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Chef has own recipe for success in Pakistan

By ZHANG YUNBI | China Daily | Updated: 2013-08-09 02:37

Secret is knowing how to achieve balance and when to compromise

Zheng Xudong, 36, a veteran Chinese chef working in Pakistan, said many local diners have asked him to adapt Chinese cuisine to the Pakistani palate, and his secret is to "use more sauce".

After working for seven years at the Kempinski Hotel in Dubai, Zheng joined the five-star Pearl Continent Hotel in Lahore in 2012, in the city that is a cultural center of Pakistan and the capital of Punjab province.

Chef has own recipe for success in Pakistan

Zheng Xudong, a Chinese chef at a five-star hotel in Lahore, Pakistan, enjoys interacting with local diners and introducing them to original Chinese cuisine. He says many of the local diners have a misunderstanding of what are authentic Chinese dishes. [PHOTO BY ZHANG YUNBI / CHINA DAILY]

"After each meal, we invite customers to fill in a questionnaire to grade the dishes. Many of them write down suggestions for ‘improving' the Chinese cuisine," said the veteran chef with 20 years' experience.

After studying the diners' preferences, Zheng said he has found the right recipe.

"The Pakistanis prefer rice mixed with other dishes, so they like sauce and something juicy," he said.

They also like anything fried, he said, adding that some Chinese restaurants serve fried spring rolls and wonton dumplings to satisfy the local taste.

"But it is not very common to fry such things in China," Zheng said.

What also impressed him is that Pakistanis like their food without bones.

"They like to eat with their hands, so it may be troublesome for them to pick bones out of meat or shrimps," he said.

Zheng said the locals have yet to appreciate the gist of Chinese cuisine.

"That is why almost all the signature Chinese dishes are adapted with some Western flavor before they are brought to the dining table."

Some customers even criticized him, saying the dishes he prepared are "not authentic".

Chef has own recipe for success in Pakistan

A group of curious children watch overseas visitors in an alley at Saidpur, a village near Islamabad. [PHOTO BY ZHANG YUNBI / CHINA DAILY]

"Some of them have gone abroad, going to countries such as the United States, and their conception of Chinese cuisine has been shaped by the so-called Chinese restaurants there which are actually run by Indians. As a result, they believe food adapted with Indian flavors is the original Chinese style," Zheng said.

Knowing how to strike a balance and when to compromise is extremely important for Zheng, and by doing so well he has won the trust of his local colleagues.

Ayisha Khalid, a 21-year-old woman who also cooks at the restaurant, said Zheng is "very polite and friendly".

The working language in the kitchen is English and when Zheng finds it hard to communicate, he resorts to body language.

"Sometimes that does help," Khalid said.

Pakistan has suffered a nationwide power shortage for years, and cities such as Lahore face more frequent blackouts than Islamabad.

Zheng's hotel has its own power generator but local households experience power failures about every two hours after one hour of supply.

Zheng works long hours but has no complaints.

"I work nine hours a day, and have one day off every week. I can take one month off every year to go back to China, plus a dozen public holidays. I have more than 40 days off each year apart from Sundays."

Surfing the Internet is his main form of recreation.

His wife joined him earlier this year and now works for a Chinese company's Pakistani branch.

The number of Chinese workers in Pakistan exceeded 10,000 in 2009, and most work for Chinese contractors, according to the economic and commercial counselor's office of the Chinese embassy in Pakistan.


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