Chinese Food! :) 中國菜 I'm an American with questions.
Mar 25, 2008 at 1:55 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 160

crazyface

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Hi!
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If you're not in the mood to read a long message, the basic issue here is that I'm bored of the tame Chinese-American food that predominates at small Chinese restaurants/takeaways in the US, and I'm looking for suggestions of more exotic and exciting dishes that I could request from one of the local Sichuan restaurants that's been kind enough to accommodate my previous off-menu orders.



So, I took a trip to San Fran's Chinatown a while back, and got turned on to myriad Chinese dishes that were almost wholly dissimilar to anything that I'd ever before encountered in the various mundane Chinese takeaways of my hometown.

Ever since, I've been trying to read-up on the more authentic/traditional Chinese dishes so that I could request them at local restaurants - but I'm not finding very many good sources on the internet. I've leapt from link-to-link on Wikipedia, and gone through a few restaurant review websites, and had a handful of lucky breaks in finding information on meals that could be prepared within a reasonable amount of time in a restaurant, but I get the feeling that in order to really break through to the kind of stuff I'm after -- the kind of stuff that most Americans probably wouldn't enjoy, but I'm certain that I would -- it would be best to get some input from people who have been to China themselves, or who are themselves Chinese.

I understand that it's not reasonable to expect your average Chinese restaurant in a small American town to stock certain exotic ingredients, so I'm resigned to leaving that realm unexplored for the time being. I'm not going to try to order things I've seen on the Discovery Channel, for example. But I would love to broaden the scope of my experience to the fullest degree possible within my circumstances - since, at this point, I'm terribly bored by the tame Chinese-American fare that seems to be ubiquitous in small-town America. (For example, "sweet and sour chicken," or your same-old egg roll, or the Americanized kung po chicken, or even something as popular as orange chicken - the last of which isn't bad, it's just that I want something more unusual and unfamiliar.)

I have been able to employ the limited knowledge gleaned from Wikipedia to get a few brilliant dishes from an accommodating restaurant not too far from where I live. Though the dishes aren't on their fairly typical menu, when I've asked them to make special dishes for me they have really gone all-out to make impressive meals. They specialize above all-else in Sichuan cuisine, so over the past few weeks I've asked them for Ma Po Dou Fu, Ma La Jiang on duck, "real" Kung Po chicken, etc., and it's all been excellent. I found most of these through Wikipedia - so, I know, for example, about Dan Dan noodles, twice-cooked pork, ants climbing tree noodles, etc., because these dishes are also found easily on Wikipedia's Sichuan cuisine page. So I've a list of alternatives to try next, but my problem here is that it's a fairly short list at this point.

So at this point what I'm looking for are just some additional suggestions of less-Americanized (or popularized) dishes I could try requesting, which would not be outside the realm of feasibility for a small restaurant in the US that specializes in Sichuan.

Are chefs from any one region of China typically familiar with the dishes of the other regions, such that I could order Hunanese for example? If so, feel free to suggest dishes from any region/province, but if not, do try to keep fairly close to Sichuan style.

Also, I have used a Japanese phrase when ordering at Japanese restaurants before, which basically instructs the sushi chef to prepare for me whatever he pleases. Is there a culturally equivelant phrase that I might use at the Chinese restaurant, leaving the choice of dishes up to the chef, with the implication that I expect the dishes not to be of the Americanized variety?


Thanks for reading, and thanks for your help! Bye!
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Additional Edit: It also occurs to me that there could be plenty of great dishes already on the menu, but the trouble with my experiences with them having been that I was served the Americanized versions. So if there is any Chinese dish that benefits immensely from a request that it be made in the traditional style, then feel free to mention those also. It would laso be helpful to know if there is a phrase or Chinese character that will signify this request in a manner clear to servers and chefs who have a limited understanding of the English language. Thanks again!
 
Mar 25, 2008 at 2:30 PM Post #2 of 160

Mr. Tadashi

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A great dish to get is a whole steamed fish.(Go for a fresh one that they have in a tank) I can't help much when it comes to Szechuan. I mostly eat Cantonese cooking.(Grandfather owned a restaurant and my GF's dad owns a restaurant.) Clay pot dishes tend to be good. I know of some other dishes but I can not spell them and can only refer to them by loose equevilent translations.
 
Mar 25, 2008 at 2:41 PM Post #3 of 160

crazyface

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Hi Mr. Tadashi! Thanks for your reply!
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Unfortunately, the restaurant that's been taking my special orders doesn't have a fish tank with fresh fish. It's hard to explain to someone who lives in a big city like Portland, but the Chinese restaurants in a small town like the one that I live in are a bit different than the more elaborate Chinese restaurants in the cities. Nevertheless, I'll look into the possibility.
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If you know the Chinese characters for the dishes that you would suggest, you could type them in here, and then I could search for them with Google to find out what they are like (with image search.)

Ok, thanks again, bye!
 
