Chinese for Chinese: Ka Won Seng

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Early Chinese settlers built railroads and irrigation systems in the north, and worked on farms in the south. Utilizing their skills for fast cooking, some established “Café de Chinos”, the Mexican equivalent of an American coffee shop, serving up breakfast any time of day, and cooking up nominally Chinese dishes, like chow mein and chop suey. Nowadays About 10,000 Chinese nationals and many more Mexicans of Chinese decent live in the country, mainly in Mexico City, Tijuana, Mexicali and the state of Chiapas. But until very recently, there were few restaurants in the country serving traditional Chinese food made as Chinese themselves would like it done. In the capital, Asian Bay, in Condesa was the first to offer true Chinese cooking to a wide audience. Over the past few years, a handful of places have opened to specifically serve the increasing Chinese immigrant population. The community is centered in Colonia Viaducto Piedad, south of the center. In the space of a few blocks there are 7 or 8 restaurants, several specializing in dim sum, a handful of Asian food markets, even a Chinese beauty parlor, making this our new Chinatown.

Ex-New Yorker, author David Lida first led me to Ka Won Seng, which he’d learned about from a taxi driver whose sister-in-law is Chinese. The hand-scrawled note on the front door admonishes that “No hay comida mexicana, café, ni pan dulce” (we don’t serve Mexican food, coffee nor sweet rolls) thus warning “lao wai” – non-Chinese—that this is not a Café de Chino. The pan-regional menu is centered in

Canton, though there are also Sichuan options; it is extensive, with many dishes not found elsewhere. Cold beef, flavored with star anise is an aromatic and refreshing appetizer, as is the gallina fina (cold steamed chicken served with dipping sauces). Soups include a hot-and-sour seafood– that is redolent of black and Sichuan pepper. Main courses include a wide range of beef, pork, chicken and fish dishes with many ‘menudencia’ options like tripe, pork and beef belly. There’s a superb pato arrostizado estilo Guangdong – duck braised in a gingery brown sauce showered with scallions. Whole steamed fish with ginger and scallions is a specialty here, fresh and perfectly done. Berenjena con jarabe de pescado -eggplant with fish sauce- sounds odd, but does not mean that fish in in the sauce, but that it is done in a sauce meant for fish: it’s a perfect combination of sweet/tart, succulent eggplant strips.

There are many choices for vegetarians, such as cold tofu frio, bathed in chili sauce, then smothered with sesame seeds and scallions. Verduras chinas appear in many guises, perfect with chorizo chino (chinese sausage), as do mustard greens and other seasonal vegetables –best to ask what’s fresh. A wide array of dim sum is offered Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to noon. Ka Won Seng is one of the best Chinese options in the city.

Ka Won Seng Restaurante Chino
Albino Garcia 362, corner of Av. Santa Anita, Colonia Viaducto Piedad, Metro Viaducto
Open daily, 12 – 11 p.m. (Sunday until 10)
Tel. 55 5538 2368

Dim Sum 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays
Cost per person $200 – 300

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About The Author

Nicholas Gilman is a food writer based in Mexico City; he's author of Good Food in Mexico CIty: Food Stalls, Fondas, Fine Dining.