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International Chinese Food


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Living my whole life in the United States and I am first generation Chinese, being the first born in the States (it gets confusing depending on which culture you come from), I've pretty much only experienced Chinese-American food eating at "popular" Chinese food restaurants like Panda Express or P.F. Changs. Sweet and sour pork, kung pao chicken, general tso's chicken, and walnut prawns seem to be big mainstays of the Chinese-American "fast-food" scene in the states and highly popular. People who haven't been to Chinese banquets or authentic Chinese food restaurants declare their love for Chinese food. These dishes are not found much in authentic Chinese dishes from the mainland if at all, but adapted to foreign tastes. Many of the proteins seem to be dumbed down to be more appealing to their foreign customers. Lacking the textural elements that are high prized in Chinese cuisine, like jellyfish, wood ear, niu jin (not sure of the translation) or the ridiculous amount of offal consumed by Chinese. I won't even get started about the diversity of critters consumed as well.

I was wondering if the Chinese-American dishes such as listed above are prevalent in countries other than the United States, or are there more authentic dishes being served due to popularity. I did visit Italy and by insistence of my father, we ate at a Chinese restaurant X_X...don't ask. And the dishes were quite similar to the fare I would expect in the United States. Which comes to my question, internationally, outside of Asia, are Chinese dishes similar to the US ideal of what Chinese food is? The deep fried batter coated meats sauced with particular sauces, egg rolls, potstickers. Or are they more authentic? Japan and Korea have definitely taken Chinese food and made their own versions of popular dishes. Off the top of my head Ma Po Doufu is very popular and well known in both countries. I know that there are Chinatowns across the globe which do try to replicate authenticity for their own denizens, but I am thinking more along the lines of popular Chinese restaurants outside of the Chinatown enclave.

I'm particularly looking to see responses from non asian countries close to Asia yet having a completely different culture. For example Australia.

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Hi: a quick answer, though not from Australia. There have been small Chinese communities in many parts of India for several generations, who have developed a unique fusion: Indian-Chinese. It is Chinese food adapted to local tastes and using local ingredients, and served through Chinese restaurants (I don't know what the Chinese in India eat at home and would love to see an article or cookbook about that). Many Chinese restaurants in East Africa are run by Asians (of Indian origin) and serve Indian-Chinese food (Okra Manchurian!!)

It's too large a topic to cover fully here plus I don't have that much knowledge of details. The food is much beloved in India, and includes things like Gobhi Manchurian (cauliflower made into balls with a red sauce, pun on Gobi desert), and too many others to list. The menus cater to vegetarians much more than in China or elsewhere, and include ingredients like paneer (though recently this is changing over to tofu). I don't know what any Chinese person from China or elsewhere would say about this style.

ETA: Google has tons of hits on Indian Chinese food, and Wikipedia has a link:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_Chinese_cuisine

Edited by Milagai (log)
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Hi I am writing from Australia and am a fourth generation not of Chinese extraction.

Our "Chinese" food took a decidedly similar turn to yours with sweet and sour pork (with pineapple pieces) taking a fairly central place early and mid last century.

An interesting thing happened in the latter part of last century. For political reasons that are not relevant here, our Chinese and other Asian populations expanded rapidly and our Government embraced the concept of multiculturalism (all cultures living together) rather than a melting pot approach. As a consequence, our culinary horizons broadened markedly. All manner of Asian ingredients are available not only in Asian grocery stores but also in mainstream supermarkets. A number of our more prominent chefs, for example Neil Perry, have embraced Asian cooking and not really done them up as fusion food but rather taken the time to understand them from their original perspective and then play with them while retaining the essence of the original. It would not be going too far to suggest that most Australian homes have a wok and most would endeavor to make some sort of stir fry on a regular basis.

That having been said, traditional ingredients and preparations are typically available in many restaurants but will often not be offered to the mainstream diners unless they specifically ask for them. I remember well in the late '80s asking for chicken's feet and having all the restaurant staff watch the Gweilo devour them.

