Lunch Review: I-Ching Chinese Restaurant

As you may have gathered from my frequent blogs about food, I’m a bit of fiend when it comes to eating out, especially when it’s something exotic and flavourful like Indian cuisine. But there is an area where Luis and I are equally clueless and that’s – Chinese cooking. We have both only ever eaten a Chinese takeaway, usually accompanied by chips and a soggy wantan.  Here in Santiago, the Chinese restaurant was one of the first “exotic” foods to really take off, brought here by some of the many first-generation families from Asia of which Recoleta, in particular, has many. To Luis’ friends and family, a meal from one of these elaborately decorated establishments is the pinnacle of exoticism and worthy of a special occasion, despite bearing almost no resemblance to what is actually eaten across China and Asia. Since being in Chile I have been lucky enough to meet from all walks of life, including from Taiwan, a country I honestly know nothing about except for the fact that it’s the birthplace of my friend, Amy (who you may remember from Pasteleria Lalaleelu).  Amy really knows her food and she speaks Chinese, so who better than to initiate Luis and I into the wonders of Chinese food?

Last weekend we headed in a group to I-Ching, a huge second-storey restaurant that Luis and I have driven past a hundred times as it’s near our house. The place is BIG and almost forbiddingly so, with a water feature and an army of staff who direct you upon entering. This is important: Chinese patrons are always directed to the right which is characterized by large circular tables, while everyone else is directed to the left, which has smaller rectangular tables and Spanish-speaking staff. On the left you will find the usual recognizable menu (it’s massive) including all the usual dishes such as chop suey, spring rolls and even sushi. But it’s on the right-hand side where you must request to be seated, and it was a promising sign that when we entered this entire space was filled with Chinese diners. In this area there are three menus. There is a dim sum menu, featuring small dishes that are most commonly eaten in Hong Kong, there is the original menu (Chinese and Spanish with pictures) and there is a newer, smaller menu that has been on offer since August (Chinese only, pictures).  Given that patrons occupying this side are Chinese-speaking, the serving staff speak Chinese and very little Spanish so expect to point to what you want!

We left it to Amy to order for the table, and many of the dishes that we tried were seasonal and not on the menu, because like many cuisines, Chinese food is regional and based around seasonal ingredients.  Tea (free) was poured for each guest and frequently refilled; hot tea is what is usually drunk with a meal because it cuts through the oil in the food.  Dishes were brought rapidly from the kitchen and placed in quick succession on the rotating raised plate in the middle of our table, the idea being that food is shared between all.

And the food?

YUM!  It’s always a good sign when the chef is actually from China and that the place is packed with people who know the food.

“From my point of view, I-Ching changed their flavour after the chef came back from vacation in August, it was my favorite chinese restaurant, but since then they have changed some of the chinese chefs.  They have to improve to reach the standard they used to be,” Amy tell us.  Her other favorite Chinese restaurant is called Sheng Xing, which is a bit cheaper than I-Ching, and is located downtown.

“Both restaurants are good for certain dishes, they sometimes have similar plates for example duck, but the one in Av. España does a better job, while I-Ching does better fish.  There are other Chinese restaurants with different styles, but I-Ching and Sheng Xing are the styles that I personally like more.”

The restaurant has some other bonus points. It’s pretty loud and spacious inside so children can make noise without really being heard, plus there’s an indoor play area to rival all others (suitable from age 3+). Car parking is free for the restaurant.

Overall, highly recommended!!!

For four, Amy recommends ordering a stirfry noodle or rice, a vegetable, a meat plate and several dim sums. Expect to pay between $10,000-$15,000 per person depending on what you order. 

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Duck
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Mindblowingly delicious fish
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Seasonal Chinese vegetable similar to spinach – name unknown in English!
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Pork 3 ways (requested dish, normally sold separately)
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Tofu

I-Ching address: Av. Independencia 1928, Independencia (closest metro is Einstein, 2.9km)

Sheng Xing address: Av. Espana 101-107, Santiago Centro (metro Union Latinoamericana)

Spotlight On: Artist Hoda Madi

Continuing on with the Expat Spotlight series, this week I introduce you to artist Hoda Madi. Hoda hails from Iran and has lived all over the world, but has called Chile home since 2012. You might remember her from my previous blogs as a sponsor of Ojos Abiertos or as the mind behind the Art Expression programme for children. Here she explains a little bit more about her vision, her art and her passion for Chile.

Thanks for agreeing to be interviewed Hoda! Tell us a bit about you.

Hi! I moved here in 2012 after a conversation with a friend about Chile. I came over when my son was 15 for one month.  Three years later and we are still here, and my son is now at university in Santiago studying architecture.

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Why art?

As a dentist, I feel that I help people by reducing their pain, but if someone just buys a painting I don’t have that same feeling like I’ve done something good in the world.  Being an artist is not just a job. So I started the “Universe of Love” series, so that every time someone looks at a painting they’ve bought from me they know they’ve helped to do some good, somewhere.

What do you mean? Sounds intriguing!

