Nicholas Gilman is a renowned journalist and food writer based in Mexico City.

Nicholas Gilman es un renombrado periodista gastronómico radicado en la Ciudad de México.

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Chinese New Year: Asian Bay

Chinese New Year: Asian Bay

I recently came back from a month in India, with a 4-day stop in Shanghai at the end. It was my first visit to China, and the food lived up to my expectations. The endless variety of dumplings, the shop windows full of glistening roast ducks, the surprises like tofu skin salad—I was in heaven (click here to see photos). The only problem was returning to Mexico City. While I love my hometown—it has no shortage of culinary delights—the Asian food scene here is sparse.

So the best Christmas present this year was the discovery that a Chinese restaurant had opened while I was away. Last time I travelled, I was dismayed to find that a Starbucks had planted itself practically under my window during my absence; this Asian invasion is so much more to my liking. Asian Bay, located in the thick of Condesa’s restaurant melee, is no ordinary chop suey joint. It’s a high level ‘Chinese food-for-Chinese people’ restaurant.

Chef Luís & family

Chef Luís & family

The young chef, Luís Alfonso Chiu is the son of immigrants from Canton. He grew up in the deco/colonial house, now converted into the restaurant. But the family feeling continues. As chef Chiu presides over the kitchen or mingles with clients his proud parents, Alfonso and Patricia, quietly run the ship.

Chef Luís recounted how his grandparents, who arrived here during the Mexican revolution, had been ‘asked to leave’ during the growing anti-Chinese movement of the ‘20’s and ‘30’s (astute business people, the Chinese were resented by the Mexican upper classes). His parents were born in China but the lure of Mexico remained and they immigrated--lucky for us. The chef grew up here, is as Mexican as mole, but loved the food of his ancestors, so he went back to Canton and Shanghai to study cooking.

Meanwhile, the pretty house has been converted into a pleasant restaurant – the covered plant filled courtyard is bright, warmed by touches of wood and bamboo. And of course, there’s the requisite fish tank.

As for the food: I’ll let you in on a secret: two menus are available, one for ‘gringos’ i.e. non-Chinese whose perceived tastes are simpler, the other, similar but more ample, for Chinese patrons (don't worry, the Chinese version is translated into Spanish). The menu is divided into appetizers, soups, meats, poultry, fish, and dim sum (Chinese ‘tapas’). I’m a big fan of dim sum and there’s satisfying selection here, with a choice of steamed, baked and fried. No clichés are to be found.

The har gow, morsels of shrimp perfumed with ginger, wrapped in rice pasta and steamed, are fashioned with loving care. Xiaolongbao, those famous pork dumplings from Shanghai that squirt soup when you bite into them, are as good as those we lusted after there. Char shiu bao, poofy, steamed bread encasing a mouthful of sweet, fragrant pork – are the best I have tasted anywhere. The salt & pepper squid is crisp and tender.

The menu is mainly Cantonese with nods to spicy Sichuan and mild, sweet Shanghai-style cooking. ‘Fish filets Sichuan style’ is a refined version of the Sichuan hot pot, a hell’s brew of fiery peppers in liters of bubbling oil. Here the boneless filets are served on a plate with a reassuringly conservative oil/Sichuan pepper sauce that doesn’t overwhelm.

A Five-spice duck is bathed in a finger-licking, slightly sweet brown sauce – this reminds me of typical Shanghainese dishes. Pato Pekin is roast duck served the traditional way, carved tableside and rolled into little burritos with a bit of hoisin sauce, scallion and cucumber. Vegetables, simply listed as verduras chinas de temporada turned out to be, recently, beautifully sautéed baby bok choys, dressed with a little stock and a hint of ginger. Perfection itself.

Dinner, with a beer or tea will be $400 pesos--money well spent.

Asian Bay now offers a weekend dim sum menu, with a large variety of small dishes right from the cart.

I wondered how you say ‘buen provecho’ in Chinese.“You don’t,” a Chinese-speaking friend explained, “You just eat.” Fine with me.

Asian Bay Restaurante
Av. Tamaulipas 95 (between Vicente Suarez & Campeche) Condesa see map
Tel. 5553-4582
Open Monday - Saturday 1:00 - 10:30 p.m.,  Sunday: 11 a.m. - 9 p.m.

Anonymous January 3, 2012
Wow, good dim sum in Condesa - excellent news!!

Nate @ House of Anni January 3, 2012
That's great to hear that you have a Chinese-trained chef running the restaurant. It's true that the Chinese don't really have a saying like "buen provecho". We just say, "eat! Eat!"

Don Cuevas January 3, 2012
OMG, we will be there next time we visit el D.F. Gracias! Saludos, Don Cuevas

Marie B. Meyer January 3, 2012
Xiaolongbao!!! That will be a great way to start off the New Year! Thanks once again.

Patrice W. January 7, 2012
DELICIOSSSSSSSSAA!! One of my favorite meals in DF. The dim sum, as good as anything in Shanghai. Better than San Francisco. Larger, more succulent, juicy. Oghmygawd!

Jonathan January 19, 2012
Asian Bay was very good. Chef Luis is the man and was kind enough to give us 5 pieces in our dim sum orders for our party of 5. Any pho places in DF?

Boon February 12, 2012
Great southern Chinese food like you get in Hong Kong. The steam prawns with garlic was fantastic. The glass noodles at the bottom of the plate soaked up all the yummy sweetness of the prawns, yum! We had it twice with Mexican friends and they loved it. They never had anything like that before. The braised tofu and braised lamb were good too. The fried sesame balls with sesame fillings are great as desserts. They also have a good selection of noodles & fried rice, we tried the Braised Beef Noodle Soup (very popular for lunch in S China), it's good too.

Anonymous February 22, 2012
Great food, just about as good as Singapore, Vancouver and Hong Kong - and I have lived in all three. Among 6 of us the bill was 250 pesos each incl drinks and tips. We had about 5-6 dishes. All good. This could be a weekly addiction if I lose control. Thanks for this find!


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