There is a wonderful history of Chinese food and culture in Australia called Banquet (ten courses to harmony). Written by Annette Shun Wah and Greg Aitken, it details the evolution from sweet and sour pork restaurants to where we are presently. Chinese have contributed greatly to all aspects of Australian life: their food has gone from exotic and unknown through being modified for local palates to the mainstream position it holds today.

Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"The Internet is full of false information." Plato
My eG Foodblog

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I'm sorry that the only Chinese food you have had in the states is Chinese American. At least in some areas you can find pretty good Chinese food - even Las Vegas it appears. You do have to leave the chains behind and search out the good stuff. I can easily find far more authentic dishes, not all of which I am likely to eat regularly, but still try when I can. I can find stinky tofu, mapo dofu, dan dan noodles, jellyfish, fermented cabbage and lamb - and on and on.

The Chinese food I have experienced in other Western countries has been on par with the US (or far worse - cubed frozen carrots and peas in mixed vegetable dishes!), though in London, we had wonderful noodles even 30 years ago.

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A small linguistic point: the cuisine encompassing sweet-and-sour pork, sesame chicken, etc., is not really "Chinese-American." Calling something Chinese-American implies that it's something Chinese-American people eat, just as Italian-American cuisine is the cuisine of the Italian-American immigrant community. But Chinese-Americans do not eat the Americanized food that is served at the average Chinese restaurant in America. That food is an adaptation designed for mainstream American palates. It is, I believe, more properly called "American Chinese" cuisine.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Hi I am writing from Australia and am a fourth generation not of Chinese extraction.

Our "Chinese" food took a decidedly similar turn to yours with sweet and sour pork (with pineapple pieces) taking a fairly central place early and mid last century.

An interesting thing happened in the latter part of last century. For political reasons that are not relevant here, our Chinese and other Asian populations expanded rapidly and our Government embraced the concept of multiculturalism (all cultures living together) rather than a melting pot approach. As a consequence, our culinary horizons broadened markedly. All manner of Asian ingredients are available not only in Asian grocery stores but also in mainstream supermarkets. A number of our more prominent chefs, for example Neil Perry, have embraced Asian cooking and not really done them up as fusion food but rather taken the time to understand them from their original perspective and then play with them while retaining the essence of the original. It would not be going too far to suggest that most Australian homes have a wok and most would endeavor to make some sort of stir fry on a regular basis.

That having been said, traditional ingredients and preparations are typically available in many restaurants but will often not be offered to the mainstream diners unless they specifically ask for them. I remember well in the late '80s asking for chicken's feet and having all the restaurant staff watch the Gweilo devour them.

There is a wonderful history of Chinese food and culture in Australia  called Banquet (ten courses to harmony). Written by Annette Shun Wah and Greg Aitken, it details the evolution from sweet and sour pork restaurants to where we are presently. Chinese have contributed greatly to all aspects of Australian life: their food has gone from exotic and unknown through being modified for local palates to the mainstream position it holds today.

I imagine that a lot of the early history of Chinese food in Australia is similar to the experience in the USA, simply because of the movement of the Chinese people between the two countries (gold fields for instance).

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Indian Chinese has several faces depending on the original extraction of the immigrants [e.g. Hakka vs. Cantonese, and where they settled & when eg. Ah-chipur , Howrah district, West Bengal, then Kolkata, Assam tea gardens etc.]

But the most important watershed may be described as BNW and ANW, Before Nelson Wang and After NW. Nelson Wang had his roots in Kolkata and was familiar with the specific and several distinct styles of both restaurant and home cookery available for PUBLIC consumption there.

Mention may be made of the flagship Chung Wah, Peiping, Waldorf, Jimmy's Kitchen, and one more whose name I forget, that defined CHINESE cookery as experienced in the restaurants of old Calcutta. This was an excellent Cantonese and Hakka cooking with a single concession to Indian tastes in the form of Fried Chili Chicken, that came in several redactions in each of these institutions [for they WERE institutions].