Mar 25, 2008 at 2:50 PM Post #4 of 160

azncookiecutter

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If they have the stuff for it, ask for some authentic hot and sour soup. There's this place in Seattle where I love to go every time I visit, and the hot and sour soup is something to cry for. Authentic hot and sour soup is something very very tasty, if done right.
 
Mar 25, 2008 at 3:03 PM Post #5 of 160

crazyface

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Hi Azncookiecutter! Thanks for your help!
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I have a feeling that if I ask them for "real/authentic hot and sour soup," the meaning of what I want isn't really going to be conveyed. Can you think of anything else that I could say or write that would clarify for them what it is that I'm asking for? Is there a proper Chinese name, for example, that I could request it by?

I do appreciate your suggestion, don't get the wrong idea - it's just that I'm trying to factor in the difficulties of communication that I've already encountered at this particular restaurant. Anyway, in the meantime, I'll read the Wikipedia page for hot and sour soup, and see if it gives me any ideas for what to do.

Thanks!
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Mar 25, 2008 at 3:14 PM Post #6 of 160

VeipaCray

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Maybe you could ask the restaurant proprietor to prepare you his/her favorite dish.
 
Mar 25, 2008 at 3:18 PM Post #7 of 160

beerguy0

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Slightly off topic, but applicable here, I think. There is a Vietnamese restaurant in our town that is very authentic, and has excellent food. A couple years ago, we were there for dinner, and noticed a large table of Asian people, having a good time and passing around large bowls of some type of noodle dish. We asked the owner what they were having, since it looked good and they were obviously enjoying it a great deal. Her response was "Oh, that not for you. You order from menu!"

We still wonder what was in those bowls
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Mar 25, 2008 at 3:20 PM Post #8 of 160

Mr. Tadashi

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Quote:

Originally Posted by crazyface /img/forum/go_quote.gif
Hi Mr. Tadashi! Thanks for your reply!
smily_headphones1.gif


Unfortunately, the restaurant that's been taking my special orders doesn't have a fish tank with fresh fish. It's hard to explain to someone who lives in a big city like Portland, but the Chinese restaurants in a small town like the one that I live in are a bit different than the more elaborate Chinese restaurants in the cities. Nevertheless, I'll look into the possibility.
smily_headphones1.gif


If you know the Chinese characters for the dishes that you would suggest, you could type them in here, and then I could search for them with Google to find out what they are like (with image search.)

Ok, thanks again, bye!



No problem, I know how it is since my GF's parents restruant is about 3hours away from their house in a small coastal town. If and this may be a big if but, you may want to ask for the house soup. It is typically a big pot of soup that they make that is commonly served in larger restaurants.(Well they may have a small batch for the staff.) Wonton mein(noodle) soup is somthing that you may find worthwhile to try.
 
Mar 25, 2008 at 3:34 PM Post #9 of 160

jh4db536

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where are you from?

rumor has it that the best Chinese food in north america is in Canada...

ever try steamed salted pork or fish w/ duck egg? chicken feet? birds nest/spit?
 
Mar 25, 2008 at 3:34 PM Post #10 of 160

crazyface

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Thanks Veipa, I'll try that!

Quote:

Originally Posted by beerguy0 /img/forum/go_quote.gif
... We asked the owner what they were having, since it looked good and they were obviously enjoying it a great deal. Her response was "Oh, that not for you. You order from menu!" ...


Well now, that just sounds mean, but hopefully they didn't mean it that way...maybe it was just the sort of thing that it takes a while to prepare?
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Anyway, sorry that they weren't friendlier about it. A similar thing happened to me at a restaurant that was previously my favorite, a Malay restaurant.

I was undoubtedly their most frequent customer, and I really enjoyed a soup called "chinese herbal medicine soup." But after a few times ordering it, the chef came out and told me that she'd only make it for her sons anymore, not for me. And soon after, they started "dumbing down" my orders, so that they weren't anything like what I'd gotten before, but instead less spicy, less fishy, no fermented shrimp paste, no unusual vegetables anymore, no squid, etc., and when I complained I was told that it was because "Americans don't like them."

So now I've switched to this Chinese place instead. :p

But hey, on that note, maybe someone can help me figure out how to get something like the Chinese medicine soup at this new place?

It had big, thick mushrooms in it, some other unidentifiable root-like foods, and strange pieces of pork that had a lot of crunchy cartilage.


Anyway, I sympathize with what you said about the Viet-Namese restaurant.
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I wish I knew more Viet-Namese food to order, too -- the place near me really only has Pho? on the menu, and I wish I knew something good to ask them to make.
 
Mar 25, 2008 at 3:37 PM Post #11 of 160

crazyface

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Quote:

Originally Posted by jh4db536 /img/forum/go_quote.gif
where are you from?

rumor has it that the best Chinese food in north america is in Canada...

ever try steamed salted pork or fish w/ duck egg? chicken feet? birds nest/spit?



