you’d be up for it? ;)

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