Some while ago, I was speaking with the restaurateur SLY LIAO, who has his own non-Chinese restaurant in Washington DC, but hails from Kolkata, albeit from a younger generation. His BIL in NYC though, remembers the Good Old Days. We were reminiscing ad mourning the elision of history that is so characteristic a part of Indian life. Nelson Wang may indirectly share the blame in several different ways, because, basking in his new-found glory, he never has chosen to set the record straight about what constituted Chinese Restaurant Cookery in Calcutta until the late 70s.

Calcutta, since 1757, was the capital of the british empire in India. This situation lasted until 1912. Its proximity to South-east Asia also made it an attractive destination for Cantonese and Hakka immigrants, to a greater extent than the rest of India. Here settled perhaps the largest Chinese community in India, one whose roots stretched back a couple of centuries. The village of Achipur in Howrah district, just south of the city, for example, is named after it founder, an eminent Chinese settler whose honorific Cantonese form of address, Ah-chee, is incorporated into the name!

For these reasons, Calcutta remained at the apex of Indian Chinese cookery well past Independence in 1947, up to and including the early 1970s. Nelson Wang moved to Bombay in the mid 70s and began to cook highly spiced food to cater to the tastes of the newly rich frequenting the hotel restaurants of that booming metropolis, in sharp contrast to a Calcutta being strangulated [then & now] by Marxists devoted to Mao and to China far more blindly than any Chinese [to this day, even!].

That type of food was a complete departure from the cookery of Nelson’s formative years, what was then offered in the homes and street vendors of Tangra or the restaurants on Park Street, Theater Avenue, or Central Avenue. There was an excellent signature dish from Peiping restaurant named FISH BALLS IN TOMATO SAUCE that might have been the precursor of his MANCHURIAN GARBAGE which is nothing but pakoras or fritters doused in a ketchupy sauce, with the addition of alliums, ginger and green and dry red chilies. No wonder Indians with palates turned to bronze and tongues to tanned leather love it. It is the only way they can allow their sense organs, brains and parochialism to taste anything: Bring everything own to their own level of sheer idiocy and call it Chinese. Curry house cookery returns the favor in spades in Britain!!!!!

There might be nothing wrong with this Gobhi xyz tastewise, but to call something Chinese bring us into Lewis Carroll territory that I ha rather not get into. We in India are the masters of semantics and epistemology, ad there are massive branches of Buddhist and Sanatana philosophy devoted to logic, proof an these subjects alone, ad having spent too much of my life on these, I am not wiling to get drawn into arguments about the meaning of “China”, “Chinese”, “authenticity”, “relevance” et al.

It is just my strong opinion that there is a phenomenon that should be termed the POST WANG COOKING FASHION in India. What that might have to do with China or Chinese cookery beyond the use of ketchup, soy sauce, and wheat noodles, and the incorporation together in the same dish of some vegetables like sweet pepper, carrot and cabbage + stir fried noodles with sauce, is up to the reader to decide.

The REAL CALCUTTA CHINESE COOKING, now that has several interesting ethnic strands and exquisite dishes well worth taking about.

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I'm sorry that the only Chinese food you have had in the states is Chinese American. At least in some areas you can find pretty good Chinese food - even Las Vegas it appears. You do have to leave the chains behind and search out the good stuff. I can easily find far more authentic dishes, not all of which I am likely to eat regularly, but still try when I can. I can find stinky tofu, mapo dofu, dan dan noodles, jellyfish, fermented cabbage and lamb - and on and on.

The Chinese food I have experienced in other Western countries has been on par with the US (or far worse - cubed frozen carrots and peas in mixed vegetable dishes!), though in London, we had wonderful noodles even 30 years ago.

I think my post wasn't clear. Perhaps because as Steven explained it should be called American-Chinese food. I've had great Chinese food in the states, and authentic too. There are several great dim sum, cantonese, sichuan, and banquet restaurants around my vicinity, and frequented them many times growing up. The purpose of this post was to see how Chinese food in countries other than America have developed, and if they are similar to American-Chinese food.

