Thursday, January 26, 2012

Karaiya Spice House: Hoowah to Hunan!

The bright lights of Sanlitun Village (or "Saannliturrrrr" as per our beloved Beijing taxi drivers) at first seemed tacky to me. I love old buildings, small lanes and charms of a former world. Home to everything mainstream trendy and designer, I quickly wrote off the area as worthwhile for a quality bite. But Asia is different like that: the shiny malls often have the restaurants worth visiting. As each weekend passed, I found myself down at the Village (as coined by my fellow laowai 老外, foreigners) and frequenting the obvious spots (Nali Patio, Apothecary, 1949 and D Lounge nearby. Uh-huh I'm only human too).

(image from Sanlitun Village)

Like many others within the Village, Karaiya Spice House's food lives up to it's good looks. And it's very good-looking. 

From what I've had, Hunan's spiciness is sweeter and more rounded than the Sichuanese in-your-face-volcanic-smackdown. I completely loved their spicy clams which had a hint to tomato and were firm and juicy.

Whilst it doesn't look exciting, the Chinese cabbage was sweet, salty from soya sauce and it's gravy just a perfect rice-coating consistency.

Looking similar to the Sichuan Shui Zhu Yu 水煮鱼 (water-boiled fish), the Hunan version was more herby and much less tingly. Fish tends to be done really well here, every morsel was soft and delicate.

Karaiya always surprised me with what I would class as side dishes: case in point, this was THE BEST STEAMED EGG EVER. I felt like I was dipping intsavoury creme caramel as the egg beckoned with  ladylike wobble and was as light as a feather. On another visit I had a fabulous tofu dish: cylinders of agedashi-eque tofu served on crispy rice crackers and dribbled with a spicy sauce.

Other must try dishes: baked fish with dry spices (which I never personally had but told by a reliable source was hao ji le 好极了 (awesome!), bullfrog (which I actually think is like scallop in texture) and any of the vegetable dishes. Dear Karaiya, you've taught me Hunan. I am now always in search of your splendour.

On average 4 dishes and a bottle of wine between 2 comes to under RMB200 per person. Karaiya is also sister to Japanese knock-out restaurant Hatsune, also in the Village.

Karaiya Spice House
3/F, Bldg 8, The Village at Sanlitun
19 Sanlitun Road, Chaoyang District, Beijing
三里屯路19号The Village南区8号楼

And when in the area, you must also try:

81 Sanlitun North Street, 3/F Nali Patio, Sanlitun Village

(For beautiful cocktails, their mixologists are PROPER. My favourite cocktail in all the world is their Secret Earl Grey Martini)

Noodle Bar 面吧
At 1949- The Hidden City. Courtyard 4, Gong Ti Bei Lu, Chaoyang District
(Technically not in the Village but not far, behind the Sanlitun Soho complex. See chefs pull huge lumps of dough, smacking them against the counter. They magically become threads of elegant noodles. Served with beef brisket, other bovine treats and swimming in a hearty broth, it's a sweet little spot)


Sean said...

the food looks gorgeous and absolutely world-class, but what intrigued me the most in this entry was the mention of the Secret Earl Grey Martini! :D

Hungry Female said...

I really long for this food!

Secret Earl Grey Martini, oh Sean it's beyond compare. Served in a daiquiri glass, the foam and cocktail has a smoky, sour, citrus hint all so characteristic of Earl Grey. The bar makes their own infusions, I've never had a bad cocktail there;)

missyblurkit said...

awesome clams...and they are making me salivate after missing out on clams last night:-(

secret earl grey martini? that's something i have not seen in kl...or eprhaps i have not looked hard enough.

Hungry Female said...

Their fish and shellfish is very well done here!

I've not heard of an SEGM either in KL - somewhere like Tate at The Intermark would be my bet on finding well-made, uber cocktails:)

missyblurkit said...

will have to check out Tate's when I head in there soon...

Baby Sumo said...

The spicy clams looks so delicious!