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Monday, February 8, 2016

How to Order Authentic Chinese Food: General Who? - Chinese People Don't Order Chinese Take Out

All Chinese people know that Chinese Takeout is not real Chinese food. My parents have never tried General Tso's Chicken, Chop Suey or Crab Rangoon. Chinese takeout restaurants serve cuisine that caters to Americans and differs drastically from authentic Chinese cuisine. Chinese people, unless they are americanized, rarely order from these takeout joints. They don't consider the food at these places Chinese food and in most urban areas, they can buy real Chinese food for less than what they would pay at these "fake" Chinese restaurants. Most Chinese would rather eat street vendor food than order from Chinese takeout. What is interesting is that most Americans when referring to Chinese cuisine would most often be talking about Chinese takeout food. There is a gap between what they perceive as real Chinese food and what real Chinese food really is. They are not aware of the huge differences between food you would get at Panda Express and food you get at a real Chinese restaurant.

Here are some main differences between American Chinese Takeout and Real Chinese Takeout:
  • Americans Chinese foods tend to be cooked very quickly with a lot of oil and salt. Frying seems to be the most prevalent cooking technique and MSG is usually a signature of most American Chinese takeout places. Authentic Chinese food tends to be prepared in a variety of ways from steaming to broiling to stir frying. These methods usually require longer cooking times and also fresher foods.
  • Vegetables are emphasized as a dish on its own at real Chinese restaurants where as most American Chinese takeout places use vegetables as garnish.
  • Menus are written bilingually at authentic restaurants whereas American Chinese takeout places usually only have menus in English (since there is no need to cater to Chinese people because they don't patronize such restaurants). American Chinese takeout menus also have "Lunch Specials" which would look absurd on a bilingual menu at a real Chinese restaurant.
  • When entering a real Chinese takeout place, there is usually a butcher that cuts up cooked meats (roast pork, spare ribs, roast duck, etc.) to order. At an American Chinese takeout place, you will see a counter with a large overhead billboard containing pictures of popular dishes such as Sesame Chicken, Kung Pao Chicken, Egg Foo Young, etc.
  • Real Chinese restaurants don't serve fortune cookies nor do they give deep fried "noodles" (the ones that look like fried strips served with egg drop soup) unless you are American.
A sure fire way to test whether or not the Chinese restaurant you patronize is authentic or not, just order Beef with Broccoli. If the broccoli is western, you are at an American Chinese restaurant. If it is Chinese broccoli (Gai-Laan), then you know you're eating at an authentic Chinese restaurant with most likely bilingual menus and oranges awaiting you at the end of your meal.

Some popular authentic Chinese takeout dishes over rice are (I have included Cantonese phonetics if you want to try to order in Chinese) : Spare ribs with black bean sauce (See Jup Pai Kwut Faan), Triple Delight (Roast Pork, Soy Sauce Chicken and Egg) (Saam Bo Faan), Peking Style pork chop (Ging Doe Kwut Faan), Singapore (Amoy) Chow Mei Fun (How Moon Chow Mei), Shrimp with Egg Sauce (Waat Daan Ha Yun Faan) and Satay Beef (Sa Deh Auh Yook Faan).

Feel free to expand the list of authentic Chinese takeout dishes in the comments section.

Secret Tip: Most authentic restaurants have two dine-in menus - One for Chinese people and one for foreigners. The foreigner menus are usually slightly more expensive and exclude some delicacies (liver) that westerners may find unappetizing. Only way around it is to find a fluent speaking Chinese person to go with you.

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