Edited by Utenya (log)
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A small linguistic point: the cuisine encompassing sweet-and-sour pork, sesame chicken, etc., is not really "Chinese-American." Calling something Chinese-American implies that it's something Chinese-American people eat, just as Italian-American cuisine is the cuisine of the Italian-American immigrant community. But Chinese-Americans do not eat the Americanized food that is served at the average Chinese restaurant in America. That food is an adaptation designed for mainstream American palates. It is, I believe, more properly called "American Chinese" cuisine.

That's a very good point, Steven. I'll be sure to change how I refer to the cuisine in the future.

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There is a wonderful history of Chinese food and culture in Australia  called Banquet (ten courses to harmony). Written by Annette Shun Wah and Greg Aitken, it details the evolution from sweet and sour pork restaurants to where we are presently. Chinese have contributed greatly to all aspects of Australian life: their food has gone from exotic and unknown through being modified for local palates to the mainstream position it holds today.

Does that book cover the last few years of Chinese cuisine in Australia? For the vast majority of the history of Chinese cuisine in Australia, it has been Cantonese cooking that has been the dominant influence. But in recent years, there has been a noticeable increase in restaurants offering other regional Chinese cuisines like Sichuan and Shanghai food.

The other development in Chinese cooking has been a move towards refining Cantonese food. In Melbourne, places like Lau's Family Kitchen and, Tea House On Burke have followed the lead of the Flower Drum in trying to source better quality ingredients and better techniques to produce better food. There are some who feel that these restaurants are merely "westernising" Chinese food, but I feel that it's more an issue of refining food (as the French have in their culinary history), and imho, that's a good thing.

Daniel Chan aka "Shinboners"
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There is a wonderful history of Chinese food and culture in Australia  called Banquet (ten courses to harmony). Written by Annette Shun Wah and Greg Aitken, it details the evolution from sweet and sour pork restaurants to where we are presently. Chinese have contributed greatly to all aspects of Australian life: their food has gone from exotic and unknown through being modified for local palates to the mainstream position it holds today.

Does that book cover the last few years of Chinese cuisine in Australia? For the vast majority of the history of Chinese cuisine in Australia, it has been Cantonese cooking that has been the dominant influence. But in recent years, there has been a noticeable increase in restaurants offering other regional Chinese cuisines like Sichuan and Shanghai food.

The book was published in 1999 so it doesn't cover more recent movements. Yes, Cantonese is predominant, as evidenced by Australians eating 'Yum Cha' rather than the 'Dim Sum' of our American and UK brethren. The authors do mention both forms of cuisine and mention some (mainly Sydney) restaurants cooking in those styles but at that stage they were typically located away from Chinatown.

Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"The Internet is full of false information." Plato
My eG Foodblog

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Yes, Cantonese is predominant, as evidenced by Australians eating 'Yum Cha' rather than the 'Dim Sum' of our American and UK brethren.

Both 'Yum Cha' and 'Dim Sum' are Cantonese. One goes to 'Yum Cha' and eats 'Dim Sum'.

Always wondered about the difference, wonder why we call it Yum Cha rather than Dim Sum; of course we do have it "with tea" :smile:

Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"The Internet is full of false information." Plato
My eG Foodblog

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In The Netherlands, every Chinese restaurant serves babi panggang (grilled pork covered with sweet,thick, gloopy sauce) and you can pick between bami, nasi or white rice (this being the least popular!).

The other dishes (not very exciting.. black bean chicken, koe lu yuk, kung po etc.)do not at all taste authentic (lots of sauce, same vegetables in everything, lots of starch and too sweet),

However, authentic Chinese food is easy to obtain if you happen to be Chinese. Most Chinese (by this, I mean Chinese, not Indische restaurants) have separate menus for Chinese (or Chinese looking!) patrons (and I'm sure anyone who asks for it will be given one as well).

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  • 2 weeks later...

I lived in China for close to 5 years, and I can tell you that Kung Pao Chicken 宫爆鸡丁 and anything Sweet and Sour 糖醋 (though as covered in numerous threads here, the Colonel is now far more ubiquitous than the General ever was in mainland China) can be found at many big banquet restaurants, with the differences being marginal at best.

