Looking for a quick Pan Asian fix? This small, cramped-up eatery is giving Karachiites an answer to just that
Housed inside the noisy hollows of Khadda Market where most eateries are equivalent to your spam filter, offering food that is mostly junk and likely to pile up your arteries with the remains of oil-drenched animal meat, is the Pan-Asian fast food diner, Chop Chop Wok. While standing outside the unassuming, bright yellow painted shop, one wonders if it’s just as filthy and dirty around the edges as its neighbours, including the likes of Indus Foods and Mirchi 360. Once inside, it is a relief to discover that it isn’t dirty but it definitely is rough.
A cramped space with walls that have been stripped down to the bare brick and then whitewashed, a seating space for no more than 20 customers at a time around small wooden tables fixed together from a lot of raw planks, and an ear-piercing open kitchen whose inmates make their presence felt to teary-eyed customers and their itching throats, Chop Chop Wok could really benefit with more insulation. But being a fast-moving kitchen based around the small-plate pan-Asian sharing concept, the owners know precisely what they are doing. And in all fairness, this is exactly why the place is almost always full.
What it loses out in breathing space, it makes up for in food - in delicious, fingerlickin, mouth-watering, Asian food that’s easy on the pocket. A filling three-course meal for two persons will cost you no more than PKR 2500 and in this day and age, that’s one hell of a bargain. From amongst the appe-teasers (simply because they delightfully tease the taste buds) the sticky chicken wings are a match made in heaven for the carnivores in you. They are a far cry from the myriad of stripped-down versions available all across the city - usually a cross between something fried and something smothered in chili sauce. The Chop Chop Wok version is a perfect balance between the two - a crispy, crunchy batter with a hint of a sticky, chili glaze.
The mains include an array of noodle bowls from across the region - Oriental, Cantonese, Vietnamese, Japanese and Pan Asian - and come with various options; you can choose from rice noodles and egg noodles or just go for garlic rice. If an overload of black peppercorn isn’t a deterrent then the Vietnamese sauce will prove appealing but if you
prefer a sweet tang then go for Cantonese,though on an odd day, it can get sugary sweet and unappetizing. Consistency in taste is something the staff at Chop Chop Wok still needs to master. That said, there is enough to savour on the menu for spice-lovers. From the flavoursome Malay rice dish Nasi Goreng, served with a juicy, soft fried egg on top, to the spicy kick and mildly bitter greens of the Thai Green Curry, the food is as good as it needs to be.
Even though expectations for desserts at a Pan-Asian fast food restaurant are not high, things perk up with sweet endings - the fried ice cream, in particular. The crispy, Snickers-like crust layered in hot chocolate syrup is the perfect beginning to the end. Crack it open and you have a moist, vanilla ice cream, thankfully not overpowering in sweetness, waiting for you to finish what makes for a satisfying meal.
To put things into perspective, Chop Chop Wok is not without flaws. On a busy weekend, the place can be just as suffocating as a rollercoaster ride for an asthma patient. Also while it’s exciting to taste the spice in your mouth, it’s no fun if it’s piercing through your eyes. If the place wishes to cater to a constant flow of customers, then they need to think in terms of expanding beyond a roadside shop.
Note to weekenders: Dining at Chop Chop Wok is no event. It’s made to make life simpler and it’s quick and casual enough to do just that.