I must have walked by this place a hundred times since it opened on Lækjargata in September, learning of its existence only through word of mouth. I usually cringe at the mention of Chinese takeaway because it always tends to be a desperate last resort at some obscene hour when you are either not ready to put your clothes back on, or it is the only menu that has not found its way into the recycle bin. But this is Reykjavík and not Manhattan. This is the first time I have even seen Chinese takeaway in Iceland. Is this really a first? Or, did the previous wave come and go overnight, washing over Reykjavík like the great bagel craze of 2002? Regardless, there are more choices in an American election than options for Icelandic carry out, so I welcome everything new: rollerblades, stone washed jeans, Chinese takeaway.
A fantasy of Szechuan Hotpot and hundred year old eggs danced through my head before entering this basement hideaway, but the modest, familiar decor kept my expectations at a pedestrian canter. I glanced at the bleak, laminated menu before asking the proprietor to just surprise me. I like surprises. I actually like when a chef prepares whatever they feel like cooking, as if the meal is for the family. You either taste the love, or you taste the leftovers that the restaurant is about to toss. My request was a gamble anyway since I usually order the wrong thing when it comes to Chinese takeaway. I eat half, and then live with the guilt of tossing the rest while there are starving children in China.
Proprietor Ying Li, wife, and young son disappeared into the kitchen. I sat alone in the restaurant, watching footwear pass-by, guessing the sounds of what vegetables were being chopped. Something crisp, something fresh. Woks sizzled, and smells emanated. If only this aroma could reach the streets there would be queues. All three emerged with enough boxes to feed us all, yet packed them away for their lone customer of the evening and her unseen companion. Details were given about each container, and which sauce is to accompany each dish, with the reassurance of no MSG. But, was this really just for two people at hotdog prices? I was eager to get home with my bounties.
We began with homemade dumplings of fresh pork seasoned to perfection, tucked inside a fresh rolled pasta pouch, and lightly sautéed. There was no need for the sauce. I could have made a meal out of the dumplings alone. The other dishes were cooked as if we were foreign dignitaries at a Chinese Trade Summit. A lamb dish with hints of Szechuan pepper and a variety of fresh seasonal vegetables, a dish of twice cooked pork, and another of fried shrimp. Each dish carried an authentic, homemade signature. This was not garden-variety bottled china sauce found at a grocery store, but a family recipe. We spent the weekend eating this, and look forward to plenty more.
It would be a pity for anyone to miss this, and without a proper sign or cooking with the door open to lure in the passer-by, this gem may just go unnoticed. Hopefully, word will carry, and Kína Flavour will become a permanent option when one considers takeaway in Reykjavik.