There was even a cheap, student lunch place near my apartment that served single dishes like the ol' Kung Pao or Pepper Beef (青椒肉丝) on top of a mountain of rice. Chicken was boneless, and the overall flavor was, aside from the higher chili heat value, basically the same.

What I don't understand (and any Chinese or Chinese-Americans please, please weigh in on this) is why, why on earth, aren't dumplings (and by this I mean the water boiled 水饺 kind) more popular here in the US (or UK, EU or AUS)? Talk about mid-western, rib-stickin' food. I think a place that served 7 kinds of boiled dumplings (could offer steamed and seared for early converts) and some cold northern dishes would take off once people realized it wasn't China Garden Buffet or Panda Express. I once knew a foreigner working in China for his American company who almost never partook of anything other than McD's, KFC, and UBC Coffee House type fare, but ate dumplings at least once a day without fail.

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What I don't understand (and any Chinese or Chinese-Americans please, please weigh in on this) is why, why on earth, aren't dumplings (and by this I mean the water boiled 水饺 kind) more popular here in the US (or UK, EU or AUS)? Talk about mid-western, rib-stickin' food. I think a place that served 7 kinds of boiled dumplings (could offer steamed and seared for early converts) and some cold northern dishes would take off once people realized it wasn't China Garden Buffet or Panda Express. I once knew a foreigner working in China for his American company who almost never partook of anything other than McD's, KFC, and UBC Coffee House type fare, but ate dumplings at least once a day without fail.

Unrelated but I've noticed that dumplings seem to become a touchstone for Chinese immigrants around the globe. Even though it was mainly northern Chinese who made and ate them in China, outside of China it seems like every family knows how to make them. I think it's mainly to do with the social aspect of it. It's a dish which is far more amenable to many hands in the kitchen.

As for why it's not more popular in restaurants, my guess is it's because they're fairly labor intensive to make and the economics of it don't work out. You have to have someone in the kitchen fairly skilled and committed to making them.

PS: I am a guy.

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But Chinese-Americans do not eat the Americanized food that is served at the average Chinese restaurant in America. That food is an adaptation designed for mainstream American palates. It is, I believe, more properly called "American Chinese" cuisine.

I've created topics several times similar to Utenya's here, but using FatGuy's conclusion that the Chinese food in America is something that's been "dumbed down", (or, "Americanized") to please American tastes by the Chinese people who are cooking it in restaurants.

So I've always wanted to know (and have asked several times) if this means that in France, the Chinese food there is "Frenchified" to be more appealing to French tastes. While this could be something much (much) simpler than the concept of "fusion", it has always struck me that it could be culinary bonanza.

Why, just imagine if the Chinese chefs who found themselves in France eventually resorted to thinking "We'd better throw some Foie Gras in here, or nobody will eat it!"

However, for as many times as I've been in France (and Italy, for that matter), I have never wanted to give up the opportunity for a French (or Italian) meal to check this out first hand.

I seem to remember that eventually in one thread where I posed this, I got the answers from Gulletteers that the "Chinese" food in other Western countries is as terrible in it's own way as "American Chinese" food is here.

But I'm still hoping that some day somebody'll post the story of going for Chinese food in France, and finding it "Frenchified" to please the local tastes. One can dream.

Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

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But I'm still hoping that some day somebody'll post the story of going for Chinese food in France, and finding it "Frenchified" to please the local tastes.  One can dream.

I can't quite do that, but I have been to a Thai restaurant in Italy, and all of the dishes were sorted into antipasti - primi piatti - secondi piatti. I got the distinct impression that people ate rice dishes/noodle dishes, and then followed with meat. It was all a little bizarre.

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RE:

What I don't understand (and any Chinese or Chinese-Americans please, please weigh in on this) is why, why on earth, aren't dumplings (and by this I mean the water boiled 水饺 kind) more popular here in the US (or UK, EU or AUS)? Talk about mid-western, rib-stickin' food.