Hi! I'm living in Florida at the moment.

I've never tried any of the dishes that you mention, but I'd like to try them.
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Unfortunately though, I know for a fact that I haven't the money for real bird's nest, nor would it be available in my area.
 
Mar 25, 2008 at 3:57 PM Post #12 of 160

beerguy0

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Quote:

Originally Posted by crazyface /img/forum/go_quote.gif
Thanks Veipa, I'll try that!



Well now, that just sounds mean, but hopefully they didn't mean it that way...maybe it was just the sort of thing that it takes a while to prepare?
frown.gif
Anyway, sorry that they weren't friendlier about it. A similar thing happened to me at a restaurant that was previously my favorite, a Malay restaurant.

I was undoubtedly their most frequent customer, and I really enjoyed a soup called "chinese herbal medicine soup." But after a few times ordering it, the chef came out and told me that she'd only make it for her sons anymore, not for me. And soon after, they started "dumbing down" my orders, so that they weren't anything like what I'd gotten before, but instead less spicy, less fishy, no fermented shrimp paste, no unusual vegetables anymore, no squid, etc., and when I complained I was told that it was because "Americans don't like them."

So now I've switched to this Chinese place instead. :p

But hey, on that note, maybe someone can help me figure out how to get something like the Chinese medicine soup at this new place?

It had big, thick mushrooms in it, some other unidentifiable root-like foods, and strange pieces of pork that had a lot of crunchy cartilage.


Anyway, I sympathize with what you said about the Viet-Namese restaurant.
smily_headphones1.gif
I wish I knew more Viet-Namese food to order, too -- the place near me really only has Pho? on the menu, and I wish I knew something good to ask them to make.



Actually, we used to go there quite often when we lived in the neighborhood, and the owner would always stop by our table and chat. I don't think she was being unfriendly, I think what was being served may have been beyond the average American's comfort zone, if you will. Not sure about that, but that was the impression I received.
 
Mar 25, 2008 at 4:38 PM Post #13 of 160

azncookiecutter

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Quote:

Originally Posted by crazyface /img/forum/go_quote.gif
Hi Azncookiecutter! Thanks for your help!
smily_headphones1.gif


I have a feeling that if I ask them for "real/authentic hot and sour soup," the meaning of what I want isn't really going to be conveyed. Can you think of anything else that I could say or write that would clarify for them what it is that I'm asking for? Is there a proper Chinese name, for example, that I could request it by?

I do appreciate your suggestion, don't get the wrong idea - it's just that I'm trying to factor in the difficulties of communication that I've already encountered at this particular restaurant. Anyway, in the meantime, I'll read the Wikipedia page for hot and sour soup, and see if it gives me any ideas for what to do.

Thanks!
smily_headphones1.gif



Hot and sour soup in chinese would be 酸辣湯. Another great dish that you may want to try is szechwan eggplant (魚香茄子). Awesome dish that goes quite well with rice.
 
Mar 25, 2008 at 4:49 PM Post #14 of 160

scompton

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Quote:

Originally Posted by beerguy0 /img/forum/go_quote.gif
Actually, we used to go there quite often when we lived in the neighborhood, and the owner would always stop by our table and chat. I don't think she was being unfriendly, I think what was being served may have been beyond the average American's comfort zone, if you will. Not sure about that, but that was the impression I received.


Our local Chinese restaurant has Fish Head Stew on the menu. We've never tried it
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I'm sure that there are some things that Chinese patrons order that aren't on the menu. When they first opened, they had 2 menus and a wall full of sheets of paper with Chinese writing and prices. We never had any idea what it was on those papers. They've since dropped to just the two menus.

Another restaurant near us sells an appetizer, Crispy Jelly Fish. It's $18, so we've never worked up the nerve to order it. We did order sea cucumber once. Gelatinous and chewy at the same time, with a very strong fishy taste and smell. It was pretty bad.

One fairly tame thing to ask for might be congee. I've never ordered it, but I have seen recipes. They have about 25 different versions at our local restaurant.

We're lucky, our local restaurant is supposed to be one of the best in the country. It's been written up in Food & Wine and the Wine Spectator, and Robert Parker has monthly, private wine diners there. We also have some outstanding and authentic Vietnamese restaurants near us. Some of which have menus so poorly translated, you're never quite sure what you're going to get.
 
Mar 25, 2008 at 4:56 PM Post #15 of 160

crazyface

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Hi!
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Yes, I tried asking for congee, and they did not know what I was referring to. Maybe they're only familiar with a different word for the same food?

Well, so long as you're here, Scompton, maybe you could recommend a few good Viet-Namese dishes too.
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But just for the record, I'm not typically fond of anything "tame." Congee sounds pleasant, and I love plain white rice when it's done well - but I'd try the Jelly fish or sea cucumber in a heartbeat.
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Ok, thanks again, bye!
 

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