Almost as mind boggling to me as the Super Bowl phenomenon is the prevasiveness of Chinese restaurants in our country. My town of 70,000 has 6 that I can think of. With the end of the Chinese New Year celebration falling on this upcoming Sunday, let me share a few thoughts.
Having been to China a good number of times, I'm disappointed by how little the "American" Chinese food resembles authentic Chinese food. Margie and I found authentic Chinese food to have many subtle flavors, combined with rich earthiness from cooked meats and unusual preparations of vegetables, many of them pickled. American Chinese food, to me, can be described in one word: sweet.
Two weeks ago we were in Houston's Chinatown and wanted some lunch, so picked out a small storefront restaurant that we'd never tried (there are about 100 restaurants there to choose from). I asked the owner for a Chinese menu, and she got all huffy with me. "We only serve authentic Chinese food here". Well, I didn't mean to insult her, but a prior quick look at the menu showed USA-suburbia entrees through and through.
So I engaged her further, and got her to point me to things that she deemed their specialties, which she called "very authentic". By this time she admitted that their food was "80% authentic". (That's a common Chinese characteristic - applying a number to a subjective statement. Chairman Mao is now considered to have done 60% good for the country - down from 80% a few decades ago).
We were served Salt and Pepper Beef and Onion, as well as Double Squid with Pickled Vegetable. Now Margie and I know a little bit about pickled vegetables, since our daughter Amy's orphanage was in a city known for Zha Cai - pickled mustard tuber. We were very much looking forward to these dishes.
And we were very much disappointed. The beef was tasty, but was unlike anything we'd ever found in China. The squid was poorly cooked, but well, this wasn't a gourmet restaurant. The pickled vegetables were.....SWEET. I can attest that the Chinese have so little sweetness in their cuisine that even the desserts tend to not be sweet. For entrees and appetizers, it's almost unheard of (exceptions tend to include sweet potato, which is naturally sweet).
I asked Miss-huffy-owner-from-China (who has been in the US for 30 years) why the pickles were sweet, so she went on to explain that "We have to make it that way, because that's what people in Houston like to eat". Authentic factor, now 5%. Frankly, this place was not different than the 6 places in my town. What a disappointment.
So far, you just have my opinion and a story, but.....
Up Next: Real Chinese Food You Can Cook