I think this is related to the Chinese immigration history. By and large most of the early Chinese immigrants (in the 19th century) to the US/Canada and elsewhere were Cantonese. Most of the Chinese restaurants in the US/Canada were Cantonese style (though Americans may only know them as "Chinese" food). Cantonese have their version of "Dumpling" in soup, which is called Wonton. Some US-Chinese restaurants (read: Chop Suey houses) do offer it on their menus. They commonly call the item "War Wonton Soup". Cantonese make wonton differently than Northern Mainlanders' dumpling. Wonton: shrimp and ground pork, seasoned with sesame oil, white pepper, salt, etc., wrapped in yellow square wrappers. Mainlander's dumpling: ground pork only, some shredded vegetables, leek, chive or the likes, seasoned with salt/garlic, soy sauce, etc., wrapped in white, thick, doughy square or round wrappers.

W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"
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A dumpling house could make several different kinds of dumplings, from each region.

Actually, I think there are lots of dumpling houses in New York (see THE BEST: Chinese Dumplings) and the Din Tai Fung chain that's mostly in Asia with a few shops in California.

I agree with you that it has a lot of potential, and you would think you would see more all over the place.

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But Chinese-Americans do not eat the Americanized food that is served at the average Chinese restaurant in America. That food is an adaptation designed for mainstream American palates. It is, I believe, more properly called "American Chinese" cuisine.

I've created topics several times similar to Utenya's here, but using FatGuy's conclusion that the Chinese food in America is something that's been "dumbed down", (or, "Americanized") to please American tastes by the Chinese people who are cooking it in restaurants.

So I've always wanted to know (and have asked several times) if this means that in France, the Chinese food there is "Frenchified" to be more appealing to French tastes. While this could be something much (much) simpler than the concept of "fusion", it has always struck me that it could be culinary bonanza.

Why, just imagine if the Chinese chefs who found themselves in France eventually resorted to thinking "We'd better throw some Foie Gras in here, or nobody will eat it!"

However, for as many times as I've been in France (and Italy, for that matter), I have never wanted to give up the opportunity for a French (or Italian) meal to check this out first hand.

I seem to remember that eventually in one thread where I posed this, I got the answers from Gulletteers that the "Chinese" food in other Western countries is as terrible in it's own way as "American Chinese" food is here.

But I'm still hoping that some day somebody'll post the story of going for Chinese food in France, and finding it "Frenchified" to please the local tastes. One can dream.

It is my understanding that Chinese rarely eat dairy products. Can you imagine a French meal without cream and cheese :biggrin:

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  • 2 weeks later...

Last night I went to a Chinese Restaurant in Adelaide, South Australia, called T Chow and wanted to share some of the dishes from the specials board with you:

Black Bean and Chili or Salted Cabbage with Duck Intestines

Braised Fish Stomach with Chinese Mushrooms

and for a more local flavour:

Green peppercorn sizzling crocodile.

Dishes that I had from the main menu were:

Oyster Omelette

Pork Belly and Taro Casserole.

The style is Chiuchow/Teochew cuisine (hence T Chow)/Chaozhou cuisine.

My dishes were delicious and many non-Chinese locals were enjoying the food.

Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"The Internet is full of false information." Plato
My eG Foodblog

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Similar state of play in the UK - most chinese restaurants and takeaways offer a generic and dumbed down menu. Most restaurants actually do prepare authentic dishes, but they are never on the English language menu. There are a few around now that have realised that some westerners are after more authentic flavours, but they are still the exception rather than the rule.

I love animals.

They are delicious.

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Last night I went to a Chinese Restaurant in Adelaide, South Australia, called T Chow and wanted to share some of the dishes from the specials board with you:

Black Bean and Chili or Salted Cabbage with Duck Intestines

Braised Fish Stomach with Chinese Mushrooms

and for a more local flavour:

Green peppercorn sizzling crocodile.

Dishes that I had from the main menu were:

Oyster Omelette

Pork Belly and Taro Casserole.

The style is Chiuchow/Teochew cuisine (hence T Chow)/Chaozhou cuisine.

My dishes were delicious and many non-Chinese locals were enjoying the food.

One of my favourite restaurants in Adelaide. If you go back you must try the Hot and Sour Beef Tendon Hotpot

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