I ventured out on a Tuesday night to the notorious Chungking Mansions, the “ghetto at the centre of the world”. Together with some friends, I had decided to track down the African food that was reputed to be found there. We had been warned that many of the restaurants there, being unlicensed and therefore technically illegal, would be unwelcoming to outsiders, and we didn’t have so much as an address or even a phone number but we figured we would wander around and try to strike it lucky. Which we did, in a way.
Upon entering we were mobbed by touts of the famous curry houses on the upper floors – in all my trips to the mansion I have never experienced anything like it. But after we forced our way through the scrum and piled into an elevator, waiting for the previous occupant to lug out numerous bags of some kind of tradeable commodity, we got out at a random floor. Strings of green fruit, some kid of citrus and peppers, were hanging over the doorways (some kind of charm), and one door opened briefly to reveal a crimson-robed Bhutanese (?) monk inside, then shut just as fast. Black and Indian faces pressed past. Soon we were told that there was an African restaurant on the floor, behind a door with no sign, and on ringing the bell we sure enough glimpsed a room with Congolese music playing and tall African dudes sitting around chatting in a windowless room. The Filipina clerk who answered the door had a hasty conversation with an unseen boss (“There are some Chinese outside, they want to come in”) and we were told the restaurant was “fully booked” but we could sit in the Indian restaurant next door and order from their menu – which we did, supplementing delicious naan and paneer with fufu rice, a spicy fish dish and okra chicken stew from Tanzania, although they also offered Nigerian dishes like abacha and ugba, watching Kylie Minogue’s never-before-glimpsed Bollywood video on the TV screen mounted to the wall.
Just another night in the mansions.