The diamonds and duds of Chinese food in Riga

  • 2009-04-22
  • By Monika Hanley

RIGA - Riga does not offer the most ethnically diverse selection of foods. But there are some small rays of light peeking through the otherwise potato and pork dominated fare.

Chinese food, or I should say, good Chinese food, is not something easily found in Riga. In fact, it might just be easier, tastier and possibly cheaper to fly to China and eat there.
The restaurants that stand out 's unlike Vilnius where good Chinese eateries seem to be on every block 's are scattered around Riga, some in the most unlikely places.

Let's start with the chain Gan Bei, meaning 'cheers,' which is really more of Asian fusion, but has a hearty menu of Chinese dishes. They have the standard Shanghai style pork, Pork in black bean sauce and Schezuan pork. Should you want to get away from pork dishes, they offer the well known Peking duck, crispy beef and a variety of fried rice.

In terms of actual variety of Chinese dishes, Gan Bei has the most. The only down side is that many of them taste the same. As is sadly the case with many ethnic restaurants, it seems as though the cooks merely looked at a picture of the food and paid no attention to ingredients. But the food looks great and is a convenient pit stop after shopping in Origo mall. 

If you're like me and want to get away from chain-store Chinese, the restaurant Soho is a good bet. It's not ostentatiously decorated with red lanterns and cherry blossoms, and is located in an office building. But looks can be deceiving as this little office gem offers up food good enough for the president of China, as chef Matao cooked for him when he was in town. The restaurant also delivers to your door.

Despite serving up some great chow mein, the restaurant is really known more for its sushi. This seems to be the case with most Chinese restaurants cum "sushi bars." But if you happen to be in the embassy district on Lacplesa Street, it's a good place to pop in for a bite.

I've saved the best for last. Shangri-la is the best Chinese restaurant in town in my opinion, serving no sushi, no sake and boasting an extensive menu of spicy, savory Chinese specialties. Look past the shiny red and gold decor and focus on the menu.

Since 2002, the Brivibas Street restaurant has been serving up their spicy shark soup in the traditional styles. Here the food looks and tastes as it should, as the chefs are actually Chinese. Though it's all good I'm sure, I stick to my usual sweet and sour chicken and egg fried rice. For amphibian limb lovers, the restaurant also offers fried frog legs. 

For dessert I'd highly recommend trying the succulent and juicy lychee fruit, native to China and made famous by the Tang Dynasty.
When it comes down to it, you can find decent Chinese food in the area, and eat a satisfying meal for under 10 lats. While it may be cheaper and maybe tastier to cook a meal at home, the service and decor of most of the restaurants make for an entertaining night out.