It’s Chinese New Year’s Eve and you find yourself in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, with an inexplicable desire for Chinese food to mark the start of the new year. So you google “Chinese food Zagreb” and the first result is a Japanese and Thai fusion restaurant.
You keep searching and further results lead you to an article that states there are only 492 Chinese people living in the whole of Croatia. It doesn’t seem promising, and you begin to lose heart. Finally you strike gold and find Asia T House, a cafe cum restaurant cum grocery store. Sure, the menu seems to incorporate elements of Japanese, Thai and Malaysian cuisine, but it seems to be as close as you’re going to come to Chinese food.
That’s the process I had to go through to find a halfway decent Chinese restaurant in Zagreb, and it would be even harder in smaller and less cosmopolitan cities in Eastern Europe. Luckily, Asia T House managed to provide us with the low-key Chinese New Year celebration that K and I were looking for and as a bonus, we even picked up some small treats at the grocery store to enjoy over the following days – canned lychees, sesame mochi, and more.
Asia T House actually offered a special Chinese New Years Eve dinner banquet set for about 250 Croatian Kuna per person – however the event had been fully booked out by the time we heard about it, so we settled for going for lunch instead. Again, we arrived quite early for lunch and were the first in the restaurant. Other guests didn’t arrive until about 1pm – so dine a bit later in the day if you don’t want to stick out like a sore thumb!
I chose to order a Jasmine Tea, a bit of an indulgence as I’d been getting my tea fix by having green tea from teabags (heaven forbid!) while on our travels. There’s nothing quite like the crispness and slight floral scent of steeped fresh jasmine tea leaves to help invigorate my soul – it’s a balm, a tonic, a remedy.
K and I ordered some dumplings to start – one serve each (four in a serve) of the Jiao Zi and the Siu Mai. You can choose to have the jiao zi either fried or steamed, but we opted for steamed so as to have it served at the same time as the siu mai. You can probably tell from the picture that these weren’t the best steamed dumplings in the world. The dumpling skin was a bit thick and gluggy and they just weren’t as elegantly wrapped as they could be. The filling was delicious though, so I hope that we still get the wealth in 2016 that dumplings promise!
I went for the Tofu with Vegetables, Peanuts and Curry. I know you’re really not supposed to eat tofu on Chinese New Year because the colour white is associated with death, but this was fried tofu and therefore golden representing wealth. We spent a lot of money on this trip through Europe, so we could do with all the help we can get in building up our wealth again!
It was a surprisingly delicious dish, something that I would order quite happily and enjoy in a traditional Cantonese restaurant back home in Australia. The tofu was firm and fresh, there was an excellent mix of winter vegetables, and the curry sauce was rich and aromatic. The dish was made all the more delicious by having steamed rice on the side. We’d been using rice in a bag for ease while travelling, but it just isn’t the same as the fluffy white grains you get when you use a rice cooker.
K ordered Homemade Noodles with Crispy Chicken – noodles for longevity. This dish was all about the wok hei – that indescribable smoky charred flavour that you get with fried rice and noodle dishes when the wok has been properly heated up to a high temperature and the ingredients get full exposure to the gas flame. The noodles had it in full, making it one of the most satisfying noodle dishes we’d had for a very long time. The only disappointing thing is that we didn’t get the crispy chicken drumsticks as described on the menu – instead it was a crispy chicken fillet. Still, there are worse things!
We finished off our meal with a dessert to share – Fried fresh pineapple with palm sugar and ice-cream. So simple, but so delicious. Ihonestly not something I’ve ever thought to make myself. Pineapple fritters with ice-cream certainly, but simply coating pineapple with palm sugar before frying so that it’s deliciously caramelised? It’s pure genius, and something I’m going to have to try to make when I get home.
Asia T House isn’t a truly authentic Chinese restaurant experience – it’s run by local Croatians for a start, even if there are mainland Chinese working in the kitchens. There’s also way too much Japanese and Thai influences in the menu for it to be passably genuine Chinese food. However, as far as surprisingly delicious Chinese-style meals in Eastern Europe goes…this is probably one of the top contenders. I’d recommend Asia T House if you ever find yourself in Zagreb over Chinese New Year, and don’t forget to drop into their grocery store to buy some snacks that remind you of home, like sesame mochi!
Asia T House is located at 9 Vlaska Ulica in Zagreb, Croatia.