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Behind the Great Wall!

Why did you go to such-and-such a restaurant precisely when you did? is a question I’m often asked by people who seem to like to interrogate restaurant reviewers.

Report by Dusty Miller

Well last Friday I’d made my mind up I fancied a good, spicy Indian curry and had decided to descend unannounced on Tandoor on the first floor of the Hindu community’s Sunrise Sports Club in Ridgeview.

But as I rose from my desk, my eye fell on my by now very tattered and torn 2013 desk diary. It’s been almost round the world with me since January 1 and I’ve already started using its successor for 2014 as events and invites come to notice.

I saw a scrawled appointment for Saturday: night “Azta Arabian Nights Awards. Italian Club 6:30pm. Fancy Dress!”

Quickly, I telephoned the chairman of Reps Theatre to see if their costume hire place opened on Saturday mornings. It didn’t, so Tandoor was dropped from my itinerary and it was hey-ho to East Road, Avondale, en route to hire a Sheikh of Araby ensemble, or something similar.

It was a diversion and lunch at one of my old favourite eateries, The Great Wall, a Cantonese Chinese Restaurant, which is one of Harare’s oldest surviving chop-suey establishments and is more or less opposite the theatre.

Usually once a year my lunch club meets at Great Wall and to avoid any arguments we simply order their US$15 “banquet” special menu from the amiable manageress May (Anna-May Wong) and great graze just keeps being served in never-ending tasty, spicy, sizzling steamy tranches, with double, sometimes triple, helpings of anything especially liked that day.

Going alone or with a date to local Chinese or Indian restaurants is always problematic, because they simply do not cater for singletons and no matter how well you know your way around a menu, you always order far too much food.

I’m apparently president-for-life of that lunch club: The Greendale Good Food & Wine Appreciation Society and also leader of the local chapter of soupaholics

Unlucky 13 Calling at GW on a sudden impulse I was faced with unlucky 13 options of this starter all priced reasonably at either US$3 or US$4 for a very generous helping. In fact so generous is the serving it would often feed two.

I decided yonks ago that sharks’ fin soup — at least as served in Africa — is no 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. Chicken noodle soup is generally believed, especially among Jewish mommas, to cure everything from the common colds to the Big C. Great Wall serves it, chicken and mushroom soup and the more-ish chicken and sweetcorn I like.

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

In the past I’ve been torn between Thai seafood soup and the typical Chinese seafood-and-seaweed soup. To be honest I can’t say I’m hooked on seaweed: especially as much of it resembles the sort of thick, slimy, green algae you find in tropical fish aquaria with too powerful a lamp burning. But I never leave any! (In the UK recently, I did become totally hooked on a distantly related plant from the seashore, samphire, a lovely green nutritious vegetable my daughter served with seafood pasta and other fishy favourites.)

Great Wall’s seafood-and-seaweed potage comprises 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 Koreans since prehistoric times; there’s a renewed interest (mainly for health reasons) in resurrecting seaweed on the dinner plates of Ireland, but it won’t be on my shopping list!

On this latest occasion, I ordered seafood noodle soup, but was served chicken noodle. I mentally shrugged “what the hell?” and tucked in, thoroughly enjoying it, when my waiter noticed the mistake, whipped away the drop of huku broth left, replacing it with a steaming bowl of the right stuff!

Both were quite delicious!

I hadn’t made a fuss because, probably a glutton for punishment, I’d ordered a favourite Chinese dish: sweet-and-sour prawns with pineapple and chow mein (soft noodles) for a main course, and thought one fishy dish probably quite enough.

‘Sea cockroaches’
You either love prawns or hate the damned things: “Cockroaches of the sea” a friend of mine calls them, she’s allergic to seafood and makes up for it by abusing

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