Great Taste and Pricey Meals at Great Wall Restaurant

In a possible sign of a post-Ebola culinary resurgence, the restaurant of the Great Wall Hotel, a Chinese establishment that previously spanned both sides of Tubman Boulevard and 10th Street, has re-opened.

I only managed to visit the restaurant once in its pre-Ebola heyday, but I greatly enjoyed a veritable feast with a large group – spanning a number of appetizers, soups, seafood, and meat dishes. I can’t recall much about the meal, but we dined in a private room and the hot and sour soup was unlike any I’d had before.

I was therefore quite disappointed when Great Wall was one of a number of Chinese restaurants to close during the Ebola crisis – two fine Chinese establishments on either side of Catholic Junction (one with the questionable name of Ether) were other notable casualties.

Thus, I was elated to have recently discovered that Great Wall has re-opened under the same management. The original restaurant building has now been demolished, with the restaurant moving into the ground floor of the hotel structure. All of the wait staff are Chinese and the interior décor harkens back to the 1970s – with a number of windows, transparent walls, and a large pillar in the middle of the spacious dining room adorned with mirrors.

The interior of the restaurant. Photo: Brooks Marmon

The interior of the restaurant. Photo: Brooks Marmon

There is a TV with Chinese language programming, but it is situated on the side of the room, with the volume kept at a very reasonable level. On a Thursday evening, we were the only customers dining.

The array of items on the menu was staggering, although I suspect some of the more esoteric items may not normally be available – as we found out when we attempted to order the lamb. For adventurous diners, however, items like sour cabbage, edible fungus, hot chicken giblets, peanut-stewed chicken feet, braised pig intestine, sautéed pig kidney, and duck blood and intestine in chili sauce, are at least nominally on the menu.

We went with a relatively more subdued set of options, all of which were quickly served. The starter was a tomato and egg soup (US$8) that was extremely refreshing – relying on the flavoring of the main ingredients in a clear broth with very little additional seasoning. This was complemented by beef dumplings (US$14 for more than a dozen or so) that were crammed with minced meat and no vegetable filler.

 A plate of steamed dumplings. Photo: Aaron Nah

A plate of steamed dumplings. Photo: Aaron Nah

For our main course, we went with one meat item and one vegetable. The beef with cumin (US$20) was probably the highlight. The shredded meat was obviously the beneficiary of some serious marinating, succulent and tender with just enough oil to flavor our cups of white rice. The cumin seasoning (and I believe a hint of cayenne pepper) gave it a nice kick and was an excellent accompaniment to a cold Tsingtao beer.

The Chinese cabbage (US$15) exhibited the opposite approach, relying primarily on the freshness of the leafy green, steamed in its own juices for flavoring.  It was very tender and quite fresh, though I suspect it was most likely imported.

 The Chinese cabbage was very tender and quite fresh. Photo: Aaron Nah

The Chinese cabbage was very tender and quite fresh. Photo: Aaron Nah

The food at Great Wall is not great value, but it is of pretty good quality and worth a visit if one finds it acceptable to pay up to US$15 for a vegetarian dish (I believe the highest priced items are the US$40 Kung Pao lobster balls and US$33 deep fried prawns). The bill for two was US$60. I’m certainly curious to try the leek egg boiled dumplings and one of the seafood or meat items on a sizzling plate.

Overall, the food at Great Wall was relatively similar to that of the Chinese restaurant outside the Chinese Embassy and less like that at Phoenix Hotel, which more closely resembles westernized versions of Chinese dishes.

Featured photo by Aaron Nah

Brooks Marmon

Brooks Marmon is a Ph.D. student in the Centre of African Studies at the University of Edinburgh. He previously worked in Liberia. Brooks is on Twitter @AfricainDC.

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