It’s an idea that came to me in Chile. With each painting I try to send love back into the universe so I donate 20% of each painting sold to charity.

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Painting the Atacama desert

What charitities have you been involved with?

Besides Ojos Abiertos, there have been many. One time I gave 50% to the “Si Me Importa” event to rebuild after the 2010 earthquake.  I also regularly give to the Rotary Chile society, which they then put towards various projects.

What is your art style?

I do abstract paintings with acrylic as well as abstract detailed photography. I also like to incorporate the female form and sand from all over the world.

You love Chile, Hoda. How do you show that in your work?

As an amateur astronomer, the Atacama desert has always been my dream place to visit. I have been twice, and it was after a recent trip to the Atacama that I began the “Hidden Colors of the Desert” set. I took photos of abandoned mines –  because on first impression the desert is just sand and sky but there are really so many colors! Afterwards I express these photos into paintings, using sand from the Atacama.  The concept is a different way of seeing something. For example, if I look at photographs from the Hubble telescope and then look through my own telescope, I’m seeing a different expression of the same but through a different medium.

Photos from the Atacama

Why do you like to paint the desert?

Because there is a sense that everything is way bigger than our life as a human on Earth,  It’s the best place to be connected to the universe.

You give so much back.  Why?

Life is a funfair – we’re all sharing a free ride so why not help each other out along the journey?

I’ve already written about your work last year in Conchali. Are there any things that stand out from that time for you?

There are so many! There was a girl in prekinder that the teacher warned us not to push because she was always crying. In the first class we were all singing and dancing the song “Happy” while she sat in the corner alone.  She later came over wanting to take part. Next class she joined in singing with the others and with each class we saw her blossom before our eyes. The teacher told us when we finished how much she had changed.  There was also a boy in Kinder that I remember was so scared, always needing to go to the toilet because he was that stressed. He kept saying “I can’t paint! I can’t paint!!” and he’d draw a line and call us over to check it was ok.  After two sessions we couldn’t get him to stop talking or drawing!

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Sounds like you were doing something really special with those children!

We really were, and it wasn’t just the children either.  In our very first class I remember the teacher shaking her head, horrified by the dirty hands, saying “que desastre!” over and over again. But with each class she loosened up and was soon laughing and painting alongside the children. You could visibly see her relax and become more connected to the children, which made a huge difference with the class dynamics.  Art has the ability to show you another way – it can even make you money.  I wanted to show that to these children, that there was another way for them. I used to see it with my son. He’d come home from school banging the doors and hiding in his room, and he’d never talk to me. So I started to go to him with paper and a pencil and we’d just draw together, not talking, and he would calm down.

What is your favorite place in Santiago and in all of Chile?

In Santiago I love to go to either Barrio Paris y Londres, or Barrio Lastarria. In Chile, it’s all about the Atacama for me.  I can go over and over again and still feel like its my first time.  Pica is an oasis in the middle of the desert that you won’t believe exists in such a harsh landscape, and Pisagua is a small port right at the junction of desert and sea.  The desert slopes down into the town, and almost right to the waves.

What is your goal for 2016?

My goal is to take my Hidden Colors of the Desert work to Miami.  I am going to continue my work with my Art Expression program and I’ll also be going back as a volunteer with Universidad de Chile’s Clinica Cuidados Especiales. In 2015 I worked every week in Independencia with this initiative, as a dentist with special needs patients who come from all over Chile to receive care. This year I shall be working on a project based upon these encounters. I’ve already ordered the canvasses to begin, the idea being that I will paint the beautiful connections I see between patients and their families. It’s not a sad story – it’s not about painting sad art – it’s actually very much about beauty and love. When it’s finished I am going to invite the families of the patients to attend the exhibition, with money going back to help children in similar situations but who don’t have any support around them.

Can you tell us a bit about your time at this clinica?

It can be really difficult but it’s the only time I’ve ever really enjoyed my work as a dentist. The patients are just pure love, and there is a sense of beauty that cannot be described when you see how they are cared for by their families. I remember a time this one patient with Down Syndrome had to have his teeth seen to. He was so scared, shouting and crying and we couldn’t  calm him down. His sister – who had spent her life caring for him – held his hand and sang him his special song and he calmed down instantly. She kept singing the whole time I worked on his teeth. Another time a 12 year old with Crystal Skin disease [Epidermolysis bullosa] was so distressed that general anaesthetic was being considered. I stepped in at the last moment to talk to her. She immediately spotted my funny Spanish. “Why do you talk like that?” she asked me and so I told her that I knew what it was like to be scared, especially because I couldn’t talk properly. I asked her if she would let me see her teeth. She allowed me to and after a while she let me work on them, stopping every now and then when she felt scared or some pain. No-one could believe the change! We are friends now and she’s just like every other teenage girl following the latest trends!

You have so many unbelievable stories! Thanks so much Hoda and all the best for the year ahead. Any final words you want to end on today?

Yes. Don’t fight life. Enjoy it’s opportunies.

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You can follow Hoda on Facebook and check out her website here.